Poweshiek CARES fights for environmental justice in Iowa


Photo By Sarah Ruiz Members of Poweshiek CARES meet at the home of Val Vetter (pictured right).

Michael Cummings

While Grinnell is known for its social justice activism, most students tend to think of activism as existing only on campus. But the town of Grinnell, and Poweshiek County more broadly, have their fair share of non-student activists too. One such example of activism outside the College is Poweshiek CARES, or Community Action to Restore Environmental Stewardship, an organization dedicated to pushing back against CAFOs, or confined animal feeding operations.

CAFOs are farms which house hundreds or thousands of hogs, cattle or chickens in very small quarters. There are over 8,000 CAFOs in Iowa, and they are widely criticized for many reasons, including for the environmental and health problems they create, animal rights abuses, and the smell. In fact, local CAFOs are responsible for the pungent smell that sometimes plagues the College campus.

Poweshiek CARES was founded in 2012 after a group of people living in Chester Township, just to the north of Grinnell, learned that a new CAFO would be built near their homes.

Photo By Sarah Ruiz
Members of Poweshiek CARES meet at the home of Val Vetter (pictured right).

“There were some locals in Chester Township, which is 2 miles north of Grinnell, but still Poweshiek County, who had been living already with 5,000 hogs,  sort of putting up with it, especially thinking that it was their local neighbor,” said Val Vetter, a member of Poweshiek CARES. “but then, a North Carolina company called Prestage, wanted to expand, add another 5,000 hogs, and that’s when they found out these hogs really were part of a corporate ag [company] from out of state.”

Keeping Poweshiek County’s agriculture local is a major goal of Poweshiek CARES, but the organization’s major goal is to prevent the severe quality of life issues caused for the neighbors of these factory farms.

“One of the main reasons that Poweshiek CARES organized and it continues to be important is to support people who find that their quality of life is totally affected and ruined really by these CAFOs. … I mean that’s why those neighbors were alarmed that 5,000 more hogs were going to come to Chester Township,” said Vetter.

“The immediate impact that motivates people to be upset has to do with these quality of life [issues], you know, the smell, the flies, the property values drop. Many people who retired, you know, bought a place in the country, thought they were gonna live there, and they can’t really move because they can’t sell their property because it’s right next to a CAFO,” Vetter added.

One way that Poweshiek CARES fights back is by petitioning the Poweshiek County Board of Supervisors to not approve plans for new CAFOs. All new animal confinements in the United States must be approved by the board of supervisors of the county they will be built in.

This has proven to be difficult. Vetter said, that while one of the county’s three Supervisors, Diana Dawley, is sympathetic to their cause, the other two have consistently voted to approve new CAFOs.

In addition to petitioning the county Board, Vetter says community education is another way the organization takes action.

“I think education is probably a big part, you know, just for people to know what a CAFO is, and then the impacts on our life,” Vetter said. “And compared to some counties, Poweshiek County is not as inundated, so sometimes people are not as aware, but all the time there are new CAFOs coming up.”

Although most county boards of supervisors are in favor of additional CAFO construction, Vetter sees some light on the horizon.

“Right now, it’s just amazing, there are probably at least 10 county supervisors … they have signed resolutions themselves, saying, ‘we need a moratorium on CAFOs,’” Vetter said.

Although it will likely be a while before such a moratorium actually goes into effect, Poweshiek CARES has no plans of slowing down until their goals are achieved.