Waterkeeper Alliance Holds "Fly-Over" in North Carolina to Get Better Look at CAFO Crisis - Waterkeeper

Waterkeeper Alliance Holds “Fly-Over” in North Carolina to Get Better Look at CAFO Crisis

By: Thomas Hynes

Waterkeeper Alliance Fly -In
Waterkeeper Alliance Fly -In

Recently, Waterkeeper Alliance held a “Fly-Over” in North Carolina. With the help of South Wings, and accompanied by a half dozen other local representatives, we flew over Duplin County for a bird’s eye view of this CAFO crisis. 

The event was coordinated by Larry Baldwin and Rick Dove of Waterkeeper Alliance. Joining them in the air was  Kemp Burdette (Cape Fear Riverkeeper) and on-the-ground support provided by Jeff Currie (Lumber Riverkeeper). There were also representatives from Southern Environmental Law Center, Duke Environmental Law and Policy Center, North Carolina Conservation Network, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, and others. This unique aerial opportunity provided a sobering view of how large these facilities are, as well as how recklessly close they are to water bodies, schools, and communities. You can watch a short video about the “fly-in” below.


Suffice to say, our food systems must immediately transition away from relying on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to more sustainable agricultural processes, for the sake of clean water, climate change, and environmental justice. CAFOs wreak havoc on local waterways, human health, and property value. These facilities are disproportionately sited in nonwhite, low-income communities. CAFOs can produce millions of gallons of animal waste, which often sit in open cesspools that are vulnerable to spilling over and contaminating drinking water sources. The only way industrial agriculture companies can sell at a lower cost than most family farmers is by avoiding responsibility for managing the animal waste that poisons our air and water.

Earlier this year, Waterkeeper Alliance encouraged our supporters to leave comments urging EPA to use the Clean Water Act to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as a way to limit untreated waste discharges into waterways and protect the countless frontline communities near these factory farm facilities.  Learn more here. 

More reactions and quotes from those in attendance below.

“There ought to be some limit on how many CAFOs an area can have.  The state ought to have some sort of mechanism to estimate how many nutrients are needed for a particular county’s cropland and what is being produced by these CAFOs.  What I saw yesterday was straight out of a Wes Craven motion picture.”
Craig Watts, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP)

“Being able to go up and see so many CAFOs, in every direction, and so close to one another, brought up so many overwhelming feelings for me at once. I believe such feelings can only bubble up when you see what you already know to be true with your own two eyes. In this case, seeing is believing. I was shocked to see how close in proximity the farms were to schools, churches, homes, and the water! There was so much water, so close to the spray fields. Flying over was a great experience that has added much needed fuel to my tank to continue my advocacy work in impacted EJ communities.”
A’Jae Grisby, North Carolina Conservation Network

“The flight was very moving, but I’ve been struggling to understand why that should be true. After all, I’ve worked on CAFO issues for many years, can spout off all the statistics about the damage to ecosystems and to people’s health and to the very fabric of rural communities. I can recite all the historical interest points, from Murphy’s Laws to the moratorium to the nuisance suits.

When I was in law school, I even spent a year mapping every CAFO we could find any information about for a national environmental NGO, so I’ve also spent a lot of time looking at the problem on a map. And yet.

And yet, there is something about hovering over the landscape, as a bird, and realizing that your entire field of view is filled with factory farms. Directly below us is a lagoon, the color of watermelon. Just above it, toward the horizon, is another lagoon, but this one has spots that Rick tells us are the peaks of sludge mountains cresting above the liquid’s surface. As the eye continues to travel upward, there’s nothing to see except the gleaming matchsticks of more pig and poultry barns, the red splotches of lagoons, and the matrix of swamp and waterways, some glowing an iridescent green, that weave through it all. No matter which direction I look, the same tapestry of human hubris and greed blankets the landscape and suffocates its residents.

 It’s both an honor and immense burden to have witnessed such a thing from a vantage where the true scale of harm can be seen, if not comprehended. I am so grateful to Larry and Rick and SouthWings for making it possible.”
Lee Miller, Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic

“Knowing that these CAFOs are in our midst and actually seeing them elicits a level of raw emotions and anger that I cannot begin to describe. But at the same time I feel a renewed  sense of commitment to keep fighting this fight for the future of my home and for those who are faced with these inequities every day of their lives.”
– Sherri White-Williamson

“Waterkeeper Alliance and the Riverkeepers of NC have been doing aerial monitoring of Concentrated Feeding Operations for decades, and we are now bringing the landscape that we see all too often to people who have never had that experience.  This was a great experience and education tool that we were able to provide through Waterkeeper Alliance and SouthWings.  We will continue to do these flights as I feel it is the best perspective to see the real impact from CAFOs on our environment and our communities.  I invite elected officials to join us on a flight.”
Larry Baldwin, NC CAFO Coordinator, Waterkeeper Alliance

“From the sky, they cannot hide the filth and pollution that surrounds their industrial swine and poultry operations. Often, the horrendous odor can even enter your nostrils at 1,000 feet in the air inside the airplane. What we are now helping others to see is the hopelessly unending sea of manure that indelibly scars and pollutes the once beautiful farm fields and waterways that once existed in North Carolina’s coastal plain.”
Rick Dove, Senior Advisor, Waterkeeper Alliance