October 29, 2010

Dairy CAFO Threatens Historic Site of Japanese Internment Camp

Posted in CAFO, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , at 2:47 pm by minidokapilgrimage

October 24, 2010

Dairy CAFO Threatens Historic Site of Japanese Internment Camp


By Kristen Ridley

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that prompted the American involvement in World War II, more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent, most of them American citizens, were rounded up from their homes and held in internment camps between 1942 and 1945. It’s a period of history that most Americans would probably like to forget. But of course, we can never afford to ignore the fact that this sort of thing can happen, that it happened here, and that, yes, even American citizens have had their rights thoroughly violated in times of national hysteria. Given the current venom being hurled at Hispanics and Muslims, it’s a history lesson that we would do well to remember. That’s why in 2001, theMinidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, the remains of one of 10 such camps, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now protected by the National Park Service.

Despite this protection, in 2007, the site was placed on the Preservation Nation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places. While the few acres of land itself is protected for future generations, the site is still not safe. Why? Because Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) ruin freaking everything!

In the fall of 2007, Big Sky Dairy applied for a permit to build a 13,000-cow CAFO just 1.2 miles away from the historic site. As anyone who has ever had the misfortune of being near a CAFO can tell you, the effects of one spread much, much further than the feedlot itself. Just over a mile away from this important piece of American history there will be a stinking cesspool of manure and chemical pollution 160 times more toxic than raw sewage. You can be sure that that pleasant smell will be wafting along the breeze to Minidoka, not to mention the contaminated water and soil. The roads surrounding a CAFO tend to become caked with mud and feces and backed up with trucks and traffic, too. The fact that the area is prone to dust storms just makes the potential contamination level exponentially worse.

Initially denied, the CAFO permit was narrowly approved upon judicial review. A preservation coalition called Friends of Minidoka appealed the decision in court, but unfortunately, that appeal was lost last month. Now the organization is preparing an appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, and they think they have a strong case, but they need funds to do so. If you think that the ruination of this important National Monument is more important than the inconvenience of Big Sky Dairy having to find somewhere else to pollute, please do as I did and give what you can to the Friends of Minidoka legal defense fund. The industrial giants behind the big feedlots have a lot of money and a lot of power. It will take a broad coalition to stand up to them, but we can do it if we all step up.

Photo: The National Archives

Kristen Ridley is an artist, foodie, and aspiring grass farmer who earned her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Southern California

When CAFOs Threaten the Past

Posted in CAFO, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , at 2:46 pm by minidokapilgrimage

October 21, 2010

When CAFOs Threaten the Past


By Nina Kahori Fallenbaum

On the National Park Service website, under the heading, “Things To Do at Minidoka National Historic Site,” you will find this:

Walk through the remains of the entry station, waiting room, and rock garden. Read the names on the plaques. Try to imagine what it must have been like to be brought to this remote area. Look around and compare what you see to your own more comfortable surroundings.

Soon, this contemplative visit to the Minidoka War Relocation Center will have a much different feel–and smell.  After decades of activism to get the former incarceration camp named a national historic monument, an Idaho dairy wants to build a Confined Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO, just 1.2 miles away.

The history of America’s wartime imprisonment along racial lines is an under-told story: most Americans have read barely a paragraph about it in their high school textbooks, and young Japanese Americans struggle to glean more information from relatives and libraries.  But domestic incarceration under the auspices of “military necessity” did happen, and in some of the harshest rural climates in the United States: Jerome (Arkansas), Tulelake (California) and Topaz (Utah) are just a few.  The camps are in various stages of disintegration today, depending on the success of camp survivors and their descendants to get the federal government to preserve and maintain the grounds for interested visitors, Japanese American and otherwise.  Minidoka camp is located in Hunt, Idaho, and when it was operational (between 1942 and 1945), it formed the eighth largest city in the state.  President Clinton declared it a National Monument in 2001 and it’s now under National Park Service jurisdiction.

In 2008, the Jerome County Commissioners approved a permit request by Big Sky Dairy to begin construction of a 13,000-cow dairy CAFO.  Keep in mind that the Environmental Protection Agency defines a “large CAFO” for dairy cows as any facility with over 700 cattle.  With over 18 times that number, the proposed facility near Minidoka is a key battleground in the fight over the safety, cleanliness and environmental and aesthetic impact of super-sized CAFOs.  It’s also an opportunity to look at how Japanese Americans and other interested parties are–or are not–brought into the debate on how industrial food is produced in the United States.

Because Idaho law only permits public comment from residents living within one mile of a proposed feedlot, and none of the former incarcerees still live there, Japanese Americans were initially locked out of the public comment process.  While this absurd limitation was finally rescinded, a judge recently upheld the right of the CAFO to begin construction. A group of camp survivors and their supporters called Friends of Minidoka and the national Japanese American Citizens League have joined with local groups Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment (ICARE) and the Idaho Rural Council to fight the CAFO in court; they are considering an appeal of the most recent ruling.  While the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Minidoka one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in the United States, a lack of national awareness and mounting legal fees mean the site is still in jeopardy.

Joelle Hervic is an environmental lawyer who worked on CAFO issues in the Chesapeake Bay as Senior Attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance, an international river and waterway protection network.  Ms. Hervic expressed dismay at the proposed Minidoka CAFO.  “Not only is it completely inappropriate to have a CAFO located in such close proximity to the Minidoka historic site because it is disrespectful, but also there are serious environmental and health concerns associated with CAFOs.  Typically, these types of CAFOs store manure and other farm wastes, which are often toxic, in gigantic tanks or ‘lagoons’ that can hold millions of gallons of manure and urine.  Untreated animal manure from CAFOs is up to 160 times more toxic than raw municipal sewage. In addition, antibiotic residues, heavy metals and harmful bacteria from CAFOs can leach into water supplies,” said Hervic. Adding to the danger, the Minidoka site is known for extreme dust storms, raising concerns of cross-contamination of fecal matter and industrial waste into nearby farms and residences.

The CAFO controversy in southern Idaho is not the only place in rural America that tensions fester over what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II, and how, or even if, that legacy should be remembered.  In some instances, they have turned violent: a group of survivors and descendants visiting the former Tule Lake camp near the Oregon-California border in 2006 found their tour bus shot up with BB guns after an evening cultural program in the town of Klamath Falls.

In Minidoka, by contrast, the CAFO issue has brought together local people and former internees.  “Local people will really suffer (if the CAFO is built).  They have to live there,” said Emily Momohara, an art professor and board member of Friends of Minidoka.  Her grandparents and great-grandparents were held at Minidoka during the war.  “One farmer has started putting up American flags and helping us with our pilgrimages.  He doesn’t want his kids drinking that water either,” she said.

When these American concentration camps were thrown together in the panicked first few months of U.S. involvement in World War II, their locations were chosen for their desolation and sometimes, harsh weather conditions.  Prominent men from Japanese American religious, educational, and civic institutions were quickly rounded up and sent to Department of Justice high-security sites like frigid Bismarck, North Dakota, and scorching Crystal City, Texas.  Families, including infants, the elderly, the sick, and orphans were scattered among the 10 remaining camps.  After the war, cheaply erected barracks were sometimes sold to returning GIs for $1 each, and the land itself was given away in lotteries for returning veterans.  Baby boomer families began building lives–and farms–where Japanese and Japanese-American families were imprisoned just a few years earlier.  Some moved onto land that had been tilled and irrigated by Japanese incarcerees, forming a direct link between the camps and modern food production.

Every year there are Americans who become newly aware of the forced removal of Japanese Americans and seek to unearth information about this disturbing period of our history.  Imagine if you were to study a map and make the dusty trek to Minidoka one day, perhaps with a small bundle of flowers to leave on the memorial obelisk outside the former gates of the camp.  But as you pull up to the site, the overwhelming smell of animal waste fills the car, your lungs, your head.  The sounds of animals compete with your thoughts as you try to make sense of this place, and craft something meaningful out of your trek to this remote locale.

If construction proceeds as planned, a CAFO at Minidoka would disrespect not only those who were imprisoned but also their descendants who deserve to know the truth about what happened to their family members.  As a National Historic Site, Minidoka (like the Holocaust Museum on the National Mall) exists to teach future generations about the dangers of hysteria and hate, particularly in times of war.  This is what all Americans stand to lose if construction of a 13,000-cow CAFO is allowed just one mile from Minidoka.

To donate to the Minidoka Committee Legal Fund, go here.

Nina Kahori Fallenbaum is a freelance writer and the food editor for Hyphen magazine, an Asian American arts, culture, and politics publication. She’s also a volunteer for Tule Lake Committee.

Factory Farm v. Historic Preservation

Posted in CAFO, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , , at 2:40 pm by minidokapilgrimage

September 26, 2010

Factory Farm v. Historic Preservation


by Regina Weiss

Idaho judge ignores a centennial affront to the descendants of Japanese farmers

Traveling to a WWII internment camp

Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column this month on the threat development poses to a Civil War historic site where President Lincoln once dodged bullets reminded me to check on the status of a similar threat I wrote about last spring. At that time, the issue of whether a massive factory farm would be allowed to despoil Minidoka, site of a World War II internment camp where American citizens of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned, was pending the decision of an Idaho court.

As I learned last week, while I was out of the country in August, Judge Robert Elgee of Idaho’s Fifth District ruled in favor of the developers who plan to build a 13,000-head cattle feedlot adjacent to Minidoka, rendering it a historic attraction in name only. Given the contributions of Japanese immigrants to American farming, the desecration of this National Historic Site by a so-called farm would be especially egregious.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, The National Park Service, and Idaho landowners and environmental groups all oppose the project. Friends of Minidoka are asking for contributions to help fund an appeal of the judge’s ruling.

A century ago, a generation of Japanese farmers, recruited to the United States to grow food for Americans, was vilified as an economic threat to white farmers. Three decades later, at the beginning of World War II, many of these same immigrants, along with their US-born children and grandchildren, now transformed in the public imagination to a homegrown security threat, were shipped off to prison camps, including Minidoka. There, they used their farming skills to support the war effort.

Nearly four decades after the war, former prisoners and their descendants received an apology from Congress, and in 2001 President Clinton designated the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho a National Monument, creating a perpetual reminder of the devastating consequences of government-sanctioned racism.

In a cruel twist of irony, the threat represented by the proposed confined animal feeding operation (CAFO, or factory farm) landed Minidoka on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of American’s Most Endangered Historic Places. Whether the CAFO will swallow up the historic site now depends on whether opponents of the proposed development can afford to appeal the August 3 ruling.

The history behind the congressional apology to Japanese Americans is long and ugly. In January of 1909, an article in The New York Times described the formative role of Japanese immigrants in the agricultural development of the American West:

In California farmers were originally less in number, and for this reason the California authorities many years ago adopted a policy of inviting immigrants from abroad. The result was immigration to California of Japanese laborers in large numbers and it is no exaggeration to note that the present development of agricultural enterprise in California was practically due to the efforts of Japanese laborers or farmers.

That same year, the first of many anti-Japanese bills was introduced in California, followed four years later in 1913 by the Webb-Harley Law. Japanese immigrants were already denied the opportunity to become US citizens by federal law restricting that right to “free white persons,” but the Webb-Harley Law – which remained in effect until 1952 – decreed that “aliens ineligible to citizenship,” could no longer purchase land or even rent it for more than three years, effectively preventing Japanese immigrants from farming independently.

Apparently, though, depriving the Japanese of land ownership did little to alleviate tensions in California. According to The Reader’s Companion to American History, one of several motivations for US imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II was the desire of other West Coast farmers to eliminate competition.

On February 21, 1942, two days after President Roosevelt gave his military the power to relocate Japanese-American citizens and non-citizen Japanese immigrants, The Times reported:

Japanese farmers in the Salinas Valley, which produces 57 percent of the lettuce and a third of the carrots for the vegetable markets of the country, are surrendering their leases on many tracts of rich land …

Agricultural experts, intent on seeing that increased farm production quotas for 1942 are realized, have objected to proposals that all persons of Japanese ancestry be moved out of the Pacific Coast “combat zone” on the ground that such an evacuation would create a big shortage of garden products. One hears a different story from white farmers …

In the end, Japanese immigrants who had purchased land before Webb-Harley passed, and Americans of Japanese ancestry who owned their own farms, had them taken away as a matter of government policy. Rumors spread like weeds, with Agricultural Commissioners of the San Joaquin Valley ordering inventories of the insecticides owned by “alien farmers” as “an outgrowth of warnings recurrent in California now and then among those who do not trust Japanese farmers that ‘too much arsenic’ might sometime be put on vegetables prepared by them for the markets.” Flashlights used by farmers to navigate to their outhouses at night became, in the imaginations of Army commanders, signals to Japanese submarines off the California Coast.

While the government had no respect for the Japanese famers’ land rights, their skills were nevertheless in great demand, as food was needed to feed an army and a hungry nation. Plans were hatched to “get the non-citizens, many of whom are looked upon as potential fifth columnists, out of the vital defense areas and at the same time help meet the threat of reduced crops at a time when the Department of Agriculture is calling for unprecedented production.” So the imprisoned Japanese farmers were once again put to work growing food for the nation that despised and discriminated against them.

By the summer of 1942, the US Military’s propaganda machine had successfully recast the uprooting of more than 100,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans as an act of kindness and a source of pride. In one of a series of on-the-ground reports on the evacuations and internments, Lawrence Davies of The New York Times described the arrival of about 1,000 Japanese “volunteers” from Los Angeles at the Manzanar “pioneer colony” like this:

[T]his correspondent was stuck by the feeling of relief and security evident among the eager evacuees. Roy Takeno, English editor of The California Daily News, confirmed the impression; it was, he said, the predominant topic of conversation in all groups of his fellows. For the first time since Pearl Harbor men of Japanese blood did not have to be afraid. They had reached a haven where they could not be blamed for any flashing lights along the shoreline or for the firing of a shotgun near the airport.

Of course, given the escalating hostility toward Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans from both white Americans and other immigrant groups, there is every reason to believe the relief Davis described was very real. Much of the rest of his report painted a rosy picture of life in the camps.

Despite the temporary nature of these communities, the residents try to make them homelike. Within two weeks after the first newcomers arrived neat rows of radishes, carrots and beets began pushing up their shoots around the dwellings. Flowers miraculously appeared in window boxes. Tables, chairs, vanity sets – fashioned from scraps of lumber left by carpenters – soon furnished the bare apartments…

Baseball games . . . organized into regular leagues, are a popular form of recreation. Another pastime is the Saturday night dance, attended . . . by couples attired all the way from slacks and boots to the latest Hollywood fashion.

Today, not even a decade after the Minidoka Internment Camp was promised permanent preservation as a National Historic Site, it is threatened with becoming permanently overshadowed by the massive waste lagoons, poisoned air and putrid water that characterize Idaho’s dairy CAFOs.

To quote one area resident who wants the project stopped,

If you imagine visiting a park near a CAFO, you wouldn’t even want to get out of the car, let alone have a picnic, peruse the waysides [or ] look for names on the Honor Roll …

Or, as Dan Everhart, president of the board of Preservation Idaho, put it, allowing the CAFO to go forward “would be a de facto closing of the [historic] site because no one would be able to get out of the car.”

October 4, 2010

2011 Pilgrimage Dates June 30-July 3

Posted in 2011 Minidoka Pilgrimage, Civil Liberties Symposium tagged , , at 8:34 am by minidokapilgrimage

The dates for the 2011 Pilgrimage has just been announced.  The bus from Seattle will depart Bellevue College on Thursday, June 30th for the 2011 Minidoka Pilgrimage.  The Pilgrimage will again incorporate 1 day of the Civil Liberties Symposium on Friday, July 1 and then begin the rest of the pilgrimage programming on Saturday, July 2.  More information will be released as it becomes available.  Schedule is also subjected to change.