The Poultry Problem

Since the 1950s many parts of the Eastern Shore have been transformed into large poultry operations.  This shift has saved many farmers from bankruptcy and has boosted the economy throughout the area.  These poultry operations also bring with them a high level of controversy in the ethics and morals of treatment of these chickens as well as the impact to the nearby Bay and its tributaries.  This issue has come to involve small and large farming operations, government agencies, environmental organizations, animal rights groups and citizens of towns affected by these operations.

Most of us pick up chicken from the store and use it as a constant part of our diet but do not think of where it is from.  Many do not realize how drastically it impacts each citizen of the Eastern Shore by way of economy, employment, regulations, prices, pollution, laws and the health of the Bay.  Without these operations many farmers would not be able to financially survive and therefore development may increase.  On the contrast, pollution due to chicken litter would be greatly decreased and an increase in the health of the Bay would be quickly seen.  Either way each new farm and new regulation indirectly affects almost every citizen of the Chesapeake area as well as many places throughout the country that receive the poultry.

There are many ethics surrounding this issue due to the environment and health of the Chesapeake.   These can point fingers at the poultry industry as well as sewage treatment facilities, farms, development and many other contributors.  What some forget is the intrinsic value of the chicken as a species within these operations.  These chickens are tightly packed in houses without ever seeing the light of day or living outside.  They are grown with water and food to get them to just the right size so they can immediately be killed and shipped off for consumption.  Of course some chicken houses are much better kept than others but most have about the same lay out and ways of functioning.  This biocentric view of these animals forces one to look at moral consideration of life outside of humans.  Intrinsic value of these chickens would also force a decreased value for the livelihood for the many farmers of the area that are following the rules that the integrator sets out for them.  This conflict has created a controversy within the poultry business that has caused many to question but few to speak out for change.  The farmers claim they are following regulations, trying their best to keep up with pollution control and give the chickens a clean, stable and safe area.  Environmental groups and animal activists push back, claiming these chickens are given no moral consideration and are sent through an assembly line life where they are grown like a crop.  This is the line that divides the moral value of farmer’s livelihoods and that of chickens grown for poultry.

One possible course of action for this issue is to lessen regulations and laws and allow the farmers to produce more poultry for less cost.  This possibility could increase employment and profit and stabilize the future of the farmers of the Eastern Shore.  Stabilizing their future lessens the likelihood of major development on these farms and therefore keeps the area a rural, farming community.  An increase in production could also lower the cost of poultry in the area as well as throughout the east coast.   Aside from all the positives of this course of action, this plan would have huge negative impacts on the lives of chickens and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.  With lower regulations, chicken litter pollution would skyrocket and pour into the tributaries with catastrophic affects to water quality.  In this scenario there is also no moral consideration given to the quality of life of millions of chickens to be grown in this system.

Another possible course of action for this issue is moving all poultry industry out of the area, away from a sensitive estuary.  Even with regulations, pollution is still poisoning the waters of the nearby tributaries and bay overall.  The only way to stop this direct issue and help the Chesapeake to recover is to completely evacuate these large poultry operations from the area.  While they will still create pollution in other areas it will have a much less drastic impact and will not be nearly as dangerous.  The negatives to this solution are a huge job and economy loss for farmers across the Eastern Shore.  Many would no longer be able to financially survive if this income was taken away from them.  This could lead to many parts of these farmlands to be sold to developers, destroying the rural farming community base.

Lastly, the operations could be downsized with very strict animal rights regulations.  This scenario would think first about the millions of chickens that are not being treated like living, feeling creatures.  Because they do not have a voice to stand up for themselves this would give them rights as a species for basic ways of life.  They would be able to more closely live in a natural habitat in which they could be outside and move around freely.  With smaller operations more personal care could be given to the chickens and therefore hopefully more intrinsic value.  The negatives to this solution include a huge change in infrastructure and way of raising these animals that will create a huge time and money expense for the farmers.  This could dramatically increase the price in poultry and change the relationship between farmer and integrator.

I feel that the most morally acceptable alternative to poultry farming on the Eastern Shore is the last of the options listed, to downsize operations with strict regulations.  I came to this conclusion by examining how many groups this change would affect most positively and what groups have the least amount of power.  The chickens have no voice in the fact that they are being grown like crops and will never be outside for their short lives.  By tightening regulations the Chesapeake Bay will also be less affected and poisoned by the excessive amounts of chicken litter.  While this option is not completely ideal for farmers, the solution is more positive than completely moving the poultry industry out of the area.  The group that this solution would hurt the most is the integrator company, forcing these large, monopolizing businesses to rethink and plan their strategies.  I therefore believe that this solution is the most ethical way to deal with this industry.  It would force each group to show moral consideration to the other people and animals affected by this huge industry.

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A Common Goal

IMG_7171Throughout the semester we have heard opinion after opinion of how to save the oyster population.  At the end of the day everyone wants to save the oysters, yet watermen, environmental groups, the government and citizens of waterfront communities disagree on how it should be done.  This issue has begun a hateful blame game, creating an environmental in which little gets accomplished.

Many watermen feel that they have been oystering for generations, their entire lives revolving around this harvest.  They feel that the outside people getting involved in this issue do not have the lifelong first hand experience and passion that has been passed down to them for centuries.  Many of them feel that dredging is the perfect solution, fluffing the bottom and keeping the oysters from being suffocated by sediment.  They have seen the positive results of this action in many areas and feel that this is the best way to save the oysters.  Along with many other environmental regulations, they feel that not being able to harvest specific areas is instead leading to those oysters dying because they are becoming covered in sediment.

IMG_7157Environmental groups and certain sections of the government point the finger back at these watermen.  They feel that they have millions of dollars worth of research and science behind the regulations they enact that the watermen just don’t understand.  They also feel that this is these men’s professions, and they will take as many oysters out of the Bay as possible before someone else does or they die off.  This tragedy of the commons situation lead these groups to not trust that the watermen have the oysters’ best interest in mind and therefore need to be regulated.

Another involved party that at times disagrees are the citizens and tourists of these working waterfront communities.  While the families who have lived in the area for generations understand the way of life, the ‘come here’ population push back.  Many move to these communities for the slow, close-knit way of life, romanticized by the boats and watermen culture.  While they love this part they also want the big beautiful homes, a variety of stores and other forms of entertainment that force development.  It doesn’t matter to some of them if their pollution and development further degrades the Bay as long as it looks clean and doesn’t ruin their picturesque views.  Many point their finger at the Susquehanna and the Conowingo, arguing that nothing they do will make a change until that area is cleaned up.  But for all of their faults, at times these tourists and ‘come here’ citizens can save these towns.  Their spur of economy and the population can at times revitalize a town slowly disappearing as lack of work forces the citizens to leave.

IMG_7153So what is the answer to saving the oysters?  Who is right in this situation?  I don’t think there is one answer to this question or one group who is correct.  The answer lies somewhere in between but has yet to be fully unraveled.  The key is that each group has a seat at the table, listening to the other points of view.  Until the government can put itself in the watermen’s shoes and visa versa nothing will be accomplished.  We forget we have a common goal and all everyone wants is the save the oysters and the Chesapeake Bay.

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Two Fisheries

IMG_6025While in Peru we learned a great deal about the anchovetta fishery along its coast.  This fish is a large source of jobs and economy in these communities and has been for years.  Unfortunately very little of this fishery is used for direct consumption and most goes towards fishmeal to feed other animals such as chickens.  By feeding these ground fish to chickens that we then consume, instead of eating of eating the fish directly, we create a 90% loss.  This is due to the ecological efficiency in which only 10% of energy production is passed down to the next trophic level when consumed.  For this reason the anchovetta fishery consistently mass harvests to keep up with the demand.  These fish are also extremely important as the main diet of a large amount of the fish, mammal and bird populations of the area.  Overharvesting of this species therefore affects the entire ecosystem along the coast and is an integral part of the food web.  In an attempt to lessen the strain on the anchovetta fishery and increase food security, work has been done to advertise the fish for direct consumption as a specialty dish.

In watching the documentary titled The Most Important Fish in the Bay, we discovered the many comparisons of the anchovetta of Peru to the menhaden of the Chesapeake.  Menhaden, also known as bunker, are omnivorous filter feeders that are commonly used in fish oil, fishmeal and as bait.  Just like the anchovetta, they are then required to harvest large amounts to keep up with demand.  The menhaden are also an integral part of the food web within the Chesapeake.  As filter feeders they also clean the water and consume some of the excess nutrients that have such a negative affect on the Bay.  While there is some direct consumption of menhaden as there is with anchovetta it is unfortunately not enough to make an impact on the population decline.  In order for both of these populations to be saved from overharvesting and therefore both ecosystems overall, there needs to be a dramatic shift in the use of these fish.  I believe there is something to learn from Peru in their work to create a specialty market for these fish that will hopefully continue to grow and make an impact.

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Ecology and Economy: Kent Island

Today we met with Jay Falstad, the executive director of Queen Anne’s Conservation Association.  QACA is the oldest conservation organization in the Eastern Shore and was formed by a group of residents in 1971.  We focused on discussing one of their main current concerns, planned development on Kent Island.  As the entrance to the Bay Bridge, this island has been targeted for major development of individual lots and high-rise apartment buildings.   This development would take away a large percentage of the farmland and empty space throughout the area.  Beyond the extreme environmental degradation due to the direct impacts of building, we also considered the affects of roads, traffic, school and hospital additions and waterfront erosion.

IMG_5260Many high-rise apartments are going to be built along the water since environmental regulation requires a tree line between the buildings and the shoreline.  These apartments, and much of the planned buildings on the island, are within a dangerous area when considering sea level rise, erosion, subduction and storm surge levels.  This building therefore is dangerous for both the people and overall environment throughout the island.

While developers and some politicians argue the buildings will boost the economy, this is not fully true.  It has been statistically proven that these new citizens will cost more to the island than they will pay in taxes.  With the school systems already overflowing, additions will have to be made to each of the schools.  The emergency room and overall hospital will need to expand to handle the influx of people.  High levels of traffic will also cost millions in repaving and creating new roads.  This idea of developing costing more than preserving has lead to the increase in conservation agencies holding the developing rights of properties.  Hopefully politicians will be able to further explore this concept throughout the country in order to save important land from development.

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All For a Glass of Milk

We begin the day at the Jone’s Family Farm, a dairy farm known for their progressive environmental farming.  The operation runs twenty four hours a day, with 1,200 heifers being milked three times a day.  Before stepping foot off the bus we were informed that this farm would impress us with environmental technology ahead of almost any dairy operation in the country. Sean Jones gave us the tour of his family farm which produces 115,000 pounds of milk a day, their efficiency stemmed from some of the top genetics in the world. As we walked around the farm we watched the daily life of these cows, an efficient continuum of eating, laying down and being milked. We then were shown the proactive environmental measures put into place such as the lining of the manure lagoons and the phosphorus removal system. While all this technology seemed extremely progressive we were surprised to here that they are still struggling with keeping up with environmental regulations. If this farm is having difficulties keeping up with these new laws it is hard to imagine how other farms of the region are going to survive.

While the farm’s environmental initiatives are truly impressive I could not help but still consider the lack of intrinsic value towards the cows.  They were of course very healthy looking but live a life like an inanimate resource.  Almost never being outside, their lives defy every aspect of how an animal lived for most of history.  Any attempt for this animal to feel happiness is purely an economic reason of it producing the maximum yield of milk.

As I considered the idea of the intrinsic value of dairy heifers we pulled into St. Brigid’s Farm, owned and run by Judy Gifford and Robert Fry.  The farm is substantially smaller, with only seventy cows milked at one time.  These heifers are milked twice a day by Judy and live outside on rotated fields of green grass except during the winter.  While just as healthy looking, these cows looked substantially less like part of a factory assembly line and substantially more like a living, feeling, individual animal.  Judy petted the cows as she walked by and listed off many of their names to us.  While of course St. Brigid’s was still a business who holds a goal of maximizing the efficiency of profit, there was also a clear love and intrinsic value towards the animals.  Unfortunately, our country’s milk consumption will most likely never be able to be met by these much smaller, grass feed farms.  After these visits I will much further appreciate the effort from the farmers and the cows that all goes into a glass of milk.

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Isolation and Culture

IMG_6512Definition after definition, no matter where you look or who you ask, states the word island as land surrounded by water.  By constricting this word to its physical characteristics we lose an important aspect.  The key to an island is not what surrounds it but what is inside, what is isolated.  We first used the term island when visiting Smith Island, which was fully surrounded by water and fits the technical definition.  While in Peru we also spent time in Punta San Juan, a peninsula separated from the outside world, isolated by a wall instead of water.  It wasn’t until our travel to Parque de la Papa that we realized how broad the word island could be used.  While not surrounded by water, the community set 14,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains, is completely isolated in every other way.  No different from the separation of the citizens of Smith Island, they are economically and culturally removed from the rest of the modern world around them.  These visits redefined the word island to not as a section of land surrounded by water but isolated culturally and economically.

1450831_385266318273511_1150411534_nParque de la Papa, also known as Potato Park, is originally isolated by its location, set an hour from Cusco, up steep and winding roads barely navigable by motor vehicles.  Due to this original separation, the community was able to form its own economy, minimally influenced by the rest of the country.  Except by trading for fish, the community spent generations removed from the changing cultures of the nearby city.  Due to this their technology, building and farming techniques continue unchanging for years.  Living in a first world country we wonder how these isolated communities survive without modern medicine, technology and machinery, and rarely take the time to look at these thriving cultures.

IMG_6519This cultural separation is most distinctly seen in the interactions of the members of the community and the way in which they conduct business and work amongst themselves.  Instead of each member growing up and moving out of the household, buying land and working it to maximize profits, they take a very different approach.  After marriage each couple is given a piece of land in which they are able to live and harvest food.  Since different foods come in different seasons and different places, each member helps everyone as their crops are ready to be harvested.  This form of citizen interaction is a prime example of the main principles that the community is based on, equity, reciprocity and duality.  This balance in a culture is rare throughout the world today, obviously minimally influenced from the surrounding materialism and capitalism.  Sadly this part of the culture reveals a stark difference from our daily lives and shines light on the negativity of our constant progression and development.  Not only have we destroyed the environment and created a world of competition and tension, but we have also lost the key selfless human interactions that we can barely imagine having.  While their lives are physically harsh and difficult, they contain an innocence of love and community for each other and the environment that we are far from experiencing.

1424494_385266421606834_784594685_nThrough this way of living they also continue an extremely sustainable form of living that allows them to survive in such a harsh environment.  They are able to feed, clothe and shelter themselves in an area of unbelievable cold and high altitude, almost unheard of in other similar areas.  Much of their culture and religion is focused on the earth and the land and they therefore continue to plant crops, weave clothing and build shelters in a way that could continue for hundreds of years.

Unfortunately the future is not completely unscathed for this community.  They, similar to Smith Island, are suffering from a loss of population due to children growing up and moving away from their traditional upbringing.  Many continue into further education or other jobs and do not move back to this difficult lifestyle after moving into the modern world.  They are also threatened by environmental issues such as global warming.  While Smith Island deals with erosion and sea level rise, Parque de la Papa also suffers from global warming.  The thousands of varieties of potatoes that they are most well known for, are being forced to be planted further up the mountain or at different times of the year.  If the global temperature rises significantly it could disrupt the food cycle that they heavily rely on for survival.  The melting of the nearby glacier has also lead to a possible future difficulty for fresh water access.  Sadly, these issues do not mainly stem from this earth worshiping community.  As isolated as their culture is from the rest of the world, we are indirectly influencing them by the environmental degradation affecting their ability to survive.  With horror we are able to realize that these islands, no matter what they do, are not safe from the destruction that the rest of the world has created.   943729_385265801606896_726324123_n

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Guano: The Chesapeake and Peru

IMG_6197Today Maryland has eleven plants that manufacture fertilizer and sixteen other plants that blend fertilizer, none of which use guano as part of their product. While absent from modern products, guano was once a common import into the ports of the Chesapeake. In 1861 alone, the port of Baltimore received 53,959 tons of guano, much of which came from the Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru. At this peak of the guano import for the United States, Peru’s government held a global monopoly on this trade.

Because the product is now rarely brought to the United States, I knew little about this product before visiting Peru. Before modern chemical fertilizers used throughout the watershed, guano had been essential for restoring the nutrients that had been stripped from the soil due to cotton and tobacco harvesting. While now outdated here, Peru still uses this fertilizer, especially for crops in the highlands region. This product is essential for food security in many of these areas and is therefore able to be used as a policital incentive for these communities.

IMG_5881These fertilizers, while now very different between these two areas, both have created many economic, political and environmental issues. Guano currently brings in so little income that the harvesting companies are becoming bankrupt. This product is then reserved for politicians to use as a voting incentive. In the Chesapeake region, fertilizers are also a large political and environmental concern but with incentives to reduce application instead of increased use. Instead of giving away guano for popular vote, the officials hope to reduce output in order to decrease the impact on the bay.

Although very different approaches to the situation, guano and other fertilizers throughout history, are used in hopes of food security but with environmental impacts. While chemical fertilizers poison the bay, guano harvests affect the populations and habitats for several important bird species. Throughout history these fertilizers have come with a cost for both the Chesapeake and Peru in order to provide food security for growing populations and environmental changes. There are apparent pros and cons to both guano and chemical fertilizers and both create political, economic and environmental tensions throughout the history of their use.

IMG_6195It is interesting to consider the affects on the United States if much of our fertilizer still was imported guano from Peru. This would not only affect our ability to grow and produce, but Peru’s economy and monopoly throughout the world. On the other hand it is also interesting to consider the change Peru would see if this traditional harvest that was once such an important part of their economy, seized to exist due to its lack of income.

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