Lynn Henning, a Michigan grandmother who has fought pollution by factory livestock farms, was awarded the coveted Goldman Environmental Prize, along with activists from five other regions of the world. The prize, which comes with an award of $150,000, is the world’s largest prize for grass-roots environmental activists. One recipient is chosen from each of six continental regions: North America, Central and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and islands and island nations.
“Goldman Prize recipients are proof that ordinary people are capable of doing truly extraordinary things,” Goldman said in a statement issued by the Goldman Environmental Foundation. “Although the prize winners represent a wide variety of nations and work on very different issues, they have much in common. All have shown conviction, commitment and courage.”
Lynn Henning now represents North America. For a decade, the 52-year-old family farmer has battled with large factory livestock farms over the pollution caused by their operations in rural Michigan. The farms are known as “concentrated animal feeding operations.” The largest raise millions of animals in enclosed spaces and produce as much waste as medium-sized cities. Unlike cities, however, they are not required to treat the waste, which includes feces, urine, pesticides, hormones, carcass parts and E. coli bacteria. The waste is collected in large vats or open pits and then periodically sprayed on fields as “fertilizer,” polluting groundwater and creating toxic fumes.
Henning and her husband farm 300 acres of corn and soybeans in Lenawee County within 10 miles of a dozen concentrated animal-feeding operations. Henning’s parents-in-law, who live close to one factory livestock farm, have both been diagnosed with poisoning from hydrogen sulfide, one of the chemicals produced by these farming methods.
In 2000, Henning began speaking out against the factory farms, collecting water samples and gathering information about pollution spills. The following year, she began volunteering for the Sierra Club, and in 2005 she became a staff member. Lynn presented the information she collected to state officials but initially had little success in combating the politically influential farm operators. She and her family were subjected to harassment. Her mailbox was blown up, dead animals were left on her porch and she was followed and run off the road, the Goldman Foundation said.
But with the help of a volunteer pilot and photographer, and using satellite imagery and GPS documents, she was able to collect a body of evidence that eventually led Michigan regulatory agencies to issue hundreds of citations to farm operators for environmental violations. Go Grandma!
Other Winners This Year:
1. Randall Arauz of Costa Rica, who has led a campaign to end the practice of shark finning, in which fisherman cut off the fins and tails of sharks they catch and throw the animals back into the sea to die.
2. Tuy Sereivathana of Cambodia, known as “Uncle Elephant,” who has worked with villagers to save native elephants, which are sometimes killed by farmers for trampling farmland and destroying crops.
3. Malgorzata Gorska of Poland, who enlisted the help of the European Union Parliament and led the fight to save the Rospuda Valley, one of the last wilderness areas in Europe, from the development of a major expressway.
4. Humberto Rios Labrada of Cuba, a folk musician and scientist, who has worked to promote sustainable farming methods and reduce the uses of pesticides and fertilizer.
5. Thuli Makama of Swaziland, the African country’s only public-interest environmental attorney, who waged a successful three-year battle to win the right of nonprofit environmental groups to have a voice in government environmental management decisions.