Standing Up, Fighting Back – Crystal Clair, Adams County, Illinois

By Karen Hudson

The Clairs strive to be good stewards of their land and to uphold sustainable agricultural practices for the health of their community. However, a new neighbor is threatening to unravel the Clairs livelihood and the health of their community. 

It is a sad reality that farmers and their families in rural America are often the most affected by the growth of CAFOs. These families who live and work on their land are unable to abandon their farmsteads and cannot avoid the impacts from CAFOs.

Crystal Clair and her husband, Randy, live and farm at Sunset Lake Organics, approximately 2,000 feet from a new 5,000-head hog confinement in Adams County, IL. The Clairs grow certified, food-grade, organic crops, and also run a successful certified organic composting operation on their farm. 

Crystal Clair pictured with SRAP/ICCAW representative Karen Hudson (right)

The Clair’s organic farming business is threatened as well as Crystal’s health since she is also battling breast cancer. With a weakened immune system, Crystal cannot be outside at her farmstead due to the adverse impacts from the CAFO since the risk from the exposure to toxic gases, particulates, viruses, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria is simply too great. This poses a serious challenge since Crystal must be outside to perform her farm work. In the end, Crystal will be forced to choose between her health and the farm and work that is her passion and livelihood. 

The manure produced by the hog CAFO will be dispersed on adjacent farmland, and will likely impact the Clairs’ organic ground. It will also likely flow into Sunset Lake, which provides water for their successful composting business. If their organic ground or lake becomes contaminated, their crops could be denied organic status as they are tested for toxins. 

The hog CAFO is also a bad neighbor in other ways, with reports of severe damage to local township roads and runoff into waters of the state. The CAFO has threatened Clair’s livelihood, causing undue stress to an innocent family navigating serious health issues. 

The Clair family has formed a group called Save Adams County and has been working with Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water (ICCAW) and the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP) for the past 12 months. The group has participated in meetings, phone calls, letter writing; has contacted legislators; and is monitoring violations. The group is also educating others about CAFOs and Illinois lax laws when it comes to regulating industrial agriculture. 

The Clairs’ children and grandchildren have spent years fishing and swimming in Sunset Lake but those days are numbered. The hog CAFO will soon begin stocking hogs and producing millions of gallons of manure. However, the Clairs are not giving up without a fight—they have resolved to fight for stronger laws, monitor the CAFO, advocate for sustainable agriculture, and remain on the land that sustains their family and community.