The idea came in a choking cloud of chicken manure. Seventy-year-old Bob Glenn of Dade County, Missouri had to begin to think the unthinkable: leave his own property — a landscape he has lived on, worked and enjoyed for the past 40 years — just to breathe clean air. But when your closest neighbors are thousands upon thousands of industrially-grown chickens produced in enormous chicken houses, the thought eventually comes: how can you live in a countryside that has become a health hazard?
One day I was working on my truck in my shop and they were cleaning out the chicken houses. They were spreading it and they were blowing it over my house. After that, I developed a hacking cough and I had it for a couple of weeks.
Even the most basic moments in daily life had become tainted by the overwhelming, eye-watering odor and noxious chemical impacts of the massive chicken houses next door.
Sometimes I leave when they are spreading. I just can’t stay.
A native Missourian, Bob served in the United States Navy for 10 years before returning home in 1976 to enjoy the rural living he had loved growing up. He purchased 175 acres to run cattle and was set to make his way with a small ranching business. Yet change was in the air. Since moving back, the veteran witnessed sweeping changes on the Missouri landscape as small family farms began to phase out in favor of large industrial-scale agri-business operations.
In 2014, Bob would soon have the reality hit home when he received a letter from the federal Department of Agriculture notifying him that a 3-building poultry facility designed to hold approximately 105,000 broilers would be located just 1,320 feet away from his property.
The USDA sent me a letter — and I protested. They sent another letter back saying that the health ordinance only required a setback of 1,000 feet.
Bob, who suffers from heart disease, had concerns that the close proximity of the chicken houses to his property would impact his health — and harm the health and well-being of his neighbors.
I have a neighbor who has cancer, and her cancer treatment was not taking off. She tested her water and it was contaminated with E. coli and it was interfering with her treatment. I also know of some neighbors, a girl and a boy, who spent a good time in the ICU with breathing problems.”
With an industrial chicken house next door, Bob was not only rethinking his plans for the future, but also his hopes for his own family.
“I have a granddaughter who grew up on this farm and I wanted to leave this farm and portion of my land to her so she could use it. I am afraid, since she has 4 little children, that if I were to give her this, that it could be devastating to the little kids. It’s in the air.”
As Missouri continues to stagger under the unhealthy weight of industrial agriculture, Bob decided to get involved in local politics to get his voice and the issues associated with industrial animal operations heard by local lawmakers who continue to allow it to happen.
Neighbors who are affected by factory farms come to me and ask me what can they do? I tell them to go to their County Commissioners because they are allowing it to happen. We’re being sold out here by our elected officials.
Armed with information and very real experience, Bob has run for office in Dade County and he plans to continue his involvement in local politics. Standing up to big industry is no easy feat. It requires a great deal of grit and determination — many times by focusing the harm you have witnessed or have felt first-hand into constructive public action that can make a difference for all.
You try to find people with nerve enough to stand up and usually that means someone who has been hurt. The alternative is to do nothing. I refuse to do nothing.
So Bob continues to do something– toward the goal of making a positive change in Dade County.
You can either fight or fold. If you fight, you don’t know if you’re going to win, but at least you know you did something.
Yet, there’s no getting away from one very real fact he lives with every day: Bob lost the future he planned. A system that possesses no concern or regard for a local resident simply living his life plopped down a polluting, noisy, unhealthy and unconscionable industrial chicken operation a quarter-mile from his home – and said deal with it. And to his credit, he is.
Bob Glenn is not backing down from the fight.