TEDxManhattan Heroes: Kendra Kimbirauskas

Photograph by Ivan Maluski

Leading up to TEDxManhattan 2015, we've asked this year's speakers to introduce themselves by answering a few questions. Kendra Kimbirauskas is the Chief Executive Officer of the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP). In addition to her years of experience working to combat factory farming impacts on communities in the northwest and across the country, Kendra currently farms 70 acres with her husband in Oregon, where they raise heritage breeds of pigs, chickens, and turkey.

What’s the topic you’ll be speaking about?

My talk will focus on the fact that we are seeing an unprecedented growth of factory farms in our rural communities despite having a more educated consumer audience than we have ever had in recent history. I will look at the factors leading to this growth, explain why urban residents/consumers should care and provide some action steps that everyone can take to actively push for reform away from the industrial model of animal production.

Why is this important?

Many consumers are deciding to opt out of the factory farming system, by searching for good-food labels, supporting local farmers and buying farm-direct. Simultaneously, many of our rural communities continue to be converted to industrial wastelands under the guise of agricultural production at a rate that is unprecedented in recent history. There are many factors leading to this phenomenon, but regardless of where someone lives or what food choices they make – we are all affected negatively by the growth of industrial animal agriculture in our rural areas.

Confining animals in industrial factory farms has been the nexus for the majority of the problems with our food system. While, factory farming is not a new phenomenon, the growth that we are seeing in this industry is. Further, with the push for more international trade agreements foreign capital will likely help to facilitate the expansion and growth of new industrial animal operations resulting in the United State’s rural communities becoming the “factory farm” for the rest of the world’s meat. This is critical time in our food system’s future and a time when we all need to pull together in support of reforming the industrial model of animal agricultural production.

What are 5 things someone can do if they learn that a factory farm is coming to their area?

  1. Contact any local, state or national non-profits like the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project so that their resources are made accessible to your community. 
  2. Talk to your neighbors and make sure everyone around the proposed operation is aware of what is happening;
  3. Call the state environmental or agricultural agency and request a copy of the permit for the operation. Sometimes a local zoning agency may also have requirements for a permit as well. Permits are public information and should be accessible to community members.
  4. Figure out what the timeline is for the decision-making body (the entity that will review the permit and vote to approve or deny the permit) and work backwards as you prepare to organize ensuring important deadlines are not missed.
  5. Call a meeting of concerned neighbors and plan to Organize! Organize! Organize! Pool resources and find a local attorney to help navigate the community through the process of challenging the permit and make opposition to the permit very visible in the community.

Why should people in a city or suburb care about a factory farm coming to a rural area?

No matter where you live factory farming has a direct impact on you and your family even if you choose not to consume animal products produced in factory farms. When we as a society removed animals from the land and placed them in factory farms, an unnatural system was created which has resulted in the contamination of our air, water and threatened our public health by contributing to the antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Air pollution does not know boundaries between rural and urban areas. The over 160 toxic gases that are emitted from factory farms which can contribute to smog, dust, haze and greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change. Toxic gases from factory farms can also combine with emissions from other polluting industries to cause acid fog and rain events.

No matter where you live factory farming has a direct impact on you and your family even if you choose not to consume animal products produced in factory farms.

Urban and suburban people often rely on water for drinking, recreating, cooking and bathing that is sourced from rural areas. If polluting factory farms are upstream from such water sources, water can become contaminated making people sick and even causing death. Further, antibiotic-resistant superbugs don’t discriminate based on where people dwell. Confining animals in factory farms, conditions that are inherently unsanitary and stress-filled, requires animals to be fed a lose dosage of antibiotics to keep them alive until slaughter. Replacing good animal husbandry with routine antibiotics has lead to an increase in the number of bacteria that have become antibiotic resistant rendering our medically important antibiotics useless and turning once easily controllable infections into life-threatening medical situations.

Adding insult to injury, hard-working Americans, regardless of where they live have been propping up this broken industry with their tax dollars. Industrial animal agriculture receives millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies each year, money that comes directly out of taxpayer pockets.

Are there other projects you’re also passionate about right now – either yours or someone else’s?

Personally, I am passionate about my farm. I am working to build a farm business based on raising heritage breeds of farm animals humanely on pasture without the use of routine antibiotics. Professionally, I am passionate about exposing the lies and misleading claims made by corporate agribusiness.

If you could do one thing to change the food system, what would it be?

My one thing would be to remove every animal from factory farms and place them into high-welfare, pasture based system. I firmly believe that if we eliminate confinement of animals, many of the issues we have with our present day food system go away. Is this realistic? I believe it is if we as consumers eat less meat and when we do eat meat we source meat from farmers who raise animals in non-polluting systems that are humane and healthy for the animal.

TEDxManhattan, "Changing the Way We Eat," will take place March 7, 2015, at the TimesCenter in New York City. Interested in joining the day? You can apply to attend, or host or attend a viewing party.