Assateague Coastal Trust’s Kathy Phillips is on the front lines of the fight for clean water on the Lower Eastern Shore, where she has been very involved with citizen groups that came to Annapolis to testify in support of the Community Healthy Air Act. We asked her about the environmental and public health issues associated with agriculture, why the “family farmer” way of life is not what it once was and how folks can get involved with ACT.
The Shore’s Most Pressing Problem
“Water and air pollution from factory farming is by far the most underrated yet most pressing environmental problem we need to address on the Eastern Shore,” says Phillips. “Our ground water is high in nitrates, from many years of unregulated and over applied animal manures on our farm fields, causing concern in our rural communities about the safety of our drinking water.”
Specifically, Phillips sees the industrialization of the agriculture industry as the main culprit of the environmental and public health threats faced by residents of the Shore. Neither zoning laws nor regulation have kept up with the change from rural farms to heavy industry. This means air emissions and water discharges are either not regulated or poorly regulated, with no monitoring required in state permits.
The environmental consequences and public health threats by industrial agriculture compound each other, says Phillips. “The lower Eastern Shore has some of the highest asthma and cancer rates in the region. The public health and the environmental health are not problems unto themselves. When we have unhealthy communities we also have unhealthy waterways.”
Transparency and Accountability in Agriculture
Through her work with Assateague Coastal Trust and within MCAC, Phillips wants people to know the hidden costs associated with industrialized food production on the Eastern Shore.
“Small family farms have been lost in order to consolidate farmland for our current monoculture system on the Shore. All that lovely corn, ’as high as an elephant’s eye,’… goes into animal feeds, gasoline, or shipped overseas. The Eastern Shore used to be a vibrant agricultural system of small and large farms producing vegetable crops, fruit orchards, chickens, dairy. When the ‘vertical integration’ system of poultry production came to the Eastern Shore everything changed.”
Getting Involved with ACT
Assateague Coastal Trust’s advocacy efforts have been consistent for over forty years: to protect our waters and the people, plants and animals that depend on them, and to hold polluters and policymakers accountable for their actions… or inaction.
Community support is paramount, says Phillips. “We love it when our members offer to write letters, make phone calls, help organize community events, volunteer in our office or out in the field.”
For more, make sure to check out their new website: http://www.actforbays.org/