People in rural communities are beginning to join forces to defend their health and well-being against the inherent threats posed by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). I believe that the future leadership of rural America is emerging from among those who are taking the lead in protecting their communities against CAFOs, and I am just beginning to appreciate the importance of the new relationships that are being forged among rural people who share this common concern for the future of their communities.

Over the past year, I have met with local anti-CAFO group in Arkansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, and Ontario, Canada. Each group is different but they all of have one thing in common: they are all creating “communities of necessity.” Most of these folks didn’t form these new relationships because they wanted to. They got together with neighbors because they felt they had to. They knew they would have to work together if they were to have a chance to protect themselves, their families and their communities from the threats of CAFOs.

Rural America once had strong communities. It would have been very difficult for anyone who built a CAFO in a rural area in earlier times. It wasn’t socially or morally acceptable for one person in the community to benefit at the expense of others. Rural people were also very skeptical of “outsiders,” such as the corporations that are promoting CAFOs. They understood that more often than not, “outside investors” were intent on taking advantage of the “local yokels.” The strong communities of earlier times were created out of necessity and over time became important keepers of rural social and cultural values.

When I was a kid growing on a small dairy farm in southwest Missouri, I lived in a strong farming community. The community was an interwoven network of people who knew each other mainly out of necessity. Most farms in those days couldn’t actually be farmed by a single farmer or farm family.