I grew up on family farms. The first one was in western Kentucky, the second one in central Illinois. The reason for the move from Kentucky to Illinois was due to family concerns about the youngest daughter.

No matter. The focus of the farms were essentially the same. On both, we had a few hogs, a flock of sheep, dairy cows, beef cows, a large garden, row crops of corn, soybeans, oats and lots of trees.

In Kentucky, my father at one point raised cucumbers for the Heinz company (what I remember most about that venture was picking the damned things while crawling on my hands and knees), but riches — as promised — never materialized, and we quit planting cucumber seeds. What had been the “pickle patch” was converted into the patch for watermelons.

When we moved to Illinois, the family farm still had all those things and a bit more. From dairy cows that provided milk for the family, we had many more that provided gallons of milk for a large corporation — Sealtest.

We also had a large garden, which provided most of our vegetable needs.

I joined the Future Farmers of America, and my project was hogs. From the neighbors, I acquired four small pigs — the runts of the litter that would have starved were it not for me.

From that rather humble beginning, I learned that, indeed, hogs would pay the mortgage. This was in the ’60s. That mode was agriculture, not agribusiness.

There is a vast difference: Agriculture is a way of life, and agribusiness is all about profits and to hell with the neighbors.

The most hogs produced in Missouri was in 1975, mostly by family farmers who raised hogs as insurance for paying the mortgage. Also, plenty of pork chops and bacon.

Skip to 2020. Most of the hogs raised in this state are owned by agribusinesses. Not many family farmers raise hogs; the price per hog just doesn’t make sense. What is $10 per hog when a family farmer has eight hogs? That doesn’t bring in much money — $80 — and not nearly enough to pay the mortgage.

But when an agribusiness owns 80,000 hogs, it results in a net profit of $800,000 when those piggies go to market.

But, are Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) farms?

The industrial techniques used by “BigPig” are not those of traditional family farmers. The methods of operation are more akin to factories than those of a farm.

Everything is ruled by the corporation. A poor sow never sees a boar; rather, she is artificially inseminated by sperm collected from a superior boar.

After giving birth, the sow is contained in such a fashion that she cannot roll over and inadvertently kill one of the piglets.

From this birthing building, the piglets are transferred to another building, where they are fed grains supplied by the company.

At no time does the hog see the light of day nor does its feet ever touch dirt.

These hogs are confined in buildings from birth to the day when a truck hauls them to slaughter. These confinement buildings are unlike anything seen on a family farm.

The feeds are carried to the pigs (hogs by now) on a conveyor belt, and the animals are raised to a maximum weight of somewhere around 280 pounds.

If all has gone well, all of the hogs are fairly uniform, making slaughter and disassembly much easier and quicker.

While growing up in this factory-like facility, an individual hog is confined in what resembles a cage, preventing that hog from biting other hogs, which hogs in close confinement are prone to do.

On a regular schedule and at least daily, if not more often, the floor of the giant building is flushed with water and the excrement and urine are carried away by pipes into a giant cesspit.

When the cesspit becomes full, its contents are sprayed onto adjacent fields, where rainstorm runoff carries the wastes into the nearest stream.

While corporate mouthpieces claim all this is done to “feed a hungry world,” that is nonsense. Family farmers back in 1975 raised more hogs than are raised today in Missouri in all of the agribusinesses.

There are still people starving in Africa and the Southeast. The “feeding a hungry world” is something a PR flak invented and that spokespersons for “BigPig” roll out.

Are CAFOs farms? Nope. Factories.

About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

Ken Midkiff, formerly the director of the Sierra Club Clean Water Campaign, is now chair of the city’s Environment and Energy Commission and serves on the board of directors of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

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