Eighty-eight-year-old Lowell Trom was born on his family's farm about an hour southeast of the Twin Cities. This is land his parents purchased back in 1925, land he's worked for the last 75 years, harvesting corn and soybeans with his two sons.
When you've been living and working on the same farm for three-quarters of a century, you get to see agriculture evolve first-hand. Over the years Dodge County, where the Troms live, has welcomed a thicket of factory farms where thousands of pigs, pumped full of antibiotics, huddle in windowless buildings. Eleven feedlots stand within three miles of the Trom's farm, and the family accuses them of causing irreversible damage to the soil and water.
Lowell's daughter Sonja Eayrs says that in the fall the stench from manure is unbearable.
"We're in the combine, and this horrifying stench that gets inside the combine, inside the tractor, you can't get away from it. My father I'm sure was overcome by hydrogen sulfide poisoning. He had to stop the combine and get out and vomit."
That manure is high in nitrates, phosophorus, and antibiotics, Eayres says, residues of which seep into the earth and are absorbed into their food supply. Manure washes into the headwaters of the Cedar River, she claims, fostering E. coli, while the thousands of hogs that share their aquifer are draining people's wells.
Recently Ripley Township, next door to the Troms' Westfield Township, issued permits for a 2,400-hog operation on five acres of land, which could produce more than 45,000 pounds of liquid manure a day. The Troms are completely fed up, and they're fighting back with a lawsuit against Ripley Township and the owners of the new farm.
The lawsuit cites Ripley Township's moratorium on large feedlots. More than 15 years ago, the township adopted an ordinance that says people can raise at most 33 pigs on five acres of land. The Troms accuse Ripley Township of breaking its own rules by awarding a variance for this project.
Neither Ripley Township nor the factory farm's owners have filed a response.
The Troms' lawsuit is hardly going to reverse damage already caused by all the other feedlots that surround them, but Eayrs says it's really about mounting a challenge against Big Ag that says small farmers aren't going to just roll over and die.
"It's David versus Goliath in these rural areas," she says. "They try to paint it as farmer versus farmer, but it's not. Truth be told, it is farmer versus industry, and the industry is extremely well-heeled financially. Our family story is consistent with that's happening across rural America."
The Troms have started a GoFundMe with more information.