Date: April 19, 2012
Journey: Lincoln, NE to Fort Collins, CO
Total miles: 1,033 miles (39.6mpg)
Continued from part 1…
V. Greeley, Home of the Factory Farms
But the idyllic ranches along I-80 was a thing of Nebraska. I was in eastern Colorado now: the land of factory farmed cows. Along my route down I-76 since entering Julesburg, I was witnessing the monstrosity of the giant feedlots for what would be the first time. I’d seen chicken and egg factory farms in Illinois, Iowa, other states, and even Israel, but not these. Every dozen or less miles was another concentration camp. I was driving about 72 miles per hour and it would take me over a minute to pass up these bio-generators from end-to-end. (Check out Google Maps: A mile and 15 miles north-east of Sterling. A mile from the Brush Municipal Airport. A half-mile east of the Empire Reservoir.)
The largest of all was not a filthy, ugly, barren dairy cow factory (with hundreds of “replacement calf” shelters), but a “beef” feedlot–much like the one seen in the opening scene of Food Inc.–on US-32, one mile outside of Kersey. Google maps confirmed my mental note that these were “mile-long factory farms.” The shit lagoons alone were the size of city blocks in Chicago. From the satellite image, the factory farm not only has more bovine inhabitants than the entire population of humans in the town of it belongs to; it is also larger than the entire down town area. A city within a city.
According to my friend in Greeley, the people (in general) are quite proud of their agri-business. It’s not something to hide, but to embrace as part of their identity. (The local roller derby team name is Slaughterhouse). This was even the case several years ago, before legislation was passed banning the burning of blood at rendering plants. The smell and toxins under the right (or wrong) wind conditions could fill the city for days and even reach Fort Collins, 20 miles to the northwest.
In addition to the questionable values that finance Greeley and the environmental are the social issues in town such as gang violence and sometimes racial tensions/competition/hierarchy(not unlike those described in the NYT article, “Somethings Never Die“. (Cities with factory farms have high violent crime rates compared to cities with other industrial job-bases). Greeley is about half white and one third Hispanic with a growing Sudanese refugee population which is protesting Swift & Co., the owners of the packaging plant they work at, for more rights (as they don’t have much protection from serious exploitation). My friend knows someone who works for Swift & Co. in Human Resources who is trying to mediate tensions from inside the company. At times she’s tempted to leave her job at Subway for the much better paying white-collar job at Swift & Co., but her values get the best of her. In some places, violence pays.
(See my videos filmed at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for more on this)
When I arrived in Greeley, I was surprised by how suburban it was–far from the rural image I had in my mind. besides being a major player in animal agri-biz, it was also a university town. My friend is majoring in sociology at the University of Northern Colorado and was presently learning a lot about the social injustices and questions of privilege. Even with some more progressive-minded people, I didn’t hear much about activism in town beyond the labor issues at the processing plants.
My friend wanted to show me that Greeley wasn’t all that bad. She had found her niche with some local entrepreneurs in town who owned a restaurants, bike shops, a local magazine, and a hair saloon on 16th street. The downtown area was a lot more developed than I imagine it’d be–a much cozier area to reside than many other small cities I’ve traveled through. Then my friend warned me about wearing certain colors in bars (of which many bars banned due to gang violence). Afterwards, I began noticing all the shoes hanging from telephone wires above the streets.
Originally, I had planned on staying the night before at my friend’s place and spending the morning together so I could get to Fort Collins by the afternoon or earlier. There was not much to do, it seemed, in Greeley, and certainly not any vegetarian restaurants. She said we could go to either Chipotle or a local place she’d order a customized sandwich at. I chose the latter. I wasn’t going to waste my food tourism opportunities (plus, I was sick of Chipotle). I hadn’t had a “real” meal in about two days, so I had my fingers crossed that this place would satisfy my appetite.
REVIEW: The Crvsh-Room on 16th Street and 10th Avenue, wasn’t quite a restaurant or a bar, but food and drinks were served there. A cute little place with some cool art, nonetheless. My friend’s partner recommended I try a local beer, Oskar Blue’s Brewery’s Dale’s Pale Ale. I’m not as fond of pale ale’s as everyone else seems to be, but I liked this one. (Sorry, it was over two weeks ago and I’m not a beer connoisseur so I’m not going to attempt to describe why :P). Based on recommendation (and hunger), I ordered the guacamole and mango salsa appetizer with my vegan panini. The guac and mango salsa were refreshing. Adding jalapenos created more layers and complimented the zest. The chips, however, were off in taste and texture. Not quite crunchy enough for me. The panini was a delicious combination of veggies and spinach, but the bread seemed like something bought from a grocery store and as a whole it didn’t pack many calories (something most people don’t ever complain about). After all was said and done (appetizer, entree, beer, and tip), it was only $16. <3 carrots out of 5>
The dinner wasn’t as intimate and enjoyable as I would have liked it to be. After my appetizer came out, we heard a loud dog yelp. We went out to the street to see what happened. A man was joking with some concerned citizens on the sidewalk in front of his car. “I didn’t see it!” he laughed. The small puppy seemed to be alright, but had trouble walking. We weren’t sure if he was a stray, but he had been hanging out on the block for a while. Evidently, the man had hit the puppy while he parked his car. “I slammed on the breaks as hard as I could!” He was still smiling.
Besides, the dog instance, I wasn’t getting much attention because my friend was preoccupied with her iphone. (I would have been more upset about this before I became guilty of the same thing after attaining Galaxy). I started talking to the waitress, a friend of my friends. She was originally from Colorado Springs, but had moved to Greeley for school. She never graduated but ended up sticking around because it was a super cheap place to live. She put her concerns about safety and health aside. The other folks sitting at the bar were the owner and his possees who owned the adjacent shops. My friend’s partner explained that this is how good business is done, local networks and mutual aid. They didn’t say much to me, and I didn’t say much to them. They weren’t my kind of people; no interest in social justice and philosophy. They wanted to have fun and make money, and that was about it. (Even my friend sometimes wondered about them. They were white trust-fund babies, she explained.) Was I being judgmental? Probably. Alienating myself? Certainly.
My friend hadn’t seen one guy in a long time and wanted to hang out with him. I felt short-handed given that I had just driven 1,000 miles and set aside a day to hang out with her. Her partner took me to a microbrewery he liked: Crabtree Brewery. They didn’t have his favorite stuff in, the Oatmeal Stout, so we ordered the Eclipse IPA. Meanwhile, we snacked on faux-buttered popcorn and a super spicy sauce. We chatted a little with the owner who had a lot to say about the microbrew bandwagon. “Everybody thinks they are going to open up there own brewery!” he said. He worried that corporations would appropriate the culture of microbreweries. Afterwards, my friend’s partner and I talked about the root and cure for societal injustices. He wanted to know what he could do. I shrugged. “I’ve been reading the literature for years and I still don’t know. If we knew, we wouldn’t have to ask.”
We returned to 16th street to pick up my friend who had started to feel sick. I dropped them off at their trailer home and stayed to chat before I departed. We reminisced on Texas and got philosophical about animals and vegetarianism. Her mom had come home from work and it was probably the last thing she cared to hear about. She was clicking away on the computer at what seemed to be an MMORPG. I decided I wanted to make the most of my time in Fort Collins for day 3 as I was planning on being in Boulder before 4:20pm on 4/20/2012, so I did not stay the night in Greeley. I contacted my friend Krista who I studied with in Australia in the spring of 2006, and she said it was not too late to stay with her. So I said goodbye to my Texan friends–but not before dressing up in ridiculous costumes and taking photos– and drove westward into the foothills.