I grew up in southern Minnesota about twenty miles southwest of the Minnesota River, just where the prairie begins that will flow into Iowa, and then Nebraska. My pre-school years were spent on a farm surrounded by oceans of corn and bean fields as far as the eye could see across the horizon.
In the fall of 1964 when I was seven we moved ten miles into the small town of Madelia, population about 2,000. Our house was on the edge of town about a block from the railroad tracks. We were so close that the bell on a little reindeer that stood on my bedroom dresser would ring every time a train would go by.
At the end of block next to the railroad tracks was a Monsanto Anhydrous Ammonia transfer station. Several times a day, all summer long, the trains would stop and unload tanker loads of ammonia to the big holding tanks at the station. The fumes were so thick we couldn’t breathe. Even if we ran inside and closed the windows we still smelled it. There was no getting away from that putrid feeling in one’s lungs.
This was only part of it. Day in and out farmers in their pickups towing smaller tanks behind them came past our house constantly to get the ammonia to pour onto their fields. Monsanto said it would increase crop production. In the 1960’s and ‘70s no one questioned this. It was better farming through chemistry.
Fast forward forty to fifty years. Those people of my small town are now sick and dying. Each time I talk to my aging mother someone new has cancer or she’s been to another funeral. The high rate of disease in this little town just doesn’t make sense. And it’s just not cancer. My brother says, “Clem and Matt have MS, You know it’s odd but their farms were right next door to each other all those years.” And then I heard George, Burt, and Fred all got Parkinson’s about the same time. We’ve also had several people from our little town get ALS.
Something is wrong with this picture. My heart breaks when I hear about all of these people who I grew up knowing. They were family friends. What’s more this pain has touched my family. Last fall my cousin, Carol, died of cancer and just this week another cousin, Joseph, died of ALS. How many more of my generation will die because we all grew up surrounded by the fields saturated with Anhydrous Ammonia and Round Up? Many of us already suffer weird health symptoms. My sister has a form of an autoimmune disease. I myself developed asthma at age 45. What’s strange is my asthma is especially susceptible to chemical smells. I also deal with joint pain that no doctor has been able to explain. All I can say is that at times it feels as though some kind of poison has invaded my body.
Two years ago my father died of a form of lymphoma. Between farming or fixing machinery for the local farmers he spent most his life in those corn and bean fields. His heart was strong, but something tainted his blood. I pray for those I love that God protects us each day to keep us healthy and whole as we grow into our wisdom years. May we be blessed to see our children’s children and their children too.