Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema screens all sorts of films in its basement theater, and next week, it will host a documentary by two Guilford College students. Sol Weiner and Tom Clement, who both graduate this year, created Swine Country, a documentary that “explores the negative health and environmental impacts of large-scale hog farming” in eastern North Carolina.
SW: My interest in hog farming started in the Cape Fear River Basin studies program at Guilford College. I began to develop an interest in the environmental justice movement and quickly realized that the fight to reform the industrial livestock industries in eastern North Carolina represented a strong place-based movement in our own river basin. Many people credit Warren County in eastern North Carolina as being the birthplace of the modern environmental justice movement because of the citizen-led fight against dumping of PCB-ridden soil that took place in the early 1980s. The region has a rich history of organizing and I wanted to learn how those earlier efforts informed these current campaigns.
You and Tom Clement culled through a lot of information and interviews. Was any aspect of what you learned particularly shocking or surprising?
The thing that constantly shocks me the most is just how concentrated the hog, chicken, and turkey CAFOs [confined animal feeding operations] are in relatively few counties, namely Duplin and Sampson. Tom and I had the chance to take an airplane tour between New Bern, NC, and Duplin County, and witnessing the sheer volume of CAFOs really surprised us. Another thing that came as a surprise was that the location of these CAFOs are less about class than they are about race. Many people assume that environmental pollution affects poor people relatively equally, but through collaborative research between academic researchers and community organizations both nationally and in North Carolina we know that, actually, most of these polluting industries target people of color specifically, sometimes regardless of class status.
What should people know before coming to the screening? And for people that won’t make it, what’s the most important take away from the film?
Our documentary reflects one viewpoint on this issue, and that has a lot to do with our collaboration with REACH [Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help]. Through REACH we had the opportunity to interview some incredible and resilient folks who fight very hard to make their environment clean and safe, and we fight with them and support their cause. But there are so many other folks doing this work and I wish we could have involved everybody, and one way to do that now is to open these conversations to people with a variety of differing opinions, even those who disagree with us. We welcome everybody to come see the film and engage with one another around this issue.
You were recently accepted into UNC’s masters program in folklore. Do you want to continue creating projects about grassroots groups like REACH or people in eastern North Carolina?
Absolutely. I am planning on focusing on how landscape affects community organizing, so oral history is a big part of understanding how people connect with each other based on where they live and work. Sense of place and connection to land is especially important in eastern North Carolina given the long history of agriculture, and listening directly to peoples’ experiences with their place really gives you a sense of how much agriculture and land is built into the dialect, the language. Conducting interviews for Swine Country prepared me very well to build relationships with people, learn about their experiences, and connect their knowledge to academic knowledge.
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