‘We do things differently’

You’ve seen one confined animal feeding operation, you’ve seen them all, right? As the Tin Pan Alley song says, it ain’t necessarily so.

“We do things differently,” says Heidi Vittetoe, who runs J.W. Vittetoe Ltd. with her husband. The Vittetoes process 200,000 hogs a year through a series of contracts with other farmers in and near Washington, Iowa. Iowa leads the nation in hog production. In fact, 200,000 is a mighty big number. Where does all the hog waste go?

Vittetoe sees it as a continuing circle. True, hogs generate lots of waste. But Iowa, she notes, is one of America’s foremost crop-growing states. The waste can be turned into fertilizer and used to nurture grain-growing cropland. Many of those grains will be harvested and used in the hogs’ feed. And the cycle starts anew.

This is different than in, say North Carolina, where people living near hog farms complain bitterly that the smell of hog waste kept in euphemistically named lagoons is so bad they have to stay indoors with their windows closed at all times of the year. There is also the danger of rupture of a waste-laden lagoon despite the clay-packed walls.

One lagoon at a farm in Washington, Iowa, was nowhere near the size of the mammoth lagoons in North Carolina. “If you have to truck in your (animals’) food,” Vittetoe says, “you’re going to have a problem with your waste.”

Of swine and flu

While in rural Iowa the week of April 19, I visited two farming operations that raised hogs. I could tell from the tickle in my throat that I had picked up a cough at one of the farms, but nobody I interviewed ever mentioned swine flu or its more scientific name: H1N1.

While it took another week for the swine flu outbreak to make front-page news in the nation’s daily press, none of the Catholic farmers I interviewed expressed any concern that the meat-buying public would associate swine flu with pork products, including ham and bacon. The World Health Organization has discounted the possibility of swine flu being transmitted to humans through properly handled and prepared pork products.

Given the economic hit most hog farmers took last year due to the spiking price of corn, though, the last thing they need is unfounded rumors of swine flu driving down the price they get from the nation’s big hog processors.

Neighborly honor for Tigers’ broadcaster

The Catholic Register of Toronto has an article about Assumption University honoring Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell and his wife, Lulu, with the Christian Culture Gold Medal.

Despite national boundaries — not to mention possible home-team loyalties to the Toronto Blue Jays —  the cities of Detroit and Toronto are only about 200 miles apart by air. Driving distance is about 240 miles, well within range of weekend trips for baseball fans of either city to hop between Tigers and Blue Jays games when the home team is away.

The story said the 91-year-old Harwell  “was honoured for his professionalism, commitment to the community and to his Christian faith.” (OK, they spell some words a little differently in Canada, too.)

In recognizing Lulu Harwell as well, Assumption’s president, Father Paul Rennick, described her as a “sustaining presence” for her broadcaster husband.  The joint award was the the first time a medal has been presented to a married couple.

How do you say ‘swine flu’ in Nahuatl?

Mexico’s Institute for Indigenous Languages, known as INALI, for its Spanish initials, has translated audio messages about how to avoid the swine flu into 20 versions of native languages found in Mexico.

The clips are available at the institute’s Web site. They run a couple of minutes each and come in regional variations of some of the more widely spoken languages. For instance, there are five variants of the information in Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs. The versions represent the idioms spoken in different parts of the states of Puebla, Veracruz and Guerrero.

The messages include basic information such as wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when coughing, and drink plenty of liquids.

Could come in handy, particularly if you’ve got immigrant neighbors who don’t understand or read English or Spanish.