Henning's struggle is also related to animal rights. She spent years working to expose the horrible pollution caused by factory farm companies in Michigan. As a result of her actions, factory farms were exposed for being the horrible polluters that they are, and the biggest offenders were slapped with hefty fines for water quality violations. In awarding her the prize, Goldman Prize officials noted that Henning helped steer attention to the "runoff of animal excrement" that creates a "'toxic brew' of bacteria, antibiotics, chemicals, and sometimes carcasses." (Source)
Henning's story is fascinating. She's actually a farmer herself. And she's a member of the Sierra Club and dedicated environmentalist. She owns a farm near Hudson, Michigan, about 70 miles southwest of Detroit. Using a combination of aerial photographs, water samples, and thorough research of relevant documents, she fought a one-person crusade against the factory farm system. In the process, she endured a barrage of lawsuit threats, anonymous warnings and dead animals thrown on her porch. But she kept the good fight going. "I'm a redneck from Michigan," she proudly proclaimed. When asked about the Goldman Prize, she said, simply, "I'm humbled." (Source)
Henning's efforts have helped discredit the factory farm system. And a blow to that system is a victory for animals. As the Detroit Free Press notes: "Michigan has more than 200 concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFO's, defined as those with more than 700 cows, 2,500 hogs or 10,000 poultry..... Giant farms near Henning's farm in Lenawee County have been cited for more than 1,000 violations in the past decade." The same article goes on to say, "The farms are home to 20,000 cows and produce as much waste as a city of 200,000 people."
Nowadays, more people are waking up to the fact that not only are factory farms giant killing machines, they're also terrible polluters. Henning is a living, breathing example of a person who cared enough to make a difference. People like her are invaluable in democratic societies - people who stick their necks out for their beliefs, regardless of the consequences. Exposing the factory farm system, as she has done, has brought their harmful practices to the attention of millions and embarrassed the bigwigs.
That Goldman Prize couldn't have gone to a more deserving recipient.