Farmers’ markets and CSA-subscription farms have long relied on the Internet for marketing purposes. But farmers who aren’t necessarily connected directly with their eaters are climbing on the virtual bandwagon too.
As Gosia Wozniacka reported recently for the Associated Press, more than half of the country's farmers are online. And they’re not just hanging out:
Farmers say they’re increasingly using the Net to speed up their work flow, improve their farming techniques, market their crops, connect with customers and retailers, and fulfill a variety of regulatory requirements.
The relative dearth of high-speed Internet connections in rural areas, combined with the cost of buying electronic equipment, has prevented farmers from keeping up with the rest of America in Web habits. The number-one hindrance, however? Farming itself — which naturally takes up most of the day on a farm.
Has the market for markets become saturated? »
Are science and technology the only ways to feed the globe? »
Just in time for the back-to-school season, the Environmental Working Group has posted a list of five tips for improving homemade school lunches:
And yes, the detailed list online includes suggested menus that EWG staffers actually make for their own kids, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and veggies for snacking.
The agricultural nonprofit Roots of Change recently posted a survey asking readers to rate their top food-and-farming issues. Do you care more, for example, about environmental issues, or access to healthy food, or labor issues, or farming security? Take the survey yourself to share your opinion.
Roots of Change also posted the results of a Facebook poll asking readers to list their favorite sustainable-food books from this summer. The winners? Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland, Jonathan Bloom’s American Wasteland, Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish, Gary Paul Nabhan, Kraig Kraft, and Kurt Michael Friese’s Chasing Chiles, and yet another book on fowl fancying titled Keeping Pet Chickens.
Back in July, Tom Philpott wrote on Mother Jones about the all-too-predictable end result of using Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide: weeds that have evolved to resist the chemical. (The resulting weeds, naturally, are called “superweeds.”)
This month, Philpott continues the saga, with the news that prolonged use of Roundup damages soil, encouraging the growth of harmful fungi and parasites. Oh, and the livestock that eat Monsanto’s GMO crops designed to withstand Roundup Ready? They’re exhibiting fertility problems.
The feds, as usual, are ignoring the problem, while Monsanto is busy developing ultra-toxic backup poisons.
Earl Blumenauer tackles the Farm Bill once more. »
It’s the eco thing to do. »
And calls, yet again, for food-industry reform. »
Just as the news story about the deadly E. coli outbreak in Europe was fading, new outbreak reports are cropping up Stateside. Fresh strawberries sold at farmstands and farmers’ markets in the Pacific Northwest — apparently contaminated by wandering deer — have sickened several and killed at least one. Meanwhile, the USDA has recalled more than 60,000 pounds of contaminated ground-beef products, produced by National Beef and shipped nationwide. And of course, you don’t have to get E. coli from your food at all, as a recent outbreak of the disease in a state-park lake in Pennsylvania has emphasized. Don’t drink the water, OK?
A few years ago, science announced that obesity was contagious — that, in other words, hanging out with fat people could lead you to become fat yourself.
Now, however, come the contrarian reports, asserting that no, our social habits aren't to blame for our current obesity epidemic. At issue are whether the statistical models used in the original study were valid or not — and the scientists involved can’t agree:
At the heart of the dispute is an old conundrum in social science: How certain can anyone be about conclusions based on observations of how people behave?
As a local story in the New York Times pointed out last weekend, the ripening of summertime crops in community gardens has also meant growth in the garden-theft department. Some thieves are fellow gardeners, while some are strangers, lifting not just plump produce but entire plants. Reactions vary, from frustration and anger to stoicism and creativity:
Garden theft is by no means unique to New York. In 2007, David Tracey, a Vancouver journalist and environmental designer, published “Guerrilla Gardening, a Manualfesto.” Tips from the book appear on Ecolife, a Web site devoted to green living. He says yellow tomatoes are less enticing than red ones; protective fencing and belligerent signs are acceptable; and hiding desirable fruits like raspberries behind beets or parsnips is smart strategy. He also has a Zen-like attitude to dealing with stealing. “Invent some better scenario,” he wrote, “where the stolen food somehow ends up in the stomachs of people who need it.”
Whether organic food is healthier for you than conventional food is still a bone of contention, but as Natalie Jones recently pointed out on Grist, the food we grow and eat today just isn't as healthy as the food we grew and ate half a century ago. (It’s also not as tasty, either.)
What’s the story? So far, the theory is that breeding for higher yields has led to a decrease in nutrients: “The studies show that as fruits and vegetables get bigger and more plentiful, nutrients get diluted.” Be sure to scroll down for the cool interactive graphic, too.
It ain’t news that rising food costs are due, in part, to the fact that we use edible plants for fuel instead of food. In July, however, a report confirmed the link between U.S. food prices and plant-fuel production. As the Guardian noted, even as farmers worldwide rush to grow more corn and soybeans, there still isn't enough to feed our demand for both food and fuel. And efforts to produce sustainable biofuels from non-edible plant materials, Reuters recently reported, are at least five years away from mass production.
Will such a tax ever happen? Maybe not. »
As local news outlets around the country have noted lately, the number of Americans relying on food stamps to stave off starvation has hit an all-time high, with more than 45 million Americans enrolled in the federal food-stamp program. (That’s approximately 15 percent of the total U.S. population, or 1 in 7 Americans.) The Economist did a good job parsing the numbers back in July, but the question remains: Will the current financial mess in D.C. mean cutbacks to the food-stamp program just as more and more people need it?
Rain this year means the largest dead zones ever. »
A recent blog post on the Los Angeles Times website gave readers quick tips on how to correctly hold and use a chef's knife. A bit of a spat broke out in the comments section over whether the accompanying image — showing the proper “choke hold” — was correct.
Well-known L.A. Times food writer Russ Parsons had to step in, reassuring readers that, yes, “choking up” on the knife is right, even though it can look counterintuitive, and that the hand shown in the shot really is a cook’s hand, despite the perfectly manicured nails.
The Environmental Working Group — the nonprofit long known for its shopper’s guide to organic produce — recently released a meat eater's guide. The goal? To get meat eaters to choose the healthiest, most environmentally friendly meats, and to not waste any of it once purchased. Tips on the EWG’s website include eating less meat overall and buying grass-fed meat. (The EWG also recommends eating low-fat or nonfat dairy products; these are lower in toxins, but generally more processed.) For more info, read the EWG’s full report.
A spat in the blogosphere over science. »
A father’s legacy
The vegetarian-cooking pioneer
Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more
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