As the Associated Press reported recently, U.S. farmland ain’t cheap; in fact, there’s a boom right now in investing in farmland. As reporter Bernard Condon wrote,
A new breed of gentleman farmer is shaking up the American heartland. Rich investors with no ties to farming, no dirt under their nails, are confident enough to wager big on a patch of earth — betting that it’s a smart investment because food will only get more expensive around the world.
Who’s squeezed out in the land grab? Traditional farmers, of course, who can’t afford to expand their farms or get into farming in the first place. And planting crops based on market value stimulates price spikes and crashes. When the bloom is gone, where will investors go next? And will farms still be producing food?
Earlier this month, the first annual national Great Bee Count took place, in which volunteers across the country stared at flowers and counted the number of honey bees they spotted in 15 minutes. The average count? Just over two bees per quarter-hour. That’s not a lot, and one of the chief reasons why the count was held.
Honey-bee populations have been dwindling in the U.S. for decades, but drastically so in recent years, and given their agricultural importance — they’re responsible for pollinating most of the crops we eat — researchers want to know where they still are and how they’re doing. For more info, check out the Great Sunflower Project and Your Garden Show.
Time magazine notes our declining fish populations and explores aquaculture. »
Major egg producers call for new laws and better industry standards. Believe it — or not. »
Not necessarily, say the authors who originally called for government intervention. »
Yes, to help bees; no, to be virtuous. »
In case you missed it, the latest spat in the vegetable-gardening world took place recently in Oak Park, Michigan, where the city threatened to sue a family for filling the front yard with vegetables.
As the family in question noted in the blogosphere, the front-yard veggie patch — a very tidy, organized patch, to be sure — came about as the result of the family having to rip up the front yard to replace the broken sewer line destroyed by the tree planted by the city in front of the house years ago . . . you get the picture.
Of course, after the brouhaha went viral, the city dropped the charges against the family — only to renew them for the family not being speedy enough on getting their dogs licensed. Who knew that both veggies and dog tags could get you three months in jail?
Eat more of the former, less of the latter. »
Junk food, marketing, and rising obesity rates. »
The persistent problem of ancient chemicals. »
In an echo of mad-cow disease, production staff at Hormel who spend all day standing in a fine mist of pig brains have been coming down with autoimmune nerve disorders.
Genoways provides succinct histories both of Spam and of Hormel, and details the company’s record of worker exploitation. The headline wrap-up: “First, Hormel gutted the union. Then it sped up the line. And when the pig-brain machine made workers sick, they got canned.”
The summer issue of Lapham's Quarterly is all about food — specifically, about all ways of experiencing food, from the political to the aesthetic. Divided into categories (Feast or Famine, Chefs and Gourmands, and Dishes and Ingredients, plus the magazine’s regular departments, such as Essays), the issue includes food writing both new and classic, from such luminaries as M. F. K. Fisher, Michael Pollan, Madhur Jaffrey, Ruth Reichl, and Anthony Bourdain. (Alas, the mashup Ruth Bourdain does not make an appearance.) Much of it is available online, if you don’t feel like tracking down the heavy paper original. But check it out nonetheless.
For a nifty visual representation of the planet’s aquaculture industry, check out this map of the world. On the map, the Americas, Africa, and Europe are scrawny skeletons, but Asia looms large, and China (as in so many other areas of industry these days) dominates the entire map.
The map comes from a WorldFish Center report titled "Blue Frontiers: Managing the environmental costs of aquaculture." As Daniel Fromson noted on the Atlantic’s website, China’s current supremacy in fish farming is reason for concern:
China accounted for 61.5 percent of global aquaculture in 2008, a fact that has profound implications for the rest of the world in terms of food safety. When we deal with fish from China, we can’t be sure the fish is free of a host of risky antibiotics and other chemicals — and in the U.S., at least, the government isn’t adequately prepared to check.
A father’s legacy
The vegetarian-cooking pioneer
Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more
Good on everything