The Dizzying Grandeur of 21st Century Agriculture [NYT link] Our industrialized food system nourishes more people, at lower cost, than any comparable system in history. It also exerts a terrifyingly massive influence on our health and our environment. Photographer George Steinmetz spent nearly a year traveling the country to capture that system, in all its scope, grandeur and dizzying scale. His photographs are all the more remarkable for the fact that so few large food producers are willing to open themselves to this sort of public view [more inside]
Is Puerto Rico the Next Sustainable Ag Hot Spot? Additional related news includes Bayer Opens New Bio-Agriculture Facilities in Puerto Rico and Governor Cuomo Announces First-Ever Agriculture Trade Forum Between New York and Puerto Rico [more inside]
From deities to data - "For thousands of years humans believed that authority came from the gods. Then, during the modern era, humanism gradually shifted authority from deities to people... Now, a fresh shift is taking place. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was legitimised by humanist ideologies, so high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimises the authority of algorithms and Big Data." [more inside]
In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
How Marsala Wine Became an Italian Typical Product: "It is not by chance that, when in the 1960s a “Protected Denomination of Origin” system was established, Marsala was the first Italian product to obtain such recognition. The history of this wine and the role that it plays in the international commerce since the end of the 19th c., is however strongly reliant on merchants and entrepreneurs that were not Italian, but English."
Water will flow once more in Maui streams long diverted to feed the island's thirsty sugar cane industry. The water will now be available for the cultivation of kalo, or taro, a plant with historic and cultural significance whose cultivation has had a complicated history. This marks a win for local taro farmers, who had been fighting for some time for the return of water. The water returns as the sugar industry departs the island for good, taking a number of jobs with it. [more inside]
Farm to Fable Part 1: The restaurant's chalkboard makes claims as you enter from the valet parking lot. At the hostess stand, a cheery board reads, “Welcome to local, farm-fresh Boca.” Brown butcher paper tops tables and lettuces grow along a wooden wall. In a small market case, I see canned goods from here and produce from somewhere. Check the small print: blackberries from Mexico and blueberries from California. With the tagline “Local, simple and honest,” Boca Kitchen Bar Market was among the first wave of farm-to-table restaurants in Tampa Bay to make the assertion “we use local products whenever possible.” I’ve reviewed the food. My own words are right there on their website: “local, thoughtful and, most importantly, delicious.” But I’ve been had, from the snapper down to the beef. [more inside]
We are glad you are here! This blog was created for us to address the many questions people have about farmers and modern day agriculture. We hope that our blog will be a source of answers for people who are searching for the truth! ... This blog will focus mainly on family farmers like us who live in the Midwest and grow typical Midwest crops and livestock (wheat, corn, soybeans, sorghum, cattle, etc). There are countless other farmers out there who grow all sorts of different things (fruits, veggies, nuts, etc.) and raise all sorts of different animals (swine, poultry, dairy, etc.), but since my expertise lies solely on Midwest USA farmers, that’s what I will generally be referencing! The point to take away here is that we need to appreciate all farmers, no matter what kind they are, and we should all do our best to thank those who help grow our food! [more inside]
Robbing of bees has become an increasingly problematic crime as bee populations dwindle due to Colony Collapse Disorder and the price of a healthy hive rises. A swarm of thefts occur around this season every year in California as cells of thieves extract hives from almond orchards in the Central Valley, where 90% of all managed bees are brought every year. [more inside]
GrowUp: the future of food - "The new concept of commercial aquaponics, argue Hofman and Webster, has a much-reduced environmental impact. Companion farming fish and crops dates back to the Aztecs, but it took until the 2010s, in Chicago, to move it indoors at any scale. In the UK, only eco-smallholdings have so far attempted it, and the only European aquaponics farms of note use purpose-built greenhouses. GrowUp's model, by contrast, is to fit out empty urban buildings, use no chemicals, employ LED lights, source 100 per cent renewable energy and, crucially, be based within five miles of its customer base in a dense urban area."
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari - "The book delivers on its madly ambitious subtitle by in fact managing to cover key moments in the developmental history of humankind from the emergence of Homo Sapiens to today's developments in genetic engineering." Also btw, check out Harari on the myths we need to survive, re: fact/value distinctions and their interrelationships.
Corn Wars: The farm-by-farm fight between China and the United States to dominate the global food supply. The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI now contend, in effect, that the theft of genetically modified corn technology is as credible a threat to national security as the spread to nation-states of the technology necessary to deliver and detonate nuclear warheads. Disturbingly, they may be right. As the global population continues to climb and climate change makes arable soil and water for irrigation ever more scarce, the world’s next superpower will be determined not just by which country has the most military might but also, and more importantly, by its mastery of the technology required to produce large quantities of food.
Spreading awareness of Artificially Selected Organisms. They have a Facebook page full of images sure to go viral, and even a White House petition. [This is satire.]
The war against genetically modified organisms is full of fearmongering, errors, and fraud. Labeling them will not make you safer.
But to a growing cadre of A-list winemakers, there’s actionable intelligence in the data. Many of Fruition’s clients are altering their irrigation techniques, turning laggard vineyards into top performers and using far less water than they ever imagined. Along the way they’re extracting lessons that could extend far beyond this rarified corner of agriculture. By gaining insight into the relationships between water, sunlight, yield, and taste, Fruition Sciences is showing the way for farmers of all stripes to increase productivity and quality in a world of shifting weather patterns and decreasing supplies of freshwater.
When Dr. Patrick Moore appeared on cable channel Canal+ to argue for the safety of the widely used herbicide glyphosate he asserted that it would be completely safe to drink right from a glass. When the interviewer challenged him to follow through on the act, he backed down. Recently, Stu Burguiere of The Blaze decided to accept the challenge and drank a glass of the herbicide along with fracking fluid and artificial sweeteners. The cocktail also included a salt rimmed glass and a lemon garnish. It had the neon green appearance of a Vodka and Diet Dew. Don't try this at home. Or anywhere.
Crickets have recently been touted as the next big thing in sustainable eating (previously). Indeed, demand for crickets has skyrocketed in the past five years. But where do human-grade crickets come from? Turns out there's a severe lack of supply to meet growing demand. Enter Big Cricket Farms, which is working to innovate new large-scale methods of cricket farming. How can you optimize a food source with minimal infrastructure to build off of? The farm's FAQ attempts to provide some answers. [more inside]
California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth [New York Times]
A punishing drought is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been the state’s engine has run against the limits of nature.California Water Use [New York Times] Are you affected? [New York Times] The Drought, explained. [New York Times Video] [more inside]
"Honestly? I've never had more fun cooking. Or eating. I didn't want to write this piece; it's almost humiliating to hear myself talk this way. But there it is. I'm in Berkeley. I'm lucky to be here. I may stay." Mark Bittman talks about California produce. [more inside]
"This subreddit is exclusively for pictures of infrastructure. Paved roads and other public transit, agriculture, freight, waste management, and water systems are all things we could live without but we really don't want to (and they look cool too)" [more inside]
Product of Mexico: Hardship on Mexico's farms, a bounty for U.S. tables — the first in a series of four Los Angeles Times long-form stories about labor conditions discovered during an 18-month investigation of Mexican vegetable farms that supply produce to the United States. [more inside]
Part I: Bee Deaths Mystery Solved? Neonicotinoids (Neonics) May Actually Help Bee Health.
Reports that honey bees are dying in unusually high numbers has concerned many scientists, farmers and beekeepers, and gripped the public. There have been thousands of stories ricocheting across the web, citing one study or another as the definitive explanation for a mystery that most mainstream experts say is complex and not easily reducible to the kind of simplistic narrative that appeals to advocacy groups. We explore the claims by Harvard School of Public Health researcher Chensheng Lu, heralded by anti-pesticide and anti-GMO advocacy groups, for his research that purportedly proves that the class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids are killing bees and endangering humans.Part II: Bee Deaths And CCD - Flawed Chensheng Lu Harvard Studies Endanger Bees.
Here we examine the specific claim that neonics are responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder—the centerpiece of Lu’s assertions and again see how influential media manipulate quotes and selectively present information to ideologically influence trusting readers.[more inside]
Linux for Lettuce - Myers contends that, when applied to plants, patents are stifling. They discourage sharing, and sharing is the foundation of successful breeding. That’s because his work is essentially just assisting natural evolution: He mates one plant with another, which in turn makes new combinations of genes from which better plants are selected. The more plants there are to mix, the more combinations are made, and the more opportunities there are to create better plants. Even some breeders who work for the companies that are doing the patenting still believe in—indeed, long for—the ability to exchange seed.
The Awful Reign of the Red Delicious: How the worst apple took over the United States, and continues to spread.
“In shadow of oil boom, North Dakota farmers fight contamination” by Laura Gottesdiener for Al Jazeera reports on the conditions faced by farmers in Bottineau County when their fields become polluted with the waste-water from oil drilling operations. [more inside]
Halfway through my three-week, 417-mile journey down the “most endangered” river in America, the water began flowing backward and the mud started talking. It spoke in baritone gurgles, like Barry White trapped in a bong. You know what this is, John? No, Barry White mud. This is QUICKSAND.
Michael Specter of The New Yorker profiles and critiques prominent anti-Genetically Modified crops activist (and purported leading physicist) Vandana Shiva: "her statements are rarely supported by data, and her positions often seem more like those of an end-of-days mystic than like those of a scientist." [more inside]
The Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery is an annual weekend conference discussing food, its history, and culture. Since 1981 the papers presented at the Symposium have been collected into a conference volume called the Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, most of which have been made available for free in their entirety via Google Books. Each volume consists of about 25-40 papers surrounding the theme of that year's Symposium (e.g. Eggs, Authenticity, or The Meal). [more inside]
Why Are Twenty Far-Away States Trying To Block The Cleanup Of The Chesapeake Bay? After 30 years of attempts, a serious initiative to save the bay exists in the form of an EPA-led plan that limits the amount of agricultural nutrients entering the bay. This pollution causes the "dead zones" in the bay, which are so low in oxygen virtually no animal life can survive. A group of twenty-one Attorneys General, including the AG of Alaska and Wyoming, "argue that the cleanup plan raises serious concerns about states’ rights, and they worry that if the plan is left to stand, the EPA could enact similar pollution limits on watersheds such as the Mississippi." Their actions are in line with the wishes of The American Farm Bureau, a powerful agricultural interest group. [more inside]
Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie - "The lettuce, peppers, and broccoli—plus a melon and an onion, with a watermelon soon to follow—aren't genetically modified at all. Monsanto created all these veggies using good old-fashioned crossbreeding, the same technology that farmers have been using to optimize crops for millennia. That doesn't mean they are low tech, exactly. Stark's division is drawing on Monsanto's accumulated scientific know-how to create vegetables that have all the advantages of genetically modified organisms without any of the Frankenfoods ick factor." [more inside]
"In October 2013, Drs. Tim Perkins and Abby van Den Berg of the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center, revealed the findings of a study at a maple syrup conference in New Brunswick, Canada that sent waves through the industry. In 2010, they were studying vacuum systems in sap collection operations. Based on the observation that one of the mature trees in the study that was missing most of its top was still yielding high volumes of sap, they hypothesized that the maples were possibly drawing moisture from the soil and not the crown. Previously, they had presumed that the sap dripping from tap holes was coming from the upper portion of the tree. But, if the tree was missing most of its crown then, they surmised, it must be drawing moisture from the roots. ... They realized that their discovery meant sugarmakers could use saplings, densely planted in open fields, to harvest sap. In other words, it is possible that maple syrup could now be produced as a row crop like every other commercial crop in North America." [more inside]
Danish Crown is the world's largest exporter of pork, killing approximately 100,000 pigs a week to cater to the growing global demand for meat. Alastair Philip Wiper visited the company's abattoir in Horsens to capture a behind-the-scenes look at the entire process, starting at the pens where the pigs arrive and moving through the spaces where the animals are slaughtered, butchered and packaged for sale.
Each of Historian Barbara Wells Sarudy's six blogs contains a wealth of esoteric treasures: "President John Adams declared, “History is not the Province of the Ladies.” Oh well, I'll give it a try." [more inside]
The book on Wood-Frame House Construction (with diagrams) is brought to you by the USDA Forest Service. Here is the full online index of USDA Agriculture Handbooks. They're public domain. [more inside]
“People have this idea, because it’s a ‘community’ garden, you’ll have a bunch of people sitting around holding hands, singing ‘Kumbaya,’” says Julie Beals, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council (LACGC ). “Have you seen an actual community?”
With 53 self-immolations since 2009, these Chinese villagers might bring to mind the self-immolation by Tibetans, but the Chinese villagers are highlighting a different issue. The rapid urbanization of China is having a number of impacts across the country, with rural communities being demolished to build new urban centers. While many people are moving from rural farms to cities to find more lucrative jobs, some are fighting back to keep their rural communities intact, or to retain their family farms. When other options are gone, desperate villagers turn to self-immolation (NPR). [more inside]
Nero's Guests is a story about India’s agrarian crisis and the growing inequality seen through the work of the Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, P Sainath. The entire film is uncopyrighted and available to watch online. As Sainath says, "There are two kinds of journalists. One kind are journalists, the other are stenographers." As to the silence of the mainstream Indian media on the farmer suicides, he noted:
"Tacitus despised Nero. His writings on the Emperor show us that. However, he wrote very little about his guests. Those who could pop that fig while human torches burned around them. But then, come to think of it, the media of our time – the first-drafters-of history – are remarkably silent about this side of our own elite. Too many of whom are today just that. Nero’s Guests.
Warning! The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased, entry for the United States of America
How do farmers deal with wasted acreage at the corners of their crop circles? Some add corner systems, so water sprayers can reach the otherwise untouched land at the edges of the sprayers' reach. But as Edible Geography points out, "ecologists are preaching the potential of pivot corners. In a simplified landscape of monoculture crop circles, the corners can restore complexity: left as native perennial grassland or managed as early successional habitat, these concave triangles can provide valuable habitat for bees, birds, and predatory insects to support crop pollination and natural pest control." A short look at the costs and benefits of pivot discards.
"Through my business, I worked in Afghanistan on agriculture projects designed to assist with stabilization efforts in the region. I want to share with you some of the lessons learned along with some photos. I hope these are beneficial to those of you looking into or already working on low tech, sustainable farming/gardening projects here in the states." A first-person account of working with the locals to reconnect them with the land. [more inside]
Rape in the Fields is a Frontline documentary that explores the persistent allegations that female agricultural workers in the U.S. are frequently sexually assaulted and harassed by supervisors who exploit their (often undocumented) immigrant status. Victims typically do not seek help from US law enforcement, either out of fear that they will be fired, deported or worse, or from a lack of understanding of U.S. law. Reviews: Popmatters. NY Times [more inside]
Fraud in the organic farming sector has become a thriving international industry made up of a complex network of companies that bears all the marks of traditional organised crime. Excerpts.
Will Allen's Growing Power operates urban farms. His first Milwaukee farm is three urban acres where he grows enough food to feed 10,000 people. An interview by the Splendid Table's Lynne Rossetto Kasper in support of his new book. Previously.
"I've run these operations, and I know that food aid often gets there after everyone's dead." The new proposal to transfer the food aid budget from the Dept of Agriculture to the Agency for International Development causes a ruckus in the U.S. Congress. Why? The new plan also proposes buying some of the food in the affected countries, closer to disaster areas, instead of only buying from American farmers as the current law requires. The chairman of the U.S. House agriculture subcommittee, Rep. Aderholt (R-Alabama), said he was concerned that removing food aid from the agriculture budget would hurt American farmers (NYT). Aid Watch bloggers have long criticized U.S. food aid policies for risking millions of lives around the world to keep a few hundred jobs in Kansas. [more inside]