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]
A Fortress Against Fear: In the Rural Pacific Northwest, Prepping for the Day It Hits the Fan [The Washington Post] “The Bradways fled California, a state they said is run by “leftists and non-Constitutionalists and anti-freedom people,” and settled on several wooded acres of north Idaho five years ago. They live among like-minded conservative neighbors, host Monday night Bible study around their fire pit, hike in the mountains and fish from their boat. They melt lead to make their own bullets for sport shooting and hunting — or to defend themselves against marauders in a world-ending cataclysm.”
In early 2014, Bob Comis, a longtime pig farmer and owner-operator of Stony Brook Farm, wrote a "Farm Confessional" for Modern Farmer: I Raise Livestock and I Think It May Be Wrong (previously). Within a year, Comis had closed down Stony Brook, moved the last of his pigs to animal sanctuaries, adopted a vegan lifestyle, and re-opened his business as In Line Farm, a certified veganic vegetable farm. Comis' change of mind, heart, and career will be profiled in an upcoming documentary, The Last Pig. Trailers for The Last Pig are now available on YouTube and Vimeo. [more inside]
The Best Strawberry You've Never Had - "The strawberry is native throughout the northern hemispheres. It is, weirdly enough—along with the apple and stone fruits like the peach—a member of the rose family... It is an incredible-tasting fruit. A fraise de bois tastes like you've never really eaten a strawberry before. Everything is magnified: It's both much more acidic and much sweeter than any supermarket strawberry. It's rich and powerful, reminding you why the Greeks saw the strawberry as a symbol of Venus." (via)
How to grow a Weetabix. James Meek writes in the LRB about food, farming, conservation and the Brexit debate.
Dictyostelium discoideum - dicty to its friends - has long been recognized as the world's most fascinating slime mold. A (previously) has a good introduction from a decade ago. You might be fascinated by their life cycle, which goes from individual cells, to animal-like slug, to plant-like fruiting body. You might be fascinated by their starvation-prompted altruism, in which most cells give up their lives so that a few can reproduce, and cheaters are punished. You might be fascinated by the way they farm and protect their crops. (Or maybe the farmed bacteria are farming them; it's hard to tell.) Or you might be fascinated by a brand new study about the DNA nets they use to trap and kill pathogens.
A $10 million nut heist is a window into the shady, lucrative world of large-scale food theft. Food and beverages have replaced electronics as the most-stolen good in the US. Criminals are concentrating their efforts on fewer heists of larger value, and as stolen goods go, nuts have a lot of appeal. They’re expensive. They have a long shelf life. They have no serial numbers and can’t be electronically tagged or traced.
“What was remarkable to me is that being constrained by the rules of the rabbi, it forced us to figure out how to better preserve the quality of the grain,” Klaas said. (NYTimes)
Fetishizing Family Farms Broken families, underground vice, and sexual variance - not stability - characterized the American family farm for most of its history, argues historian Gabriel Rosenberg. [more inside]
Turn off the "Upload videos" link, Google, because the best video of the year has already been uploaded! Its summary reads like a penmanship exercise: Russian farmer monkey in a snowsuit & mittens visits his pet goats and hens. [SLYT] [more inside]
“prisoners are the slaves of today, and that slavery affects our society economically, morally and politically.” (pdf)
Stardew Valley is a farming, fishing, mining, exploring, crafting game from Concerned Ape. Think a little Harvest Moon, Terraria, Animal Crossing and Minecraft, but also a little more than those. The game is currently topping the charts of Steam. Critical reception has also been great, seeing the game as an evolution of the Harvest Moon formula with several major improvements. Others highlight the somewhat addictively relaxing nature of the game.
Oregon Tilth's magazine, In Good Tilth:
Our inaugural issue of 2016 celebrates women farmers and food leaders. Stories include: An interview with Doria Robinson of Urban Tilth; a photo narrative by Audra Mulkern; an analysis of why women farmers have been invisible for so long; a look around the United States at female leaders in our good food movement; and more.(probably not mobile-friendly)
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."
The New Rules of Oyster Eating, from Rowan Jacobsen of The Oyster Guide and Oysterater, home of the Oyster Map. Pearls of wisdom within.
What happens when veterans trade in their combat boots for muck boots? Sara Creech, a surgery nurse during the Iraq War, is part of a growing movement to help vets transition back into civilian life—and find a measure of peace—by going back to the land (NYT, mentions suicide). [more inside]
For the next 24 hours you can watch live as lambs are born on a farm in Iceland courtesy of Icelandic state broadcaster RÚV. This is their experiment in slow television. The farm, Syðri-Hofdalir, is in the north of Iceland.
"Think of it: Pig drives, like cattle drives, only stranger. Who knew a pig could walk that far or would travel in the desired direction?" From Atlas Obscura: The Great Appalachian Hog Drives.
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]
James Rebanks has written a memoir , The Shepherd's Life, about running his family farm in England's Lake District, "[T]hat teacher’s idea of the Lake District was created by an urbanised and increasingly industrialised society, over the past 200 years. It was a dream of a place for a wider society that was full of people disconnected from the land. That dream was never for us, the people who work this land. We were already here doing what we do. I wanted to tell her that she had it all wrong – she didn’t really know this place or its people at all. These thoughts took years to become clear, but in a rough childish form I think they were there from the start. But in that assembly in 1987 I was dumb and 13, so I just made a farting noise on my hand, and everyone laughed. [more inside]
In 1900, the average dairy cow in America produced 424 gallons of milk each year. By 2000, that figure had more than quadrupled, to 2,116 gallons. We explore the incredible science that transformed the American cow into a milk machine—but we also uncover the disturbing history of prejudice and animal cruelty that accompanied it. Along the way, we’ll introduce you to the insane logic of the Lifetime Cheese Merit algorithm and the surreal bull trials of the 1920s. This is the untold story behind that most wholesome and quotidian of beverages: milk. Prepare to be horrified and amazed in equal measure.
New High-Tech Farm Equipment Is a Nightmare for Farmers – Kyle Wiens of iFixit vs. the modern family farm tractor.
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]
In an attempt to combat years of poor public relations, Monsanto has decided to take their case directly to the people through various campaigns. On a new site called The Conversation they are answering questions directly from consumers. [more inside]
Zero Percent Water. Alan Heathcock visits the Central Valley in California to talk to farmers about the drought, hear their perspective, and see first-hand what the land looks like.
Farming and gardening tools that are actually useful for women. “Women play a critical role in producing food,” she says. “Our philosophy is to build on the strengths of women.”
Farm Confessional: I Raise Livestock and I Think It May Be Wrong - "[Bob] Comis talked to Modern Farmer about the self-doubt he feels while raising animals for slaughter and his desire to see humanity evolve into a species that does not kill to eat." [more inside]
“We decided that animal health, and human health, would be our priority,” Oosterlaken told me last fall in his barn, surrounded by warm plastic-lined pens where sows snoozed and new piglets squealed. “I don’t need to take antibiotics every day. There’s no reason my pigs should either.”
"With over 200 breweries, Oregon is often considered the craft beer capital of America. Beer geeks and casual drinkers across the country can also thank the state’s farmers for their brews: hops, the essential ingredient that gives beer its bitter flavor, is a rare crop throughout the U.S. but not in Oregon. Last year, Oregon State University established the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives (OHBA), the first archive in the U.S., dedicated to preserving and telling the intertwined story of hop and beer production and the craft brewing movement. They're posting materials from their collection to Tumblr, Flickr and Zotero.
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]
The Great Maple Syrup Heist - in cartoon form! ...and other illustrated stories by Lucas Adams in Modern Farmer, including The Legend of the Goat Man and The Pleasant Valley Sheep War. [more inside]
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]
Cockroaches being raised for cosmetics, medicine and food. "The 43-year-old businessman is the largest cockroach producer in China (and thus probably in the world), with six farms populated by an estimated 10 million cockroaches. He sells them to producers of Asian medicine and to cosmetic companies that value the insects as a cheap source of protein as well as for the cellulose-like substance on their wings."
"...Winter Storm Atlas took a huge toll on folks in Western South Dakota earlier this month. With reports of up to 58″ of snow and almost hurricane-force winds, South Dakotans were struck hard with an early season blizzard of historic proportions...Estimates are that upwards of 70,000 cattle, horses, and livestock perished in the storm. That means many ranchers lost all of this year’s calf crop and a good majority of their cow herds...I’ve encountered many losses in ranching, having several cattle at once struck dead by lightning, but I cannot imagine what it must be like to see dead cattle and horses strung out for more than 100 miles." [more inside]
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]
You've probably never heard anything quite like the musical documentary More About Henry. Remixing interviews with musical interpretation, composer Adam Goddard has woven a unique work of art from the stories of his grandfather, Henry Robert Tindale Haws, who spent a half-century farming in rural Ontario. More About Henry first aired on CBC Radio's Ideas. [more inside]
Whey Too Much: Greek Yogurt’s Dark Side For every three or four ounces of milk, Chobani and other companies can produce only one ounce of creamy Greek yogurt. The rest becomes acid whey. It’s a thin, runny waste product that can’t simply be dumped. Not only would that be illegal, but whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers.... And as the nation’s hunger grows for strained yogurt, which produces more byproduct than traditional varieties, the issue of its acid runoff becomes more pressing. Greek yogurt companies, food scientists, and state government officials are scrambling not just to figure out uses for whey, but how to make a profit off of it.
Key to slowing/stalling/reversal of desertification and climate change? More cows (sort of). Holistic Management advocate and biologist Allan Savory, co-founder of the Savory Institute, discusses the counterintuitive tactic of allowing large herds of animals to free-roam marginal lands. [more inside]