Objective Treatment

Tamar Haspel proposes an idea for fixing our country’s food system: crop-neutrality.

“I’m not making the case that rejiggering subsidies will dramatically change the way Americans eat; it’s a complicated matter, and I don’t think anyone can predict with certainty what the effect will be. But crop-neutrality aligns public dollars more closely with public interest. It lets farmers decide what they want to grow, and it encourages the age-old risk-mitigation strategy of diversity. It continues to ensure that a bad year isn’t crippling, and a decent living is possible for the men and women who feed us.”

Making the Shift

With water scarce in California and elsewhere, Liz Carlisle suggests growing and eating more lentils:

“One of the biggest advantages of lentils, from the farmer’s perspective, is that they don’t require much water. In fact, they are content without irrigation, even in areas that frequently see droughts. Lentils grow when it rains, and pause their growth cycle when it’s dry. Instead of overshooting and wilting, they stage their growth to fit their water resource, and they stay low to the ground rather than bolting up in flamboyant amber waves.”

Seeds of Adventure

As seed catalogs arrive en masse in her mailbox, Rachel at Dog Island Farm grapples with what to plant in her vegetable gardens:

“There’s a part of my brain that’s screaming at the rest of it: ‘Don’t fix what isn’t broken!’ Year after year, I post about what I’ve learned, and one of the recurring themes is to stick with the things I know work for our area—not to risk losing productivity because I’m feeling adventurous. But really, what fun is that?”

Off the Grid

Katie Welborn says farmers aren’t as connected as you might think:

“[Unlike] your average urban dweller, most farmers don’t have their eyes permanently glued to a glowing screen. Nearly 33 percent of American farmers lack Internet access and only 40 percent use the Internet at all for agricultural enterprises. And, according to the National Broadband Map (NBM) only 78 percent of rural residents currently have access to a broadband network–a fact that poses a problem for those using ‘precision farming’ techniques and working with precise, high-tech tools and Big Data.”

Fostering Community

Civil Eats shares the story of Roxanne Adair, who created an urban farm in Flint, Michigan, recently named one of America’s most violent cities:

“While Flint River Farm is filled with fresh produce, the neighborhood still faces its challenges. Across the street is a burned-out convenience store. The main drag, Saginaw Street, is a block away and is home to strip clubs, a pawn shop, and a liquor store.

“Theft is a frequent problem on the farm, but Adair doesn’t begrudge her hungry visitors. ‘If you need [food] bad enough to steal it, you need it more than I do,’ she says. But, she encourages people to reach out to her first: ‘Tell me and I will harvest it for you. I’ll wash it for you and have it ready.'”

“A Bona Fide Agro-Religious Experience”

The Pope is opening up the Vatican’s farm to the public, says Jason Best:

“No doubt plenty of devout Catholics will be eager to see where the Holy Father gets his tomatoes. But at a time when a nagging wariness in both Europe and the U.S. over the ramifications of industrial-scale agriculture has spawned something of a cult for smaller, more organic farms, the farm at Castel Gandolfo would seem like heaven on earth.”

Feeding the World

Can organic farming practices scale to feed the entire planet? A new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests they can, says Jason Best:

“In a study published this week, a team from the school’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management found that the gap in crop yields between organic and conventional farming isn’t as wide as has been reported, and that certain organic farming practices may cut the gap even further.

“On average, the study finds, organic yields are 19 percent lower than conventional ones, although researchers say that difference can be cut almost in half through organic multi-cropping (growing several crops together in the same field) and crop rotation.”

“A Story of Exploitation and Extreme Hardship”

The Los Angeles Times is publishing a four-part exposé about brutal conditions endured by farm workers in Mexico. One of the articles profiles Bioparques de Occidente, a company that has supplied tomatoes to outlets such as Walmart, Safeway, and Albertons:

“At the labor camp for Bioparques de Occidente, they and other farmworkers slept sprawled head to toe on concrete floors. Their rooms crawled with scorpions and bedbugs. Meals were skimpy, hunger a constant. Camp bosses kept people in line with threats and, when that failed, with their fists.

“Escape was tempting but risky. The compound was fenced with barbed wire and patrolled by bosses on all-terrain vehicles. If the couple got beyond the gates, local police could arrest them and bring them back. Then they would be stripped of their shoes.”

Fostering Farms

Maryann Conigliaro lists 10 ways we can support young farmers. One is making a donation:

“Consider donating to organizations whose mission is to look out for the interests of young farmers. Donations to the Rodale Institute funds research to support economically viable organic agriculture. Contributing to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service helps farmers implement sustainable practices which utilize innovations in science and technology. Or, support representatives from the NYFC who speak up for young farmers in local and national political arenas.”

Pork Project

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently vetoed a bill that would have banned the use of pig gestation crates in the state. Mark Bittman says it’s about not New Jersey but Iowa:

“Why a state that has almost seven times as many pigs as people should play a bigger role in determining who gets to be president than one (New Jersey) that has, say, 1,000 times as many people as pigs is another story, more about our dysfunctional political system than raising animals.

“For Christie, however, that’s exactly what this is about—not animal cruelty, but politics. He can’t afford to alienate Iowa, which has a quarter of all U.S. hog slaughter capacity, as well as all-important momentum early in the presidential nomination contest. And he’ll do almost anything to get the support of that state’s governor, Terry Branstad, who himself doesn’t quite seem to know what a gestation crate actually is.”