We’ve had another fantastic year of reporting at Civil Eats and I’m so grateful for the outstanding work of managing editor, Twilight Greenaway, our new senior editor, Anna Roth, our social media editor, Krista Holobar, and all of our intrepid reporters and smart commentators. In this month’s note, I highlight just a few of our best-read and most-talked about stories in 2015.
There’s plenty of bad news in the food system, but we believe in spotlighting solutions. Our Good Food Vanguard series does just that by sharing the good news about innovative projects happening nationwide and profiles of good food pioneers.
In that series, we looked at how hospital farms might be the next big thing in healthcare reform; how community gardens connect seniors to fresh food and to their pasts; and how former Black Panther Elaine Brown launched an Oakland urban farm to give ex-prisoners a fresh start. That story was made into an incredible video by our media partner AJ+, which has been viewed and shared hundreds of thousands of times.
Our readers loved how Doria Robinson of Urban Tilth is growing jobs as well as urban gardens in Richmond, California. And they cheered on the We Over Me Farm at Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas, which replaced an unused football field with a thriving vegetable operation. They celebrated hero Betti Wiggins, head of Detroit Public Schools Office of School Nutrition, who has led kids through a food revolution there with a focus on healthier foods and local farms.
In one of our most-popular stories of the year, we reported on how Jean-Martin Fortier’s farm sells $140,000 of food on an acre and a half, and how he’s helping others do the same. We showcased how two New York City-based organizations are serving vulnerable populations: The Reciprocity Foundation provides free vegetarian meals for a group of youth who rarely have access to healthy food and Harlem’s Hot Bread Kitchen, which is providing job training and skills, while honoring culinary baking traditions from women around the world. And we showed how food trucks are serving up healthy food to high school students and also giving formerly incarcerated youth a path to better jobs.
You Read It Here First
We also reported on a number of stories that then later generated mainstream coverage, including an early piece on why a living wage salary is replacing tipping in many restaurants; how the demand for (and growth of) college and university classes focusing on food systems is exploding; how just because your chicken is organic, it doesn’t mean it was raised humanely; how mom bloggers are being paid to shape the school food conversation; how distillers are making liqueurs out of food waste; the rising trend in maple water; and a campaign to improve conditions for dairy farmers. Many stories mentioned in this post were also first reported on Civil Eats and either later re-reported or aggregation by other sites. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!
Our Local Eats series highlights the good work that communities engage in to make serious inroads towards creating a healthy and just food system. Some of our most popular stories this year include how Chef Sean Brock and the seed and grain company Anson Mills are working together to save the flavors of the South; how farmers in the Pacific Northwest are seeding the demand for ancient grains; how New York’s Grazin’ Diner goes beyond farm-to-table by sourcing meat directly from their own ranch; how Vermont became ground zero for local food; how Boston opened the nation’s first year-round all-local farmers’ market; how a new Northern California agrihood is a planning a community that eschews golf courses and builds homes around a farm instead; how a small farm survived an oil disaster with some faith and a little help from friends; how farmers and brewers are bringing back local hops to New York; and how the federal PRIME Act might make it easier for small-scale farmers to process meat to sell direct to consumers.
At the beginning of this year, we made a commitment to more diverse coverage by seeking to address structural racism and inequality in the food system. Our stories on food justice included multiple excerpts from Natasha Bowens’ The Color of Food; a post on how teens are using radio to tell stories from inside a food-insecure neighborhood; how a former Wall Street worker invested in fresh food for her community; what you might not know about what it’s like to grow up in a food desert; and a hard look at whether U.S. farm policy has a race problem. Contributor Kristin Wartman also connected the dots between the Black Live Matter movement and food justice, and argued that “food belongs in our discussion of race.”
New Science & Environmental Health
Contributing writer Elizabeth Grossman reported some of our hardest-hitting stories, many of which were syndicated to millions of new readers through our media partnerships with TIME and Yahoo! Food. In one of our most-read stories this year, Grossman reported how emulsifiers or thickening agents (a common ingredient in many foods) are interfering with microbes in the gastrointestinal tract and could be leading to weight gain. She also reported how eating organic can expose us to less pesticides; how there might be lead in your favorite chocolate; on a new study linking widely-used pesticides to antibiotic resistance; the latest science on the dangers nonstick cookware; and so much more.
We also increased our reporting on the connection between food and climate change in 2015. On the heels of global climate meetings, we reported on how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is sounding the alarm about the enormous challenges ahead for the food we eat, and how Chef Sam Kass is working to put food and ag on world leaders’ plates. We also looked at a new report about how climate change could change Midwest agriculture by the end of this century and heard from farm experts on the need for a new water paradigm for California. We reported on the new superwheat Kernza, which has the potential to save the soil and help absorb carbon and on how dairy farmers are changing their approach to grazing to absorb carbon and cope with drought. We also looked at how farming is impacted by climate-fueled changes to the weather, such as how farmers Mas and Nikiko Masumoto are working to educate consumers about smaller fruit as result of drought; and how the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest impacted the orchards there. We also reported on how the Amazon’s forests are being cleared for beef, soybeans, cocoa, and palm oil, now estimated to be in about half of all packaged foods.
Food & Tech
This year, we also did more reporting on technology and food, as there has been a growing interest (and investment) in both. We looked at the boom in online grocery delivery, home meal kits and home-cooked meals delivery, lab-grown chicken, apps to reduce food waste and choose poultry, and the growth in alternative protein. We also asked whether food tech companies are promising too much too soon. Several of those stories were penned by contributing writer Leilani Clark, who wrote about how the Navajo Nation introduced the nation’s first junk food tax and who also wrote one of our most popular stories of the year about Amy’s Drive Thru, the new “clean” fast food restaurant in Northern California.
All the News That’s Fit to Eat
In addition to our daily Civil Eats posts, we also collect food and agriculture stories from around the web to share with our readers every Friday. This series requires a lot of work on the part of our writers, notably Anna Roth and Krista Holobar; they tracked the news and highlighted each week’s most important food policy news.
We’ve reported on so many important and inspiring stories this year and I’m grateful to our team for their hard work and to all of you who have also became subscribers for the first time in 2015. If you haven’t subscribed, please consider supporting our work in your year-end giving so that we can continue to bring you the best food policy news around.
Thank you and Happy Holidays!