Chellie Pingree is not your average member of Congress. Before joining the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009, she had a long career as a state lawmaker in Maine. But before that, she spent more than a decade managing a yarn business using wool spun from sheep she had raised herself. The business boomed, and soon yarn stores and catalogs across the country were carrying Pingree’s products. And she did all of that after starting an organic farm on North Haven, a tiny island off the coast of Maine, when she was barely out of her teens.
“I had no idea how lucky I was to grow up poor in the middle of nowhere,” says Brock. “I wanted to do all the stuff I saw on TV and didn’t want to work in the Goddamn garden. Then it was all I wanted to do, all I gave a shit about.”
When it comes to growing strawberries, Farm Fuel, Inc., a Watsonville, California-based company, is on the cutting edge.
The company grows wild and domesticated mustard and lightly processes the harvest into mustard meal, a soil amendment. They also work with farmers on a technique called Anaerobic Soil Disinfestation (ASD). This precise farming technique involves applying a combination of water and carbon-rich material (think rice bran, grape pomace, mustard meal, and molasses), and then wrapping the soil in plastic. Under the plastic, the ingredients combine to create anaerobic conditions.
The idea with both of these approaches is to kill the organisms that cause the long list of diseases that plague strawberry farmers–without pesticides or fumigants (a form of pesticide that treats the soil before anything is even planted). Why the search for alternatives?
Eating, shopping, dating–most Americans now conduct so much of their lives online, they can hardly remember a time before the Internet Age. And while some farmers are using technology to improve their crops, in reality, most are not as connected as you might think.
The latest U.S. Census of Agriculture suggests that 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. There seems to be a missing link from the food chain to the World Wide Web.
Happy new year! We hope you had a wonderful, relaxing holiday season. We’re kicking off 2015 with these stories from the world of food and agriculture.
Kiera Butler’s fascination with 4-H began in 2011 after she attended a county fair for the first time. A senior editor at Mother Jones, Butler grew up in “unleafy” Sommerville, Massachusetts, where country living wasn’t an option. Flush in the middle of a love affair with CSA-boxes, urban chicken coops, and Michael Pollan-inspired farm-to-table food, Butler writes about her first trip to the Alameda County Fair: “You might be wondering why a grown woman was displaying toddler-like delight at the prospect of seeing barnyard animals. The truth is I was going through a livestock phase.”
In 2009, Dr. Ann Thorndike and a team of researchers implemented a change in the Massachusetts General Hospital cafeteria. Foods received green, yellow or red dots to show where foods were ranked on a spectrum of choices. As the hospital described it, “green for the healthiest items, such as fruits, vegetables and lean sources of protein; yellow for less healthy items; and red for those with little or no nutritional value.”
Known to many as “traffic light” labels, this system had been championed by everyone from the hospital’s wellness program to its VP of human resources. “Everyone was talking about it,” Dr. Thorndike says. “If we were going to do this, I wanted to study it and make sure that it worked.”
Sarah Weiner has an impressive track record of making things happen. After college, she traveled to Italy to work at the Slow Food headquarters. It was there that she first met chef and food movement leader Alice Waters, who eventually hired her as an assistant. She and Waters co-created Slow Food Nation, a 2008 event that was seen by many as a watershed moment in the food movement. It was then, in her role as Content Director of Slow Food Nation, where Weiner’s vision of the Good Food Awards was born.
When farmers sell their land, many worry about selling out. But you might say that John Gill, a third-generation Hudson Valley farmer specializing in sweet corn, “sold up.” Last December, Gill transferred ownership of his family’s 1,200-acre farm to the NoVo Foundation, led by Peter and Jennifer Buffett, the son and daughter-in-law of famed investor and philanthropist, Warren Buffett.
Starting this month, I’ll begin sharing a few thoughts here about the vision I have for a healthier, more diverse, and vibrant food system. This month, Civil Eats celebrates six years of original, award-winning reporting. Now, more than ever, people want to know where their food comes from, and more publications are covering the social, environmental, and political aspects of food. It’s such an exciting time to be involved in sharing the stories of a growing food movement.