A visitor who swings by the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) on a Wednesday afternoon will see rows opened boxes lined up across the barn floor. Farm crew members between the ages of 15 and 18 are distributing the week’s harvest evenly between the boxes. Some sort tomatoes while others weigh and bag green beans over a small table. On the wall behind them is a whiteboard with a chart. Stephanie Bartlett, a 15-year-old with a chestnut brown ponytail, tallies 464 pounds of cucumbers and 448 pounds of squash.
Oysters are big business. That might not be immediately apparent on a visit to Hog Island Oyster Company in Northern California’s bucolic Tomales Bay, where the place still has a seafood shack sensibility. The farm was started more than 30 years ago by two marine biologists who borrowed $500 from parents and a boat from neighbors and began cultivating briny bivalves in five-acres of intertidal waters.
As a small seafood business and sustainable farm, Hog Island has weathered its share of hardships, including significant oyster seed shortages and the threat of species extinction, courtesy of environmental challenges.
It has stayed afloat, though. In fact, three decades on, Hog Island has quite the cult following around the country and it has earned respect as a leader in the shellfish industry. These days, founders John Finger and Terry Sawyer preside over a $12 million operation that employs almost 200, farms 160 acres, and harvests over 3.5 million oysters, clams, and mussels every year.
In 2007, Greg Roden and Brian Greene met in Buenos Aires, Argentina at a poker game and batted around the idea of a new type of food television show. Seven years later, that idea is coming to life as a 13-episode series examining our food system called Food Forward, premiering on PBS stations across the country and streaming on PBS.org beginning this week.
In the summer of 1970, a group of friends followed an old stagecoach road into the woods of California’s Gold Country. They were hunting for mining relics and pioneer oddities hidden in the forest, but what they found was even more rare: antique fruit trees.
There, perched 5,000 feet in the Sierras, was a thriving fruit orchard, branches heavy with rare varieties of apples, plums, cherries, and pears. Without pruning or pesticides, the trees had been alive since the Gold Rush—a far cry from the commercial fruit trees of today, which last fewer than 35 years.
For nearly 15 years, Frank Kutka has been working to save prevent genetically modified (GMO) corn from cross-pollinating with organic and other corn varieties. Kutka, a plant breeder, has been developing what he calls “Organic Ready” corn varieties that have the ability to prevent cross-pollination.
“We need corn that organic farmers can grow without fear of GMO contamination,” says Kutka, who is in the fourth year of a five-year breeding project funded by the Organic Farming Research Foundation.
We’re welcoming the beginning of Fall with a fresh set of food news stories that caught our eye this week.
Welcome to round 3,752 of the Diet Wars. This week’s opponents have been battling it out for decades, each with hordes of devoted fans. In one corner: carbohydrates. In the other: fat. Both have taken their share of punches throughout the years, and they are back for more following the release of a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
A much-cited New York Times article on the study titled “A Call For a Low-Carb Diet” reads: “People who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fat, lose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diet that health authorities have favored for decades.”
Ed Olivera is making a sizable investment in his San Jose, California-based egg operation this year. And just in time. He and other egg producers in the state now have less than four months to meet new, more humane standards for laying hens set to go into effect on January 1, 2015.
Olivera is “taking out partitions,” between the battery cages many of his laying hens live in, making the remaining cages larger. He’s also putting in a brand new building filled with an “enriched colony system,” or enriched cages, which will house 200,000 hens. The standard battery cage is only 67 square inches (see the photo to the right), and has a footprint smaller than a letter-sized piece of paper, but the new cages hold more birds and allow around twice as much space (116 square inches) per bird. Now the legal standard for all laying hens in Europe, enriched cages are still a new concept in the U.S. (See an example from the EU below.)
Although it has been in the works for months, the merger of Tyson Foods and Hillshire Brands went public the week before Labor Day, when the U.S. Justice Department approved the deal. The merger brings together the largest meat processing company in the U.S. (Tyson) and the 11th largest (Hillshire), for $7.7 billion. And even if you buy mainly sustainable and grassfed meat, this merger is worth watching.