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Strawberry lovers rejoice: Methyl iodide off the market for now

Strawberry lovers: Consider yourself berry, berry lucky. (Photo by Sarah Cady.)

We hear a lot about recalls these days. But last night it wasn’t ground turkey, cantaloupes, or peanut butter that was taken off the market. It was one of the most hotly contested pesticides in recent memory: methyl iodide. As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, Arysta Lifescience, the makers of the fumigant, announced on Tuesday evening that they’d be suspending sales of the product (also known as Midas) in all U.S. markets.

In California, where methyl iodide was being slowly phased into use as a replacement for the ozone-depleting methyl bromide, farming communities have spent the year protesting. Several Central Coast counties even banned the chemical, which is used to sterilize the soil before strawberries and other high-dollar row crops are planted. Amy Yoder, head of Arysta LifeScience North American, was sufficiently vague when speaking to the San Jose Mercury News about the company's withdrawal, and she said the company's decision was based "on its economic viability in the U.S. marketplace."

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Despite the headlines, Big Ag subsidies aren’t going anywhere

The "era of direct payments is over for farmers," reports Bloomberg Businessweek. “Farm subsidies could finally be on the chopping block,” says this recent article in the Baltimore Sun. Meanwhile the president of the ultra-conservative American Farm Bureau Federation was even quoted recently saying, “the public will no longer support direct payments to farmers.”

On the surface, all this sounds promising to those in the food movement who see government subsidies for commodity farmers as a systematic way to keep industrial and highly processed food cheap and plentiful. But in truth, headlines like these (which have been especially plentiful since the Senate Ag Committee began convening hearings and holding public meetings a month ago in an effort to draft the 2012 Farm Bill) speak more to the shifting rhetoric behind farm subsidies than they do to any real change in the big picture of American farming.

Read more: Farm Bill, Food

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Killer cuisine: Can hunting help us make better food choices?

Georgia Pellegrini did not write a book about hunting to prove she was tough, or to bridge the divide between foodie culture and rural America. Instead, the author of Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time wanted to know what it would take to spend a year eating only the meat she’d killed herself. She succeeded, and not just to woo Mark Zuckerberg, either. Girl Hunter tells a lively story of her time hunting and cooking wild boar in West Texas, turkeys in Arkansas, and ducks in the British countryside, just to name a few. And despite the mainstream Cooking Channel feel this book has on the surface (watch this trailer if you want to know what I mean), Pellegrini clearly has a genuine interest in seeing a larger structural shift to our food system. In the book, she writes:

People tell me, “I don’t think I could do it.” The good news is that you don’t have to. But if you want to feel what it is to be human again, you should hunt, even if just once. Because that understanding, I believe, will propel a shift in how we view and interact with this world we eat in. And the kind of food we demand, as omnivores, will never be the same.

We spoke with Pellegrini recently about the book, the role hunting can play in rural food systems, and the gender dynamic she experienced out in the field.

Read more: Animals, Food

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Tapped out: Water in California’s farm country is dangerously polluted

Photo by Anders Andermark.

There is ample evidence that nitrates from synthetic fertilizer pollute the water in California’s farm communities. (We’ve reported on the impact this pollution has on the state’s rural communities here, here, and here). But a new report released by the University of California-Davis proves the problem is much worse than anyone may have suspected.

The report's scientists measured the nitrate pollution in the water in two parts of California’s Central Valley (the Tulare Lake Basin, which includes Fresno and Bakersfield, and the Salinas Valley). Not surprisingly, it's an area that’s home to four of the nation’s five biggest farming counties. UC Davis is under contract with the California State Water Resources Control Board to conduct an independent investigation and report on the findings and potential solutions.

The water table in the area is so polluted with nitrates that Thomas Harter, the report’s lead scientist, doesn’t think cleaning it up (or "remediation," as they say in scientific circles) would be practical.

“Its never been done and it’s hugely costly,” says Harter. “Remediation in the traditional sense has been done at sites that are the size of a football field, and we spend large amounts of money to do that,” he says. Even hypothetically, he adds, bringing the levels of nitrate down to acceptable levels for human consumption “would cost tens of billions of dollars and would take us a long time.”

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Rancher sticks up for animals in factory farm country

Kevin Fulton drives a truck, wears Carhartts, and has never owned a pair of Birkenstocks. As he puts it: “I don’t look like a bunny hugger.” And that’s what makes this rancher's recent efforts to change the face of animal agriculture in Nebraska all the more surprising.

Fulton had been raising a variety of animals on pasture and farming organic grains for nearly a decade when he decided it just wasn’t enough. The rancher was used to being the odd man out in Central Nebraska, or “CAFO country” as he calls it. But for the most part, he’d kept his beliefs to himself.

After all, converting the 2,800 acres to meet organic standard and practicing what’s called holistic management with grass-fed cattle, sheep, and goats, as well as pastured poultry had kept Fulton pretty busy. But this son of a veterinarian still found himself considering the animals who weren't so lucky.

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Know your bites: Does the USDA’s local-farms program have a chance?

Today, most of us see "local" as shorthand for fresh, delicious food that comes with a story attached -- and that serves an alternative to consolidated, anonymous, commodity-based farming. But that hasn't always been how the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sees it.

USDA is known for creating, subsidizing, and promoting industrial agriculture. So the agency's effort to dip its toes into the local food movement in 2009 with its Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program (KYF2) raised eyebrows and questions. Could USDA really help create a thriving bottom-up food system? Or would it spread the term local, and the ethos behind it, so thin as to make it meaningless?

Read more: Food, Locavore

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Put your hack into it: Anonymous targets Monsanto

Hack to the future: Anonymous targets Monsanto.

Like most tech-world outsiders, I rarely know how seriously to take news about hacking.

On any other week I might not pay much attention to today’s report from CNet announcing that Antisec, a group of hackers loosely affiliated with Anonymous, is targeting the biotech seed giant Monsanto. After all, the data the group made available online is from over a decade ago. And the threat they’ve published (see below) is ominous perhaps, but vague.

So why draw attention to it here? This isn’t your average week for Monsanto news.

Read more: Food

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Surviving winter eating local: Grist readers’ advice

February and March are the hardest months to keep your commitment to eating local foods, so we asked Grist readers to share their tips, recipes, and inspiring anecdotes. We're thrilled by what we got. And, like you, we're getting ready for spring to arrive!

Read more: Locavore

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Photo project takes commuters to a California they’ve forgotten

Photo by Lisa Hamilton. Click to see the Real Rural site.

You know that feeling you get when the door to someone else’s world opens just long enough that you forget you’re in your own? That slight expansion we experience when we hear someone’s true story is what motivated documentary photographer and writer Lisa Hamilton’s latest project, Real Rural (and all of her other work too, from what I can tell).

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Prince farming: Discussing Charles’ new book on food reform

Last May, Prince Charles gave an inspiring keynote speech at the Future of Food conference at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Now, Rodale has published the speech in the form of an adorable little book titled On the Future of Food, with a foreword by Wendell Berry and an afterword by Will Allen and Eric Schlosser.

To mark the release of the book, Grist heard from three people whose work echoes Prince Charles' message: film producer and author Laurie David, sustainable agriculture thought leader Fred Kirschenmann, and nutrition professor and author Marion Nestle.

Want to experience the speech yourself? Watch it online here.

Q. What surprised you most about Prince Charles' book? What do you most hope the reader comes away with?

Marion Nestle: I attended the meeting at which Prince Charles spoke and was impressed at the time by his broad overview and understanding of the problems inherent in industrial food and the implications of those problems. He described himself as a farmer, which was not exactly how I had imagined him. It’s impressive that someone of his stature cares about these issues and is willing to go on record promoting a healthier food system.

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food