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Gathering around a table as environmental advocacy

Gazing over the muddy brown expanse that the abating snows finally revealed in mid-March, it has been hard for me to imagine the lush greenery and flavorful bounty that our gardens will yield in just a few short months. But even by the time you read these words, radishes and spinach will have sprouted again. The curly tendrils of spring's first sweet peas will be stretching, aching for a grip on a trellis and an arc of precious sunlight. The warmth will return, as it always does, and with it, the promise of a table full of delicious food surrounded …

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With global wheat stocks at all-time lows, a killer fungus looms

Remember awhile back, when a fertilizer magnate raised the specter of global famine? He said: If you had any major upset where you didn't have a crop in a major growing agricultural region this year, I believe you'd see famine ... We need to have a record crop in 2008 just to stay even with this very low inventory situation. In that context, you hate to read stuff like the following, from the U.N.: A dangerous new fungus with the ability to destroy entire wheat fields has been detected in Iran, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported …

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In Arkansas, state ag officials turn to Syngenta to solve problems caused by Monsanto

In the late 1990s, farmers in the Southeast began planting Roundup Ready cotton -- genetically engineered by Monsanto to withstand heavy doses of Roundup, the seed giant's own blockbuster herbicide. As a result, use of Roundup exploded -- and the farmers enjoyed "clean" (i.e., weedless) fields of monocropped cotton. But after a point, something funny happened -- certain weeds began to survive the Roundup dousings. These "superweeds" had somehow gained Roundup resistance themselves, much to the vexation of the farmers. Things have gotten so grim that the Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service called in a scientist from the U.K. to study …

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‘Downergate’ reveals gaps in mad-cow testing and trouble in school-lunch sourcing

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries. Remember those "downer" cows that got forced through the kill line and into the food supply in California's Westland/Hallmark beef-packing plant -- the ones caught on tape by the Humane Society of the United States? Rest assured, friends -- that was an isolated incident. Thus USDA assures us in a recent interview. Only ... not so much. For those who want to believe that downers don't make it into the meat supply, this was a rough week. First, Westland/Hallmark CEO Steve Mendell had to reverse …

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Farmers and processors organize against genetic contamination

Here in the United States, upwards of 70 percent of corn and 90 percent of soy are genetically modified. Given that corn and soy end up in just about everything -- livestock rations (and thus meat, milk, and eggs), nearly all processed foods, and even our gas tanks, avoiding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is tricky. One way is to shun all processed food and animal products, and simply eat fruit, non-soy veggies, and non-corn grains. (I assume U.S. fruits and veggies aren't GM, despite a recent, and likely erroneous, report to the contrary.) A less strenuous way, theoretically, would be …

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Legalizing hemp would help environment and economy, says report

The U.S. war on non-smokable hemp hurts the environment and the economy, according to a new report from the free-market-promoting Reason Foundation. To wit: Hemp fiber requires six times less manufacturing energy on average than polyester fiber, and requires less pesticides and water than cotton. Hemp can be used to make paper, fiberglass, and cement, generally with less energy use than alternative materials. It could make a lovely cellulosic biofuel, were cellulosic ever ready for the big time. And in case you needed a reminder, says the report: "Marijuana cultivated for drug value contains between 3 and 10 percent of …

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E.U. likely to cut subsidies for farmers

With crop prices through the roof and scientific concerns being raised about the greenness of biofuels, various European countries have cut back tax breaks and subsidies for farmers -- and now the European Union as a whole is planning to follow suit.

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Conventional milk contains toxics, says the USDA

The Organic Center acts as a kind of shadow USDA, digesting the latest peer-reviewed research on organic food, translating it into English, and issuing summary reports. Consumers won't want to miss the center's newest one on pesticide residues [PDF]. It contains one of those handy guides on which conventional fruits and veggies convey the most toxic traces to eaters (here's a handy two-pager [PDF] for the fridge), as well as a blunt and important discussion of the plant- and mineral-based pesticides allowed in organic production. But what really caught my eye was the bit about milk -- and how it …

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A post-petroleum American dream

"This craziness is not sustainable," concludes The New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert, and he's talking about the economy, not the environment. He continues: Without an educated and empowered work force, without sustained investment in the infrastructure and technologies that foster long-term employment, and without a system of taxation that can actually pay for the services provided by government, the American dream as we know it will expire. And without petroleum. Oil is shooting over $100 per barrel, caused ultimately by a looming decline in global supply, and exacerbated by rising demand in China and India, foolish policies such …

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Drive a stake into winter’s cold heart with a creamy, dreamy noodle dish

Goodbye winter, hello primavera. Photo: iStockphoto I love March. Why? Because I hate winter. I hate shoveling, I hate walking on ice, and I especially hate always having to look at the ground when I'm walking, instead of at all the people and things around me. With the exception of cross-country skiing and being able to do stuff indoors without feeling guilty about not being outdoors (an East Coast phenomenon, I'm told), I truly hate winter. If global warming can deliver us from winter, then I'm all for it (just kidding). Once March arrives, winter loses its edge. The quality …

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