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Who is a farmer?

Linguistic insights into agriculture

One of the problems people have discussing sustainable agriculture is the question of language. I was trained originally in English literature and hold as an article of faith that language matters -- deeply. That is, I believe that we can only come to an honest vision for the future with a shared language that accurately describes our world. Agriculture is in the news, obviously -- and the future of farming is a big question. But we keep running up against the question of what, precisely, a farm is. There's a lot of debate about where our farmers should come from, …

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Why survivalists make me want to die

More than peak oil or financial crash, I fear angry men armed to the teeth

"I urge readers to use less than lethal means when safe and practicable, but at times there is not a satisfactory substitute for well-aimed lead going down range at high velocity." -- James Rawles, SurvivalBlog With oil and food prices reaching all-time highs and food riots breaking out in the global south, a bit of good old-fashioned end-is-nighism is creeping into our popular culture. It hit me when I read a report in The New York Sun -- the one I blogged about -- making the startling claim that food rationing has begun in places like New York City and …

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What are GMOs good for, again?

Study: transgenic soy brings lower yields than conventional

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) came to dominate U.S. grain agriculture over the last 12 with very little real public debate. Sure, people like me have complained loudly, and groups like Center for Food Safety have mounted forceful lobbying and public education efforts. But U.S. policymakers have ignored these criticisms and chosen to wave these epoch-making technologies from the lab to the field to the plate with minimal oversight. That's at least partially because Monsanto, the dominant GMO seed producer, has managed to place its own people in high policy-making positions -- particularly during the 1990s, when the Clinton administration opened …

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The candidates are overlooking the ultimate green-collar job

Amid the din of the Pennsylvania primary and Earth Day, it seems a fitting time to talk about where the Democratic candidates stand when it comes to Mother Earth. Have the leading Dems forgotten America's greenest job? Photo: Freaking News Both candidates have called for ushering in a new green economy. Sen. Barack Obama has stressed that a green economy would not only save on energy costs but would help create jobs in manufacturing and in renewable energy infrastructure. And at a General Motors plant making parts for hybrids, Sen. Hillary Clinton declared that the factory "exemplifies" her notion of …

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Rationing food in the land of plenty?

It’s happening, reports The New York Sun

Is the U.S. on the brink of food rationing? Possibly. Reports The New York Sun: Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. It's hard to know what to make of the report, though. The Sun article focuses mainly on anecdotal evidence: shoppers at a Costco in Silicon Valley -- one of the the most prosperous areas on the planet -- a guy who runs a survivalist website (sample line from ad: "Free XD pistol!"), and "an anonymous high-tech professional …

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Fortune Brainstorm Green

Monsanto CEO applies for sainthood

I'm watching the CEO of Monsanto, Hugh Grant, talk about how his company is a boon to sustainability. They're focused on reducing the footprint of agriculture and feeding the world's hungry -- especially poor African women. Oh, and also they're dedicated to reducing water use. All the farmers that use their seeds love them, and clearly their products are superior since the farmers keep coming back. Oh, and they spend $2 million a day on R&D, so they'll figure out how to feed the world and generate biofuel stocks at the same time. Gosh, why would anyone be scared of …

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Please, sir, I want some GMOs

Worldwide resistance to GMOs dwindle as food bills rise

For a while now, I've been cautioning people that surging prices for industrial food don't necessarily "level the playing field" for sustainably produced fare. In fact, the few giant companies that dominate the global food system are fattening themselves on higher prices, consolidating their grip over the world's palate. Last week, new Gristmill blogger Anna Lappe showed that Cargill -- a major producer of everything from fertilizer to biofuel to meat -- recently reported an 86 percent jump in quarterly earnings. And Monday, Andrew Pollack of The New York Times reported that sky-high prices are breaking down global resistance to …

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Let them eat biofuel

Food vs. fuel debate, German edition

Defending her country's biofuel mandates in a time of global food crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently denied that turning food crops into car fuel affects prices. Those looking for reasons behind the recent spike in food prices shouldn't blame ethanol and biodiesel makers, she argued. Instead, look at how people are eating in the global south: If you travel to India these days, then a main part of the debate is about the "second meal." People are eating twice a day, and if a third of one billion people in India do that, it adds up to 300 million …

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PETA offers $1 million for commercially viable test-tube meat

PETA thinks the idea of test-tube meat looks like a million bucks. Literally. The outspoken animal-rights group is offering a cool one mil to the "first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012." The idea caused "a near civil war in our office," says PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk, adding, "We will have members leave us over this." But in the end, she says, "We don't mind taking uncomfortable positions if it means that fewer animals suffer."

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Bottoms up: Pollan on gardening

Growing your own food is fine, but governmental action is needed, and soon

I like Michael Pollan -- really, I do -- which is why it was frustrating to see his wilted-salad-green entreaty to act on climate change in yesterday's paper: The climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle -- of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences. For us to wait for legislation or …