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A journey into the heart of industrial agriculture

  Americans live in a post-agricultural age. Today, fewer than two of every 100 U.S. citizens owe their living primarily to the land. A century ago, two of every five did. Yet even though very few of us contribute to food production, we all still eat -- and food comes from somewhere. But where? In a sense, the answer is: Iowa, buckle of the farm belt, heart of the heartland. Do you know where your food comes from? Illustration: Keri Rosebraugh Accounting for less than 2 percent of the U.S. landmass, Iowa churns out a fifth of U.S. corn and …

Read more: Cities, Food, Living

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A Grist special series on food and farming

You know where babies come from, sure -- but do you know where Tater Tots come from? In this two-week series, we'll take you on a behind-the-scenes tour of your very own diet. Everybody eats, every day, but we tend to gloss over the details. Things like the work that really goes into putting food on our plates, the environmental impacts of food production, and how we can make the best choices -- for our bodies and the planet -- when it comes time to chow down. So take a seat at the Grist table as we venture to the …

Read more: Food, Living

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EPA approves carcinogenic pesticide

Just when we think the U.S. EPA might have some sense, it goes and approves a carcinogenic pesticide, ignoring scientists' warnings that "pregnant women and the fetus, children, the elderly, farmworkers, and other people living near application sites would be at serious risk." As a substitute for ozone-depleting fumigant methyl bromide, California and Florida strawberry growers and other farmers will welcome in newly OK'd methyl iodide, which has caused thyroid tumors, neurological damage, and miscarriage in lab animals. But really, what do lab animals know?

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Research funded by seafood industry concludes that moms should eat fish

A group of scientists affiliated with the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB) announced conclusions yesterday that new moms and moms-to-be should eat at least 12 ounces of seafood per week to encourage wee ones' brain development. Federal agencies, which advise moms to consume no more than 12 ounces of seafood per week to reduce babies' exposure to mercury, found that fishy. "We are members of [HMHB], but we were not informed of this announcement in advance, and we do not support it," said a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson. The National Institutes of Health, Centers for …

Read more: Food, Living

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An autumn swim at Walden, a warm robe, and a piping hot bowl of soup

Walden Pond, a hit with tourists and Transcendentalists. Photo: Sonny Morningstar It's an odd fraternity, the group of people who continue to swim at Walden Pond well past Labor Day. Dusk comes earlier and earlier and the water begins to cool, but these autumn swims are one of the great pleasures of my life -- and, of course, each swim feels increasingly precious as we move inevitably toward the cold and dark of winter. The little I knew about Walden Pond I learned from my 10th-grade American Literature survey course (hey, Mrs. Garr!), and it never once crossed my mind …

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Inspired by the spinach scare, new California rules could wilt small farmers

This is a guest essay by Judith Redmond, co-owner of Northern California's legendary Full Belly Farm and president of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. California is on the verge of adopting a policy that would regulate all of the state's salad greens-producing farms -- including ones that sell to a local market -- as if they were huge operations that ship cross-country. That's as predictable as it is absurd -- another case of the problems caused by industrial agriculture being used as a tool to consolidate industrial ag's power. The essay originally appeared in The Sacramento Bee. ----- California's …

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Evaluating seafood choices just became a lot easier

Wondering whether the seafood entrée you are about to order at a restaurant is environmentally friendly? Pulling the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Card out of your wallet to check it out is so 2006. Enter FishPhone, a text-messaging service provided by the Blue Ocean Institute. Text 30644 on your cell phone with the message "FISH" and the name of the fish in question, and the BOI will get back to you within seconds. The FishPhone website allows mobile web users to look up seafood choices as well, and provides a "Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood" that you can download …

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Archer Daniels Midland sees glut as opportunity to consolidate the ethanol market

Over the past year, ethanol production has exploded -- surpassing even the dramatically higher "alternative fuel requirement" in last year's energy bill. And now we have a glut of ethanol on the market, which has pushed prices down dramatically and caused many ethanol plants -- particularly independent farmer-owned ones -- to struggle. But Archer Daniels Midland, hailed on Wall Street as the Exxon of corn, is seeing the downturn in ethanol prices as an opportunity to consolidate the ethanol market. It already produces a quarter of U.S. ethanol. Now it wants more. From Dow Jones newswire: Archer Daniels Midland Co. …

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Pumpkin production is down for second year in a row

Halloween may still be four weeks away, but this story's already got me spooked: Scorching weather and lack of rain this summer wiped out some pumpkin crops from western New York to Illinois, leaving fields dotted with undersized fruit. Other fields got too much rain and their crops rotted. It's the second year in a row that pumpkin production has been down. First we're losing our woolly turtlenecks and now our jack-o'-lanterns? Scary. Good thing no one's predicting scorching heat and unseasonable rain for future autumns ...

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Why we shouldn’t forget the Farm Bill

Once again, a prime example of our misguided farm policies hits like a ton of factory-farm manure sludge -- or in this case, a massive sack of federally insured, genetically modified corn. Last Wednesday, Monsanto announced that the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) approved a pilot program that will give farmers a 20 percent discount on insurance premiums if they plant a majority of their corn acres with seeds featuring Monsanto's trademarked YieldGard Plus with Roundup Ready Corn 2 or YieldGard VT Triple stack technology. This is the first time the FCIC Board has approved a crop insurance discount for …