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As food series ends, the story is just beginning

During my trip to the Midwest this summer, I saw many unsettling sights: vast monocropped landscapes lashed regularly with chemicals, insidious low-slung buildings that imprison thousands of animals and concentrate their waste. Yet I returned oddly invigorated, buzzing about Iowa's promise as a sustainable-ag mecca. Amid the cornfields and the CAFOs, I saw thriving homestead farms where people are raising organic vegetables alongside pastured, happy hogs. I saw bustling farmers' markets and met chefs whose buy-local fixations might make them the toast of Berkeley or Santa Cruz. I came back with a mantra: Iowa today is California circa 1972. One …

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The wheat from the chaff

Good farm policies support good farm practices

Interest in the Farm Bill is usually confined to policy wonks and agribusiness lobbyists, but this year it has generated more buzz than a cowpie in a June paddock. Despite the stir, most of the public attention has been narrowly focused on only one aspect of the $280 billion policy package: the farm payments paid to corn, soybean, wheat, rice, and cotton producers. Though concerns over the current commodity programs are well-founded, their emphasis has given a negative cast to the Farm Bill debate: we should be against farm subsidies. But there are also things worth fighting for in the …

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Fight over disclosure of pesticide ingredients heats up in California

In California, a battle is raging over a pesticide that critics say is sickening hundreds of residents as it's being sprayed over large swaths of Monterey County to battle a crop-destroying moth. Residents who became ill after the first application of the pesticide want to know what's in it that could cause asthma-like symptoms, rashes, stomach pains, and burning eyes. But regulators have kept quiet about what's in the mix -- dubbed CheckMate by its manufacturer -- due to laws protecting pesticide ingredients as trade secrets. A district judge ordered a temporary halt to the spraying last week due to …

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On accepting invitations from strangers, and a harvest festival

A few years ago, I heard an actor say on a talk show that he had decided if someone invited him to a party, he was going to attend, whether he knew the person or not. When I repeated that to my friend Pagan Kennedy a few days later, she responded, "That's great! That should be my policy!" Then, half a heartbeat later, she said, "Wait a minute! That is my policy!" Laura Meister at work on her Berkshires farm. Photo: © Jason Houston This exchange came to mind recently when I got an invitation to attend Berkshire Grown's annual …

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Local food for all

Community food projects empowering low-income residents

Food is turning up everywhere, and I don't mean on your plate. For the past year, journalists and authors have stuck on the topic like peanut butter to the roof of your mouth, and what's especially notable is the focus on policy solutions and the Farm Bill. Articles are so numerous that as I started to compile them, I realized that I could spend a whole post just linking to them (find a few here). As I contemplate the impact of our farm and food policy on the environment, how to reduce food miles, and the impact of our diet …

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Clean water jacked

While industrial agriculture fouls the Mississippi, the EPA cowers in the corner

Industrial agriculture thrives on its ability to skulk away from -- or, to use economist's argot, "externalize" -- the costs of its considerable ecological messes. Often, it does so with the tacit approval of the federal government, in direct violation of federal law. In Iowa, for example, the state's 2,100 CAFOs (confined-animal feedlot operations) regularly violate the Clean Water Act by failing to adequately dispose of the 50 million tons of waste they produce each year, the Washington-based Environmental Integrity Project showed in a 2004 report. Three years later, the EPA -- the federal agency charged with enforcing the Clean …

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On Being a Second-Class Iowa Citizen

A frustrated resident speaks out

The following letter was mailed anonymously to Marian Kuper, whom we featured in last week's "A Tale of Two Counties." She shared it with Tom Philpott so we could give readers a sense of the frustrations brewing in CAFO country. We welcome responses from other perspectives. I know that others still believe the United States and Iowa are sound democracies. I cannot be one of those. For about a dozen years I have fought for what I thought were my rights to a life without health hazards from vertically integrated confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs), a life where my property rights …

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Barack Obama unveils agriculture plan

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama unveiled his agriculture plan yesterday on the campaign trail in Iowa. The plan includes all kinds of proposals that the Obama camp hopes will excite rural Americans -- particularly those who reside in early-primary states. Obama's ag plans include increasing funding to help farmers transition to organic, reforming the USDA's crop-insurance program so it doesn't penalize organic farmers, requiring country-of-origin labeling on meat products, enforcing stricter pollution regulations for CAFOs (concentrated animal-feeding operations), increasing use of ethanol and other biofuels by requiring 60 billion gallons of biofuels in the nation's fuel supply by 2030, and …

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It's World Food Day

Time to think about the global food system

An excellent article, "The Globalization of Hunger," appears over at the Madre website on the absurdities (as in moving food all over the globe) and injustices (kicking people off their land so agribusiness can grow exportable crops) of the global agricultural system.

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How the nation’s breadbasket is poisoning its own water supply

In late September, the corn and soybean fields of the lower Missouri River floodplain are a lovely dull brown, nearly ready for harvest. The row crops sprawl as far as the eye can see, their regimental march broken only by levees, gravel roads, the occasional band of cottonwoods, and the endless tracks of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe. The scenery is pastoral and soothing. But this abundance, and the security it evokes, has a darker underside. The nation's breadbasket, it turns out, is poisoning the water. Farmin' is harmin' the water. Photo: EPA The Mississippi River basin, which includes …

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