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For now, local politics is the way to effect ag-policy change

Over the past few years, grassroots support has swelled for new federal farm policies -- ones that promote healthy, sustainably grown food, not the interests of a few agribusiness firms. Udder madness. Photo: iStockphoto The target of much of this organizing has been the 2007 farm bill. If past farm bill debates have been the concern of a small cadre of lobbyists and activists, this one has hit the mainstream. Informed farm bill discussions have turned up in newspapers' food sections, general-interest magazines, and even the best-seller list, in the form of books like Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and …

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Factory farm map

How many are there in your state?

Via Modeshift, check out the Factory Farm Map, which shows the location of factory farms in the U.S. by state and by county. Here in Washington we have a relatively low eight. Sorry to all you folks in Iowa, where there are 3,876. That's a lot!

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Eating local, and well, in Sioux City, Iowa

An oasis amid slaughterhouses and monoculture

When you make the three-hour drive from Des Moines to Sioux City (pop. 100,000), the heart of Woodbury County, nothing you see raises your hopes for a good dinner. All along the way, lush farmland lies smothered by what seems like one big blanket, alternately colored light and dark green: corn and soy. At a certain point, the monotony becomes dangerously hypnotic -- and nauseating, if you know all of that bounty is destined to feed confined animals and fuel factories, not humans. As you approach downtown Sioux City from the interstate, the first thing you see is a high, …

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Maverick Farms

Grist’s own Tom Philpott and his farm get written up

Grist's own Tom Philpott is apparently too humble to draw attention to the media adulation with which he is being showered. It's a task I'm happy to take up. The Winston-Salem Journal has a fantastic long piece on Maverick Farms, the small organic farm Tom runs with his co-conspirators. As the piece describes in detail, it's not just a farm -- it's a grand experiment in creating a local food economy and culture. At Maverick they host local-food dinners, teach cooking classes, run a CSA, allow visitors to work the farm in exchange for lodging, and teach interns about farming …

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Senate may improve Farm Bill

Harkin wants to boost land conservation

Here's some reasonably heartening news from CQ.com: The Senate is prepared to write a dramatically different farm bill than the version the House passed last week. The Senate debate will not happen until September or later. For now, Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has promised to increase funding for land-conservation programs far above House numbers. The $286 billion, five-year House measure (HR 2419), which passed, 231-191, on July 27, would impose new limits on farm subsidies, increase support for fruit and vegetable growers, boost land conservation and increase funding for nutrition programs. Farmers making more than $1 million a …

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Umbra on feeding birds

Dearest Umbra, Every winter I take pleasure in putting out birdseed to feed the backyard wildlife. I purchase the easily available, run-of-the-mill, found-at-my-local-hardware-store type of seed. My question is, in the big picture ... am I doing more harm than good? If the feed I am using is grown conventionally, am I doing a greater harm to the ecosystem as a whole? Or, on balance, is it better to provide free nosh to the locals? Sincerely, Rebecca in northwest Pennsylvania Dearest Rebecca, Bird feeders can be seedy hangouts. Photo: iStockphoto A tiny conundrum. I could find no definitive study on …

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At Last, Some Consensus

House votes today on universally despised farm bill Today finds the House scrambling to pass its controversial version of the 2007 farm bill. And by controversial, we mean everyone hates it -- Democrats, Republicans, and the White House. The $286 billion package, which contains about $42 billion in subsidies, ends subsidies to farmers with an income of over $1 million, down from $2.5 million. Some Democrats want to lower that cap further, and other Dems worry that the bill doesn't contain enough funding for conservation and nutrition. Republicans are upset about a proposed tax on the American holdings of overseas …

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Cherries, their cousins, and a clafouti recipe

I went to a friend's house for breakfast a few days ago, and she placed an enormous colander full of ripe cherries in the center of the table. Gazing at it made me feel like we were experiencing the very quintessence of summer. It was right up there with the feeling of walking barefoot in wet grass or eating fresh corn on the cob. Life is just a bowl of cherries. Photo: iStockphoto The sight of it reminded me that another friend once told me she had heard of an old British wedding tradition in which the youngest person at …

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15 Green Chefs

Savor our list of eco-conscious chefs, then dish on your own favorites in the comments section at the bottom of the page. Photo: David Sifry via Flickr Alice Waters, Chez Panisse, Berkeley, Calif., U.S. Thirty years ago, the words "imported from France" signified the height of status and taste on U.S. restaurant menus. Today, the phrases "locally grown" and "organic" have taken over that function (naming the actual farm earns extra points). For that transformation, we largely have Berkeley restaurateur Alice Waters to thank. Founded in 1971 by Waters and a hedonistic band of hippie-bohemians, Chez Panisse quickly established itself …

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My own private Iowa

Philpott on the ground in corn country

In my very first article for Grist a year and a half ago, I declared with confidence that "If you're going to talk about poverty, food, and the environment in the United States, you might as well start in the Corn Belt." Trouble is, I had never actually been in corn country, at least not in sentient memory. All of that changed Tuesday, when I landed in Des Moines on assignment for Grist. Here are some of my first impressions. * Iowa, at least the part I've seen so far, is not as rigorously and brutally flat as I'd always …

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