Along the Mississippi: Ponyshoe edition

$5 could be yours

It’s morning in St Louis, and we’re getting ready to talk with some of the movers and shakers in the world of riverfront greenways. While preparing, we ate at a greasy spoon where Jimmy Kimmel was on the teevee talking about his daily cross-country flights for this week’s double-hosting duty. Yikes. On a side note, this meal was my third in a row involving white food products slathered in butter — I’ve gotta be careful about that. But my health loss is your gain: I will send $5 to the first person who can correctly guess the four ingredients in …

Soup bleg

So, it happens that a number of Gristies are having soup-based lunches today. Me, I’m having chili. Which prompted a comment from a colleague: “Well, that’s a kind of soup, right?” Me: “Or is it a kind of stew?” Other colleague: “Or is stew a kind of soup?” So, a few seconds googling some intense research has confirmed that this is a contentious question — even prompting a recent lawsuit — but it has not revealed a definitive answer. Grist’s audience seems rather food savvy. So we turn to you to bring clarity to this intolerable murk. Enlighten us.

Our twisted Farm bill

An audio story about ag subsidies

This little radio story, from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, tells the story of a sprawling ranch in Texas. It was the single largest recipient of federal farm subsidies between 1999 and 2005 -- receiving some $8.3 million, not for cattle, but for cotton. Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group says this: It's the exact opposite of what most taxpayers have in mind when they think of how their farm subsidy money is supporting agriculture. The farm is so big and so profitable, apparently, that it only applies for subsidies because "other cotton growers do," and because "the federal subsidy program provides the framework for the whole cotton growing industry." Ironically, while King Ranch is virtually forced to accept Washington's cotton money, it can't get any federal support for the conservation acreage that is now its most rapidly growing sector. It's too big, says the Farm bill, to qualify for that type of funding.

Over the moon for cow power

Methane from Vermont dairy farms to provide electricity for utility customers

Central Vermont Public Service is laying claim to one of the fastest-growing renewable energy programs in the country: its customers can now choose to receive all, half, or a quarter of their electrical energy through the Cow Power program, which digests cow manure at participating dairy farms, captures the methane, and uses that to power generators. CVPS customers pay a premium of 4 cents per KWh, delivering another revenue stream for farmers, who are paid 95 percent of the market price for all of the energy sold to CVPS.

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 …

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 Farm Bill -- conservation programs that promote environmental enhancement, sustain family farms, and support rural communities are some of them.

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 …

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 …

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 on global warming, I am also aware that local food is often perceived as elitist. Healthy and local food is often more expensive because farmers are taking care of their workers and the land, but it still needs to be accessible to everyone, both in regards to price and where consumers can buy healthy local food. One way that the Farm Bill can impact the ability of all people to eat locally is to fund programs that help connect low-income consumers to farmers, or in some cases to the land itself.

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