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Alpha & Omega-3s: Salmon farmers’ quest for the ultimate green feed


Fish farming gets a lot of flack, and salmon often bears the brunt of it. Much of this has to do with the fish food -- namely, the old saw that it takes an average of three pounds of wild fish to make one pound of domesticated salmon. But then why is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s vaunted Seafood Watch program, for the first time ever, giving ocean-farmed salmon its seal of semi-approval as a “good alternative”? What’s more, these salmon, from Verlasso, were spawned by agri- and aquacultural behemoths, DuPont and AquaChile, and fattened with the help of genetically modified organisms. …

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Dairy tale: New tech could turn small farms into the land of milk and money


It was after 6 p.m. and approaching 0 degrees Fahrenheit on a March evening when Doug Turner started the second milking of the day of his 42 cows at the family farm in Waitsfield, Vt. In a work-worn orange hoodie and flannel-lined jeans, the third-generation farmer started from the southeast corner of the barn, attaching one of his three milking machines to the swollen udder of a black and white cow.

“This one’s my oldest,” Turner told me, patting Bianca, a Holstein approaching her 13th birthday.

The milk flowed out of the barn, through a steel hose, to the tank in Turner’s cramped, old-fashioned milk house. Every other day, a milk truck from Organic Valley picks up this dairy and brings it to a processing facility -- the closest ones are in Connecticut or New York -- where it is pasteurized, homogenized, packaged, and dispatched to the grocery shelf.

All told, the average American gallon of milk travels 320 miles from udder to grocery store shelf, a journey that often crosses state borders. That seems like a long way to go, given that milk is produced in all 50 states.  

But farmers don’t have much control over where their milk goes, or how much they get for it. If Turner can’t get by on what Organic Valley will pay him, he’s short on options. Striking out on his own, and setting his own price, would mean massive costs of starting his own processing plant. Now, new developments in micro-pasteurization from a Vermont company could change that.

Many of the farms that were here when I grew up in central Vermont have closed now, and much of the milk produced by the remaining few goes straight out of state. I set out to look at this technology to see if it could be the key to cutting down on dairy miles and saving small farms.



Thanks to these sweet posters, green habits have never looked cooler

Oliver Cheshire

It's that time of year again! Do the Green Thing is celebrating Earth Hour by releasing a new poster every day until March 29. The posters, often created by big designer names, are aimed at encouraging folks to, well, do the green thing. Here are some of our favorites. See more great posters and follow the project


Fairer fare: How to turn food system kinks into win-wins for growers and eaters

Fair Food Network

This is part of a series in which we're asking what pragmatic steps we can take to make regional food systems more sustainable. We previously spoke with organic farmer Tom Willey, the people at Veritable Vegetable,  a Slow Money guy, and the folks trying to improve school lunches.

As I read Oran Hesterman's book, Fair Food, I realized he may be one of the people alive today who is most experienced at trying to figure out how to make food more sustainable.

00_FairFood-Cover_web_0He grew up, in part, on a cattle ranch in Northern California, then helped develop a farm at U.C. Santa Cruz that would become the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. In the early 1970s, he founded a successful company growing alfalfa sprouts and studied plant science, eventually earning a PhD in agronomy and plant genetics. Then he taught at Michigan State before moving to the nonprofit side to promote sustainable food systems, first with the Kellogg Foundation, and then with the Fair Food Network. He seems to know everyone, and every initiative that's been tried to improve the state of food in the U.S. in the last 20 years. We spoke by phone.

Q. A lot of the work involved in making food systems more sustainable has to do with getting people to see and pay for costs that are typically hidden from them. One group that’s achieved that is the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. And I think that, though many of us have heard of them, we may not exactly understand what they are doing. What was the innovation that the CIW figured out?

A. The innovation that I saw Lucas Benitez and his group come up with pretty early on, was that rather than fighting the growers to get more money for the farmworkers, he started looking at the problem from a more systemic perspective, and looking for a multiple-win solution. In their case the multiple-win solution was saying, hey, rather than having the growers as our enemy, what if we had the growers as our allies? If the workers are paid better and have better conditions it’s going to make the growers more productive. But the growers are in as much of a financial pinch as anyone, so they followed the trail of money up.

A generation ago, you can think of farmworkers having a boycott -- I think of Cesar Chavez and the grapes. What Lucas Benitez and his coalition are doing now is a buycott instead of a boycott. A penny more a pound for tomato going on a burger, or on a taco at Taco Bell, doesn’t relate to very much increase to the end consumer. But it’s a huge boost to the farmworkers picking that tomato, if that penny actually gets to them.

So first they looked beyond the obvious problem, at the bigger system, and then they did it in a very transparent way, so that you could see the penny was actually getting back to the farmworkers.

Q. So, if this works, why don’t we see it replicated everywhere?

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Get off my lawn! Organic farmers just can’t get along with GMO-growing neighbors

grumpy farmer

Another day, another bunch of old, white guys complaining about their neighbors screwing up their property – except this time, it’s quite warranted.

A new survey from Food & Water Watch has found that over 80 percent of organic farmers across the country are worried about how genetically modified crops in nearby fields are affecting their own. These farmers have incurred significant financial losses due to GMO contamination and the measures taken in attempts to prevent it.


It’s official: People around the world really are eating more and more alike


You've probably heard that the food people eat worldwide is getting more and more homogeneous. As the Western diet spreads, we are relying on just a few staple grains and meats. This is a commonly held belief -- yet it's never been authoritatively studied.

Now it has. The results were just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (one of the more prestigious journals) -- and it turns out that this commonly held belief is ... totally right, and actually more dramatic than some expected.

See? Sometimes conventional wisdom really is wise.

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Henry David Thoreau would have given “12 Years a Slave” the Oscar for best picture, too

12 yrs a slave 2
Fox Searchlight

I’m glad to see that 12 Years a Slave won a few well-deserved Oscars Sunday night, including best picture and best adapted screenplay. Those who’ve been following me know that I used this film as one of the starting points for my blog, and as a lens for examining the intersection between environmentalism and social justice. I’ve been curious if there were others who saw in the movie the same crimes against nature I saw, along with the crimes against black people.

The film includes scenes of enslaved Africans hacking away at dense fields of sugarcane stalks, and chopping away trees in the plush forests of Louisiana, all at whip- and gunpoint, and all in efforts to expand the plantation state. This, to me, made it clear that director Steve McQueen was trying to show not only how slavery exploited and devastated African Americans, but also how it did the same to the American environment. He said as much when describing his cinematic vision: “The story is about the environment, and how individuals have to make sense of it, how we locate the self in events.”

McQueen drew his inspiration from the book on which the film was based: The memoir of Solomon Northup, an African American born free but sold into slavery. And as it turns out, there were many people during Northup’s time who were making the same observations about how slavery was wrecking the nation racially, physically, and biologically. Among them was Henry David Thoreau, the 19th-century naturalist and political philosopher.

Read more: Food, Living


Feedlot frenzy: Should we shun grass-fed beef for the sake of the climate?

Photo by istock.

We eat too much meat in the United States, and eating less of it is one of the most effective ways to reduce our carbon footprint. But in certain parts of the world where people are malnourished, meat can be the most efficient way to get people nutrients like iron. So what do you do about that?

Recently a group of researchers, many from the International Institute for Applied Systems in Austria, concluded that we probably shouldn’t be raising the price of meat to discourage people from eating it. Instead, we should be raising animals in more efficient ways so as to make meat available to the poor without pumping out as much greenhouse gas.

On the face of it, this seems to be saying that feedlots are environmentally correct. I have no doubt that some will wield this study as a bludgeon against anyone arguing for grass-fed beef. (“If you don’t like CAFOs, you want the Earth to cook and the poor to starve!”) Before that starts, let’s look at what this analysis actually shows.

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Round up the usual suspicious studies (but don’t link to them)


Earlier today, we posted a brief item in Grist List about a new study reporting that the herbicide glyphosate has come to permeate air and rainfall in the Mississippi Delta.

That study is alarming in itself, assuming you don't relish having a weed-killer atmosphere. Glyphosate, a.k.a. Roundup, has become a massively used chemical in Big Ag farming, in good part because it's the cornerstone of Monsanto's GMO business. The company's "Roundup ready" crops are designed to take a glyphosate dousing and keep on growing. That works fine for a while -- until glyphosate-resistant weeds start sprouting, at least; but it can also lock farmers into a cycle of dependence, which is why the whole program has been dubbed "agricultural heroin" by some.

Unfortunately, in seeking to explain why we might not welcome our new glyphosate overlords, we went looking for information about glyphosate's toxicity and health risks, and we fell for a bit of junk science that we should have steered clear of. We linked to a paper -- "Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases" -- that has been widely debunked, for instance here. (As that post points out, any paper that uses a phrase like "exogenous semiotic entropy" ought to set off alarm bells.) We should have known better -- particularly since we've recently run some in-depth coverage of glyphosate as part of our Panic-Free GMO series.

We're sorry. The post was up for only a few hours before we corrected it and removed it from our homepage and other listings. We're not taking it down completely; rather than "disappear" the evidence of our goof, we're laying it all out for you. Because that's, you know, the right thing to do.

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Salami made from Kanye West and James Franco would make for the weirdest sandwiches ever


Meat production is wasteful. Lab-grown meat is sometimes offered as a solution ... but not everybody's on board. BiteLabs thinks it can take you from a “meh” to a “YAY!” by creating meat from your fave celebs’ tissue. (Forget TMZ. This is how your celebrity sausage gets made!)

BiteLabs wants to offer salami made of meat cloned from James Franco, Kanye West, Jennifer Lawrence, and Ellen Degeneres, and is enlisting fans to tweet at the celebs and implore them to donate tissue samples. If nothing else, this would have made for the best Oscars Night charcuterie spread ever.

Is it just publicity stunt? Almost certainly, although Vice is oddly convinced. We don’t think Jennifer Lawrence salami will ever be a reality -- sandwiches on us if we’re wrong -- but it’s funny to think about:


And obviously there’s the environmental angle. Writes BiteLabs:

Read more: Food, Living