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Organic Food

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Organic chicken farms have fewer drug-resistant bacteria

When poultry farms switch from conventional to organic farming practices, they almost immediately start seeing way fewer drug-resistant bacteria. A new study looked at two types of enterococcus, a bacterium commonly found in poultry excrement that can also lead to drug-resistant infections in humans. All the farms tested positive for Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium, which the researchers expected. But on farms that had switched to organic practices, 10 percent of E. faecalis was resistant to multiple antibiotics, versus 42 percent of the bacteria from conventional farms. And on conventional farms, a stomach-troubling 84 percent of E. faecium was multi-drug-resistant, …

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In defense of organic

Poking holes in SciAm's take on organic ag.As Grist readers know, "mythbusting" Scientific American blogger Christie Wilcox took on organic agriculture recently in "Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Agriculture." Now, I do agree that there should be no sacred cows -- we should examine everything with a critical, if not jaundiced, eye. And indeed Wilcox brings up issues surrounding organic ag about which many people may not be aware. But sadly, her analysis goes quickly and seriously off the rails. First the good points: Organic ag does use pesticides, sometimes in large quantities. This is not a new revelation: …

Read more: Food, Organic Food

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Organic farming is not really better for you or the planet [UPDATE: Or is it?]

[Editor's note, 7/21/11: In retrospect, we should have approached this topic with a more skeptical eye. Grist blogger Tom Laskawy has written a smart rebuttal to the Scientific American piece that's summarized here -- read it!] Science writer Christie Wilcox lays out the top myths about organic farming in Scientific American, and they might surprise you: It's not really pesticide-free. Certified organic farms have to use pesticides from natural sources, rather than man-made -- but those aren't necessarily any less dangerous or harmful. Large organic farms still spray crops with pesticides and fungicides. And they have to use more to …

Read more: Food, Organic Food

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The ‘Dirty Dozen’: Which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticides?

The Environmental Working Group has released an updated list of the Dirty Dozen, the fruits and vegetables with the worst pesticide levels. Drumroll please: Apples Celery Strawberries Peaches Spinach Nectarines (imported) Grapes (imported) Sweet bell peppers Potatoes Blueberries (domestic) Lettuce Kale/collard greens If you can, it's worth shelling out a little extra for the organic versions of these. You can offset it by pinching your pennies on the Clean Fifteen, the produce with the lowest pesticide levels: Onions Sweet Corn Pineapples Avocado Asparagus Sweet peas Mangoes Eggplant Cantaloupe (domestic) Kiwi Cabbage Watermelon Sweet potatoes Grapefruit Mushrooms

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Great places, great food (and beer): part two

You can't have a great place without great beer.In part one of my musings on food and "great places," I painted a bleak picture of the U.S. food landscape: one in which a handful of companies churn out mountains of low-quality food, competing not to see who can put out the best product, but rather to see who can most deftly and deeply slash costs. The fixation on cost-cutting gives rise to all manner of dysfunctions, including the erasure of skilled food trades like that of the butcher and the rise of a vast, low-wage, low-skill army of food-system workers. …

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Next stop, the food desert: Fresh produce gets on the bus

The payoff scene in this video about a new mobile produce stand on Chicago's West Side comes about nine minutes in. A young boy is urged to eat an apple by the women staffing the Fresh Moves bus, which just launched with the mission of bringing fresh produce to an inner-city food desert. The boy acts as if he has never bitten into an apple before. Never even really touched one, maybe. The apple actually seems to make him nervous. But finally he does it, and the women cheer him on. If you had any question that we need creative …

Read more: Cities, Food, Organic Food

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Family (farm) affair: my connection to Eliot Coleman’s rise to prominence

Portrait of the farmer as a young man: Eliot Coleman with children, circa early 1970s.Reprinted with permission from Melissa Coleman. I'm not sure exactly what it means to play a cameo role in a family memoir exploring the roots of today's food movement; but certainly it makes you keenly aware of how quickly the years are piling up. I'm referring to the tale of my brief, but apparently significant, role in helping launch organic farmer and author (and occasional Grist contributor) Eliot Coleman toward fame, chronicled in the new memoir by his daughter, Melissa, This Life Is in Your Hands, …

Read more: Food, Locavore, Organic Food

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Want a better organic garden? Call out the soil-critter army

The helpful Jerusalem cricket.Photo: Franco FoliniCross-posted from Cool Green Science. There are 1 billion bacteria in a single gram of soil. (Give or take a few million.) But how can you get that army -- and its insect friends, like the two-inch Jerusalem cricket pictured to the right -- to help you grow bigger veggies and prettier flowers? There's nobody better to ask than Nature Conservancy soil ecologist Sophie Parker, who recently turned Grist on to the fascinating (and sometimes scary) world of soil organisms. I asked Sophie to give us some tips to make our gardens grow even better …

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California schemin’: How a fake organic fertilizer bamboozled farmers and watchdogs alike

What's the difference?: What seemed like organic fertilizer to farmers could have been spiked with the synthetic kind.Truck photo (left): Iris Shreve Garrott It's no secret that the organic food industry has seen explosive growth, taking only a mild drubbing through the recession and then continuing its ascent. At the heart of that growth has been trust -- consumers are willing to shell out more bucks for organic because the food's been grown without synthetic chemicals, with that claim verified from farm to market. Yet two major cases of federal fraud have been filed in the past six months, rocking …

Read more: Food, Organic Food

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Another danger of non-organic farming: Exploding watermelons

People opt for organically-farmed food for all different reasons, but here's one of the more compelling ones we've seen: Agricultural chemicals can make watermelons explode.  Chinese watermelon crops just had an unfortunate run-in with the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron, which makes plants' cells divide faster to pump up growth rates. Supposedly forchlorfenuron can bump up harvest schedules by two weeks and increase fruit size by 20 percent. But if farmers spray too late or in the wrong conditions, acres of melons explode like "land mines" in a scene of carnage that one farmer said haunted his dreams. This is, of course, …