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Sustainable Farming

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Green goo: Sustainable meat producers market their own ‘pink slime’

If you had to choose a Public Enemy No. 1 for the food movement this year, pink slime would be a strong contender. This slurry of ammonia-soaked leftover "fatty trimmings" from industrial meat has been used in everything from school lunches to McDonald's Big Macs. Now, after much public outcry, fast-food chains have dropped it, and the USDA has started to pay attention to its presence in school lunches.

But small-scale organic meat producers across the country are discovering something unexpected about pink slime: They actually like it.

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For New Yorkers, a farmers market on your phone

The Plovgh interface.

A community-supported agriculture (CSA) share can be a culinary battle royale. Every other week, it's you versus a mystery box. No tap outs, no substitutions. Just a bitter melon so fresh, you wouldn't dare toss it out. And while there's something to be said for experimentation, sometimes you just want something a little more familiar, something easy to pack for lunch, something the kids will touch. Or maybe you're just having a mad craving for heirloom radishes?

That’s where Plovgh enters the picture. The online marketplace soft-launched in November 2011, and hopes to offer an alternative to the traditional CSA and farmers market systems by allowing customers to order exactly what and how much they want from local farms while still getting it delivered to their neighborhood. Sites like Local Dirt and Local Harvest connect online customers to farms, but neither will bring groceries to your neighborhood bar. And while food hubs can distribute food to schools, restaurants, and other groups with big local food needs, Plovgh (pronounced "plow") brings all those perks to individuals -- even those who might only cook once a week.

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The woman who took on Koch Industries to save her farm

The Diffleys in the early days of Gardens of Eagan. (Photo by Helen De Michiel.)

Books written by farmers are rare -- and for good reason. Growing food takes a lot out of you, and most farmers have little or no time to reflect on their lives or package them up for an audience.

But the fact that it’s written by a veteran organic farmer is only part of what makes Atina Diffley’s book Turn Here Sweet Corn unique. Part memoir, part chronicle of the evolution of the upper Midwest organic movement and the corporate forces exerting pressure against it, the book also allows new farmers to hear from someone who has spent time in the trenches. Diffley, who co-founded the Gardens of Eagan, a successful Minnesota organic farm which has served the Twin Cities region for nearly three decades, comes across first and foremost as a survivor. She writes passionately about the years she and her husband Martin spent farming and raising a family, in the face of a seeming avalanche of challenges. Diffley takes readers along as they faced devastating droughts and hailstorms (with hailstones “as big as size-B potatoes”), razor-thin margins and near bankruptcy, and an unexpected eminent domain eviction from their first farm.

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Farmers to use spider venom to protect crops

Farmers and bugs typically have a hate-hate relationship. Insects eat up valuable wheat, barley, and soybeans, and farmers slay them dead using an arsenal of chemical weapons (a.k.a. pesticides). But no longer. Australian growers may soon form an alliance with their new best buggy friends: spiders.

Researchers at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience found that tarantula, orb spider, and funnel web spider venom actually makes a super-effective, all-natural pesticide. Not only that, but scientists envision using the earth-friendly spider venom to control agricultural pests and wipe out disease vectors like mosquitoes.

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Pig ears and donkey butts: 5 foods that could save the world

Photo by Laura Billings.

Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, eats some pretty strange dishes. Now, he wants you to do the same in the name of saving the world:

You can change the world one plate at a time. If we can take better advantage of the global pantry and eat from a wider variety of choices we would do more to combat food poverty, our damaged food production system, obesity and other systemic health and wellness issues than any one single act I can imagine. Here are some suggestions, but be creative. It works.

Here are the five foods he suggests we all start stuffing our faces with:

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Rancher sticks up for animals in factory farm country

Kevin Fulton drives a truck, wears Carhartts, and has never owned a pair of Birkenstocks. As he puts it: “I don’t look like a bunny hugger.” And that’s what makes this rancher's recent efforts to change the face of animal agriculture in Nebraska all the more surprising.

Fulton had been raising a variety of animals on pasture and farming organic grains for nearly a decade when he decided it just wasn’t enough. The rancher was used to being the odd man out in Central Nebraska, or “CAFO country” as he calls it. But for the most part, he’d kept his beliefs to himself.

After all, converting the 2,800 acres to meet organic standard and practicing what’s called holistic management with grass-fed cattle, sheep, and goats, as well as pastured poultry had kept Fulton pretty busy. But this son of a veterinarian still found himself considering the animals who weren't so lucky.

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Mexico City’s urbanization threatens ancient ‘floating gardens’

A man works his plot in the chinampas of Mexico City. (Photo by Eneas De Troya.)

Chinampas, or floating gardens -- small artificial islands full of crops, built up on shallow lake beds -- once sustained the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, producing multiple harvests every year. They still exist in Mexico City, feeding its rural citizens -- for now.

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Into the woods: Seattle plants a public food forest

Photo by Vamapaull.

There’s a stretch of arterial in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood that I’ve traveled probably thousands of times without giving a second thought to the empty, grassy hillside it parallels. When I heard about plans to create a seven-acre urban food forest there, I had a hard time picturing the sloped field covered over in rich soil and filled with a tangle of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and vegetable patches. It seemed like an edible ecosystem too wild to spring from such an unremarkable urban space. But within the next few years, this slice of land adjacent to a city park and golf course will transform from an unofficial off-leash dog run and occasional sledding slope into the Beacon Food Forest, which some say will be the largest of its kind in the U.S.

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Dr. Vandana Shiva: Occupy our food supply!

Photo by Ajay Tallam.

Today, Feb. 27, is an Occupy Our Food Supply day of action. The following essay is just one of several related posts that will be appearing around the internet to mark the day.

The biggest corporate takeover on the planet is the hijacking of the food system, the cost of which has had huge and irreversible consequences for the Earth and people everywhere.

From the seed to the farm to the store to your table, corporations are seeking total control over biodiversity, land, and water. They are seeking control over how food is grown, processed, and distributed. And in seeking this total control, they are destroying the Earth’s ecological processes, our farmers, our health, and our freedoms.

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Ad nauseam: Did Chipotle’s Grammy ad scare Big Ag?

A screenshot from the now-famous Chipotle ad (click to watch).

During the broadcast of this year’s Grammys, Chipotle “stole the show” when it ran this animated ad to illustrate the company’s support for less-intensive sustainable livestock agriculture.

The animation itself has been online since last August, but thanks to Chipotle, it was seen by millions of people that night. It also got the attention of Big Ag, which expects to be the one doing all the expensive ad buys when it comes to agriculture.

Case in point: The Chipotle ad inspired Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst (author of the provocative anti-foodie screed “The Omnivore’s Delusion: Against the Agri-intellectuals”) to pen this New York Times op-ed. The article is nothing less than a full-throated defense of factory farming that even includes a strong endorsement of one of the worst factory farm practices -- pig gestation crates.