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Sow What?: On food and farming

In This Series

  • 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 […]

  • 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 […]

  • A frustrated resident speaks out

    The following letter was mailed anonymously to Marian Kuper, whom we featured in last week’s “A Tale of Two Counties.” She shared it with Tom Philpott so we could give readers a sense of the frustrations brewing in CAFO country. We welcome responses from other perspectives. I know that others still believe the United States […]

  • How the nation’s breadbasket is poisoning its own water supply

    In late September, the corn and soybean fields of the lower Missouri River floodplain are a lovely dull brown, nearly ready for harvest. The row crops sprawl as far as the eye can see, their regimental march broken only by levees, gravel roads, the occasional band of cottonwoods, and the endless tracks of the Burlington […]

  • An interview with sustainable-food advocate Diane Hatz

    Ever dreamed of eating your way across the country? This summer, Diane Hatz did just that on the Eat Well Guided Tour of America. Convinced there was more to the sustainable-food movement than met the eye (i.e., it ain’t just happening on the coasts), Hatz and her colleagues from Sustainable Table partnered with several other […]

  • A conversation with Michael Pollan

      In his 1996 book Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom, the great food anthropologist Sidney Mintz concluded that the United States had no cuisine. Interestingly, Mintz’s definition of cuisine came down to conversation. For Mintz, Americans just didn’t engage in passionate talk about food. Unlike the southwest French and their cassoulet, most Americans don’t obsess and […]

  • The savory challenges of being a sustainable chef in Big Ag country

    Fifteen years ago, I left a great job teaching at a prestigious northeast culinary school to move back to Iowa and be an executive chef at a Holiday Inn. It was difficult to find people, in Vermont or Iowa, who did not think I was certifiably insane. Those who thought they knew Iowa claimed, “There’s […]

  • Images of a sustainable-food revolution

    Imagine a place where residents pull together to create a thriving store and restaurant serving fresh, local food. Imagine a place where the money appears, the dreams become real, the produce and pastured meat taste like home. Imagine a place where officials support these dreams with policies that fund organic farmers and encourage the purchase […]

  • In the farm belt, a look at the extremes of agricultural production

    When I arrived in Iowa on a reporting trip this summer, I expected to experience it with city eyes: frankly, as a rural backwater. I’ve lived on a farm in the Appalachians of North Carolina since 2004, but the ten years before that, I lived in Mexico City and New York City. I don’t know […]