Today, I ate all my snails at breakfast.

Normally, I might have balked at the idea: a few dozen tiny, round, green-gray bodies floating in a bowl of murky broth, partly hidden by a thick layer of cooked greens. But today, at this table, with this Korean drumming troupe, I ate every single one. I finished the last of the broth with an exaggerated slurp to show I’d enjoyed it, which is what you do when you don’t know how to say you did.

I’ve eaten everything offered to me since I arrived three days ago at the Nanumteo farm in South Korea: countless bowls of chicken, stuffed with dates and rice and garlic, and boiled in a ginseng broth; pork hooves; and dried squid in sweet sauce. I’ve eaten, of course, because I’m hungry, and when you’re in a place where you can’t communicate, you eat when and what you’re given. But I’ve also eaten because I’m deeply, profoundly grateful to have a place at the table.

I’m here because in 1971 a British secretary named Sue Coppard thought it would be nice to get a group of people together to visit organic farms on the weekends.

Because the group she founded became the sprawling grassroots organization called Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farming, or WWOOF.

And because a WWOOF branch was founded in South Korea in 1997.

Continued on Student Reporter: http://studentreporter.org/2014/09/wwoof-korea-a-bridge-of-the-agricultural-past-and-urban-modernity/

An Agriculture Piece for The Guardian

New technology helps farmers conserve fertilizer and protect their crops

A software program from Cornell researchers aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save farmers’ crops. Now the big seed companies are taking notice.

By: Kayleigh Burgess

A corn field disappears under a shroud of mist at sunrise in rural Springfield, Nebraska

We have a nitrogen problem.

Nitrogen is essential to our existence, a required nutrient for the plants we eat. It is the broad swath at the bottom of our own human food pyramid and it is applied by farmers to agriculture fields all over the world.

From there, much of it is lost to the atmosphere, as a greenhouse gas 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Still more of it leaches into waterways, creating dead zones, like the ones that inevitably creep up in the Gulf of Mexico, decimating fish populations.

Researchers at Cornell University are hoping they’ve created the beginnings of a solution. Adapt-N, a software program developed after years of research, aims to help farmers simultaneously save money and mitigate these environmental impacts by giving them the information they need to determine how and when to apply nitrogen fertilizer to their fields.

Read the full article here!

New Article for Student Reporter: Farming Ghana’s Shifting Landscape


PRIMUKYEAE, Ghana — A new eight-month radio program focused on helping farmers adapt to climate change began in this agricultural community last month.

The program was created through an international partnership between the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the German Technical Cooperation and Farm Radio International (FRI). It will broadcast throughout the district of Kintampo, in Brong Ahafo, a region of Ghana that accounts for 75 percent of the country’s agricultural production. The program focuses on providing climate-smart agriculture tips, market information and weather forecasts.

FRI will draw on its experience with a similar program, CHANGE (Climate Change Adaptation in Northern Ghana Enhanced), to support farmers cultivating fields along the savannah’s edge.

Read the full article at Student Reporter: http://studentreporter.org/2014/06/radio-program-in-ghana-supports-farmers-on-the-front-lines-of-climate-change/.

Mexico emerges as a leader in organic agriculture production

The following is my first article as a Student Reporter Fellow. Over the next few months, myself and a handful of other fellows from around the world will be writing pieces that highlight global food issues. I couldn’t be more excited to contribute! 

It’s April in Indiana, the ground just beginning to thaw. Birds and buds are emerging after the long polar vortex of these past many days. The peas are just starting to sprout and the white blossoms of the fruit trees are all promise, of apricots and peaches and pears that will begin to ripen only when we’ve found our way to the other side of the summer solstice. As new life emerges, the refrigerators and fruit bowls of many in the Hoosier state are already full: of ripe mangoes and oranges and bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes, and basil. Even for the organic consumer, this abundance is now available year-round.

It’s April in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. Here coffee is grown using traditional methods on over 11,000 hectares certified for organic production. The harvest is coming to a close, the beans packed in containers and ready for shipping to all points north. April in Baja California, Mexico, where organic tomatoes are being coaxed from the desert, they too shipped north to meet the growing demand for organics by American consumers.

Over the past decade, Mexico has emerged as a significant contributor to global organic agriculture, experiencing a ten-fold increase in organic production. The country’s rankings capture this significance: it is the world’s top producer of organic coffee and tropical fruits, the second largest producer of organic vegetables.

There is great potential for profitability in this growing market for export. However, organics should not be viewed merely as an extractive industry, a one-way street between production and consumption. Demand for organics has been growing in Mexico, as well.

This is a boon for farmers, who have seen their market share for traditional crops, like corn, fall since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.

In some places, like Chiapas for example, this shift can mean agricultural cooperatives that allow farmers to capitalize on economies of scale, ensuring the most direct profit for their product. But, just as in the United States, organic agriculture can also have a very different meaning. It can mean mono-crops, and big business, and over-taxed aquifers. Such is the case in much of Baja, California.

While we continue to debate the merits of big business organics, we can be sure of one thing: production in Mexico will continue to grow. Just last year, on October 29, 2013 the government of Mexico instituted its own guidelines for organic production. The organic labeling program is similar in many ways to the program in the United States, with many of the same rules and regulations.

Read more in this great NY Times piece and on the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service website.


If only pirates have poles: the future of fishing on the high seas

On April 2nd, I was fortunate to attend a class with Rick Loomis. A photographer for the LA Times, Loomis is known for his work covering environmental issues and conflict zones. In 2007, he and team of journalists won a Pulitzer Prize for the piece Altered Oceans. Click on the photo to check it out, it’s worth a moment (or more) of your time:

LoomisOcean   (Photograph by Rick Loomis)

Loomis captured startling videos and still photography, of beauty and of destruction. At one point he said to us, “There is nothing left, we’ve eaten it all.” And he is a man who knows. Who devoted years of his life to finding out.

There is a growing consensus, a growing concern:
We are running out of seafood. The sea is running low on life.

Like with so many environmental issues, the consensus runs short on a solution. One solution, proposed last week by a biologist and a resource economist, is elegant, simple, and on its face impossible — close the high seas, giving species time to grow and rebound.

The idea may seem outlandish but as Professor Crow White, one of the paper’s authors points out, “”All big ideas have to start somewhere.” And we do. Need to start somewhere. As soon as possible. If we hope to have fish in the future.

Check out this article on The Salt for more.


2014: Year of the Family Farmer

Hear ye! Hear ye! 2014 is the Year of the Family Farmer. Raise your glasses in celebration, and offer a toast to the everyday farmers, nurturing the food stuffs that nourish all of us.

Family farming, you say? Isn’t that just a relic, a simple nostalgia of bygone days?

For at least the last half century, we’ve heard the mantra that bigger is better when it comes to our farms. If we scale up and institutionalize, we can liberate ourselves from the land and hand over the pesky business of growing food to corporations with profits to maximize and innovations to innovate. But we have found so much to be lacking in this new food system that we are experiencing a backlash, a resurgence of food growers and producers and entrepreneurs.

In less developed countries around the world the advice for so long has been that agriculture is inextricably linked to poverty;that the way to transcend the poverty trap is to leave behind the business of subsistence agriculture for the promise of manufacturing, and eventually for a transition to knowledge-based economies. As though we will all one day be able to stop producing food, and then goods, so that eventually our only products will be knowledge.

But in this promise, we have again found so much to be lacking. As people increasingly move from rural areas to urban ones, job opportunities have not kept pace, leading to a rise in unemployment and urban slums. We also know that up to 80% of people in developing countries are still engaged in food production. Perhaps most importantly, we know that small farms are more productive than large ones, despite popular conceptions to the contrary.

We tend to believe that large farms are more productive than small ones, but the data tells a different story. According to data analysis by the Institute for Food and Development Policy, “For every country for which data is available, smaller farms are anywhere from 200 to 1,000 percent more productive per unit area.” And they are without a doubt more diverse: economically and ecologically.

In declaring 2014 the Year of the Family Farm, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is recognizing what we know and using it to challenge the prevailing claims. According to their website:

Families share everything. They share their living space and their mealtimes. They share their aspirations, dreams, successes and failures. Throughout the developed and developing world, farming families reap the benefits of sharing the workload too.
In fact, with over 500 million family farms in the world, this is the predominant form of agriculture, and it is inextricably linked to world food security.

Yet more than 70% of the food insecure population is made up of family farmers in rural areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Near East. They cannot reach their full production potential because they lack the access to natural resources, credit, policies and technologies they need.  

Check out http://www.fao.org/family-farming-2014/en/ for more info.

Sustainability Ultra-marathon

If you want go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

But what to do when you need to go far, fast? This is the question before conservationists and the sustainability community in general. It is clear to all who are paying attention that our voracious consumer desires and prodigious growth are quickly outpacing the rate at which resources can be renewed. Ocean stocks are dwindling as demand increases, forests are being leveled to make way for ranches and mono-crop plantations. Ask anyone who is paying attention, and they will tell you that we need to get far and we need to get there fast.

The conflict comes not in the if but in the how – a tension succinctly captured by World Wildlife Fund vice-president Jason Clay in his TED talk, where he lays out his vision of a sustainable economy. One where sustainability is not a consumer choice but an industry standard:

When you listen to him speak, it is easy to agree that we need to corral the 100 dominant businesses controlling the food system into making better choices. But maybe it makes you, like me, wonder if this just perpetuates a food system where 100 companies control the profits. We have seen what this model has to offer – and despite efficiencies – it’s not good.

Many would argue that we need to remake the food system – that we need to divest our dollars from McDonalds and Sysco, Cargill and Tyson; investing them in our local food economies instead. That we should be spending them directly on home-baked and family farm-grown. Indeed, regional food economies are growing at a rapid and inspirational rate.

And so you have to choose. Do you support McDonald’s in their promises to move toward ‘sustainable beef production’ and laude Pepsi’s commitments to end agricultural land grabs for sugar cane plantations in Brazil? Or do you advocate for local growers, family farmers, alternative agriculture and small-scale production? Do you get behind impact or authenticity? If you are Jason Clay, you have to choose. If you are an educator, an activist, a grower, a producer – you have to choose. But maybe as a society, we might not have to choose. In our growing, ever-shifting dynamic society we can push McDonald’s to adopt better practices and work to decrease their market share. Which is lucky for us – because we need to get far, and we need to get there fast.

Is it edible? Dinner on a bed of kale

When I was in high school, I waited tables at a local diner. By-the-Way family restaurant sat along a bare stretch of single-lane state highway, sharing its parking lot with an auto-body shop; a view of pre-fab log cabin homes, “priced affordably” “come in and check one out today”, ever-present from the front glass windows.

We served all-you-can eat spaghetti on Wednesdays and haddock crunch, battered in corn flakes, on Fridays. We served the food that grandparents and truck drivers wanted to eat, because those were the customers that filled our booths and the stools at the long counter, running the length of By-the-Way family restaurant.

Every plate we served, save for the belgian waffles towering with whipped cream and the slender slices of pie, was served with a garnish: one piece of curly green kale and one thin orange slice. The kale sat rinsed and chopped into aesthetically-appropriate hunks in a white gallon bucket next to the serving line. And every plate of food we served, save for the belgian waffles towering with whipped cream and the slender slices of pie, came back to the dishwasher with one appropriately-sized hunk of raw, green kale. This routine we repeated, on every plate, every day, for years, without ever giving it a second thought.

Until one day, a little boy inquired as I set his plate of chicken fingers and french fries in front of him: “Is this thing edible?”, holding the adornment aloft. “Ummmm, I don’t know. Let me find out.” Back to the kitchen, where I was met with a series of white-coated shoulder shrugs. “I guess you could but I don’t know why you’d want to.” I popped a piece in my mouth for good measure and shook my head in a grimace – not exactly what I’d call “edible”.

And this was everything I knew about kale. Until I got to college and discovered kale lightly sauteed with lemon, balsamic vinegar kale with slivered almonds, and raw massaged kale salad. Until I discovered that the favorite food of yogis and Vermonters was not just a plate garnish, after all. All of this is to say that I just made dinner and it was delicious. And it was cheap. And it had kale in it. So, I thought I’d share it with y’all.

Ravioli, tossed in vodka sauce, on a bed of prosciutto, kale, and pan-roasted cherry tomatoes.

Sounds fancy, right? And expensive. Fortunately, looks can be deceiving. In addition to being delicious, the second and third best parts of this meal were that it took less than 20 minutes and cost about $2. Make this dish when cherry tomatoes are on sale, and vodka sauce, and really – I promise – you only need the tiniest bit of proscuitto.

Recipe (for one, because I’m a single grad-school gal):
A handful of frozen cheese ravioli (6 or 7)
A little less than an ounce of prosciutto, minced
A few leafs of kale, ribs removed, sliced very thin
A small handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
About 1/4c of vodka sauce, enough to coat the ravioli
A dash of italian cheese, if you like

Put your water on to boil and heat a small amount of oil (olive, grapeseed, canola, whatever is on hand) in a skillet. Throw in your minced prosciutto and saute over medium heat for a minute or two. Add your kale, cooking until it starts to become tender and the bright green color comes out. Push to the side of your skillet and throw in your halved cherry tomatoes, sprinkling them with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and anything else your heart desires. Once the skin on the tomatoes starts to blister or brown, mix everything together and put it on your plate.

Meanwhile the water has come to boil, and you’ve thrown in the ravioli, which only takes three minutes to cook – because sometimes things are magic like that. The square pockets of pasta will start to rise to the top of the boil, to let you know they’re done. Strain ’em, throw ’em back in the still-hot pot, and toss to coat with vodka sauce. Pour over your kale mixture, top with a sprinkle of parm, and viola — delicious.

What makes this dish so good is its complementary flavors – the saltiness of the prosciutto, the richness of ricotta, the sweet flavor of roasted cherry tomatoes. In the right proportions the flavors complement each other, none overpowering the other.

Cheers, to a little Wednesday night indulgence and a plate full of edible kale. Happy eating!

Power of the Pork Propaganda

In the state of Indiana, farmers no longer raise pigs, they ‘grow pork’. Lots of it. Enough to meet the ‘pork needs’ of every man, woman, and child in Indiana, plus 20 million more people across the country, and the world. All clever bits of word play from the pork lobby.

Perhaps scenes from Babe flash quickly through your mind: a farmer and his dell, memories of a bygone era. Nope. In farming today most of our pork needs are met by Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which are about as bucolic as they sound. Today’s pigs are raised by the thousands and tens of thousands in buildings that resemble factories more than barns.

To justify this shift, the folks at Indiana Pork have produced a short and shockingly simple propaganda film about the merits of factory farming, available for free to teachers across the state. It’s full of important questions like “Do pigs miss going outside?” and “How do we know when one pig is sick?”. And the answers are probably not what you’d hope. This is what our fourth graders are learning about farming today:

Download the full video here: http://foodforthoughtsite.com/