Harvest Desk

A little more than 10 years ago, Texas banned soda machines and deep fryers in public school cafeterias.

Now the state's current agriculture commissioner, Sid Miller, wants to do away with that ban. He believes these kinds of restrictions should be in the hands of local school boards — not state regulators. But some students are among those who aren't happy about this idea.

Like Us, Chimps Go Bananas For Booze

Jun 10, 2015

Chimpanzees are smart. They can master sign language, swimming and even cooking. Now, evidence shows they are using their smarts to sip wine.

The federal government’s complex set of rules meant to spur a renewable fuels industry has fallen behind one of its main goals: cut greenhouse emissions from gasoline.

Nearly a decade after the rules were drafted, low-carbon fuels have yet to arrive. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will propose tweaks to the nation’s ethanol policy by June 1, and the changes will mark a crucial point for the next generation of biofuels, which have so far failed to flourish.

Tony Lordi sighs as he reaches into the pocket of his white uniform pants and pulls out his iPhone.

These days, Lordi, the production manager at Judy's Bakery in Kansas City, Mo., checks with his supplier every day. He needs to know the price of what's become liquid gold for commercial bakers: "liquid egg."

"The market's like gas prices at this point," he says.

Selling seeds and pesticides used to be a sleepy, slow-moving business. That was, until about 20 years ago, when the chemical company Monsanto introduced genetically modified crops and started buying up seed companies. Ever since, companies in this industry have been maneuvering like hungry fish in a pond, occasionally dining on pieces of each other, hoping to survive through size and speed.

You'd be forgiven for not knowing this, but Wednesday is National Iced Tea Day. And while it's only an unofficial food holiday, it makes sense that Americans would set aside a day to celebrate this favorite summertime sip: We popularized it.

"Chow bus! Chow bus! Chow bus!" chants Gunner Fischer, 3, as a custom-painted school bus rounds the corner and rumbles toward his apartment complex in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

About 21 million students nationwide eat free and reduced-price meals throughout the school year, but getting those same kids fed during the summer is a challenge. Only a fraction of those make it to schools or community centers for summer meals.

The drought finally broke for Texas ranchers late last year. The range and pasturelands on which cattle graze began to recover. Then came the spring. In Cameron, about 140 miles northwest of Houston, the rain began falling at the start of May — and didn't stop all month.

For years, barbecue hounds planned their visits to barbecue joints with the precision of a Special Forces operation.

Why? Because they knew there was a narrow window when the smoked meat would be at its juiciest, smokiest best. Once the window had closed, a platter of would-be sublimity typically deteriorated into a pile of dried-out disappointment.

When I ask Iago Bitarishvili to climb into his qvevri, a Georgian clay wine barrel, he rolls his eyes before he drops a ladder into what looks like a hole in the ground and makes his way down. What is a novelty to an observer is, to Bitarishvili, simply the way things are done.

"I don't make anything special," he says. "I only continue in the way started by my parents."

Ethanol is one of the most important industries in the Midwest, and it’s an industry about to change. The U.S. EPA says that by June 1 it will propose new targets for the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, which dictates the amount of ethanol the oil industry has to blend into our gasoline.

When television chef Nathan Lyon read about California's worsening drought earlier this year, he started thinking about the amount of water it takes to grow the food in recipes he creates.

That's when he and his girlfriend and culinary manager, Sarah Forman, decided to develop what they call "drought-friendly recipes."

For some people, too much salt is bad for health. Too much salt is also bad for growing most crops.

Salty soil is a common problem for farmers in the arid West and it's gotten worse because of the ongoing drought. Water is necessary to flush salts out; without it, salt builds up over time.

In New Mexico, one crop that's suffering is the state's beloved chile pepper.

Six of the largest school districts in the country have banded together to revamp school lunches — and they're starting from the plate up.

School administrators in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orlando in 2012 formed the Urban School Food Alliance. And in May, they announced that they were ditching polystyrene lunch trays and replacing them with compostable lunch plates. It's a significant move since all together, the schools in the Alliance serve up 2.5 million meals a day.

flickr/Stephen Woods

The Illinois Department of Agriculture is banning out-of-state birds from exhibitions and fairs around the state to help stem the spread of a deadly bird flu that's hit nearby states.  

The restriction announced Friday includes county fairs, FFA and 4-H fairs and the state fairs in Springfield and DuQuoin.  

The agency says the bird flu hasn't yet been detected in Illinois. Agency director Philip Nelson says the restrictions are meant to protect the Illinois poultry industry and allow youths to show livestock at county and fairs this summer.  

If you've ever encountered halibut, it was probably as a tasty — and pricey — entree. But in Alaska, it's the subject of a fierce fish battle. On one side are small family-owned fishing boats. On the other, an industrial fleet delivering seafood to the world. This weekend, federal managers are trying to decide how both sides can survive.

On Wednesday, in advance of a Friday shareholder meeting, Wal-Mart executives told employees it would turn up the heat and mix up the music in stores — after complaints that workers were chilly and subjected to endless repetition of Celine Dion and Justin Bieber songs.

After wrestling with India's regulatory bodies over the safety of some of its products, Nestlé India says it will abide by a ban and pull its noodle soup products from shelves.

Len Berk loves lox, the salt-cured salmon that goes so well with bagels. The 85-year-old New Yorker is a veteran salmon slicer at Zabar's, the gourmet food shop in Manhattan.

But it wasn't always that way. For nearly four decades, Berk was an accountant.

"I never loved it, but accounting provided a decent living," he said to his friend Joshua Gubitz, during a recent visit to StoryCorps. "And it was very important for me to take care of my children. So after I retired I looked for something to do next."

Daily Table opened its doors Thursday with shelves full of surplus and aging food.

The nonprofit grocery store is in the low-to-middle income Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. It's selling canned vegetables two for $1 and a dozen eggs for 99 cents. Potatoes are 49 cents a pound. Bananas are 29 cents a pound.

"That's good. It's cheap! Everything good," says Noemi Sosa, a shopper marveling at the prices that — for Boston — are phenomenally low.

Rudy Mussi is not the California farmer you've been hearing about. He is not fallowing all his fields or ripping up his orchards due to a lack irrigation water.

For Mussi and most of his neighbors in the bucolic Sacramento Delta, the water is still flowing reliably from the pumps and into the canals lining the fields.

"If you had to pick a place where you would say, 'Okay, where should I stick my farm?' You'd come to the Delta," he says.

In southern Bangladesh, bright green rice paddies stretch into the distance.

But in the village of Gholgholia, rice in one paddy grows unevenly. The leaves are dry and brown. And there are bald patches between clumps, like the agricultural equivalent of a slightly mangy dog.

This is the result of salty soil. Sometimes it's so hard to coax rice into growing in the soil that farmers leave fields fallow.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

California's drought isn't just turning green lawns brown or #droughtshaming into a trending topic. It's taking a multi-billion dollar toll on the state's agricultural industry as well.

The University of California, Davis is out with a new report, and some of the numbers are steep. The study found that in 2015 alone, the drought will cost the state's farmers industry $2.7 billion and more than 18,000 jobs, with 564,000 acres fallowed.

If you give a chimp an oven, he or she will learn to cook.

That's what scientists concluded from a study that could help explain how and when early humans first began cooking their food.

Avian flu is devastating the egg industry across the Midwestern U.S.

University of Illinois Press

Alan Guebert has written the nationally syndicated column "Farm and Food File" for more than 20 years.  Most of the time he keeps a serious focus on breaking down food policy issues. Often, its not the same view as held by major farm groups.   Other times, the Delavan, Illinois based writer harkens back to his days on a southern Illinois dairy farm.

What do large herbivores like elephants and zebras eat? And if – as researchers assumed — they eat many of the same things, then how do they share the spread of grasses and other plants across the savanna?

You'd think this would be pretty easy to figure out: Just watch them eat or inspect the poop, right? But large animals are wily. They travel long distances and can be too dangerous to observe up close.

On this June day in 1865, the last Confederate general surrendered to the Unionists, and the bloodiest war in the nation's history officially came to an end. It was a war in which food played a powerful role in determining the outcome.

Cookbooks published during the Civil War era provide vivid, contrasting portraits of how the conflict affected diets and social lives in the North and the South. A house divided against itself, indeed: There was very little in common between the kitchens of the Yankee North and the Confederate South.

The American wing of the Young Men's Christian Association — a worldwide organization founded in London in 1844 — launched the first basketball teams and group swim lessons in the U.S., popularized exercise classes and created the oldest summer camp still in operation, the YMCA's historians tell us.

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