Harvest Desk

What's at the bottom of the bottom of the food chain? Well, think small ... smaller than you can see.

Tiny life forms in the ocean, too small for the naked eye to see.

There are (and scientists have done the math) trillions of microorganisms in the ocean: plankton, bacteria, krill (they're maybe bigger than "micro," but not by much), viruses, protists and archaea (they're like bacteria, but they aren't bacteria).

The case against trans fats is not new. For years, health experts have been telling us to avoid them.

And as retailing behemoths such as Wal-Mart have committed to the removal of all remaining, industrially produced trans fats in the products they sell, the food industry has stepped up its pace to reformulate its offerings.

One of the first life lessons I picked up in college was this: The secret to the shiny crust and chewy bite prized in New York bagels is boiling. Any other way of cooking them, my Brooklyn born-and-raised, freshman-year roommate told me, is simply unacceptable.

To discover the new frontier of urban farming, you'll have to look up — and look sharp — for hanging fruit.

An avian flu outbreak is sweeping across the Midwest at a frightening pace, ravaging chicken and turkey farms and leaving officials stumped about the virus's seemingly unstoppable spread.

Whoa, I wouldn't want to be Steve Easterbrook right about now.

The newish CEO of McDonald's — who has pledged to turn the fast-food giant into a progressive burger chain — is getting an earful this week, as the company prepares to convene its annual shareholders meeting on Thursday.

Farmers and public health advocates have been arguing for many years now about the use of antibiotics on farm animals, yet that argument takes place in a fog of uncertainty, because a lot of information simply isn't available.

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The buzz around bees has been bad lately. As we've reported, beekeepers say they lost 42 percent of honeybee colonies last summer.

There are two drinks most people associate with Russia — vodka and tea, prepared in a giant hot-water urn known as a samovar.

Yet while vodka may have actually originated in Russia (Poland is another contender), tea is a thoroughly foreign product.

Most historians believe the Chinese first brought tea to Russia sometime in the 1600s. As for the samovar? "The origins are shrouded in mystery," says Maria Zavilova, curator at the Museum of Russian Art in Minnesota.

When you're talking about almonds, "raw" may not mean what you think.

All California almonds — which would be virtually all the almonds in the country — are either heat-pasteurized or treated with a fumigant. The processes, which have been required by law since 2007, are intended to prevent foodborne illness. But almond aficionados say the treatments taint the flavor and mislead consumers.

The most luscious watermelon the Deep South has ever produced was once so coveted, 19th-century growers used poison or electrocuting wires to thwart potential thieves, or simply stood guard with guns in the thick of night. The legendary Bradford was delectable — but the melon didn't ship well, and it all but disappeared by the 1920s. Now, eight generations later, a great-great-great-grandson of its creator is bringing it back.

Let's see — what shall we have? So much to choose from in the collection of historical menus at the Los Angeles Public Library.

There are some 9,000 items to consider — creative, colorful, delicious-looking. By just perusing the choices, we get a deep sense of the city's rich culture and juicy past.

About 80 percent of Americans now live in urban areas, and more and more of us are growing food in cities as well.

But where's an urban farmer to turn for a soil test or when pests infiltrate the fruit orchard?

Why Do Farmers Burn Their Fields?

May 18, 2015

Farmers burn their fields to remove plants that are already growing and to help the plants that are about to come up. These burns are often called “prescribed burns” because they are used to improve the health of the field.

What tools do farmers need for a burn?

To keep the fire contained, farmers need to clear away burnable matter around the edges of the field, which usually requires a lawn mower or larger machinery. The burn itself can be managed with some simple, specific tools.

Keeping food out of sight could be a way to keep it out of your mouth. That's the hunch of Charles Emery, a psychologist at Ohio State University, anyway. His latest research suggests that how food is set up around the house could be influencing how much people eat and, ultimately, how heavy they might be.

There are a lot of factors that scientists say explain obesity — defined as a body-mass index over 30 — from genetics to lifestyle changes to socio-economic status.

Kentucky bourbon is in high demand these days. Sales and production of the whiskey have surged in recent years.

The demand has created a problem: a shortage of barrels. Bourbon is typically aged for several years in wooden casks.

But one company has found a work-around. It's come up with a chemical process that ages bourbon not in years — but in hours. The innovation is unsettling an industry that is long-soaked in history and tradition.

A typical Uruguayan asado, or barbecue, is made up of vast racks of prime cuts of beef, pork or chicken roasted on a grill next to — not on top of — a wood burning fire.

At parilla restaurants across the capitol Montevideo, the asados are pretty epic; the fatty cuts sizzle and then get slapped onto your plate, oozing with juice.

But if you want to grab a salt shaker and add a bit of extra salt to your meal these days in the Uruguayan capital, you can't.

They switched diets.

Twenty South Africans gave up their corn porridge and vegetable stews for burgers and fries.

And 20 Pittsburghians sacrificed fast food staples for the low-fat, high-fiber fare that South Africans traditionally eat.

Dr. Stephen O'Keefe, a professor of nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, was eager to find out what would happen next.

O'Keefe knew that South Africans tend to have much lower rates of colon cancer than Americans. And he wanted to find out if food might be a factor.

If you want to know if the beef you're buying is grassfed, there's a U.S. Department of Agriculture label for that. The agency is also behind the nation's biggest certified organic label, and an antibiotic-free one, too.

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Flowering meat that unfolds when plopped into hot broth, beef "yarn" that can be knitted directly onto your plate and fried nuggets made from the extinct dodo bird are just a few of the menu options at the Bistro In Vitro.

Just a few months ago McDonald's was showing no love for kale.

In a TV ad promoting the beefiness of the Big Mac, the chain poked fun at the leafy green and other vegetarian fare: "You can't get juiciness like this from soy or quinoa," a low voice quips as the camera focuses on a juicy burger. "Nor will it ever be kale."

But the chain is now showing it some affection. McDonald's has announced that it's testing a new breakfast bowl that blends kale and spinach with turkey sausage and egg whites. McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa McComb says the bowls are "freshly prepared."

When Jeff Brown opened his first grocery store in a low-income neighborhood in Philadelphia back in 2004, it seemed like a long shot.

Most people thought he was crazy to even attempt to make money in a food desert like Southwest Philly, he says. Other grocers had tried and quickly gone out of business.

Just over a year ago, Tracy Dethlefs learned she has stage 1 breast cancer. Since then, she estimates she’s charted some 10,000 miles travelling from her farm near Loup City in central Nebraska to area hospitals for treatment. Every surgery, round of chemotherapy and radiation treatment was a road trip.

“Radiation treatments usually (take) only about 5 minutes (on) a day that they have to see you,” Dethlefs said. “But for a week, for seven weeks in a row, you’re driving every single day to the cancer treatment center. We’re about an hour away from cancer centers.”

Think local Nebraska food, and Omaha's famous steaks may come to mind. The Great Plains are indeed an agricultural powerhouse when it comes to commodities like feed corn, soybeans, beef and pork.

But as food journalist Summer Miller tells Meghna Chakrabarti of NPR's Here & Now, there's much more on offer these days in Nebraska, as well as in its Great Plains neighbors Iowa and South Dakota.

To make the New Numbat Artificial Diet, mix together powdered cat chow, hen's eggs and water. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes and cool. Add calcium carbonate, a vitamin-mineral supplement, cellulose powder, fish oil, Vitamin B12 and crushed termite mound.

Grow Springfield

Bringing together those who care about community gardens and urban farming is the goal of Grow Springfield.  A network of organizations are working to support existing community gardens and open opportunities for more.  

Lindsay Record with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and Joe Eby of  the Springfield Urban League join us to talk more about Grow Springfield.  Record says it got rolling with a USDA grant:
 

Puerto Rico used to produce some of the best coffee in the world — but that was more than a century ago.

Today, Puerto Rico's coffee crop is just a fraction of what it was then, and little is exported. But there's a movement on the island to improve quality and rebuild Puerto Rico's coffee industry.

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