Harvest Desk

If you're a farmer who wants to stay small and independent, you're under an increasing amount of pressure these days. By the Department of Agriculture's count, a startling 97 percent of all the country's farms are family-run — but that's because many small family farms turned into big family farms, or collections of farms, which turned into big businesses.

Going There: Food, Farming And Health

Apr 9, 2016
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Hunting down that obscure Vietnamese place that serves up bánh bao exactly like you'd find in Hanoi, or an Indian joint with dal just like the one you had on that trip to New Delhi, is a not uncommon pursuit in these food-obsessed days. But our culinary hunt for "authentic ethnic" food can be a double-edged sword, says Krishnendu Ray.

Philadelphia's new mayor wants to do something few American cities have done: pass a tax on soda and other sugary drinks.

So far, Berkeley, Calif., has been the only U.S. city to approve such a tax. That measure was aimed at reducing soda consumption (and the negative health effects that go along with drinking too much of it).

I hadn't been in Japan more than a few weeks before I was hooked on Japanese karē raisu, or curry rice. It was the rich, unmistakable smell that seeped under doorways and filled the undercover shopping markets of Osaka that first caught my attention.

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The tiny Samoan islands have among the highest rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the world — and diet and weight-related health issues have been rising in these Pacific nations since the 1970s. Now 1 in 3 residents of American Samoa suffers from diabetes.

Sardines, herring and other small fish species are the foundation of the marine food web — they're essential food for birds, marine mammals and other fish. But globally, demand for these so-called forage species has exploded, with many going to feed the livestock and fish farming industries.

For three years, Mary Lou Wesselhoeft, a 61-year-old Florida Panhandle dairy farmer, had been selling milk at nearby farmers markets and health food stores in an effort to keep her dairy farm afloat. The last thing she was trying to do was to dupe customers who went out of their way to score a cold bottle of her Ocheesee Creamery pasteurized skim milk.

But Florida authorities saw it differently.

Most food, if we trace it back far enough, began as a seed. And the business of supplying those seeds to farmers has been transformed over the past half-century. Small-town companies have given way to global giants.

A new round of industry consolidation is now underway. Multibillion-dollar mergers are in progress, or under discussion, that could put more than half of global seed sales in the hands of three companies.

If there's anyone who can trace the course of this transformation, and explain what drove it, it's Ed Robinson.

In his competitive diving career, four-time Olympic diving gold medalist and five-time world champion Greg Louganis has been all over the world. Now he'll be in one place that's eluded him for years: your kitchen table.

Wheaties announced that Louganis — who is openly gay and HIV-positive — along with two other former Olympians, hurdler Edwin Moses and swimmer Janet Evans, will be featured on the cereal boxes as part of the revamped "legends" series.

Americans throw away about a third of our available food.

But what some see as trash, others are seeing as a business opportunity. A new facility known as the Heartland Biogas Project is taking wasted food from Colorado's most populous areas and turning it into electricity. Through a technology known as anaerobic digestion, spoiled milk, old pet food and vats of grease combine with helpful bacteria in massive tanks to generate gas.

Live stream begins at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

As our food system has rapidly evolved over the past few decades, issues surrounding where our food comes from and what it contains have become mainstream, often politicized, debates. However, when debating something like organic versus genetically modified food, which communities are included in the dialogue and who benefits when decisions are made? Can producers and consumers work together to make sure high quality food is accessible to everyone?

It all started with a simple request. In 2006, Cathryn Couch was working as a chef, making home-delivery meals for clients. One day, a friend called and asked: Did Couch have any cooking jobs for her teenage daughter? She didn't, but the friend persisted. So Couch eventually came up with a project: making meals and delivering them to a local homeless center.

Recently, we started a conversation about food and race. Specifically, we wondered out loud, who gets to cook — and become the face of — a culture's cuisine?

Our question was prompted by a recent Sporkful interview with Rick Bayless, who has faced criticism over his long career. Although he is an Oklahoman with no Mexican ancestry, he has become one of the most prominent ambassadors for Mexican cuisine in America.

When Nephi Craig enrolled in the culinary program at Arizona's Scottsdale Community College, there was nothing like "Native American Cuisine 101" in the curriculum.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

If you've been following any of the big news stories on food fraud lately, you'll know that it's tough to know what exactly is in our food — and where it's been before it makes it onto our dinner plates.

Beautifully lit, perfectly styled food photography is everywhere — in magazines, food blogs, and even Instagram, where your 10-year-old cousin is already expert at using natural light to make mom's cooking look delicious. These images are usually carefully curated to project an image of an idealized existence where the chicken never burns and everyone is always smiling, perfectly coiffed round the table.

During the 1930s, as Adolf Hitler was rising to power in Germany, the man who would turn out to be his most implacable foe was drowning — in debt and champagne.

In 1936, Winston Churchill owed his wine merchant the equivalent of $75,000 in today's money. He was also in hock to his shirt-maker, watchmaker and printer — but his sybaritic lifestyle, of a cigar-smoking, horse-owning country aristocrat, continued apace.

The price of quinoa tripled from 2006 to 2013 as America and Europe discovered this new superfood. That led to scary media reports that the people who grew it in the high Andes mountains of Bolivia and Peru could no longer afford to eat it. And while, as we reported, groups working on the ground tried to spread the word that your love of quinoa was actually helping Andean farmers, that was still anecdote rather than evidence.

Aubrey Fletcher knew she wanted to work on a dairy farm ever since she was a little girl.

"I do remember my mom asking, 'Are you sure that's what you want to do?' " Fletcher recalls. She knew the work would be tough — she grew up milking cows every day. But it's what she wanted.

So she and her husband's family collaborated to start Edgewood Creamery outside of Springfield, Mo., last August. They recently opened a storefront on the farm selling their milk and cheese.

Illinois Issues: What Can Save The Bees?

Mar 31, 2016
University of Illinois Bee Lab

Bees are essential to our lives, yet they are dying by the thousands. Experts say there's no one solution for protecting them. 

Chinese food has become ingrained in this country's culinary landscape over the years — giving rise to some uniquely Americanized dishes like General Tsao's chicken, beef and broccoli, and of course, the ubiquitous fortune cookie.

But some of the Chinese food you'll find in and around Boston is something else altogether. Bread often comes as a standard add-on with any takeout order. There's chow mein sandwiches and Peking ravioli (aka dumplings). There's the thick, dark lobster sauce.

A century ago, your typical chicken was really kind of scrawny. It took about four months to grow to a weight of 3 pounds. One result: Americans really didn't eat much chicken.

Today, the typical broiler, or meat chicken, turns feed into meat at a mind-boggling pace. Compared with the bird of yesteryear, it grows to twice the size in half the time. But some animal welfare advocates want the poultry industry to turn back the clock. Modern meat chickens are growing so fast, they say, that they are suffering.

Adopt A Beehive — Save A Beekeeper?

Mar 29, 2016

Beekeeper Nick French never knows what he'll find when he opens up his hives for the first spring inspections. Of the 40 hives he manages in Parker, Colo., French loses about one-quarter of his colonies every year.

"I work all summer long to raise healthy bees, but there are no guarantees they'll make it through the winter," says French, founder of Frangiosa Farm.

Baked Alaska: A Creation Story Shrouded In Mystery

Mar 29, 2016

On March 30, 1867, for a mere $7.2 million — about two cents per acre — the U.S. bought land from Russia that would eventually make Alaska its 49th state, gaining a delicious fringe benefit in the process: Baked Alaska.

When Rivers Can't Be Controlled, Farmers Are Left In Limbo

Mar 29, 2016

Driving along rough and muddy gravel roads next to what was once a rich soybean field, farmer Adam Thomas gazes out on an upended mess of tubes, wheels and hoses from a nearby farmer’s irrigation system.

Organic food has gone majorly mainstream, right? Wal-Mart has been driving down the price of organic with an in-house organic line. Whole Foods has begun experimenting with cheaper stores to catch up.

Ah, Stockholm: the only city in the world (we think) with such a meticulous dedication to artisanal bread that it's possible to hire a baby sitter for your sourdough starter.

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