Harvest Desk

Guy Sternberg

In the 1800s, Illinois’ oak forests once accounted for 60 percent of the state’s tree population. Today, they comprise only 5 percent and are being supplanted by native maple trees and several invasive species.

For several years now, a popular purveyor of tacos has suggested that Americans who get the munchies late at night are participating in a contemporary dining ritual called "Fourthmeal."

The drought in California over the past four years has hit the agriculture industry hard, especially one of the smallest farm creatures: honeybees. A lack of crops for bees to pollinate has California's beekeeping industry on edge.

Gene Brandi is one of those beekeepers. He has a colony of bees near a field of blooming alfalfa just outside the Central California town of Los Banos. He uses smoke from a canister of burning burlap to calm the bees.

The Environmental Protection Agency has released a final version of updated rules intended to keep farmworkers from being poisoned by pesticides. The previous "worker protection standard" for farms has been in effect since 1992.

Back in the 1800s, sour and sweet were a hot item. Americans drank shrubs and switchels — refreshing mixes of vinegar, water, spices lightly sweetened with honey, sugar or molasses. Southern households preserved their fruits in vinegar. And some of the nation's most popular berries were tangy — like the famed Klondike strawberry and tart cherries that came in eight different varieties. But by the middle of the 20th century, these tart-sweet delights had all but vanished.

Even Poor Countries End Up Wasting Tons Of Food

Sep 28, 2015

The fact that a huge amount of food is wasted each year will be no surprise to anybody in the West. What might come as a surprise is that a large percentage of global food waste occurs in developing countries — primarily because of poor infrastructure and dysfunctional distribution networks.

As much as half of the food grown or produced in the developing world simply never makes it to market. And that loss is costing billions of dollars and blighting countless lives.

Ruth Reichl is in her green-tiled kitchen on the Upper West Side, stirring pungent fish sauce into a wok of sizzling pork. Perhaps you remember her as a highly influential restaurant critic for the LA Times and the New York Times (15 years), or from her best-selling books about food (three, including her memoir Tender At The Bone) or that she ran Gourmet magazine for 10 years.

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

The U.S. is in a frenzy over Pope Francis. And with the pontiff visiting Philadelphia on Saturday, vendors there are ready with commemorative memorabilia – including, as we've reported, a toaster that burns the pontiff's image onto bread.

Turned off by a slightly smelly fillet of halibut? Don't think that grilled salmon will be any good tomorrow?

Such mealtime decisions may seem innocent enough, but when they're made by people all over the country, they add up to a staggering amount of waste. Nearly half the U.S. seafood supply winds up uneaten, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

From 2009 to 2013, 2.3 billion pounds of seafood on average in the U.S. was wasted annually. That's 208 billion grams of protein a year that no one got to eat.

We may eat a lot of food additives, but most consumers know very little about them. These often misunderstood substances go by unwieldy names like "diacetyl" or "azodicarbonamide." They are in everything from salad dressings to Twinkies. But how many of us actually know what they look like or, more important, what they're doing in our food?

Most of the kids in the U.S. don't get much time to eat lunch. And by the time those kids wait in line and settle down to eat, many of them feel rushed.

And a recent study suggests that this time crunch may be undermining good nutrition at school.

A Visit To The World's First Boozy Taco Bell

Sep 24, 2015

"DO NOT LEAVE THE PREMISES WITH YOUR DRINK," says the woman behind the counter at the Taco Bell Cantina in Chicago. I can tell by the way she looks me in the eye that what she means is this: We finally have booze at Taco Bell. Don't be the guy who ruins it for everybody.

Halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, there's an underground vault filled with seeds. It's sometimes called the "doomsday vault."

For the past seven years, scientists have been putting seeds into this vault, filling it with samples of the crops that people rely on for food.

Now, for the first time, they're about to bring some seeds back out.

Take a look at the latest obesity data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and you can see that the country's obesity epidemic is far from over.

Even in Colorado, the state with the lowest rate, 21.3 percent of its population is obese. Arkansas tops the list with 35.9 percent.

Every time a cow or steer in this country is sold for beef, the seller pays a dollar into a special fund.

"We collect about $80 million" each year, says Polly Ruhland, CEO of the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board. "Half of that stays at our state chapters."

All of it, though, pays for research, promotion and marketing of American beef. It funds scientific studies on beef's nutritional quality, promotes beef exports and pays for advertising, like the familiar slogan "Beef, it's what's for dinner."

One man's trash is another man's treasure.

As we show in the video above, this is what chef Dan Barber demonstrated earlier this year, when he temporarily turned Blue Hill, his Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City, into an incubator for garbage-to-plate dining.

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



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



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



American innovation can take many forms. The latest smart phone, 3-D printers are the kinds of things we talk about these days.


The tiny nation of Nauru is only 8.1-square miles, and home to a population of 10,000. But in the world of public health, this Pacific island looms incredibly large.

It was in Nauru, in the mid-1970s, that researchers first identified a vexing problem that has since spread just about everywhere: sky-high rates of Type 2 diabetes — over 30 percent of the adult population.

We're welcoming an unseen guest to our Jewish holiday celebrations this fall: My mother-in-law, Jan Dale, who died in 2005.

Since her passing, I've tried to keep Jan a presence at our festive meals with my attempts to bake some of her favorite recipes. For instance, to mark the start of Yom Kippur Tuesday night, I've made a batch of Jan's crumbly, cinnamon-scented mandelbread — that's Yiddish for "almond bread," a twice-baked cookie that's the Jewish version of biscotti.

But getting here has taken a bit of detective work.

Next time you go to the grocery store to buy meat, consider this: It would probably be much cheaper per pound to buy a whole animal directly from a farmer, eliminating the middleman.

But storage can be a problem. Most people don't have enough freezer space for all that meat. A group in upstate New York wants to overcome that hurdle with an old concept: They've brought back the meat locker.

If a meat locker sounds gruesome, don't worry. It's really just a big walk-in freezer. Anybody who needs extra storage space can rent part of it.

In Florida, federal and state officials have quarantined 85 square miles of farmland to combat a destructive pest: the Oriental fruit fly, which attacks hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables.

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



A former corporate CEO has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for selling food that made people sick. Two other executives face jail time as well. These jail terms are by far the harshest sentences the U.S. authorities have handed down in connection with an outbreak of foodborne illness.

The outbreak, in this case, happened seven years ago. More than 700 cases of salmonella poisoning were linked to contaminated peanut products. Nine people died.

Investigators traced the contaminated food to a factory in Georgia operated by the Peanut Corporation of America.

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



Startups Connect Vermont's Farmers To Urban Markets

Sep 21, 2015

Farmers in Vermont have about 600,000 state residents – plus visitors – to sell their products to. That's not a big market.

One company trying to help expand the reach of Vermont farms outside the state's borders is Farmers to You, based in Berlin, Vt.

The Marketing Of Moringa: Is This The New Kale?

Sep 21, 2015

The moringa tree is a scrappy plant that grows like a weed in dry, tropical climates and produces bitter leaves that taste like horseradish. Moringa is also contending for a spot as the next hot "superfood," with an emerging focus on its potential to make life better for people in developing countries. Moringa supplements and bars are also becoming more popular here in the U.S.

Americans are starting to pay more attention to moringa these days. Some are touting this tropical tree as the newest and greatest superfood. And all the excitement is understandable: Moringa leaves and seed pods are packed with protein and vitamins. Its nutritional value rivals that of milk, yogurt and eggs.