Harvest Desk

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

Panda, standing six feet tall and weighing almost a ton, is everything a show cow should be: broad-backed and round-rumped, with sturdy legs holding up her heft. Her hide - thick and black, with splotches of creamy white - fits her name.

In the last couple of years, we've detected a faint buzz about crispy crickets and crunchy mealworms. Companies pedaling scorpion lollipops and peanut butter-and-jelly protein bars made with cricket flour have thrust their wares into our hands and mailboxes.

Underneath railway arches on a nondescript street in North London, you'll find an old warehouse that's the epicenter of the Ottolenghi food empire.

Jerusalem-born food impresario Yotam Ottolenghi and his business partner, Sami Tamimi, started out over a decade ago with one restaurant in London selling fresh, Middle East-inspired food. The business now encompasses several restaurants, an expanding online food business and some cookbooks that have been wildly successful on their home turf and here in the U.S.

Documentary photographer Dorothea Lange had a favorite saying: "A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera."

And perhaps no one did more to reveal the human toll of the Great Depression than Lange, who was born on this day in 1895. Her photographs gave us an unflinching — but also deeply humanizing — look at the struggles of displaced farmers, migrant laborers, sharecroppers and others at the bottom of the American farm economy as it reeled through the 1930s.

At least 2,500 years ago, tea, as we know it, was born.

Back then, it was a medicinal concoction blended with herbs, seeds and forest leaves in the mountains of southwest China. Gradually, as manners of processing and drinking tea were refined, it became imbued with artistic, religious, and cultural notes. Under the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907), the apogee of ancient Chinese prosperity, the drink involved ritual, etiquette and specific utensils. During this period of splendor, the first book dedicated solely to tea was written by Lu Yü.

Ignatius Agon practices his greeting: "OK, good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Ignatius and I am going to guide you into the dark."

It's Monday, and the first day of training for a new restaurant opening this month in Kenya. Diners will be served in the dark. They'll have to find their food with their forks and eat it in a pitch black room.

And the waiters are blind.

It's believed to be the oldest pub in England — but now Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is facing a call to change its name. Citing modern society's compassion for the birds, the UK's People for Ethical Treatment of Animals suggests an alternate name: Ye Olde Clever Cocks.

From PETA:

Game For Ancient Grain: Palestinians Find Freekeh Again

May 26, 2015

In early May, Nasser Abufarha drove through the rural farmlands around Jenin in the northern West Bank and noticed the timeless features of village life. Young boys harvested cauliflower bigger than their heads, a sun-beaten old man passed on foot with a hoe propped against his shoulder and middle-aged women strolled to their modest homes on a path between waving wheat fields.

But there was one new element, says Abufarha, a Palestinian-American businessman and the founder of the largest fair trade exporter for Palestinian produce.

How Dangerous Is Powdered Alcohol?

May 24, 2015
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ARUN RATH, HOST:

The open-hiring policy at Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, N.Y., invites local residents to apply for jobs — regardless of their immigration status, whether they have criminal or drug records, or even prior work experience.

It's all part of the company's social-justice business model, based on the philosophy of Bernie Glassman, an aeronautical engineer-turned-Buddhist monk who founded the industrial food facility in 1982.

Editor's note: A version of this story was originally published in May 2012.

If there's one grilling tip to remember this Memorial Day weekend, it should be this: Flame is bad.

"Flame does nasty things to food," food historian and science guy Alton Brown tells NPR's Scott Simon.

Try to order "pork roll" in most of the country and you'll probably get a blank stare. But in New Jersey, pork roll is a staple at diners, restaurants and food trucks from Cape May to the Meadowlands. And this unsung meat product is now the star of not one, but two competing festivals on Saturday in Trenton.

To the untrained eye, pork roll looks like Canadian bacon. But New Jersey residents know better.

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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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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.

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