Abbie Fentress Swanson

Abbie Fentress Swanson joined Harvest Public Media in 2012 and is based at KBIA Radio in Columbia, Missouri. Before that, she covered arts and culture for WNYC Radio in New York. There she was part of a team that won an Online News Association award in 2012 and an Associated Press award in 2010 for outstanding digital news coverage. In 2011, she won the Garden State Journalists Association "Best Radio Feature" award for "Music Therapy Helps Vets Control Symptoms of PTSD." Reporting fellowships prior to WNYC took her to Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, India, Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium. Abbie's travels led to multimedia stories on a wide range of subjects -- from the World Cup in South Africa, to the gay rights movement in India, to San Francisco's immigration court. She's filed stories for The New York Times, The Patriot Ledger, KALW Public Radio, The World, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Abbie holds a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in Italian studies from the College of William & Mary. Check her out on twitter @dearabbie.

Harvest Desk
5:25 am
Wed March 12, 2014

Padlock The Milk! The FDA's Push To Safeguard The Food Supply

Milk is an extremely popular item on the University of Missouri campus, says purchasing coordinator Sandy Perley. "Our entire campus in a year drinks about 96,000 gallons of milk. And by our best calculation, that’s about 326 gallons a day."
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Many of the food terrorism scenarios outlined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration involve liquid.

And there’s good reason for that.

Liquids like orange juice and milk go through many processing steps -- farm, bottling plant, delivery – before reaching the consumers who drink them. And these liquids are moved, manufactured and stored in huge batches that get distributed and consumed quickly. Should a toxin be injected somewhere along the supply chain, experts believe it could have devastating human health and economic consequences.

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Harvest Desk
6:01 pm
Mon February 24, 2014

Changing Dairy Industry Leaves Some Farmers In The Dust

Donnie Davidson turns off the lights in his dairy parlor. His family has been producing grade A milk in Holden, Mo., since the 1930s.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Donnie Davidson’s family has been producing bottled milk in Holden, Mo., since the 1930s. But the 63-year-old farmer decided to sell his herd of 50 milking cows in November after the roof on one of his barns collapsed from last winter’s snow.

Rebuilding the barn would have cost about $20,000. Then there were the costs of renovating a silo and paying for hired help since Davidson’s children won’t be taking over the business. It made financial sense to close the dairy, and grow crops and build a herd of beef cattle instead.

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Harvest Desk
6:01 am
Thu February 13, 2014

Meat Labeling Advocates Back New Farm Bill

The USDA's new COOL rule went into full effect in November. It requires labels to list where animals were born, raised and slaughtered.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Proponents of a new labeling rule that gives consumers more information about where their meat comes from say they are pleased with the new farm bill President Obama signed into law on Friday. That’s because the bill does not include any significant changes to current country-of-origin labeling rules, known as COOL.

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Harvest Desk
9:16 am
Tue February 11, 2014

Retailers Look To Sell Sustainability Of Food

A poster meant to teach the general public about sustainable ag hangs in Rob Myers’ office. “Everyone can mentally think of a farm scene: the cows out in the pasture, and the crops growing out in the field and a farmer in their pickup but when we talk about sustainability, it’s a step beyond that,” Myers said.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for foods they believe were sustainably produced, like free-range chicken, fair-trade coffee and pesticide-free wine. But what does “sustainable” actually mean?

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Business
3:59 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

Even As Dairy Industry Booms, There Are Fewer And Fewer Farms

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 6:55 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

On Friday, President Obama is scheduled to sign a new farm bill into law. It contains a provision that allows all dairy farms to be part of a safety net. The point is to offset risk when milk prices are too low or feed costs too high. But Abbie Fentress Swanson reports that even in good times, smaller dairy farms in traditional milk producing states are now giving up.

(SOUNDBITE OF COWS)

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Harvest Desk
5:48 am
Fri January 17, 2014

Midwest Takes A Look At Labeling GMOs

Labeling advocates in Colorado are hoping to get an initiative on the 2014 ballot that would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods.
Credit brdavid/flickr

Last year, we counted between 20 and 30 state legislatures considering bills that mandate labeling on genetically engineered foods or foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Still a hot-topic, many labeling laws are working their way through statehouses all over the nation – even in farm country.

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Harvest Desk
8:08 am
Tue December 17, 2013

New Labeling Rules Could Help Consumers Learn More About Meat

About 94 percent of our meat comes from livestock that was born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

A new labeling rule that went into full effect Saturday requires meatpackers and retailers to provide consumers with more information about where their meat comes from.

The country-of-origin labeling mandate (COOL) forces retailers and meatpackers to detail where the livestock from which meat came was born, raised and slaughtered. It applies to certain cuts of beef, veal, chicken, pork, lamb and goat sold in the supermarket. Processed, deli and ground meats are exempt from the new rules.

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Code Switch
2:33 pm
Tue December 10, 2013

In A Small Missouri Town, Immigrants Turn To Schools For Help

Abbie Fentress Swanson Harvest Public Media

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 11:30 am

This story comes to us from Harvest Public Media, a public radio reporting project that focuses on agriculture and food production issues. You can see more photos and hear more audio from the series here. Wednesday, we'll have a story from a meatpacking plant in Garden City, Kan., which takes a proactive stance toward its newest immigrants.

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Harvest Desk
6:00 am
Thu November 7, 2013

DREAMing Beyond The Slaughterhouse

Binh Hua (left) and My Nguyen, both 18, work in the Garden City Community College chemistry lab. The two best friends graduated from high school in three years and after community college, plan to go on to universities.
Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

Not yet 9 a.m. on a warm fall day, freshmen Binh Hua and My Nguyen are in protective goggles, long hair pulled back, ready for their chemistry class in a Garden City Community College lab.

The teacher calls the class to order, calling the students “Busters,” short for “Broncbusters,” the college’s mascot and a reminder of this old West town’s history of raising cattle.

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Harvest Desk
6:40 am
Tue November 5, 2013

Noel, Mo.: Schools Build Safety Net For Immigrant Children

At the primary school in rural Noel, Mo., teachers and staff function as educators about as often as they do de facto social workers.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Noel, MO - It’s almost 9 a.m., and Noel Primary School teacher Erin McPherson is helping a group of Spanish-speaking students complete English language exercises. But it’s tough going.

One student in a bright blue T-shirt – 9-year-old Isac Martinez – has not yet picked up his pencil. He’s clearly sick. When McPherson asks him what’s wrong, Isac’s small voice is barely audible in between coughs. He says he threw up four times last night but did not go to a doctor.

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Harvest Desk
5:43 am
Mon September 9, 2013

New Pest Damaging Midwest Fruit Crops

A spotted wing drosophila rests on a raspberry.
Credit Timothy Baker

Farmers across Illinois and other midwest states are worried about their berries, peaches and tomatoes thanks to a newly arrived pest.  

The spotted wing drosophila looks like an ordinary fruit fly but is way more deadly. It kills healthy fruit by making a tiny slit in a fruit’s skin and laying eggs inside. In two weeks, a female fly can lay more than 300 eggs. So a couple of adults can become thousands in a few months. Lincoln University’s Jaime Piñero says no soft fruit is safe.

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Harvest Desk
6:22 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

Soybean Breakthroughs Coming On Strong

University of Missouri plant scientist Melissa Mitchum inspects a plant for soybean cyst nematode in her greenhouse.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts the nation’s farmers will deliver a record 3.42 billion bushels of soybeans this year. The USDA is also forecasting that this year for the first time Brazil will overtake the United States as the world’s leading producer of soybeans. That means the pressure is on American soybean farmers like Brian Flatt, 41, to eke out even more soybeans from his fields.

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Harvest Desk
6:37 am
Wed July 10, 2013

Retiring To The Farm Anything But Quiet

Jim Schulte and his wife, Rita, bought their 450-acre farm near Columbia, Mo., in 1991, but didn’t start farming full time until Jim finished working in the mortgage business.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Farmers are getting older.

They’re working longer, staying on the land later and continuing to do what they’ve done for decades: heading out day after day after day to work their land.

In 1978, the average age of the American farmer was just over 50. In 2007, it’s creeping toward 60, at just over 57-years-old. What does that mean for the agriculture industry? We went to answer that question by focusing on this massive demographic shift that affects not just rural America but the power and potential of an entire industry.

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The Salt
4:32 pm
Fri July 5, 2013

What Is Farm Runoff Doing To The Water? Scientists Wade In

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey sample water in Goodwater Creek, Mo., for pesticides and other chemicals that may have run off from the surrounding land.
Abbie Fentress Swanson Harvest Public Media

Originally published on Tue July 9, 2013 11:37 am

America's hugely productive food system is one of its success stories. The nation will export a projected $139.5 billion in agricultural products this fiscal year alone. It's an industry that supports "more than 1 million jobs," according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

But all that productivity has taken a toll on the environment, especially rivers and lakes: Agriculture is the nation's leading cause of impaired water quality, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Harvest Desk
2:03 pm
Wed June 19, 2013

Harvest Desk: Studying Effects Of Ag Runoff

One of the U.S. Geological Survey teams collecting water samples and checking cages for fish eggs in Missouri this summer: biologist Diana Papoulias, chemist Dave Alvarez, hydrologist Peter Van Metre, biologist Diane Nicks and environmental toxicologist Don Tillitt.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Midwest waterways are getting lots of attention this summer. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency have immersed themselves in the ecology of 100 streams from Ohio to Nebraska. It’s a first-of-its kind effort to understand how ag runoff is not just changing the water but affecting the critters that live there. Harvest Public Media’s Abbie Fentress Swanson joined a crew on a rainy day while they gathered water samples and searched for fish eggs on three streams in central Missouri.

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The Salt
2:25 am
Wed April 24, 2013

For Corn, Fickle Weather Makes For Uncertain Yields

By this time last year, 26 percent of the country's corn crop was already planted. A wet, cold spring means that only 4 percent is in the ground right now.
Seth Perlman AP

Originally published on Wed April 24, 2013 8:06 am

Last year's drought wreaked havoc on farmers' fields in much of the Midwest, cutting crop yields and forcing livestock producers to cull their herds. This spring, the rain that farmers needed so badly in 2012 has finally returned. But maybe too much, and at the wrong time.

It's almost the end of April, which is prime time to plant corn. But farmers need a break in the rain so they can get this year's crops in the ground and try to lock in good yields at harvest.

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