ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

What's the link between bladder infections, CAFOs and Missouri farmers?

I want to highlight a couple of stories we recently produced at the Food & Environment Reporting Network (@FERNnews on Twitter), where I serve as editor in chief. I'm pointing them out because I'm particularly proud of these stories and they took some time to come to fruition. 

The first, which appeared last week in a joint investigation with ABC News was reported by Maryn McKenna, a brilliant science journalist who focuses on nasty microbes (check out her recent book Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA). This past spring, she told me she had come across a number of studies that genetically linked the microbes in antibiotic-resistant bladder infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in chicken. I immediately sensed there was a good story here, because bladder infections affect, as the story points out, one-in-seven women.

What was new, Maryn told me, was that the number of antibiotic resistant infections appeared to be rising, at least based on anecdotal medical evidence, since they are not officially tracked. Secondly, there was this curious link to the microbes in chicken, which develop resistance because chicken are fed antibiotics to promote growth and prevent illness. (For a more in-depth look at this issue, read Maryn's story FERN produced in collaboration with The Atlantic.)

Although the researchers had, in effect, genetically fingerprinted the bacteria, the question arose whether chicken causes the infections. The researchers assert that chicken are a likely and important source of these highly resistant infections, although as Maryn points out, establishing that in a scientific experiment would be unethical because it would risk infecting healthy subjects with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The chicken council also issued a press release questioning the link and we quoted these scientists in the Atlantic item mentioned above. 

The second story, "Whose Side Is the Farm Bureau On?", which ran at The Nation, concerned the big agricultural lobby (and insurance firm) known as the Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau puts itself forward as the voice of family farmers but reporter Ian Shearn, a Pulitizer Prize winner, focused on a case in Missouri that showed how the bureau actually operates. When giant CAFOs were polluting the waters around small farms, not only did the bureau support the CAFOs, but it pushed for state legislation that would limit civil suits against such operations. Those suits were being filed by small farmers. 

Unlike Maryn's health story, Ian's focused on farmers, but the link between both of them were the practices of concentrated animal operations. While these operations produce plentiful and inexpensive food, they have costs that ripple through society -- whether in being the likely source of recurrent bladder infections commonly suffered by women or in the pollution suffered by Missouri farmers. In short, these stories put a cost on cheap food.

- Samuel Fromartz

Here's the video from the joint investigation between FERN and ABC News.

Where yields fall short: in measuring sustainability (a response to @MarcGunther)

When measuring the productivity of farming, yield -- or output per acre of land -- is the metric that is often trotted out. And when this measure is used, organic farming usually falls short since it can’t match the yields of conventional agriculture. From there, it’s a short jump to conclude, as my friend Marc Gunther does, that organic methods will take more land to produce an equivalent amount of food, especially when population is increasing. The upshot, “organic food is not as green as you think.”

The problem with this argument is not that the yield calculations are wrong. The problem is that yield studies are inappropriate by themselves in measuring what’s “sustainable,” in determining what might “feed the world,” and which methods actually end up using more land in a particular situation. That’s because farming does not occur in a vacuum where yield is the sole measure of success.

Consider that the conventional farming methods that achieve higher yield require costly fossil fuel inputs in fertilizers and pesticides (the environmental impacts of which fall outside of yield studies), that they require highly mechanized tools that replace labor, and may rely on intensive irrigation from increasingly scarce water resources. Measured against the methods in most of the world -- 80% of the world’s workers are still farmers -- I have no doubt that the highly intensive model would produce a higher yield. But are those methods available or even appropriate to farmers in areas where food is most scarce and population growth the highest?

In some cases, those methods have proved disastrous, beause the technnology can’t be easily transposed from Iowa to Africa. One person who has looked closely at the issue, and who is also a conventional farmer in Illinois, the philantropist Howard Buffett, writes (pdf):

Commercial investment often focuses on increasing crop yields while governments emphasize expanded trade. The ultimate key to food security, however, is affordability and access to the proper food—neither approach has effectively addressed these issues in developing countries. The current situation mandates looking beyond crop productivity.

A narrow focus has dictated global agricultural policy over the past 30 years—it has failed, leaving millions hungry. Productivity in one part of the world cannot address land tenure, infrastructure, governance, investment protocol, culture, human capacity, research and development, gender disparity and a myriad other regional issues. Decisions and investments specific to individual countries—not the yields of another country half a world away—will always be the primary drivers of food security. (Emphasis added). 

As others have pointed out -- including the authors of the Nature study on which Gunther's post was based -- yield studies ignore two other imporant parameters: farmer livelihood and environmental impact, or the downstream effect of agriculture. If intensive agriculture pushes farmers off the land or leaves them indebted, what does that mean to livelihood? Of course, higher yields may produce more farm income -- except in situations where it does not.

I would add another consideration: that is, how appropriate and accessible are farming methods, especially when considering feeding the world. If the methods that produce the highest yield in Iowa are irrelevant in Zambia, does measuring relative yield even make sense? 

As just one small example, deforestation in Africa is a huge issue, since more land is cleared to plant crops. But as soil is depleted, fertilizers are used in ever larger amounts, contributing to even more intensive mining of the soil, loss of fertility and the burning of forests in the race for continued yields. In this situation, the question of which yield is higher, organic or conventional, is not even relevant. The question how can you achieve the highest yield without denuding the soil given methods that are accessible. Organic methods -- such as crop rotations, adding compost to the soil and even non-organic ones, such as judicious use of fertilizer -- might be best. But how does this fit into the what’s-the-highest-yield debate? It doesn’t, which shows the limitations of the question, even when considering the impact of farming on land use.

Indeed, this sole focus on yield takes on an almost religious ferver that drives attention from other issues that might raise yield far higher, such as addressing pre- and post-harvest food waste, which cuts productivity by up to 40%. Crack that nut and you will achieve more gains in efficiency and productivity than any improvement in farming could ever hope to offer -- and with technology that's currently available (think decent grain storage facilities, roads and transport). Yield by iself is too often relied upon as the sole yardstick to determine whether farming is "sustainable," will "feed the world," and is, in fact, green. To base decisions on that metric alone is myopic.  

Watershed? Former organic farmer to oversee California pesticide regulations

In what would have been unimaginable even two years ago, a former organic farmer who once headed California's largest organic certification organization was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown as head of the state's Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Brian Leahy was assistant director in the California Department of Conservation. He now enters a department that has long been viewed as accommodative to pesticide interests

I first came across DPR when I wrote about a powerful soil fumigant known as methyl bromide in my book Organic Inc. Looking over publicly available documents, it was clear that the department interpreted its own toxicity findings in a liberal manner in order to let the spraying of this neurotoxin continue. Only subsequent law suits forced it to retreat and revise its fumigation protocal. 

But as methyl bromide was phased out under a UN treaty, one of the substances proposed to replace it -- methyl iodide -- was even more toxic. California DPR approved the cancer-causing substance in December 2010 against the concerns of its own scientists and those on an independent panel, prompting a ferocious uproar by environmental and consumer groups. 

Whether Leahy's appointment by Brown proves a game-changer on the future of methyl iodide remains to be seen. But it's clear that with the growth of organic farming in the state, what was unimaginable has now come to pass. And California -- at least when it comes to pesticide regulation -- is highly influential nationally. 

So it will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

Leahy, by the way, served as executive director of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) from 2000 to 2004. His appointment requires state senate confirmation. 

- Samuel Fromartz


Vilsack caved on GM alfalfa, so what's the impact?

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack decided this week to fully deregulate the planting of genetically modified alfalfa, so why should you care?

This move had been opposed by organic farmers and consumers because of the strong possibility that genetically modified alfalfa will cross-pollinate non-GM alfalfa. This has been recognized by the Supreme Court as potentially harmful to the organic sector, since organic foods cannot be produced with genetically modified crops. Once organic livestock are fed GM alfalfa, they can no longer be called organic.

The only appeasement the USDA offered were panels on studying ways to prevent contamination from occurring in the future. But this seems akin to studying ways to protect a forest after loggers have been allowed to cut down the trees.

The decision was a stunning reversal of a more measured approach that Vilsack appeared to be taking in December, when the USDA talked about considering the impact of the GM crop on other sectors of agriculture. But that was before he faced an uproar by the GM industry and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal for playing nice with organic farmers. As George Siemon, head of the Organic Valley dairy co-operative, said: 

The biotech industry has waged a complete war on the Secretary of Agriculture for ... the consideration of a co-existence proposal. They used all their influence to have the Secretary’s job challenged. There here have been op-eds in major papers and magazines (“Sack Vilsack,” Forbes), special meetings with the White House, grilling by the Justice Department, endless lobbying, and on Thursday of last week, a Congressional member forum was held where the Secretary was taken to the wood shed and asked repeatedly why he had not approved RR-alfalfa sooner. All this for simply opening the coexistence conversation and acknowledging that property rights and other markets should be considered.

As Liana Hoodes, director of the National Organic Coalition, said: "Organic farmers and others are now left, once again, having to take all the precautions while biotech takes little responsibility."

So what's the potential impact?

1. Less organic forage crops. Why would any farmer plant organic alfalfa when he knows a farmer nearby is planting GM alfalfa? Not only will his costs be higher in terms of cultivating an organic crop, but the possibility now exists that the crop will not be organic once it's harvested. So why bother?

2. Fewer organic dairy farmers. Organic dairy farmers plant alfalfa in fields where their cows graze, but they may also buy hay for winter. With fewer sources of organic forages, costs for organic dairy farmers will rise. What's the smartest decision here: Reduce your risk by avoiding the organic market altogether. Or maybe buy your organic forage crops from China, as we've seen with soybeans.

3. Higher prices for organic consumers. If the supply of organic forages falls, the cost will rise. Organic dairy farmers will either be squeezed and go under or organic milk prices will rise. The impact: higher prices at the checkout counter for moms and dads buying organic milk for their kids. (Or maybe we'll see more imports of organic milk powder from nations with stricter GM controls to keep the market going.)

4. Less investment in organic meat. Organic meat has been a fast growing sector of the market, but why would anyone invest in this business if you could be disqualified by contaminated feed? The rational business decision would be to ignore the U.S. and invest in organic operations outside the U.S. -- Uruguay anyone?

5. Fewer conventional export opportunities. The contamination of rice fields by GM test plots in Louisiana led to multimillion dollar law suits. Why? Conventional rice farmers lost markets in countries that didn't want to import GM rice. The same could be true of forages -- that is, unless the U.S. is successful in getting the rest of the world to buy GM crops as the State Department is trying to do. 

Now you might argue over whether Round-Up Ready Alfalfa is safe or not. But long before that argument's settled, organic farmers will face major economic losses -- the same small farmers that the USDA likes to present as poster children for agriculture. 

The other possibility is that organic farmers, certifiers, processors, retailers and consumers knowingly accept some degree of genetically modified crops -- despite regulations preventing it. Either way, consumers will take a hit -- in what way or how big a hit? Only time will tell.

- Samuel Fromartz

Worldwatch report highlights the lopsided discussion on Africa and food

image from

Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Zambia for a project for Worldwatch. State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, released Wednesday, focuses on many projects that were highly effective in both feeding people and raising incomes in Africa. Much of this work was chronicled on Nourishing the Planet blog, as researcher Danielle Nierenberg logged thousands of miles criss-crossing the continent meeting with farmers, researchers, NGOs and government officials. 

It was a refreshing perspective because so much of the discussion about agriculture in Africa focuses on production. Plant more. Increase yield. Improve seed technology. But there is really no silver bullet when it comes to food production and access and the relentless focus on technology ends up being lopsided and incomplete -- as I saw in Zambia.

image from nation  produces more than enough food, much of it by small-scale farmers without tractors, irrigation or any form of transportation. But this excess food ends up rotting in warehouses and causes price crashes when it hits the market -- good for buyers but dismal for small-scale farmers who depend on these sales for their meagre income. Even so, some areas of the country still suffer from malnutrition and shortages. Why? There are many reasons, inadequate roads and supply networks among them, since it isn't always easy to get the food from areas where it is surplus to areas where it is in short supply. In this reality, hi-tech seeds are the least of the nation's problems. And yet, on op-ed pages, that often seems to be the focus of discussion.

How come we hardly see op-eds on what paved roads, improved sanitation, more efficient distribution networks, soil conservation and a reduction in food waste might do for world hunger? Fifteen percent of the grain harvest is wasted in poorer countries, according to a researcher quoted in this report.  Even cutting that in half would amount to an enormous yield gain. The Worldwatch report attempts to jump-start this discussion by addressing these issues. I sought to do the same in my chapter:

The Missing Links: Going Beyond Production

When people talk about African agriculture, food surpluses are not usually the focus of discussion. Invariably, the more familiar topics are famine, starvation, deforestation, and the vast inability of a continent to feed itself, which is brought home by the latest food crisis.

That’s why the headlines in Lusaka, Zambia, in May 2010, were so surprising, announcing a stunning bumper crop of maize. On the back of fertilizer subsidies and propitious rains, production by the nation’s 800,000 maize farmers had rocketed 48 percent to the highest level in 22 years. This boom came after a 31-percent rise the previous year. Now speculation was mounting about a crash in maize prices, especially during the dry June-August period. “A tidal wave of maize will be hitting the market,” predicted Rob Munro, a senior market development advisor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) in Lusaka.

In the cities, the focus was on the price of mealie meal, the porridge-like staple made from ground maize, and whether millers would pass on savings or fatten their profit margins. The government was fretting about what to do with all this food. Zambia had a 600,000-ton surplus from the 2009 harvest, some of which was still sitting in warehouses. And now on top of that, it would reap a 1.1 million–ton surplus for 2010. Exports were uncertain, because of sporadic trade restrictions. Plus, the crop was uncompetitive with South African maize, the low-cost producer in the region.

Zambia was growing so much food that the food itself had become an issue. Yet, it was also an unequivocal success. Zambian farmers had produced more than enough maize and done so without genetically modified crops or even, for the most part, irrigation and mechanized farm equipment. But further development raised a number of questions: If farmers actually modernized and improved their yields, would the surplus be even greater, dwarfing any political ability to deal with this bounty? And why were people still facing chronic hunger and childhood stunting in a country where the food was in oversupply?

The rest of the chapter addresses this issue, but it was clear from even my short stay in Zambia that a lack of agro-technology was not the most pressing issue faced by the nation's farmers. From those I talked with, it hardly seemed on the radar screen in terms of what needed to be addressed. Ignoring technology can be disastrous, but focusing on it out of context, and without regard to a host of related concerns, can be just as perilous since it suggests that food insecurity can be solved with a silver bullet. Only problem is silver bullets can't be eaten. 

- Samuel Fromartz

Billions of Bugs Fly By in the Sky

NPR had a fascinating story today about how many bugs live up in the sky -- "a vast teaming highway invisible to you," reported Robert Krulwich. Laby bugs at 6,000 feet, beetles and fruit flies at 3,000 feet.  We're talking a lot, like 3 billion passing though a single mile of air space in a month. I've posted the audio above but the web link to the story has a nice animation as well.

Which makes me think, how effective can pesticides really be? The buggers are out there -- I mean, best to figure out a way to deal with them, without spraying chemicals, because frankly we will never be able to spray enough, because more will arrive, and then evolve to live with the chemicals and then lift off again and end up in another field thousands of miles away. But enough of my soapbox. Just listen to the piece.

The Mess in the Corn Belt or "Turkey on the Combine"

Corn (Des Moines, IA).jpg

By Lisa M. Hamilton

This fall has been a mess for farmers in the Corn Belt. Rain this spring meant planting dangerously late, then cool weather delayed crops’ development. By September there was fear that corn across the Midwest wouldn’t finish the growing cycle before the first killing freeze. Most corn and soybeans are now safely mature, but seemingly endless rain has made that almost irrelevant. For most of the fall it has been too wet and muddy to get into the fields; when the combines do make it out, often the crop is too wet to harvest.

On the chat group Crop Talk, farmers who were incredulous that they might be harvesting past Thanksgiving started joking about “turkey on the combine.” As the rain continued through October, the jokes spread. “Turkey on the combine for sure,” Michigan’s 7810greenmachine wrote, “and maybe I hang some christmas lights on it too...I have a feeling its going to be a long harvest.” By November 1, Illinois had only 19 percent of its corn harvested, compared to 86 percent in an average year. And it was the same story across the region—Iowa had 18 percent harvested, Indiana 28 percent

So, who cares? Really, why should this matter to non-farmers, particularly those who want to change the commodity-focused food system? Well, it’s true that the corn and soybeans at issue are neither locally sold nor organic; their growers are not people you’ll meet at the farmers market. And yet, with wheat, they are the basis for an overwhelming percentage of the calories consumed in this country. Likewise, the majority of family farms in the U.S. are part of this business. If you want to change the food system, this is it.

To my eyes, the disaster unfolding in the Corn Belt is further evidence of a dangerous lack of resiliency. To run properly, our current agricultural system relies on a precise set of conditions: cheap fuel, ample water, stable climate; tweak one of those conditions and the system derails. In the meantime, the industry continues its narrow focus on yields. Nearly all season the USDA has been breathlessly forecasting record-breaking yields in corn—but with virtually no mention of the extenuating circumstances that might make that big, fat crop unharvestable.

Now, across wide swaths of the Corn Belt, farmers are finding their corn covered with molds called aflatoxins, which can be harmful to cattle and so are causing some buyers to reject the crop. In the mid-South, Kansas State University economist Rich Llewelyn reported a different problem: crops there matured earlier, but because rain left them sitting in the field for weeks, both corn and soybeans have begun sprouting while still on the stalk. Though Midwest skies have been clear this past week, most crops are still too high in moisture to be stored for any length of time. They could be dried down mechanically, but in many cases the high cost of propane is making that prohibitively expensive. Instead, those farmers are leaving the crop in the field and hoping that, somehow, their luck will change.  

In an article this spring I wrote that part of the solution to challenges like these would be to increase diversity, from the crops’ germplasm all the way up to the wholesale markets. Amidst the muddy debacle taking place this fall, I would underscore the emphasis on using diversity to breed more resilient plant varieties. Rather than focus solely on yield or specific items such as drought-tolerance or herbicide resistance, we need varieties that can flex along with whatever conditions they encounter. With climate change afoot, it may be that turkey on the combine will become an annual affair. We need to be ready for that, and whatever else Mother Nature sends our way.

Lisa M. Hamilton is the author of Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness

Michelle Obama and the Launch of the White House Farmers Market


The White House likes healthy, fresh, local food -- that was the message of First Lady Michelle Obama at the opening of the farmers market around the corner from the White House on Thursday. "I have never seen so many people excited about fruits and vegetables," she began. "That's a very good thing."

She linked the market to the garden on the White House lawn. "When we decided to plant the White House garden, we thought it would be a way to educate kids about eating more healthy. But the garden has turned out into so much more than we could have expected," she said. "This has been one of the greatest things I've done in my life so far." 


She also tied it to the health debate now underway. "I realized that little things like the garden can actually play a role in all of these larger discussions," she said. (Full remarks are here).

It was a celebratory occasion, punctuated by screams and yelps from the crowd. And then after her remarks, the shopping began as the First Lady strolled over to the Farm at Sunnyside and bought some organic vegetables from my friend Emily Cook, who I knew as a farm intern years ago. 

USDA Secretary Vilsack was also on hand, drinking a bottle of organic chocolate milk from the grass fed cows at Clear Spring Creamery in Washington County, Maryland.


But the main attraction was the First Lady. Clearly, the White House is interested in this issue. Clearly, they are trying to do something about it. And hopefully, it will move past symbolism and the snarky criticism of columnists who miss the forest for the kale and retread the same old tired ground. A far more subtle and intelligent reading of this entire event -- and an analysis of the First Lady's message -- can be found in this post by Eddie Gehman Kohan of ObamaFoodarama.  

Grass roots activism started this local foods movement, dramatically expanding farmers' markets around the country, but celebrities and policy makers will push things to the next level.

Among them -- Bernadine Prince and Ann Yonkers, who launched the first FreshFarm Markets 12 years ago in DC and made this White House market happen. Farmers markets have come a long way since then and I expect they have a ways to go.


- Samuel Fromartz

The Class Trip to the Slaughterhouse, Yes, Really

This guest post is by Joe Cloud, who co-owns T&E Meats in Harrisonburg, Va., with Joel Salatin, the farmer in Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

T&E Manager Joe Cloud

Image: Joe Cloud at T&E Meats

By Joe Cloud

It is no secret that a lot of the energy driving the local food movement is connected to schools. Much of that energy has coalesced in the past several years into organizational focus and legislative action to get more locally produced whole foods into local school systems. At the same time, institutions of higher learning are experiencing an unprecedented push from within the student body to offer more local foods in the dining halls. The breadth and depth of the energy driving these movements is astonishing, prompted by concerns about childhood obesity, climate change, farmland preservation, nutritional density of foods, animal welfare, and local living economies, as a short list. 

This movement has certainly affected our work at T&E. We have begun sending local meats to the dining services at Washington and Lee and Virginia Tech universities. Last year, the Harrisonburg School System built its annual local food meal around 1,000 pounds of locally-raised ground beef from T&E (produced by a Holstein steer from a farm in Elkton, Va., and a Holstein cow from an organic dairy in Dayton, Va. – how’s that for knowing where your food comes from?). This spring we hosted a group of students – both graduate and undergraduate - from the University of Virginia, who are part of a large multi-year project studying local food systems in central Virginia. They spent the afternoon touring the plant and learning about the potential and limitations for production of locally processed meat.

Recently a group of high school students from a local private school connected to Eastern Mennonite University came through. That week was a mid-semester break for them, and a teacher was taking the opportunity to teach a week-long class on local food systems. They went around to local farms, dairies, poultry plants, distribution centers, and T&E. The students came through on a day when we were running the kill floor. They joked around nervously as we put everyone into process-room hair nets and butcher wraps, as required by our sanitation procedures. I led them through the process room and the coolers, and their eyes got big looking at the hanging carcasses and the meat cutting underway. Then we went on to the high point of the tour – out onto the kill floor where, that day, we were slaughtering pigs.

Naturally, there is a fair amount of blood, some neat piles of offal in trays awaiting inspection and disposal, and a few warm carcasses about to be pushed into the cooler. There is a warm biological smell, difficult to describe – the smell of blood? of offal? – that permeates the air. The odor can be faintly nauseating at first and yet simultaneously attractive at some atavistic caveman level. Some people find the smell intolerable, so I told the students that if they did, they should walk out then and there, and there would be no shame in that.

But in fact they all stood their ground, fascinated. Our kill floor is small enough that an observer can witness the entire process from beginning to end from a single vantage point. Due to the compact footprint of our building, our rail line is not linear, but moves through an S-shape from the knock box to the cooler door. Right after the group walked onto the floor, Phillip knocked a large hog using the fixed-bolt stunner, which caught the group’s attention immediately. A blank .22 cartridge fires the stunner, so the noise is inescapable. Playing tour guide, I explained the entire process, but there were few eyes on me. Everyone gazed in rapt attention as Phillip stuck and bled out the hog, and watched as other hogs were being skinned and eviscerated. 

We proceeded to the large carcass cooler where beef and lamb carcasses were hung, along with the hogs. There we discussed anatomy, pointing out where the actual cuts of meat found in supermarkets came from, but I noticed that half the class lingered at the cooler door or listened for the sound of the bolt gun discharging. The death of any animal is profound, whether it is a beloved pet, a barnyard friend, or simply an anonymous pasture denizen. That this process can be executed in an atmosphere of simple respect is revealing. The fact that our government meat inspector literally touched not only every animal, but also did a simple autopsy on all major organs was also revealing, both for the concern for the consumer but the animal itself. 

Several days later I had a chance encounter with the teacher again. He told me that the day after their tour at T&E, the class had visited a large poultry plant. Rockingham County has the reputation as the birthplace of the modern turkey industry in America, and is home to a number of major poultry plants, operated by the usual suspects: Tyson’s; Cargill; Pilgrim’s Pride; Purdue; as well as some independent plants. These are very high volume plants, with thousands of birds going through the line every day.

After that visit, he asked that class what they thought of the difference between the mega-plant they visited and T&E. He said the answer was summed up by one student when she said: “After today, I never want to eat turkey again, but after yesterday, I would be happy to eat any meat that came from T&E.”

Postcard from a dairy crisis: Anatomy of a farm sale

Barry Estabrook over at has a poignant piece on a sixth-generation Vermont dairy farm that went under the auction block, unable to cover its costs. It starts this way:

Last Friday, for the first time in 144 years, no one at the Borland family farm got out of bed in the pre-dawn hours—rain, shine, searing heat, or blinding blizzard—to milk the cows. A day earlier, all of Ken Borland’s cattle and machinery had been auctioned off. After six generations on the same 400 acres of rolling pastures, lush fields, and forested hillsides tucked up close to the Canadian border in Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom, the Borlands were no longer a farm family.

The story is well-worth reading. For another perspective, check out Lisa Hamilton's op-ed piece on the dairy crisis at Christian Science Monitor

Organic in France - La Vie Verte

If you want a green view of what's happening in France, check out the blog La Vie Verte by my friend Denise. She covers a wide range of topics, with a recent post on how farmers in the rural southwest of France are faring with the organic label. It seems that for some, the costs and inspections aren't working and a few are letting their AB (Agriculture Biologigue) label lapse in favor of a more local emphasis. In many ways, it mirrors some of the issues faced by small farmers in the U.S.

She also talks about an exquisite French flour milled on site by a local farmer -- the baker in me is pining for it but shipping flour from France doesn't make a lot of sense. Plus, we have great artisanal flour here from places like Anston Mills, which any serious baker should try.

And while you're at La Vie Verte, get a load of that black gascony pig.

- Samuel Fromartz