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Food and Environment Reporting Network

When climate adaptation goes wrong

Asadul Islam peers over the edge of a boardwalk on his pond in southwest Bangladesh and watches as hundreds of caged crabs float past beneath him. He is looking for those that have shed their hard shell. When he finds one he has a short window to freeze it and send it off for sale to westerners with a taste for soft-shelled crabs. He hopes this new business venture will provide the wealth that eluded his father.
ENVIRONMENT
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As heat rises, who will protect farmworkers?

Last June, as a record-breaking heatwave baked Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Sebastian Francisco Perez was moving irrigation lines at a large plant nursery in 104-degree-heat. When he didn’t appear at the end of his shift, his co-workers went looking for him, and found him collapsed between rows of trees. Investigators from the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division determined that Perez died of heat-related hyperthermia and dehydration.
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The great pollen meltdown

Last June, Aaron Flansburg felt the temperature spike and knew what that meant for his canola crop. A fifth-generation grower in Washington State, Flansburg times his canola planting to bloom in the cool weeks of early summer. But last year, his fields were hit with 108-degree Fahrenheit heat just as flowers opened. “That is virtually unheard of for our area to have a temperature like that in June,” he says.

With emergency SNAP benefits ending, a ‘hunger cliff’ looms

Tara Kramer hasn’t always had enough money to follow her doctor’s orders. She has a complex disability—hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which causes chronic pain and mobility and digestive issues—and good nutrition and physical therapy could help keep her symptoms under control. But the healthy foods her nutritionist recommended were expensive, and the $16 per month she got in SNAP benefits didn’t go far. Physical therapy was costly, too, so she tried to use YouTube videos instead.

Big Tech’s food-delivery apps face a grassroots revolt

When Grubhub came to Iowa City in 2017, Jon Sewell got what he describes as a “call to action.” He owns a D.P. Dough franchise there and had been using a delivery service called OrderUp to get his calzones to college students. But then Grubhub bought OrderUp and doubled the commission on orders to an astronomical 30 percent, plus fees. At those rates, Sewell says, he lost money on every order.

The controversial biofuel threatening British Columbia’s forests

On a chilly afternoon last autumn, I padded down a faint path beneath a grove of hemlock trees in British Columbia’s inland temperate rainforest. The moss on the ground was as thick as a mattress. Above, gray-green beards of lichen hung from the branches. Located along the province’s eastern flank, bordering Alberta, the inland rainforest gets much less attention from environmental groups than BC’s coastal rainforests, where activist blockades of old-growth tracts regularly make the news. But cold-climate inland rainforests are even rarer ecosystems.

What should desert farmers grow?

On a spring day that would have seemed abnormally hot anywhere else, I went rumbling down dirt roads south of Phoenix in search of an answer to a question that had been dogging me. The West is mired in a water crisis that’s difficult to fully comprehend. More than 40 million people in seven states and two countries depend on the Colorado River, and its waters are depleting at a terrifying rate. Since the 1900s, flows have decreased by 20 percent, a drop largely associated with climate change. Experts say the situation will only get worse.

Epic floods in Pacific Northwest revive long-running dispute over how to manage a river

In November, when a string of catastrophic storms hit the Pacific Northwest, the Nooksack River flooded, submerging farming communities in both the U.S. and Canada. Cows were swept away, and farmers raced to save them on boats and jet skis. By the time the waters subsided, thousands of farmers and farmworkers had lost their livelihoods—particularly in British Columbia—and a long-running dispute over how best to manage the Nooksack had gotten a lot worse. It’s a fight that pits farmers against Native communities, the U.S. against Canada, and the demands of development against the demands of conservation. In short, it’s the kind of fight that many Westerners have seen before.
ENVIRONMENT

The collective future of American agriculture

Starting any farm is a crapshoot, but Reginaldo and Amy Haslett-Marroquin went the hard way right from the start. In the fall of 2020, they bought 75 acres south of Minneapolis to expand their chicken-farming operation. Rather than take a guaranteed contract with one of the corporate brands, like Tyson or Pilgrim’s Pride, they’re raising organic broilers in an agroforestry system and marketing under their own label, Tree-Range.

The farmworkers in California’s fire zones

In August, 2020, a flurry of dry lightning strikes sparked over 900 fires across California. “You could smell the smoke and everything,” says Benjamín, a pseudonym for an undocumented farmworker. “It was very close.” Benjamín milked cows during the graveyard shift at Bucher Farms, a dairy farm and vineyard in Sonoma County, and he lived on the property with his wife and three children. He says his first thought when he saw the smoke was to “just run and get us out of there.”

Europe’s butterflies are vanishing as small farms disappear

Each week for the last 25 summers, biologist Constantí Stefanescu has walked a line through a series of fields in Catalonia, counting butterflies. On a sun-beaten day last July, near where the Pyrenees Mountains slip into the Mediterranean Sea, he stepped into what had once been the most butterfly-rich meadow of them all. In the early years, he could easily count 50 or 60 silver-studded blue butterflies here, along with many other pollinators, all drawn by a carpet of lupine, clover, and other wildflowers.

One Alaska bay is booming with salmon, for now

On a mid-July afternoon, when the tide was starting to come in on the Naknek River, the Bandle family’s commercial fishing nets lay stretched across the beach, waiting for the water to rise. With the fishing crew on break, Sharon Bandle emerged from a tar-paper-sided cabin that serves as kitchen and bunkhouse with a plate of tempura salmon and a bowl of cocktail sauce. Everyone dug in.

Facing a merger and a pay cut, chicken farmers push back

In 2003, Rusty and Trina McClendon quit their jobs and put everything they owned up as collateral for a $1.4 million loan to build eight chicken houses, capable of raising a million chickens a year. With a contract from Sanderson Farms, now the nation’s third-largest poultry company, the couple got to work in Magnolia, Mississippi, where Rusty had 350 acres. Their only child, Dallas, was just 7 at the time, and his childhood weekends, holidays, and summers were spent working on the farm.

Farming boom threatens Biden’s climate and conservation ambitions

On a sunny, sultry summer day, Joe Blastick, a land steward with The Nature Conservancy, scans the hilly pastures north of Clear Lake, South Dakota, and rattles off the names of plants he sees. Silver leaf scurf pea, purple prairie clover, green needle grass, and dozens of others blend into a cacophony of color and texture. Monarch and regal fritillary butterflies sample their nectar; meadowlarks and eastern kingbirds glide through the thick afternoon air.

Can fashion help small farmers preserve the Amazon?

On a rainy March afternoon, Rogério Mendes strides through the dripping vegetation of a tract of virgin Amazonian forest and stops at a tree with scars arranged in neat diagonal rows across its trunk. From his back pocket he produces a wood-handled tool with a blade on one end, called a cabrita, and cuts another diagonal line though the bark, beneath the others. A milky white goo—raw liquid latex—begins to trickle down this tiny canal and into a metal pail below.

Can rock dust be a climate fix for agriculture?

On a hot and humid August day near Geneva, New York, Garrett Boudinot stands in a field of hemp, the green stalks towering a foot or more over his 6-foot, 4-inch frame. Today, the mustached Cornell University research assistant will harvest six acres of the crop, weigh it in red plastic garbage bins, and continue to analyze the hundreds of water samples taken with measuring devices called lysimeters that have been buried in the field over the last three months.

Has the American truffle finally broken through?

On a frosty February morning in North Carolina’s Piedmont region, the enterprising trio who has finally broken America’s strange truffle curse walks beneath orderly rows of loblolly pine, trying very hard not to step on the precious nuggets beneath their feet. Nancy Rosborough—the self-described “ghetto kid” from Washington, D.C., whose wobbly start-up, Mycorrhiza Biotech, might just be saved by the golf-ball-size tubers erupting out of the red dirt—looks around, trying to contain her emotions. After 15 years of struggling to bring her truffle-farming vision to life, she is staring at two acres of validation.