Farm & Food: A Local Environmental Story
Food and agriculture can yield a bounty of local stories for many environmental reporters. That's because agriculture is historically adapted to the growing conditions in many specific locations — and because many of its environmental impacts are local as well.
Some of the stories are obvious — but ever-interesting to readers. Just one example: many localities have farmers' markets with interesting histories and traditions — and loads of local color and flavor. They are not only meeting places for friends, neighbors, and communities, but you may find local politicians campaigning there as well. There are few better places for person-on-the-street interviews.
Food and agriculture stories can lead you to news and controversy over land use, water pollution, wildlife habitat, pesticides, genetic engineering, nutrition and health, soil erosion, or even greenhouse emissions.
Here are some key sources on food and agriculture, with emphasis on local food and farmers' markets.
Local Food and Locavore Movement
A guide to all things locavore. Directory of farmers' markets, CSAs, etc. More for consumers than policy wonks.
This major locavore site has lots for consumers, but takes a more activist approach. It's from a network of locavore organization, including the Buy Fresh Buy Local local chapters.
Devoted to the famous pledge to eat only things produced in a 100-mile radius from you — with links to many resources spanning the U.S., Canada, and U.K.
Farmers' Markets Directories
Here you can find local food directories for individual states. Much information about CSAs, and links to many publications.
Includes a searchable directory of farmers' markets in U.S. states. Also information for those wanting to start a farmers' market. Published by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.
Some information about Farmers' Markets in Canada, but as of July 2010 no directory or calendar. Published by Agriculture Canada.
One of two major federal food-safety agencies. FDA's jurisdiction is over fruits and vegetables; fish and seafood; dairy products and shell eggs; beverages (including alcoholic beverages and bottled water); infant formula; and dietary supplements and dietary ingredients.
One of two major federal food-safety agencies. FSIS has jurisdiction over commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products.
APHIS has a sprawling jurisdiction focused on protecting animal and plant resources against agricultural pests and diseases. That means regulating imports. It also regulates genetically engineered organisms, enforces the Animal Welfare Act, and kills predators at ranchers' request.
The focus of the Center for Disease Control's Food Safety Office is foodborne illness that can affect humans. This includes public health surveillance and epidemiology.
CSPI is a nonprofit NGO that is a leading advocate for the interests of food consumers — in contrast with the federal agencies, which sometimes protect farmers more than consumers. When it comes to nutrition, however, food consumers may be their own worst enemies. CSPI does not court popularity when it reminds consumers about unhealthy eating habits.
Probably the single largest and most active national group focused on the health and environmental risks of pesticides. Formerly known as the National Coalition Against Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP).
The Farmland Information Center, a joint effort of the NRCS and the American Farmland Trust, is a clearninghouse for information about farmland protection and stewardship, with a helpful breakdown of info by state.
The American Farmland Trust is a major nonprofit NGO devoted to preserving farmland from development, supporting local farmers, and strengthening the food and farming system.
The NRCS was born in the dustbowl era as the Soil Conservation Service. This USDA agency provides technical and financial assistance to farmers for land and water conservation. It works at the local level, often with conservation districts.
Small & Family Farms
The institute is a useful information source — a nonprofit that trains farmers and provides resources and advocacy for sustainable regional agriculture and small farm development.
NFFC represents "the voices and actions of its diverse grassroots members to demand viable livelihoods for family farmers, safe and healthy food for everyone, and economically and environmentally sound rural communities." It works as a coalition of member organization to lobby on credit, trade, and farm and food policy issues.
Farm Aid started back in 1985 as a movement of musicians doing benefit concerts to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land. It has become a major source of information in the good food movement.
Born out of the Midwest organic dairy farmers movement, FFD advocates a democratic, farmer-controlled and consumer-oriented food and fiber system, opposes the corporate agribusiness lobby, and defends the consumer right-to-know about the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH).
Animal Feeding Operations
Over the past decade, the U.S. EPA tightened the rules by which it regulates pollution discharges from confined animal feeding operations under the Clean Water Act. The rules are generally administered by state agencies and often provide public review of individual CAFOs' Nutrient Management Plans, but also provide a lot of leeway for CAFO operators. This page gives lots of EPA info on the CAFO water rule.
This major research report by the UCS "analyzes both the policies that have facilitated the growth of CAFOs and the enormous costs imposed on society by CAFOs."
This site provides information about CAFO pollution control at the state level. It is the result of work by the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators.
Food & Water Watch, an education and advocacy nonprofit devoted to sustainable agriculture, has developed an interactive county-level map of CAFOs across the U.S. covering cattle, hogs, and poultry. It may help you determine how CAFO pollution in your area compares to others.
The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future has developed this huge and helpful collection of information resources on the connections between agriculture and public health.
This Pew non-profit NGO, like other Pew units, is a centrist nonprofit policy study and advocacy group, which claimes to be "independent" and "balanced." In August 2009, PCIFP produced a major "fact-based" report on CAFOs based on work by veterinary medicine, agriculture, public health, business, government, rural advocacy and animal welfare.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a litigation and advocacy group that opposes the pollution resulting from many factory farms. Within that framework, they have done factually accurate reports on CAFO impacts.
Mainstream Farming & Agribusiness
The Farm Bureau is the main umbrella group for lobbying and advocacy by the agriculture industry. They represent mainstream and large-scale agriculture, and their values emphasize production rather than stewardship per se. They tend to support government subsidies and oppose regulation. The national group is based on a structure of state farm bureaus. Media contacts. Newsroom.
The NPPC, located in Des Moines and DC, is the main lobbying and PR arm of the pork industry. It seeks to expand the market for U.S. pork in its advocacy for trade rules. It maintains PorkPAC, which funds candidates in federal elections. Press contact: Dave Warner, (202) 641-7559. Newsroom.
Where's the beef? Here. This lobby group for all things beef is based in Colorado with a lobby shop in DC. They subsume the state beef councils and have a fleet of websites replete with (among other things) recipes. They play a strong marketing role ("It's what's for dinner.") Their principal campaign arm, BEEF-PAC, is aligned with the Texas Cattle Feeders Associaton. Press contact.
This is the main lobbying arm of the U.S. agricultural pesticide industry.The trade association represents the major manufacturers, formulators and distributors of crop protection and pest control products. Newsroom. Media contact: (202) 872-3847.
This trade association represents producers of raw cotton, oilseed, and all aspects of the U.S. manufactured cotton industry at home and abroad. Media contact: (901) 274-9030.
This trade association is the main policy advocacy voice for wheat growers. Newsroom.
With a main office in Chesterfield, Mo., and a lobbying shop in Washington, this association advocates the interests of corn growers. They strongly favor ethanol. Newsroom.
This association is the chief lobbying arm of the Soybean industry, which includes more than growers — also feed companies and big seed companies like Pioneer, Monsanto, and alliances with groups like the National Oilseed Processors Association. Newsroom.
Organic/Sustainable Food & Farms
The OCA is a grassroots nonprofit information, education, and campaign group that is about more than just how organic your vegetables are. Their larger agenda includes health and justice — "food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children's health, corporate accountability, Fair Trade, environmental sustainability," and more. Newsroom. Media: 218-226-4164.
This grassroots nonprofit stands for the opposite of everything "fast food." Its main structure consists of local chapters who get together to talk, eat, and learn. The idea is to connect with the growing and cooking of food — and to make the food experience a key to real community. Contact: 718-260-8000.
This Canadian-based nonprofit "certifies local sustainable food producers who reduce or eliminate pesticide use, treat their animals well, conserve soil and water, protect wildlife habitat, provide safe and fair working conditions, reduce energy use, and sell locally wherever possible. LFP then helps them connect with consumers and commercial buyers." Contact: 1-888-856-6070.
Sustainable Table is a nonprofit that is about sustainable eating, cooking, and shopping. It celebrates local food, educates consumers on food-related issues, and works to build community through food. "Media Lounge." Contact: 212-991-1930.
This U.S.-Canadian group definitely looks at things from the perspective of organic producers rather than organic consumers. Newsroom. Contact: 413-774-7511.
Environmental Angles on Local Food
The American Farmland Trust's Center for Agriculture in the Environment works for integrated pest management, conservation tillage, and best management practices for nutrient runoff control. They seek to create markets for ecosystem services — such as carbon offsets. Newsroom.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is a progressive ag policy advocate that takes on issues many others don't touch. They work for regional food systems, biofuels, and agricultural diversification. They are one of the few working for better management of the nutrient runoff that causes dead zones in the Gulf. Media contact: Ben Lilliston, (612) 870-3416.
One of the most effective groups in the sustainable food movement, Food & Water Watch is a cutting edge on many policy issues. They engage government directly on a wide range of issues where food and environment intersect. Newsroom. Media contact: Kate Fried, (202) 683-2500.
Ethicurean consists of a small team of incredibly smart and energetic "bloggers" who do a better job of covering many food and ag issues than the major media. Plus they are interesting and have recipes and a sense of humor. One reason they thrive is that they "get" social media. Newsroom.
Civil Eats says it "Civil Eats promotes critical thought about sustainable agriculture and food systems as part of building economically and socially just communities." They cover a broad range of food and farm issues, often in blog format, bringing the voices and faces of the food movement to life through good reporting. Topics range from young farmers to roof gardens to kitchen table talks.
Informed reporting sponsored by a major agricultural law firm.
Grist's food channel consists largely of the work of the smart, prolific, and so-edgy Tom Philpott, who always seems to be writing about good food with ag policy inside.
A 3-decade-old magazine run by the Rodale Institute, an original driving force behind the organic movement.
News about farmland protection — and now urban agriculture. Subscription-based and aimed at a professional audience.
A superb blend of independent, smart, and interesting science-based and policy-relevant articles about a wide range of ag and food issues from the University of California at Davis.
Science Daily is an ad-based free-subscription webzine with a huge audience of scientifically literate people. Their ag and food news section is loaded with credible information.
AgWeb.com is the mostly free online face of the sprawling Farm Journal media empire — farm news aimed at farmers.