Sunday, December 16, 2012

Francisca's Farm & Food Roundup

FranciscaOne of Tennessee’s oldest and largest organic farms is shutting down. Jeff Poppen, owner of Long Hungry Creek Farm, plans to close the business due to possible contamination. Recently, a neighboring farm began raising 40,000 chicks for Tyson Foods, Inc. Poppen believes that because the two farms are so close together, Long Hungry Creek will be polluted with excessive waste and he will be unable to maintain organic certification. Many natives are upset about the shutdown of Long Hungry Creek Farm. Since 2000, the number of organic farming operations in Tennessee has more than doubled. Still, small organic farmers face challenges such as competition with larger operations and the increasing costs of labor.

The Environmental Working Group published a new reported titled ‘Muddy Waters.’ The report focuses on the water quality in Iowa. Runoff from farm fields has been a major contribution to river and stream pollution. The group criticizes the Clean Water Act because farmers are excluded from its requirements thus allowing farm pollution to remain unchecked. From 2008 to 2011, water quality was rated poor or very poor for 68 percent of the 98 streams monitored by the Iowa Water Quality Index. Several farm groups believe that major pollution restrictions should not be imposed on farmers. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack maintains the hope that farmers will follow the restrictions on a voluntary basis.

In 2005, Congress passed a law that required gasoline to contain ethanol, a fuel produced mainly from corn. Big fast-food chains are working to convince Congress to repeal the law. The mandate has caused major competition between the automobile and fast-food industries. Cars require ethanol to run and fast-food animals are raised on corn. According to restaurant chains, the competition has resulted in higher corn and meat prices. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that even if the law were repealed, the price of corn would only decrease by a few cents.

Childhood obesity rates have dropped in several cities across the United States. Researchers noted that the declines have been concentrated among higher income populations. Mississippi and New York reported a much smaller decrease among their poorer, minority neighborhoods. Researchers are not sure what has caused the declines, but they have noticed common elements in cities where the obesity rates dropped. Declines occurred in cities that routinely measured the weight and height of students and had obesity reduction policies in place for years.

In 2010, health experts and lawmakers worked together to modify school meals in an effort to combat the growing obesity rate. U.S. regulators agreed to manage calorie intake and portion sizes within schools. There was also a push to limit fat and salt while increasing fruits and vegetable servings. When the modified meals were implemented earlier this year, many complained that the new policies left children feeling hungry. Regulators have decided to relax the school meal policies. The USDA has decided to put an end to daily and weekly maximum amounts for grains and meats. School districts are now allowed to serve larger meal portions.

Earlier this year, a federal study identified Western Massachusetts as an untapped source of shale gas. It is unlikely that Massachusetts has large reserves and no companies have yet expressed an interest in exploring for shale gas. Still, plans have been made to hold an information session at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to educate landowners on gas extraction. A group opposing hydraulic fracturing has also been formed in hopes of keeping fracking out of Massachusetts.

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