Editor’s Desk: Coronavirus and the food system

Trey Hill shows off clods of rich soil clinging to the roots of a daikon radish. Photo by Gabriel Popkin.

Here’s a rundown of FERN’s stories in the past week. We’re continuing to cover the many ways the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the food system. But for those who need an occasional break from nonstop virus coverage, we’ve also produced a fascinating story on carbon farming.

Is carbon farming a climate boon, or boondoggle?
Gabriel Popkin scrutinized the big push to incentivize carbon farming — paying farmers to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions with climate friendly farming practices. But how much carbon can farmers actually sequester? And how do you measure it so farmers can get paid fairly? The story, produced with Yale Environment 360, explores this sticky issue on which potentially billions of dollars is riding.

Food waste — and food insecurity — rising amid coronavirus panic
In the coronavirus era, Elizabeth Royte tackled food waste, which already accounts for 40 percent of all food produced. With the pandemic, it appears to be going up at the same time as food insecurity. Royte, in this piece produced with National Geographic, explores the ways that shuttered restaurants are dealing with excess food, and what consumers could do to use (or save) their food on hand. She also explores food banks, which face challenges as supermarket donations dwindle.

Migrant farmworkers feed America, and they’re at high risk for a coronavirus outbreak
Migrant farmworkers face heightened risk of the virus, given the cramped and unsanitary conditions of their dorms, the crowded vans and buses they travel in, and the way they work in the fields. “The precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are virtually impossible to carry out on many farms,” write Esther Honig and Liza Gross, in the piece produced with HuffPost. “Workers are petrified,” said Armando Elenes, secretary treasurer of the United Farm Workers, the nation’s largest farmworkers’ union. “The majority of them don’t have healthcare, have little or no sick pay and don’t have a safety net.”

Can Asia’s infectious disease-producing wildlife trade be stopped?
Brian Barth delved into the origins of the coronavirus, which jumped from a wild animal to humans. The source was likely in a market in Wuhan, where live animals are sold as food. “The wildlife trade is partly to blame, but any activity that puts people in close proximity to wild animals harboring diseases, for which humans are unlikely to carry immunity, poses a risk,” Barth writes in this piece.

We’ve also opened the paywall to daily news stories on the coronavirus pandemic at our Ag Insider subscription site. We’re doing so because we believe this news is vitally important to the public. But our reporting costs are rising. Any help you can provide will support our coverage at this critical time.

This week, we’ve reduced the donation levels so you can get 3 editions of The Dirt (our annual print collection) for $5/mo or $50 one time. Or four editions for $10/mo or $100 one time. Give now and we’ll send you your copies immediately as a PDF. We’ll ship the print copies as soon as it’s safe to do so.