Editor’s desk: FERN’s latest – The fight for school lunch; Japanese-Americans remember; rising Gulf waters

In the past week, the Food & Environment Reporting Network published three stories that showcase the breadth of our work and the expanding scope of our partnerships.

In “Revenge of the Lunch Lady,” produced with The Huffington Post’s longform channel, Highline, Jane Black tells the story of a much-maligned school district in West Virginia that has defied the odds and managed to serve cooked-from-scratch meals to all its students … for free. This lunch program, orchestrated by the hero of Black’s story, Rhonda McCoy, depends on an arcane federal initiative called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) that helps poor districts reduce administrative costs and use the savings for things like better ingredients and kitchen equipment. Despite CEP’s success, Republicans in Congress are sharpening their kitchen knives to cut it, calling it unnecessary welfare. And if there was much doubt about the Trump administration’s position on this issue, see this item in FERN’s Ag Insider: a staffer of a key Republican opponent of CEP has just moved over to the White House to work for Kellyanne Conway.

In “Reclaiming Native Ground,” we travel with Barry Yeoman to Louisiana to meet Native Americans whose traditional foodways are under threat as their lands vanish into the rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico. “Across southeastern Louisiana, tribes are grappling with what land loss means for their dinner plates, their traditions, and their health,” Yeoman explains. But there is hope – in the form of an effort by the tribes to restore their foodways in the face of climate change. Set aside some time and listen to Barry’s telling of this story, which was produced with Gravy, an award-winning podcast from the Southern Foodways Alliance. There’s also a print version in The Lens, which covers public-policy issues facing New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Finally, we delve back into history with this timely story from Lisa Morehouse on the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. In “Farmers behind barbed-wire fences,” with KQED’s The California Report, Morehouse went on a pilgrimage to the Tule Lake incarceration camp, recounting the sordid story of how fear and xenophobia led the U.S. government to put its own citizens behind barbed wire. Many were farmers who ended up working as forced laborers. Riichi Fuwa, who is 98, told Morehouse: “I wanted to see the place for the last time.” Stories like this explain why Japanese-Americans have been among the most vocal opponents of President Trump’s immigration orders and his idea of a Muslim registry. After 75 years, Fuwa and others haven’t forgotten.

One more important note: All these stories are built upon deep, fact-based reporting, something that is under assault now in America. Your support helps us do this kind of work.

Photo by Sam Kaplan