Editor’s Desk: Ham, rice and water

Ibérian pigs wait in small groups at the processing facility the evening before slaughter.

Here’s a round-up of recent FERN stories:

You might take clean drinking water as a given; it isn’t, and not just because of lead. For her story, Drinking Problems, in Harper’s Magazine, FERN contributing editor Elizabeth Royte traveled to Pretty Prairie, Kansas, where residents have endured water contaminated by toxic nitrates for years. Those nitrates come from fertilizer that leaches from surrounding farms. The proposed solution, building a water treatment plant, was so costly that the tiny town decided to stick with bottled water for its most vulnerable residents. But it wasn’t simply cost considerations that upheld the status quo. The town’s close relationship with area farmers, who are part of the fabric of the community, also played a big role. Royte also discusses the piece in a Q&A with FERN’s Brent Cunningham.

Writer Maryn McKenna spent a lot of time with Will Harris III, who runs a diversified livestock farm in Bluffton, Georgia. She wanted to understand what happens when a beloved Spanish food — or more precisely, the pigs from which the food is produced — comes to a new land. These acorn-eating pigs are the source of Jamón ibérico de bellota, the highest grade of Spanish ham. Rather than being raised in their native arid land, they are taking root in humid Georgia. Her story, The Jamón went down to Georgia, FERN’s first with Eater, is a fascinating tale of patrimony and adaptation that asks whether a traditional food can be made new again, and perhaps even better.

Can agriculture and wildlife co-exist? Rice farmers think so, as Lisa Morehouse tells us in her latest piece for KQED’s The California Report. In California’s Sacramento Delta, Morehouse finds farmers are turning the nation’s second-largest rice-producing zone into a wildlife sanctuary. The new, conservation-focused approached marks a dramatic turn from the historic practice of burning rice fields after the harvest. Now they’re flooded, creating rich, marsh-like zones for migrating birds, and also potential feeding grounds during salmon runs.

The Weather Channel series, The Unites States of Climate Change, snagged a Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists. We’re proud to have been part of the series. FERN explored water worries in arid New Mexico, the vanishing trees in Nebraska, and barley and beer in Montana.

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