FERN’s Friday Feed: A blueprint to prevent the next pandemic

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

The fight against the next pandemic starts in jungles of Borneo

FERN and Popular Science

A conservation group in western Borneo offers healthcare services and training in sustainable farming to curb illegal logging. In the process, the group may have come up with a blueprint to stop diseases from making the deadly leap between wildlife and people, Brian Barth writes in FERN’s latest story.

Farming on Mars, not so easy

The Washington Post

“In the film ‘The Martian,’ astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) survives being stranded on the Red Planet by farming potatoes in Martian dirt fertilized with feces,” writes Maria Temming. “But new lab experiments suggest that growing food on Mars will be a lot more complicated … Soil on Earth is full of microbes and other organic matter that helps plants grow, but Mars dirt is basically crushed rock. The new result ‘tells you that if you want to grow plants on Mars using soil, you’re going to have to put in a lot of work to transform that material into something that plants can grow in,’ says Kevin Cannon, a planetary scientist at the Colorado School of Mines.

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‘I miss my restaurant family, unfortunately’

New York Magazine

“I was familiar … with the way employers can use the term family to their benefit — manipulating employees to pick up extra shifts, work longer hours, and commit to unpaid training all in the service of some kind of ‘familial obligation,’” writes Sam Stone. “So I was wary of the term when I heard it used by management at meetings and equally so when I heard it from co-workers over drinks after work. I entered the restaurant on that first day determined to keep everyone at arm’s length.”

How green is that salad?


Fast casual restaurants around the country are making environmental metrics available to customers, from Panera’s collaboration with the World Resources Institute on its ‘Cool Food Meals’ to Chipotle’s tracker that allows customers “to calculate how the ingredients in their burritos stack up against a ‘conventional’ burrito on factors like emissions, water use and antibiotics,” writes Lisa Elaine Held. But are these real opportunities to expand knowledge, or just marketing gimmicks?

How consolidation kills the family farm


“While the number of acres under cultivation in Canada in the past seventy years has stayed fairly stable, the number of farms has drastically decreased, from almost seven hundred thousand in 1941 to just under two hundred thousand in 2016,” writes J.R. Patterson. “The … farmers who still remain in the business find themselves competing with outside investors looking to buy and consolidate large tracts of farmland … [T]hese “land grabs” also help drive the nationwide rural exodus.”