FERN’s Friday Feed: From ‘sacred’ trees to wood pellets

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

Biofuel demand threatens Estonia’s ‘holy forests’

National Geographic

“At the heart of Estonian culture, [Arvi] Sepp says, lies the idea of the forest as an active presence, a thing humans do not create but rather ‘get out of the way of.’ The reverence for nature here is powerful,” writes Saul Elbein. “Yet a recent study found that ‘Estonia had one of the highest rates of forest loss in Europe … largely brought on by demand for wood pellets for bioenergy.’”

What a deadly sheep disease says about the future of pandemics

FERN and Ensia

A French zoologist visiting South Africa in the 18th Century documented a livestock disease, noting a “prodigious swelling of the tongue, which then fills the whole mouth and throat; and the animal is every moment in danger of being choaked [sic].”  Fast forward and the disease is now found virtually worldwide. “The … story shows how easily diseases can emerge from a background of climate change augmented by globalized trade and travel,” says Daniel Brooks at the University of Nebraska State Museum. “The planet is a minefield of evolutionary accidents waiting to happen.”

Reimagining the restaurant industry


“Eater asked 23 leaders to predict what a revitalized restaurant industry would (and should) look like five years from now … The images can feel utopian: Scenes of community-based food systems from the grower on down, of dining rooms and kitchens where every employee has access to health care and a living wage … But as these voices reveal, there’s an army of chefs, activists, restaurant owners, documentarians, and workers armed with big ideas and even bigger expectations. And they’re already making it happen.”

Texas’ embattled beef industry is taking the bull by the horns

Texas Monthly

“Vegans want to end the killing of animals. Scientists say livestock are accelerating climate change. COVID-19 is ravaging meat-packers,” writes Eric Benson. “Texas beef is under fire—but all across the industry, from the pasture to the butcher case, a vision of more sustainable burgers and briskets is beginning to come into focus.”

As California burns, the prospect of a ‘biblical’ flood grows

Mother Jones

The cataclysmic flood that submerged California’s Central Valley beneath 15 feet of water in the mid-19th century has been largely forgotten, “once considered … a freak occurrence,” writes Tom Philpott in an excerpt from his new book, Perilous Bounty. “But emerging science demonstrates that floods of even greater magnitude occurred every 100 to 200 years in California’s precolonial history. Climate change will make them more frequent still. In other words, the Great Flood was a preview of what scientists expect to see again, and soon.”

The struggle to disrupt the $40-billion U.S. farm supply industry

Wall Street Journal

Farmers Business Network (FBN) is “a Silicon Valley startup that is trying to build an Amazon-like online marketplace for agricultural supplies,” writes Jacob Bunge. But even as “[l]ow-cost, web-based companies have upended retail, grocery and other American industries over the past two decades … [t]he $40 billion U.S. farm supply business is a holdout.” FBN’s battles with “some of the industry’s biggest players” show how hard it can be to change that.