FERN’s Friday Feed: Pandemic and protest in a meatpacking town

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

‘The Children of Smithfield’ speak out for their parents

FERN and Latino USA

This past spring, as meatpacking plants across the nation quickly became invisible hotspots for Covid-19, a group of young adults whose parents work at the massive Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Crete, Nebraska, launched a series of protests that were unprecedented in an industry that likes to keep a low profile, as Esther Honig and Mary Anne Andrei report in FERN’s latest story, broadcast in partnership with Latino USA.

Why America’s high obesity rate could undercut Covid-19 vaccine

Kaiser Health News

“Scientists know that vaccines engineered to protect the public from influenza, hepatitis B, tetanus and rabies can be less effective in obese adults than in the general population, leaving them more vulnerable to infection and illness,” writes Sarah Varney. “There is little reason to believe, obesity researchers say, that COVID-19 vaccines will be any different. ‘Will we have a COVID vaccine next year tailored to the obese? No way,’ said Raz Shaikh, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. ‘Will it still work in the obese? Our prediction is no.’”

Was a New England town open to food with an uncomfortable story?


In 2019 Chris Scott, a Black chef with southern roots, opened Birdman in Connecticut’s Fairfield County, promising not only “the best fried chicken in the North” but also to make “the story of the Birdman” — who tended birds on plantations during slavery, and once slavery was abolished, used those skills to become his own boss — “the story behind the restaurant.” But, he worried, “would folks in Connecticut listen to a story about slavery?”

Restoring a once-fraught relationship to the land in Mississippi

Southerly and The 19th

When Nettie Parker returned to Mississippi, after decades in Detroit, she found solace in growing food—despite the fact that as a child her family had worked the land as sharecroppers. “This year, Nettie’s garden is about more than peace,” writes Ko Bragg, her much younger cousin, “she’s living more off the land, too. And she’s not alone: Farmers, activists and city planners nationwide are also pivoting in light of the pandemic’s impact on food access. But in places like Mississippi, and the Deep South at large, where it is the hardest to access healthy food, reviving a connection to the land also requires restoring rituals made fraught by chattel slavery and its scions.”

Yeoman influencer: The monetization of ‘chore TV.’

The New York Times

“It is a paradox that the less financially viable small farming becomes, the more that Americans want to experience it firsthand,” writes Ellen Barry. “This idea is as old as the dude ranch; video streaming of farm life is only the most recent iteration. Amy Fewell, the founder of Homesteaders of America, said the number of farmers who earn substantial income off YouTube channels is steadily climbing, and now stands at around 50. Some of them earn money through product endorsement deals.”