A soil core taken at the Dakota Lakes Research Farm near Pierre, South Dakota, reveals deep roots that enable native grasses to survive the region’s dry summers. Photo credit: Gabriel Popkin.

FERN’s Friday Feed: Plowing up America’s grasslands

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

Farming boom threatens Biden’s climate and conservation goals

FERN and National Geographic

“Across the state, he said, many produce farmers were weighing the market prices of their crops against the rising cost of water. To meet their contracts, some had overplanted, and now they found it was more cost-effective to kill certain crops than to proceed with the harvest. Others had already scaled back and planted less,” writes Anna Wiener. “Farmers were throttling production, razing fields, and disposing of surplus. If these adjustments seemed crude, even unfathomable, they were in response to complex, intertwined issues: immigration policies, trade wars, a housing shortage, agribusiness monopolies, resource mismanagement, climate change, globalization, supply-chain disruption, accelerating financialization.”

Goodbye tipped minimum wage, hello work-life balance

The New York Times

“Since the mandatory shutdowns of last year, restaurant workers have left their jobs in droves, and many have quit the industry for good,” writes Jane Black, prompting many restaurants to raise wages. “But a growing number of restaurants are trying to get at the root causes of inequitable pay by moving away from the tipped minimum wage. That wage allows servers the chance to earn more than cooks, but also puts them at the mercy of customers, who in the wake of the pandemic have become less generous tippers and more unruly diners. Some owners are also trying to instigate some measure of work-life balance in an industry where late-night hours and 80-hour workweeks were once a badge of honor.”

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The micro-gig economy comes for restaurant workers


“Staff in an industry desperate for workers might be expected to have the upper hand in demanding job security and better working conditions,” writes Sean Wyer. “However, instead of making hospitality into a more fulfilling and financially viable career, the Uberisation of staffing encourages businesses to cut costs by doubling down on the use of precarious work, which is low-paid, insecure, and unpredictable. An already difficult way to make a living, rife with erratic working patterns, night shifts, and zero-hour contracts, which allow employers to take on staff members without guaranteeing them minimum working hours, risks being made less secure still.”

The Texas corn-dog war

Texas Monthly

“For almost eight decades, corny dog lovers have kept the Fletchers’ family-run business sizzling. Each year at the state fair, it sells more than half a million corny dogs from seven concession trailers staffed by a multigenerational platoon of Fletchers,” writes Katy Vine. Through an oil bust and a bankruptcy, “the company—and the family—got along fine … until a few years after Skip died, when an intra-family squabble” pitted the traditional corny dog against “artisanal corn-battered franks” and “threatened the company’s good name.”

Alaska road project tests Biden’s commitment to green agenda


“[I]n the final months of the Trump administration, the Department of the Interior approved a 211-mile industrial access road that would run across much of interior Alaska to the Ambler mining district,” writes Adam Federman. “The road would ultimately enable the extraction of more than 43 million tons of copper and zinc over at least 12 years … and pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into state coffers. But … the road itself would irrevocably transform a vast region of Alaskan wilderness, potentially disrupting the migration patterns of the state’s largest caribou herd and polluting some of the state’s most important spawning grounds for salmon and whitefish. It would also threaten the way of life of Alaska natives who have lived in the region for thousands of years and depend on those resources as their primary food source.”