Snow Geese in a rice field in the Williams area of Colusa County.

FERN’s Friday Feed: From rice fields to rest stops

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

For migrating birds, rice is nice

The California Report and FERN

Before California’s Central Valley became a parking lot of giant farms, it was a vast wetland and a vital rest stop for migrating birds. Now, a group of rice farmers is working with conservationists to bring back some of that habitat, reports Lisa Morehouse in FERN’s latest piece, in partnership with KQED’s California Report. “Government and non-profit groups pay … farmers to add water to some fields or release it bit by bit over a month,” Morehouse writes. “That gives migrating birds a few more weeks of feeding time by turning the Sacramento Valley into a checkerboard of simulated wetlands and mudflats.”

Fast-food gets a facelift


With fast-casual restaurants stealing their customers and millennials craving “authenticity,” fast-food chains like Taco Bell, KFC and McDonald’s are launching “concept” outlets — custom-designed branches that try to evoke comfort and sophistication. Some even offer alcohol. “I think it’s a different approach to value,” says Deborah Brand, Taco Bell’s vice president of development and design. “We’ve always known that we have inexpensive food that is craveable, but we also look at value as serving the same food at the same price point in a potentially much more elevated dining environment.”

Americans warm to frozen foods

The Washington Post

Frozen foods have always been convenient, but they were long derided as second-class meals, full of additives and lacking in flavor. No more. The makers of frozen foods are upping their game, writes Rachel Siegel, and younger consumers are realizing that frozen is not only easier than fresh, but that it can be just as healthy. “[T]he frozen food market has grown for the first time in five years, growing 1 percent in the 12 weeks leading up to March 10. As millennials seek out nutritious and well-rounded meals without sacrificing convenience, frozen vegetables, fruits and prepared foods present a relatively cheap and easy-access option.”

Fighting for sustainability in the boardroom

Civil Eats

Advocates for a healthier, more sustainable food system are increasingly turning to shareholder activism to move their causes forward. The tactic leverages the power of companies’ shareholders to advance social or environmental causes. “In 2012, shareholders filed 393 proposals focused on social and environmental concerns, according to the Sustainable Investments Institute; last year that number was up to 494,” writes Sarah Shemkus. “Despite its generally progressive goals, this kind of shareholder activism is an essentially capitalist endeavor, using market forces and the incentive of profits to drive change.”

Celebrating a hard-to-love fruit


Cranberries are making headlines this week as a possible target of Chinese tariffs. So it’s as good a time as any to consider the history of the bitter fruit and the company, Ocean Spray, that brought us a variety of palatable ways to consume it. Ocean Spray introduced us to the first juice boxes, dried sweetened cranberries, and a cocktail that mixed cran-apple juice with vodka—an ancestor of the Cosmopolitan. The humble cranberry “has endured thanks to a century of relentless reinvention that’s taught first the American public, and then the world, of the many different ways to savor a bitter berry,” writes Gwynn Guilford.