FERN’s Friday Feed: The preventable food crisis

FERN’s Friday Feed: The preventable food crisis

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

How to finally fix the broken system for alleviating hunger

Foreign Affairs

“The world’s agricultural and food systems face a perfect storm. Overlapping crises, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, wars in Ukraine and elsewhere, supply chain bottlenecks for both inputs like fertilizer and outputs like wheat, and natural disasters induced by climate change have together caused what the United Nations has called ‘the greatest cost-of-living crisis in a generation,’” writes Christopher B. Barrett. “But storms are increasingly predictable, and severe damage from them is therefore increasingly preventable. This is true of the current food crisis as well as extreme weather events. Political and business leaders have for too long ignored key fissures such as insufficient safety net coverage and lags in agricultural and policy innovations that leave agri-food systems … vulnerable to the effects of other calamities.”

Reinventing the peach, the pimento, and regional identity

Issues in Science and Technology

“In late nineteenth-century Georgia, Samuel Rumph was a legend. Not only had he propagated the beloved Elberta peach and developed the refrigerated railway cars that coddled the fruit as it traveled to northern markets, he and his fellow ‘fruit men’ boosted Georgia’s postwar economy in the process,” writes Cynthia R. Greenlee. “Along with the expected inputs of innovation—wealth, entrepreneurial moxie, a motley stable of collaborators, game-changing technology, and an insatiable jones for problem-solving—Rumph possessed an invisible yet no less important component: an ideology of a South that lagged behind the North due to war, poor infrastructure, and notions that southern farmers just couldn’t keep up … Rumph and southern fruit enthusiasts contributed to regional transformation via their nurseries as well as their narratives—stories that state officials then took up when promoting the fruit.”

Harvesting wheat in drought-parched Kansas

The New Yorker

“In June, I followed David Schemm, a fourth-generation wheat farmer, as he climbed over a barbed-wire fence and into one of his fields,” writes Michael Holtz. “David … walked about fifty feet into shin-high wheat, paused, and shook his head. ‘Not looking very good,’ he said, with a slight drawl. In recent seasons, the field had averaged thirty-five to forty bushels an acre. This year, David said, it would likely yield fifteen to twenty, because of how dry the weather had been. He plucked a head from its stem and rubbed it between his hands, threshing out the seeds, one of which he popped into his mouth and bit down on with his back teeth. ‘Hear that hard crack?’ he asked. ‘That’s what you want. That’s how you know the wheat is ready.’ When we got back to his truck, he did a quick yield calculation on his phone. ‘Seventeen bushels,’ he said with a sigh.”

The story of Indigenous sea gardens, past and present

Hakai Magazine

“For those who know how to read them, the signs have long been there. Like the towering mound of 20 million oyster shells all but obscured by the lush greenery of central Florida’s Gulf Coast. Or the arcing lines of wave-weathered stone walls strung along British Columbia’s shores like a necklace. Such features,” writes Ashley Braun, “tell a rich and varied story of Indigenous stewardship. They reveal how humans carefully transformed the world’s coasts into gardens of the sea—gardens that produced vibrant, varied communities of marine life that sustained Indigenous peoples for millennia. And in certain places, like on the west coast of North America in what is now Washington State and where the Swinomish are building a new sea garden, these ancient practices are poised to sustain them once again.”

The high price of cheap shrimp


“Guayaquil is … Ecuador’s largest city, biggest port, most important economic hub—and it is also the planet’s fourth-most vulnerable city to future flooding due to climate change. A key to climate resilience is the tangly mangroves … [T]he tightly woven roots and branches of mangroves can blunt storms and large waves, and halt rising waters, providing a living line of defense against climate change for people, homes, and businesses.” But, writes Kata Karáth, “[t]he brackish shallows of the Guayas River estuary also make perfect breeding grounds for industrial shrimp farming—which has given birth to a major conflict … As mangroves are logged to make way for shrimp farms, the estuary’s natural bulwark against climate change is falling.”