FERN’s Friday Feed: Unfunded veggies; bee drones; and Trump’s steak

Money, money, everywhere — unless you’re broccoli


Americans are told all the time to eat more vegetables. But only one in 10 of us actually consumes the recommended amount. The reason goes beyond a dislike of leafy greens. “Just 15 percent of the federal research budget over the last three decades” has gone toward finding ways to make fruits, vegetables and nuts easier to grow, last longer on the shelf or more appealing to consumers, says Politico. The rest of the $3-billion budget went to improving corn and soy crops and the meat industry. In fact, only 3 percent of America’s farm fields are planted with produce, and just one-half of 1 percent of all federal crop subsidies went to “speciality crops” (government-speak for fruits, vegetables and nuts) between 2008 and 2012. But even if subsidies were accounted for, buying a head of broccoli would still likely be more expensive than a bag of corn chips, because produce is perishable. It’s inherently harder to harvest, ship, and store — all issues that more research could help.

Remember to check the battery in that bee


Last year, U.S. beekeepers lost 44 percent of their hives to Colony Collapse Disorder, a threat that most blame on a combination of mites, pesticides, monocultures and climate change. Now a researcher in Japan, Eijiro Miyako, says he might have created a bee substitute: an insect-sized drone outfitted with horsehair that’s been coated in a sticky gel that allows it to lift pollen from a plant. But replacing the world’s bees — some of which only pollinate a single species of plant — with drones, is probably more scientific fantasy than reality. For example, every year two million colonies of bees are trucked to California to pollinate the state’s one million acres of almond trees and their billions of flowers. To replace that free insect labor would require an unrealistic number of drones.

Plants you’ve never heard of could save the planet


Crops for the Future is like a seed bank, only the plants are actually growing and not tucked away in cryogenic bags just waiting for the apocalypse. Based in Malaysia, the program is “the world’s first research center devoted to underutilized crops,” writes Virginia Gewin, a FERN contributor. Wheat, rice and maize, produce 60 percent of the world’s calories, but many scientists worry that we’ve lost touch with thousands of other species of food crops that could be vital to a world beset by climate change and a growing human population. As agriculture has industrialized, 75 percent of crop diversity has been wiped out, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Let him eat steak

The New York Times

Last week, President Trump ordered his steak well-done, with ketchup, when he dined with British politician Nigel Farage. Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema scoffed, suggesting that the president might as well have asked for a sippy cup. Trump has been ridiculed for his KFC chicken-eating habits and the way he forced Chris Christie to order meatloaf. But Frank Bruni says that what, and how, Trump eats is besides the point. “We need a sense of proportion when it comes to the president and his administration, a system of triage, in order to choose wisely from the buffet of outrages. The red scare before us isn’t ketchup. It’s Mike Flynn, Jeff Sessions and the curious flow of courtesies between Moscow and Mar-a-Loco.” In fact, getting worked up over Trump’s epicurean habits is another symptom of an American society where the “farmer’s-market crowd looks down on the Whole Foods rabble, who tsk-tsk at the Trader Joe’s hoi polloi.”

How a ‘Right to Farm’ bill got crushed in Trump country

The Huffington Post

Donald Trump won the state of Oklahoma by a landslide, but so did a Democrat who works for the Humane Society. By last November, Joe Maxwell had spent 14 months fighting the state’s Right to Farm bill, one of many such bills across the country that make it difficult for states or local governments to pass new agricultural laws. “Corporate agricultural interests in Oklahoma hoped the measure would protect factory farming from environmental, food safety and humanitarian regulations,” says The Huffington Post.

Maxwell convinced animal-welfare activists, environmental groups, Native American tribes, and small farmers that the bill was dangerous. Big Ag was soundly defeated. More significantly, the bill’s defeat put the lie to what top Democratic analysts claimed after the party lost control of Congress in 2016: that the future for Democrats depended on college-educated voters in cities and suburbs, leaving rural America to the GOP. “Democrats don’t have to throw out their values,” Maxwell says. “Democrats don’t even have to abandon their issues. It’s about how you frame it. It’s about connecting with people and showing them how your ideas fit with their values.”

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