FERN’s Friday Feed: Your garden is killing the planet

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

Ecological junk food and horticultural terrorists

The Washington Post

“In this season, a symphony of color performs in my yard. The fading daffodils, cherry blossoms, saucer magnolias, hyacinths and camellias meet the arriving tulips, lilacs, creeping phlox and azaleas, with the promise of rhododendrons, peonies, hydrangeas, day lilies and roses to debut in the coming weeks,” writes Dana Milbank. “But … [i]t turns out I’ve been filling my yard with a mix of ecological junk food and horticultural terrorists. When it comes to the world’s biodiversity crisis — as many as 1 million plant and animal species face near-term extinction because of habitat loss ― I am part of the problem. I’m sorry to say that if you have a typical urban or suburban landscape, your lawn and garden are also dooming the Earth.”

Resurrecting the Kissimmee River

National Geographic

“Sixty years ago, the Kissimmee meandered for more than 100 miles … and its floodplains were home to seasonal wetlands rich with life. But in the 1940s, in response to flooding and hurricanes, the state asked the federal government to help build a sprawling network of canals and waterways to drain the land. The Army Corps of Engineers … turned the meandering Kissimmee into a 30-foot-deep, channelized canal … [P]opulations of waterfowl dropped by 90 percent, bald eagle numbers by 70 percent, and some fish, bird, and mammal species vanished,” writes Douglas Main. “The disrupted hydrology and ecological problems were so glaring that, beginning in the 1990s, the Army Corps and a variety of state, federal, and local partners cooperated to undo the damage. More than 20 years later, at a cost of over $1 billion, the physical restoration of the river is now complete: 40 square miles of wetlands have been reestablished and rehydrated.”

Why the U.S. food system is vulnerable to hackers


“The US food and agriculture sector lacks the resources, expertise, and government support to protect itself and its products from a rapidly expanding range of cybersecurity threats, according to lawmakers, policy experts, and former government officials,” writes Eric Geller. “These shortfalls leave gaps that foreign government operatives or cybercriminals could exploit to remotely disable farming equipment, contaminate fertilizer, cripple milk supplies, and kill chickens.”

Can ‘racy branding’ change the image of vegan food?

The New Yorker

“In recent years, proponents of plant-based eating have gone to creative lengths to counter veganism’s reputation as preachy and abstemious,” writes Charles Bethea. “Michelin-starred restaurants such as Eleven Madison Park, in New York, have tried to sell customers on the idea that even all-veggie tasting menus can be worth the price of a month’s rent. At the other end of the scale, substitute-meat brands have made inroads into the fast-food industry: there are now Impossible Whoppers at Burger King and Beyond Meat sausage links in supermarket freezer aisles. But perhaps no establishment has done as much as Slutty Vegan to challenge the perception that a vegan diet is by and for pleasureless people.”

Why Indonesia’s ‘food estate’ program collapsed


“When the Indonesian government announced its food estate program in 2020, it envisioned the establishment of large-scale agricultural plantations across the country,” writes Hans Nicholas Jong. “These plantations of crops like rice, cassava and potato were supposed to be the answer to what the government says is an impending global food crisis, and would help feed the world’s fourth-largest population. But a field investigation at the sites of the food estate program in the Bornean province of Central Kalimantan by independent researchers in March 2022 and February 2023 instead found sprawling plantations that had been abandoned.”