Our Impact

FERN Looks at How Controlled Burns Can Create Critical Solutions

In “The return of ‘good fire’ to eastern U.S. forests and grasslands,” published with Yale Environment 360, Gabriel Popkin describes how advocates support controlled burns as part of a critical solution to a range of problems, from biodiversity loss to wildfire risk to climate change. But first, they must overcome government regulations and a long-held view of fire as unnatural and threatening.

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We Dig into the Questionable Climate-Friendly Status of the Wood-Pellet Industry

In “The controversial biofuel threatening British Columbia’s forests,” published with The Walrus, Brian Barth explores the province’s booming wood-pellet industry, which is causing worry that old-growth ecosystems will be pushed to the brink.

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We Look at How a Tire Company Hopes To Help Arizona Farmers Thrive

In, “What should desert farmers grow?,” published with Mother Jones, Stephen Robert Miller describes how a Japanese rubber company plans to persuade Arizona farmers to grow a latex-producing crop that’s adapted to desert conditions. That wonder plant is called guayale (pronounced why-oo-lee) and the company is Bridgestone, who says it has made significant genetic breakthroughs in the crop since it originally began being grown in the U.S. in the 1920s.

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FERN Digs into a Long Running-Dispute on Water Management

In “Epic floods in Pacific Northwest revive long-running dispute over how to manage a river,” published with Mother Jones, Teresa Cotsirilos, details how climate change has caused the water levels of rivers like the Nooksack to become erratic and less predictable. Farmers want regular dredging and aggressive flood-control measures in place, but Indigenous groups and scientists say that will doom the endangered Chinook salmon and could be disastrous to a river on the verge of ecosystem collapse.

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We Show How a Regional Network of Farmers Plans to Push out Big Ag

In “The collective future of American agriculture,” published with The Nation, Dean Kuipers describes how pandemic-driven shortages gave fresh relevance to co-ops, hubs and other forms of collective agriculture. And with a trust-buster in the White House and a current of defiance coursing through the workforce, a new patchwork has a shot at becoming a viable alternative to Big Ag.

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We Look At Why a Bionenergy Build-Out Is Stirring Controversy in the Chesapeake Bay Region

In “Biogas from America’s favorite meat: pollution solution or a prop for poultry?,” Leanna First-Arai takes us to the top chicken-cultivating county in the United States. On the Delmarva Peninsula — which stretches down the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay through Delaware, Maryland, and a small portion of Virginia — plants owned by Amick Farms, Mountaire Farms, and Perdue, among other corporations, process more than 600 million broilers a year.

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A Program That Puts Farmworkers’ Lives on the Line

In “The farmworkers in California’s fire zones,” published with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, Teresa Cotsirilos explains that when wildfires forced thousands of Californians to evacuate, a little-known ‘ag pass’ program let employers keep farmworkers on the job.

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FERN Travels to Brazil to Report on Beef and Deforestation

In “Brazil’s Amazon beef plan will ‘legalize deforestation’ say critics,” published with The Guardian, Brian Barth and Flávia Milhorance explain that the beef industry’s hopes for a planned deforestation-free farming zone will tempt buyers back, but many fear it will drive up illegal clearing in the Amazon.

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Climate Change is Behind Bristol Bay’s Salmon Boom

In “One Alaska bay is booming with salmon, for now,” published with The Atlantic, Miranda Weiss describes how scientists believe that climate change is boosting salmon numbers in Bristol Bay, even as warming temperatures and other factors seem to be driving the fish to extinction elsewhere. But even as more salmon are returning to Bristol Bay, some fishermen still worry that it might be time for a bust.

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FERN Story Shows Chicken Farmers Protesting Big Poultry

In “Facing a merger and a pay cut, chicken farmers push back,” published with The Capitol Forum, Marcia Brown details how in Mississippi, contract growers risk retaliation by protesting a pay cut they say is tied to the latest Big Poultry merger.

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Spiking Soybean Prices Lead to Less Carbon Storage

In “Farming boom threatens Biden’s climate and conservation ambitions,” published with National Geographic, Gabriel Popkin explains that high prices for corn and soybeans are driving farmers in the Great Plains to plow up vital grasslands at the expense of carbon storage and biodiversity.

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FERN Finds That Fashion Could Help Save the Amazon

In “Can fashion help small farmers preserve the Amazon?,” published with The New Republic, Brian Barth and Flávia Milhorance help readers understand that though many downplay capitalist solutions to conservation, they have the potential to spark the wealth transfer needed to save the world’s largest rainforest.

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Ag Scientists Seek Out Rock Dust For Carbon Capture

In “Can rock dust be a climate fix for agriculture?,” published with Yale Environment 360, Susan Cosier describes how scientists are dusting crop fields with pulverized rocks to supercharge the chemical process that grabs carbon from the air and sequesters it in the soil. All while increasing crop yields.

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We Capture the Migrant’s Story in California’s Drought

In “Scorched,” published in print and online by Pacific Standard, Lauren Markham recounts the harrowing saga of a young woman and her daughter who make the trek across the U.S. border to flee political unrest in Honduras. They were caught by immigration authorities and detained for several days. Even after Clara (not her real name) reunites with her husband in California, the family is haunted by a lack of work due to the drought.

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FERN Wins a Second James Beard Award for Quinoa Coverage

We were gratified to learn in May 2015 that FERN won a second James Beard Foundation Award for our story, “The Quinoa Quarrel: Who Owns The Greatest Superfood?” Written by Lisa Hamilton, the story appeared with original photography, also by Hamilton, in Harper’s Magazine. FERN, Harper’s and Hamilton took home a James Beard Foundation award for best reporting in the category of Food Politics, Policy and the Environment for the piece, which tracks the political fight over one of the world’s most important indigenous foods.

FERN Decodes the Water Wars of California’s Drought

In March 2015, we published a profile of Cannon Michael, a Central Valley farmer who devised a water-sharing scheme to help his struggling neighbors cope with the epic drought. “How One California Farmer Is Battling the Worst Drought in 1,200 years,” published by Ensia, was more than a feel-good story about one man’s selflessness. It also exposed the deeply flawed water-allocation system that has evolved over more than 100 years in California, and that is exacerbating the problems currently facing America’s most-important agricultural region. The story had legs. After more than 60,000 views on Ensia and its syndication partners, Business Insider, Quartz, and Climate Central, it had nearly 2,000 social-media shares. Twitter highlights include Ensia (32,000+ followers); Sunset Magazine (68,000+ followers) and NPR’s The Salt (79,000+ followers). The story also made Michael a farmer in demand, as he began turning up in stories about the drought in outlets like The New York Times and NPR.

FERN Investigation Drives Political Action on Pesticides Near Schools

In April 2015, we took another deep dive into the issue of farmworker health with The Nation. Liza Gross’s unsettling piece, “Fields of Toxic Pesticides Surround the Schools of Ventura County,” revealed how California’s Latino communities—and the public schools they attend—are disproportionately dosed with pesticides, many of which are linked to a range of health problems. The piece took off, rising to No. 3 on The Nation’s most-read stories list and staying there for three days. It lit up on social media, too, with nearly 5,000 shares that included high praise from the likes of Michael Pollan, Anna Lappé, Mother Jones columnist Tom Philpott, Guardian business writer Marc Gunther, Silk (the soy milk company), the Institute for Non-profit News (formerly the Investigative News Network), and UC Berkeley News. The story later earned an investigative reporting award from the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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Our Post-Antibiotics Future Story Goes Viral

In “Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future,” reporter Maryn McKenna details how antibiotic resistance is spreading and why, and what could be done to quell the problem. She frames the importance of modern antibiotics around the story of her distant relative, who died of an infection from a simple injury, just before the discovery of penicillin.

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