Digest: Tomato pickers get raise, Norman Borlaug to the rescue, Wal-Mart retreats

There's a golf course worth of links coming at ya. Fore!

Pennies add up: McDonald's has reached agreement with a Florida farmworkers organization to pay 1 cent more per pound for the tomatoes it buys from state farms. Think that's nothing? It's a 75 percent pay raise for the laborers. Time for Burger King to pony up some pennies, too. Palm Beach Post

Famine in our future?: The New Scientist reports that a plague is coming, and almost no one has heard about it, let alone prepared for it. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green revolution, is sounding the alarm over Ug99, a virulent strain of black stem rust fungus discovered in Uganda in 1999. Since the Green Revolution, farmers everywhere have grown wheat varieties that resist stem rust, but Ug99 has evolved to take advantage of those varieties, and almost no wheat crops anywhere are resistant to it. New Scientist (Via Tigers and Strawberries — thanks Jack)

Goliath gives up: A number of organic farmers across the country say that Wal-Mart has backed off from its well-publicized, aggressive plans to offer more organic foods at Twinkie prices. It's unclear whether Wal-Mart customers just weren't ineterested, or whether the higher-end shoppers it hoped to attract were willing to shop there just based on price. (BusinessWeek) Don't miss Tom Philpott's reaction over at Gristmill.

Rah rah, raw milk: One of the best articles we've ever read on the raw milk underground movement, a first-person account covering the practices and deficiencies of conventional milk, the difficulty procuring the unpasteurized stuff in Maryland, and discovering a raw-milk co-op in which other customers e-mailed their orders from addresses ending in fda.gov, usda.gov, even nih.gov. News to us: Most Amish farmers in Pennsylvania use conventional farming methods, such as using petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides on crops and raising animals in factory-style sheds instead of farmyards. Note: Don't miss the bare-knuckled comments section. City Paper

How do they sleep at night?: Amvac buys rights to older chemicals that have raised health concerns, such as organophosphates, a class of older, highly toxic pesticides that has been under regulatory scrutiny since the late 1980s. It then spends enormous amounts lobbying to keep them on the market, even though they've been shown to poison farm workers and communities. As this excellent investigative article from last Sunday says, "Amvac is by no means the largest producer of pesticides that have attracted regulatory scrutiny, but the company stands out for its willingness to embrace chemicals that other firms have abandoned." We think this corporate sociopath should be locked up. Los Angeles Times

Pass the Xanax!: In a Victual Reality column worth waiting two weeks for, Tom Philpott paints a portrait of an unsustainable world economy. In broad strokes, he shows how our insatiable appetite for cheap goods from Wal-Mart et al. has encouraged China to destroy or foul its farmland with manufacturing, vastly increasing global warming by burning through oil and coal. China, in turn, is outsourcing more food production to Brazil, which is plowing under indigenous homelands and destroying precious biodiversity. Wish we could say that his last paragraph, exhorting us to protest insensitive globalization pressures and rebuild local food systems, felt less like a Band-Aid on the world's gushing carotid artery.... Grist

Good grassroots reporting: Stephanie Paige Ogburn, a master's student in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, looks further into Sam Fromartz's piece on the changing rules for organic certification of coffee and other non-U.S. crops. She finds that if internal inspectors could be accredited by external bodies, the system could still work and be affordable for small growers. We should also be willing to pay a higher premium. Gristmill

Molecular gastronomy as an AP class: Kim Severson reports on the Food and Finance High School, the first New York City high school dedicated to the food business – where "Fast Food Nation" is taught in English class and graduates get not only a diploma, but a certificate in safe food-handling from the National Restaurant Association. In addition to basic culinary skills, it teaches food styling, restaurant design and budgeting for a small business.New York Times

Support small farmers everywhere: In an op-ed, writer George Rosen makes an intelligent case for thinking locally but eating globally. Boston Globe

Dept. of Long Overdue Good Ideas: The Supervalu supermarket chain is trying out a new machine at its Shaw’s Supermarkets. The new "produce extractors" squeeze water and juice from unsellable fruits and vegetables and turn the leftovers into free compost or animal food, while decreasing the loads it sends to landfills. Boston Herald

Greening our lawns: More and more, consumers are asking for organic-based lawn care, with chemical free pesticides and fertilizers — but they don't always understand that conversion takes time. An 18-month study pitting organic treatment against conventional turf care will take place on the National Mall in Washington. Will there be guards against sabotage? New York Times

Cold weather victims: Lots of crops around the country were hard hit by dropping temperatures. Arkansas may have lost half its tomatoes. In North Carolina, growers of apples, ornamental horticulture, strawberries and other vegetables will lose tens of millions of dollars. Georgia's peaches and some pecan plantings were badly decimated. Nearly half of the Kansas winter wheat crop is affected.

The best defense: Paul H. Achitoff of Hawaii's Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund has a scathing editorial about why Monsanto should not be allowed to plant experimental genetically modified crops in Hawaii, citing ample evidence to refute the idea that this position is not an ignorant, fear-mongering knee-jerk reaction to biotech. Honolulu Star Bulletin

CAFOs in tanks: Two brothers in Bellevue, Ohio, are among the farmers who have switched from raising traditional farm animals to fish — they're raising 150,000 goldfish in a converted hog nursery. Money quote: Raising fish is very difficult — "It’s like having a henhouse with feces flying around in the air." Lancaster Farming

Save our sperm: An increasing number of studies, including the most recent one on how eating beef in pregnancy affects sperm counts in sons, are connecting exposure to various synthetic hormones with endocrine disruption in animal models. A good check would be to repeat the study with European men born after 1988, when Europe banned the use of such chemicals by the cattle industry. Environmental Science and Technology Online News

Where there was smoke: An industry-funded buyout of tobacco farmers has created a variety of new agriculture efforts, such as beekeeping, goat farming, mushroom growing, and even shrimp raising. Reuters

Let's call May "Air Month"!: April is "Corn Month" is Missouri. Given that many Americans already celebrate corn all day long by eating various incarnations of the ubiquitous plant, do we really need an official celebration? Missouri Corn Online

Silver lining in mad-cow clouds: Genethera, a molecular biotechnology company in Colorado, has developed a test for mad-cow disease that can be used on live cattle, saving slaughterhouses considerable time and money. As the United States currently slaughters approximately 35 million cattle per year and the government tests only a tiny fraction of those, Genethera sees a major market opportunity once private testing is allowed. Press release

Stephen Colbert on "reduce-reuse-recycle psychos," plus guest star No Impact Man Colin Beavan (at Gristmill)

C Davis gets $4.7 million for new produce safety research center (Press release)

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