Blog | January 30, 2015

Emily’s Farm & Food Roundup

Emily_EaganAt this point, awareness and concern over GMOs is a given, but it seems the controversy may extend beyond our food supply. To halt the spread of tropical diseases and deadly fevers, the FDA is considering the experimental release of GMO insects in the Florida Keys. This “GMOsquito” developed by Oxitec, formally known as the species Aedes aegypti, would be released by the millions, mating with females in the wild and passing the modified gene onto their offspring. The insects, while they will hatch, will die before they mature, thereby decreasing the risk of diseases like dengue fever and chikungunya. With 10-20% of area residents in opposition of the GMOsquito release, tensions are running high: “We don’t want to be guinea pigs,” said resident Deb Curley, who doesn’t see a need to react so drastically to a fever that hasn’t hit the Keys since 2010. Entomologist Michael Doyle, however, worries about the huge number of tourists that visit, increasing the chances of the disease’s arrival.

It’s UKOOG (United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas) versus WWF (World Wildlife Fund) this week as Scotland has announced a block on all planned fracking operations. UKOOG Chief Executive Ken Cronin believes that fracking will boost Scotland’s economy, creating jobs and less reliance on foreign oil. WWF, on the other hand, recognizes the public’s favor of cleaner forms of energy, citing unconventional oil and gas are “neither good for the people or the planet.” Contrary to the actions of the United States, which has allowed extensive use of the extraction process for years, Scotland is choosing to take on a more cautious approach. They’ve tightened restrictions and announced a straight-up ban on fracking in national parks and sites of special interest.

No more syrup induced confusion for you! The USDA revised maple syrup grading to match its international counterparts, so as to operate on one universal grading system based on descriptive terms. The change is expected to help consumers by making it easier to know what exactly you’re looking for in syrup. Producers see the positives too, as this system will assist in marketing the syrup both domestically and internationally. Take it from Matthew Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association: “…we believe the coordination of our entire industry’s grading will prove to be beneficial for business.” Check out this chart from the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association to answer your syrup conversion questions!

Malawi’s high youth unemployment and low agricultural productivity may have a temporary solution. 31 year-old Bettie Kawonga, a Malawi lecturer and entrepreneur, was awarded $150,000 for her vision of a new agricultural education system that will encourage the youth of the country to become dairy farmers, and successful ones at that. Through Kawonga’s “incubation centers,” set to open in Lilongwe in 2016, people will have the opportunity to learn business proposal writing, agribusiness management, and dairy farming, while also equipping them with start-up money for their own farm. Kawonga, enthusiastic about the prospect of a more agriculturally engaged youth, believes that her attitude will trickle down to those who attend programming at her new centers: “The youth are willing if we provide what they are looking for: skills, credit and the promise of a regular income and a good life,” she says. Her goal for the first year of the program is to get 240 young people engaged and active in agriculture – what she (and Willie Nelson) call “the engine of our economy.”

Is your Christmas tree still kicking around, lazy bones? Turns out pro and amateur chefs have taken to “cooking with conifers”: repurposing the branches and needles as fuel for the fire to smoke the perfect savory, flaky fish or black forest ham. One pioneer of this recycling tradition, Chef Philip Harrison, has received critical acclaim for not only his savory dishes, but also his wildly creative “Christmas tree ice cream,” infusing the mouth-watering dessert with lemon zest and pine needles from abandoned trees. Take Harrison’s advice and prepare a light dessert reminiscent of your most recent holiday, or smoke your own fish over the smoldering branches and memories of yuletide.

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