Waves of grain

My car packed with too many clothes, an extremely terrified cat and a live Kombucha culture, I headed west to my summer field site. Oddly enough, my summer field site is also where I grew up. The endless waves of grain remind me of my labor-intensive childhood detasseling corn,1 walking beans2 and bucking bales.3  I …

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Why GMOs matter

[Andy writes…] There’s a debate raging in some corners of the internet regarding how we should view genetic modification of plants in our world. We can all agree that a healthy food supply and a clean environment are top priorities, but how GMOs fit in is not always clear. Earlier this week I was in the …

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What Jackie Wilson Said

I paid a visit to the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm last week. I’m afraid I didn’t have my reporter’s hat on, so don’t count on the blog for accurate or detailed information this week. Truth to tell, I hardly knew where I was. I don’t get into Detroit but once or twice a year, and it …

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We Are What We Eat/Read

We took our son, Noah and his partner, Andy, to dinner last night at a new Thai restaurant in Detroit, Katoi. The menu was unique to my culinary experience. The mix of tastes and combinations of ingredients was so distinctive, that I could not possibly imagine what these combinations might taste like. I was struck …

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Race to the Farm

I’m headed off to the SAEA meeting later this week, where I’m part of panel. SAEA is the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association. It’s not part of my regular circuit, but I’m looking forward to it. The panel is being sponsored by INFAS, which is part of my regular circuit. INFAS is the Integrated Network for …

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When the rain comes

My fieldwork in China started off rough. After the sparkle of the first week – being an honored guest, attending lavish dinners and getting private tours – wore off what remained was me, our research team of five and a project that had some serious American bias hiding within it. The soil analysis for my …

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What I actually do

So if you remember from previous blogs, my research project is attempting to find differences is in the soil-microbial community between corn, rice (grasses) and soy (a legume). Global soybean trade, specifically soybeans from Brazil and the USA, are being imported by China; these imports are cheaper than domestically produced soybeans, thus driving out China’s …

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I got it from my mama…

It’s May.  I am sitting in my studio apartment, looking at old take-out Chinese boxes with disgust and attempting to pack for my field season in China.  In only one bag. How many pairs of socks should I pack? How much instant coffee does a summer of data collection in Asia require? Can I really …

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What a Waste!

Here we are as usual, a day late and a dollar short on the latest hip fad in food ethics. That, of course, would be food waste. We are so dang slow on this one that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has beaten us to it, having announced a major initiative on curbing food waste …

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Workshopping

The 4th Food Justice Workshop was held at MSU yesterday. There was some hand-wringing about “who is at the table.” Mostly academics was the answer, though a few people active in various community organizations dropped by for short stints. By the time we got around to the serious hand-wringing they had all gone home, as had …

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Mansplaining Egg Prices

Hanging out with Jane Bush the other day, she mentioned the dramatic decline in the wholesale price of eggs. Here, I must note a disconnect because since Diane and I buy all of our eggs directly from Jane, I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the retail price of eggs. As such, I …

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Good Stories

March is still roaring a bit, though with Mid-Michigan temperatures eking into the 60s it’s a bit more like a purr. Nevertheless, you have to squint pretty hard to see the crocuses peeking out of the ground or the little spots of green that will be turning into budding leaves in the coming weeks. I …

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Aristotle

A couple of weeks back when I decided to dedicate this year’s series of blogs on “food ethics icons” to full-bore, no-one-would-raise-an-eyebrow-about-me-calling-them-philosophers philosophers, Aristotle was one of the guys I had in mind. He certainly meets the no-eyebrows-raised criterion. I think it was Alfred North Whitehead who said that all philosophy is a footnote to …

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John Stuart Mill

My second “food ethics icon” for 2016 is John Stuart Mill. Mill is a pretty interesting figure in his own right and certainly one of the most important individuals of the 19th century. Mill inhabited a rarified intellectual and political environment from his London birth in 1806 to his death from a severe skin infection …

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Got My Mo-Zhou Working

I’m writing this week from seat 11J on a long-haul flight homeward bound from China. I spent a week in the vicinity of Nanjing giving some talks at universities and visiting my friend, Xu Huaike. Xu spent a year as a visiting scholar at Michigan State University, and he wanted to show me his home …

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Breakdown Lane

I’m writing on the bus from Xitou to Taipai City, and the traffic is heavy on Sunday evening. Things run in a smooth and orderly way here in Taiwan, unlike the roads around Beijing. Still and all, I see quite a few drivers zipping past on the right in the breakdown lane at about 70 …

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Teeth of a Hydra

“Meanwhile, I’m still thinkin’…” We spent all of September doing food films, but a few things happened that could have been good fodder for the Thornapple blog. One of the big ones was a story that broke when some New York Times reporters did a FOIA request on e-mails from a number of agricultural scientists …

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Amartya Sen

Amartya Kumar Sen was born in 1933 in a province of what is now Bangladesh. He won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics for a pretty diverse portfolio of work, most of which doesn’t concern us here. Let it just suffice that Sen was a major figure in shaking economists out of a dogmatic slumber—even …

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Among the World-Feeders

I spent a couple of days last week amongst folks who are diligently at work developing new crops. They are after new varieties that do well in the dry conditions farmers may experience during climate change, and they’re working on varieties that resist disease, too. And then there are the longstanding enemies: weeds and insect …

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Right On, Man

Since Father’s Day happens to fall on a Sunday this year, I’m dedicating this edition of the Thornapple Blog to my own personal father. Don’t laugh. Lots of people have their own personal fathers, so why should it seem strange to be talking to them on Father’s Day? By chance my own personal father (who …

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Bad Seed

Let me set the festering minds of everyone who arrived at this website hoping to read up on supernatural horror flicks or prurient tales of some wayfaring maiden at rest immediately. This blog is about seeds, as in those little niblet things that grow into plants once they have been safely ensconced in soil and …

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Genuine Article

A few years back I met a fine fellow at an international consultancy I was on who regaled the group with stories of academic ritual, on the one hand, and the trials of small farmers in India, on the other. As I recall it, the rituals had something to do with Oxford University in the …

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Ontology

It looks like February 2014 was ontology month. That’s “on” as when Sylvia Tyson sings ‘When I woke up this morning, you were on my mind.’ It’s ‘tol’ as when Little Richard sings ‘Long Tall Sally she’s built for speed.’ It’s ‘o’ as when he sings “Oh, my soul” and gee as when Cliff Richard …

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Reality

I’m checking in this week from the Northern Michigan Small Farms Conference in Traverse City. The theme of this year’s conference is “Small Farms Are Real Farms.” I’m a bit put off that they didn’t ask me to speak at the conference because after all who would be better equipped to speak on the subject …

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Wes Jackson

I could go on for quite a while about Wes Jackson. Wes runs The Land Institute in Salina, KS. He has fathered and promoted a number of ideas for improving food and farming over his career. Take the “sunshine farm” as a for-instance. The driving idea is that a farm gets an energy boost from …

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Punkin Time

I woke up this morning and James Whitcomb Riley was on my mind. Well, maybe it was after coffee, but sometime this morning “When the frost is on the punkin’”  started running through my head. Here’s how the first verse runs: WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock, And …

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