Tag Archives: Food Research

USDA Spending Big to ‘Grow’ New Farmers

 

This long post is a reprint of a press release issued today by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a function of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While it is of little direct interest to consumers, this release does provide a lot of information about the efforts the U.S. Government is making to ensure the country has ‘crops’ of farmers and ranchers down the road – and that, incidentally, they will be well-trained, too!

AMES, Iowa, Aug. 17, 2016 – In a meeting with new and beginning farmers at Iowa State University today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new investment of $17.8 million for 37 projects to help educate, mentor, and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers. The investment is made through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $126 million into projects targeting new and beginning farmers and ranchers through BFRDP.

In order to build upon the strong foundation of programs available to new and beginning producers, Vilsack also announced a series of Fall Forums that USDA will host in the coming months to highlight the progress made on the top issues facing the future of agriculture and set the stage for the next Administration to continue to support a strong future for American agriculture. The series of USDA Fall Forums will be hosted in partnership with leading universities across the country. Each forum will focus on a pressing agricultural issue, including land tenure and the next generation of agriculture, climate change, export markets, local and regional food systems, and groundbreaking agricultural research. High-ranking USDA officials will lead the forums and facilitate discussions with regional stakeholders to lay the groundwork for the next Administration to build on the progress USDA has made over the past seven years.

“Looking back on the past seven years, I am extremely proud of what USDA has accomplished for rural America. Even as this Administration ends, the important work of USDA will continue for the next generation and beyond,” said Vilsack. “We see new and beginning farmers and ranchers as a critical force in sustaining food security, food safety, and many other aspects of agriculture that will become even more challenging as our global population grows. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, and the forums that we are planning, will be important steps in helping young people, returning veterans and others access the tremendous opportunities in the agriculture sector.”

With the average age of the American farmer exceeding 58 years, USDA recognizes the need to bring more people into agriculture. Over the course of this Administration, USDA has engaged its resources to provide greater support to the farmers of the future by improving access to land and capital; building new markets and market opportunities; extending new conservation opportunities; offering appropriate risk management tools; and increasing outreach, education, and technical support.

Through lending assistance programs, like the Farm Service Agency’s new microloan program, USDA prioritized support for new farmers, providing improved access to credit, land, and equipment. USDA has also provided greater access to quality crop insurance coverage to over 13,500 new and beginning farmers and ranchers with special crop insurance benefits designed just for them. Thanks to this program, beginning farmers and ranchers have saved more than $14 million in premiums and administrative fees. More information on USDA’s assistance for beginning farmers and ranchers can be found at www.usda.gov/NewFarmers.

BFRDP, administered through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), has been a key part of this effort and supports educational programs to assist beginner farmers and ranchers who have less than 10 years of experience in the industry, including veterans and socially disadvantaged farmers. The program supports workshops, educational teams, training, and technical assistance throughout the United States.

This year’s awards will be made in 27 states and the District of Columbia to help fund a range of projects by partner organizations, like the Iowa-based National Farmers Organization (NFO) that will use $588,948 in funding to assist 900 beginning organic dairy and grain producers over the next three years. NFO will provide workshops, mentoring and other assistance in 11 states, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

New Mexico State University and the Institute of American Indian Arts will partner to use $598,030 to provide education, mentoring and one-on-one technical assistance to American Indian Pueblo beginning farmers. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, based in North Carolina, will use $513,959 in funding for Farm Pathways, a program to deliver whole farm training, farmer-to-farmer networking and farmland access.

2016 grants include:

  • Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, Fairbanks, Alaska, $369,500
  • Arkansas Land and Community Development Corporation, Brinkley, Ark., $481,080
  • ALBA Organics, Salinas, Calif., $600,000
  • Colorado Economic Development Office, Denver, Colo., $239,970
  • University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn., $597,598
  • National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Washington, D.C., $150,000
  • North-South Institute, Inc., Davie, Fla., $330,828
  • The Kohala Center, Inc., Waimea, Hawaii, $564,000
  • Jannus Inc., Boise, Idaho, $597,867
  • Angelic Organics Learning Center, Caledonia, Ill., $600,000
  • National Farmers Organization, Ames, Iowa, $588,948
  • Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, Overland Park, Kan., $380,433
  • Wolfe`s Neck Farm Foundation, Inc., Freeport, Maine, $573,256
  • Third Sector New England, Inc., Boston, Mass., $249,657
  • Tufts University, Medford, Mass., $599,796
  • Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, South Deerfield, Mass., $595,533
  • Future Harvest Inc., Cockeysville, Md., $597,599
  • ECO City Farms, Edmonston, Md., $352,095
  • Minnesota Food Association, Marine St. Croix, Minn., $159,626
  • Land Stewardship Project, Minneapolis, Minn., $384,649
  • Stone Child College, Box Elder, Mont., $265,179
  • National Center for Appropriate Technology, Butte, Mont., $238,441
  • National Center for Appropriate Technology, Butte, Mont., $231,679
  • Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Asheville, N.C., $600,000
  • Foundation for Agricultural and Resources Management, Medina, N.D., $513,959
  • New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, N.M., $598,030
  • National Young Farmers Coalition, Hudson, N.Y., $574,150
  • Just Food, New York, N.Y., $593,930
  • Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Columbus, Ohio, $566,141
  • The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $599,715
  • Southside Community Land Trust, Providence, R.I., $596,517
  • Clemson University, Clemson, S.C., $595,133
  • Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tenn., $470,083
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $600,000
  • National Immigrant Farming Initiative, El Paso, Texas, $541,950
  • Greenbank Farm Management Group/Organic Farm School, Greenbank, Wash., $598,850
  • Viva Farms, Mount Vernon, Wash., $599,999

Abstracts for this year’s funded projects can be viewed on NIFA’s reporting website.

Since BFRDP’s 2009 inception, the agency has invested more than $126 million through 256 projects across the country. Previously funded projects include the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association which trained 75 new farmers who established 68 new farms. A University of the Virgin Islands project trained 304 crop and small livestock farmers with less than 10 years of experience, increasing their agricultural knowledge and skills. Additional information about USDA support for new farmers and ranchers is available at www.usda.gov/newfarmers.

BFRDP also supports USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) Initiative, which coordinates the Department’s work to develop strong local and regional food systems. Over the last seven years, USDA has invested close to $1 billion in 40,000 local food-related projects on farms and in communities across the country. You can find local and regional supply chain resources on the KYF2 website and use the KYF2 Compass to locate USDA investments in your community.

NIFA invests in and advances innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA’s integrated research, education, and extension programs, supporting the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel, have resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability, and ensuring food safety. To learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural science, visit www.nifa.usda.gov/impacts, sign up for email updates, or follow us on Twitter@usda_NIFA#NIFAimpacts.

This month USDA is celebrating historic progress over the last eight years to improve the quality of life and access to opportunity for all Americans. Learn more online in The People’s Department: A New Era for Civil Rights at USDA.

 

 

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Crickets are new ‘in’ Food in Silicon Valley

CRICKETS-in California
Co-founder Andrew Brentano, of Berkeley, hold a container of roasted crickets at Tiny Farms in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Tiny Farms breeds and raises crickets, which have become a trendy course of protein. The insects can be roasted and consumed as a snack or ground into “cricket flour” and baked into snacks like cookies or power bars. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

Crickets are the new ‘in’ food in Silicon Valley – and in a lot of other places. As Food Trade Trends reported in January, “the concept of eating insects, or being able to buy consumer products made from insects, is hardly new.” In fact, they have long been a staple for people in many countries.

One of the reasons for crickets’ popularity is that they are 70% protein. So when made into cookies and chips, as San Francisco-based Bitty Foods is doing, they make excellent snacks – as workers in start-ups around Silicon Valley are increasingly consuming them.

Proponents note the tiny, chirping bugs are high iron as well as protein, and they can serve as a sustainable alternative to beef or chicken.

Another west coast company focused on crickets is Tiny Farms, in San Leandro, California. It is breeding crickets for mass consumption, and New York-based Exo using them in protein bars. The products are showing up in Silicon Valley break rooms, and investors and entrepreneurs are paying close attention.

 

“I would say there’s a new  [insect-using company] that launches every six months, maybe even more frequently than that,” Exo co-founder Greg Sewitz said recently to The San Jose [California] Mercury News.

In addition to crickets, street vendors across Thailand offer everything from those critters to silk worms.

And in Mexico, fried grasshoppers, or chapulines, are a favorite.

Companies like Exo and Bitty are part of a larger trend of food startups that are replacing meat, gluten and dairy in everyday products. Investors have poured more than $500 million into companies such as plant-based imitation meat maker Impossible Foods of Redwood City and meal replacement Soylent, according to venture capital database CB Insights.

Impossible Foods has raised $183 million from big names including Bill Gates and Google Ventures, and Soylent raked in $21.5 million from backers including Andreessen Horowitz. Investment in these next-generation food startups is on track to hit record growth this year, CB Insights analyst Zoe Leavitt told the Mercury News.

Chocolate-covered insects and lollipops with bugs suspended in transparent, sugary candy have long been available as novelty items, but the crickets-as-protein movement began picking up steam in 2013 with a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The report touted the nutritional benefits of insects and introduced them as a potential solution to a rapidly approaching problem: The world will house 9 billion people by 2050, forcing humans to nearly double their food production using a limited supply of land and water. Crickets need one-twelfth as much food as cattle and half as much as chickens to produce the same amount of protein. They require less water and space to farm, produce minimal amounts of greenhouse gases and can be fed organic waste, according to the report.

“Edible insects are one of the most sustainable forms of protein on the planet,” said Megan Miller, co-founder of San Francisco-based startup Bitty Foods.

But whether they can be used as a more environmentally friendly alternative to other meats will depend on how the insects are farmed and what they are fed. A report published last year by researchers with the University of California-Davis found more study is needed to evaluate the long-term potential of bugs as protein, and concluded “the potential for crickets to supplement the global supply of dietary protein appears to be more limited than has been recently suggested.”

Of the world’s 2,000 types of edible insects, crickets seem to be gaining the most traction in the U.S. They have a neutral flavor — “sort of nutty and toasty with a bit of earthiness,” Miller said — and aren’t as frightening as spiders or scorpions.

“Tech workers are generally the people who are most interested in new trends and in innovation,” Miller said. “I don’t think there’s any place else in the world where you have the intersection of foodies and innovation like you do in the Bay Area. So it’s the natural place to launch a slightly strange product.”

Many companies that make cricket snacks, including Bitty and Exo, get their bugs from Entomo Farms in Canada. But San Leandro’s Tiny Farms is ramping up its own small cricket farm with the hope of providing cricket connoisseurs with a local, low-cost alternative.

Tucked into a warehouse it shares with artists working on Burning Man projects, biotech firms, a 3-D printing company and a rabbit supply store, the Tiny Farms space is filled with the incessant chirping of millions of crickets crawling over pallets that resemble broken apart egg cartons. Co-founder and CEO Daniel Imrie-Situnayake hopes to have his bugs on the market by the end of September. His long-term goal is to make crickets a realistic protein option by reducing their price — a pound of cricket flour now costs about $20, he said.

“If a pound of beef cost $20, no one would eat burgers anymore,” Imrie-Situnayake said. “So we really need to get the price even lower.”

For the more daring, Tiny Farms also deep fries whole crickets, legs, antennae and all, and serves them with lime, salt and chili powder. The end result is a greasy morsel with a light, airy crunch and the earthy flavor of a pumpkin seed.

“They’re a really good bar snack,” Imrie-Situnayake said, “good with chips and guac.”

 

Feeling Under The Weather? A Pork Chop May Perk You Up

porkchop

Tiring (already) of grass-fed beef, and GMO-free stuff of all sorts? Never fear! Chinese farmers are pursuing what they hope will become ‘the next great thing’ in food – cows, pigs and ducks fed a diet rich in ancient Chinese medicines.

A New York Times article yesterday (July 16) reported that, because there traditional Chinese medicines and health foods are seeing a surge in popularity in the world’s most populous nation, “farmers are adapting the age-old elixirs — a dash of ginseng here, a speck of licorice there — for use on livestock.”

The results they’re promising will be flesh that will be delicious and healthy – “lean, juicy meats that can protect against colds, arthritis and other illnesses.”

The science, rewarded recently with a Nobel Prize to a doctor for the specific scientific research procedures she used to extract a certain plant-based material and use it to create a chemical drug, is said in yesterday’s Times article to be “less resounding, though one study did find that cows that were fed Chinese medicines performed better in hot weather.”)

Several years ago, a farmer in the southern region of Guangxi “began mixing 22 kinds of herbs into the daily feed for his livestock.” The pigs that Mr. Lin now raises sell for $460, about $200 more than the typical price for conventional pigs, he said, and some customers even eat his meats instead of taking medicine.

“The pigs raised this way don’t get sick, they have good texture and they’re meaty,” he said.

Farmers like Mr. Lin hope that China’s increasingly health-conscious middle class will help bring medicinal meats into the mainstream. The health-food market in China reached $1 trillion last year, and it is expected to grow 20 percent annually for the next several years.

Mr. Lin said China was returning to something good from the past that had been neglected. “In the old days, we used traditional methods to feed the animals,” he said. “People’s longevity was very long.”

 

Olive, Alive Oh: A Tree’s Genome Has Been Sequenced in Spain

olive-tree

Credit: Manuel Sánchez (RJC-CSIC)

The more that is known about a plant, the better the chances are for modifying its behavior and improving its product – be it a fruit, a nut or, as an example, a kind of fruit called an olive.

Researchers in Spain recently sequenced the complete genome of a 1000-year-old olive tree, and it is widely expected their work will – in time, but hardly soon – enable improvements in genetics improvement for production of olives and olive oil, and possibly also lead to advancements in protecting olive trees from attacks from the bacteria Xilella fastidiosa and the fungi Verticillium dahlia – something not accomplished anywhere to date.

A report on this breakthrough, which was several years in the making, appeared in the July 4 issue of New Food magazine.

The reason it will be some years before many significant result from the sequencing concerns the fact that olive trees grow very slowly. Very very slowly. That may have something to do with why they can live to a ripe old age of 3000-4000 years!

“Without a doubt, [the sequenced tree] is emblematic, and it is very difficult to improve plant breeding, as you have to wait at least 12 years to see what morphological characteristics it will have, and whether it is advisable to cross-breed,” says Toni Gabaldón, ICREA research professor and head of the comparative genomics laboratory at the CRG.

(“ICREA, the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies, is a foundation supported by the Catalan government and guided by a board of trustees. An institution without walls, ICREA works hands in hand with Catalan universities and research centers to integrate ICREA research professions in the Catalan research system. The foundation offers permanent, tenured positions to researchers from all over the world interested in coming to work at Catalonia. Over the years, these positions have  become a synonym of global academic excellence,” the Foundation’s website says.

(The Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) “is an international biomedical research institute of excellence, created in December 2000. It is a non-profit foundation funded by the Catalan Government through the Departments of Economy & Knowledge and Health, the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, the ‘la Caixa’ Banking Foundation, and includes the participation of Pompeu Fabra University,” CRG’s website says.)

Pablo Vargas, who coordinated the three-year research effort to sequence the olive tree’s genome, says this about the research: “There are three phases to genome sequencing: first, isolate all of the genes, which we published two years ago. Second, assemble the genome, which is a matter of ordering those genes one after the other, like linking up loose phrases in a book. Last, identify all of the genes, or binding the book.”

Clearly not a simple, get-in-done-by-next-Tuesday project!

While the researchers didn’t say as much in the New Food article on their work, it would appear obvious that it won’t just be Spanish olive trees to benefit from their efforts. How, and how much, will come to light when it does – to scientists, researchers and olive-growing/processing specialists a decade or so from now.

Nuts (For) You!

 

peanuts_2

Tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds and pecans are hailed for their health-offering content. But guess what? Peanuts, which literally cost ‘peanuts’ compared to tree nuts, offer essentially the same health-promoting benefits, according to a study published recently online at JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association.

Daniel Pendick, former Executive Editor of Harvard Men’s Health Watch, took a look at that study – as you can, here – and reported that its findings should be good news for peanut lovers who’ve tended to avoid them, and perhaps some other nuts, because of their high fat content. The study, he said, “puts the humble peanut squarely in the same nutritional league as its upscale cousins.”

That means, in short, that the health benefits of nut-eating – including better heart health and a good chance you’ll live longer than if you don’t eat nuts – are as accessible to people with limited budgets as they are to folks whose tastes (and budgets) run to cashews, or walnuts, or almonds.

How can that be? In part, says Dr. Meir Stampfer, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, because “botanically, peanuts are not nuts, but nutritionally they are very similar to tree nuts, and other studies have shown their benefits” to be much the same as their higher-priced nut-named ‘cousins’.

The major difference between these two types of edibles, according to the cleverly-named website differencesbetween.net, in that “nuts grow on trees whereas peanuts grow underground. Nuts also are called tree nuts, and peanuts are legumes.”

The comparative description continues on that site: “According to botany, a nut is a shell-covered fruit of a plant or tree. The inner part in the hard shell is called kernel which is edible. The nut is hard, one-seeded or at the most may have two seeds would not split open to scatter its seeds when matured. On the other hand, the peanut pods have multiple seeds found in a single legume. It is easy to split open to scatter its seeds when matured. Nuts are ‘indehiscent’ – their ‘pod doesn’t split open when ripe – “whereas legumes are ‘dehiscent’.” The latter term means, “A bursting open or splitting along natural or sutured lines – the spontaneous opening at maturity of a plant structure, such as a fruit, anther, or sporangium, to release its contents,” as peanuts are prone to do, according to dictionary.com.

peanuts_1

So, while peanuts, as legumes, are more closely related to soybeans and lentils than to almonds and walnuts, like tree nuts, they can be eaten as a filling snack or as a protein-boosting ingredient in many salads and other dishes; An ounce a day of nuts — roughly a quarter cup or a small handful — is a generally healthy portion, Pendick reported.

Peanuts actually are considered ‘safer’ that tree nuts for people (such as me) whose diets are restricted because they suffer from CKD – Chronic Kidney Disease. As is the case for ‘ordinary’ eaters, though, the portion size should be limited.

And as for the fat issue, raw peanuts, which is seldom the consumption style of choice, contain close to 18 g of fat per a 36.5 g, .25 cup, serving. But look at what else they contain in the vitamins and minerals section of the (just cited) chart on the whfoods.com website! (Keep in mind that cooked peanuts – often boiled in oil of some kind or, among other production options, dry-roasted  – pick up extra fat during such processing.

Nevertheless, Dr. Stampfer says, “compared with other ‘health foods,’ nuts and peanuts have some pretty compelling evidence behind them. Even if you don’t like nuts, it would still be a good idea to eat a handful every day,” he declares.

The JAMA Internal Medicine study looked at nut and peanut consumption in two large groups of people spanning geographic, racial, ethnic, and income boundaries:

  • 72,000 Americans, ages 40 to 79, living in 12 Southern states. Most lived on low incomes and two-thirds were African American.
  • 135,000 men and women in Shanghai, China, ages 40 to 74.

The researchers used surveys to tally nut and peanut consumption. They followed the groups for several years and counted how many participants died and from what causes. In the U.S. Southern states group, those who regularly ate peanuts were 21% less likely to have died of any cause over a period of about five years. In the Chinese groups, who were followed for six to 12 years, the death rate in nut-eaters was 17% lower.

For all the groups, the researchers accounted for unhealthy influences like smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which were especially common in the Southern states group.

The diversity of the participants in this new study is important. Those in the earlier Harvard studies were mostly white health professionals who were more educated and earned higher incomes than most people in the Southern states group. And in studies that just observe large groups of people over time and what they eat, such as the Harvard studies, scientists can’t be certain whether any health improvements have more to do with the participants’ lifestyles or genes rather than what the food is doing. Seeing the same health benefit across diverse groups can be reassuring.