KAYTE YOUNG: Production support for Earth Eats comes from Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial and community projects. Sustainable, energy positive and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. Bill at GriffyCreek.studio.
And insurance agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive home, auto, business and life coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at Bill Resche Insurance.com
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From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.
SARA SKAMSER: I have a young fisherman coming to say "You might not remember me, I met you in the 80's." They go, "I've always wanted to be able to order one of your nets."
KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show we meet netmakers in the commercial fishing industry on the Oregon coast, we hear about a campus emergency summer meal project. Harvest Public Media has a story on large scale sustainable agriculture, and a piece about farmers and mental health. That's all just ahead, so stay with us.
Renee Reed has news. Hi Renee.
RENEE REED: Hi Kayte.
The families of three Tyson workers in Iowa who died after contradicting COVID-19 are suing the company. The lawsuit alleges that Tyson knowingly put employees at risk and lied to keep production lines rolling. The lawsuit outlines safety protocol shortcomingS and company managers assuring workers that facility was safe in order to "induce them to continue working despite the uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak at the plant, and health risks associated with working."
The company has denied any wrongdoing. Tyson reverted to its pre-pandemic absentee policy in early June despite thousands of workers testing positive for the virus. Workers were punished for staying home due to illness under those rules. To other workers unrelated to the lawsuits at the same plant in Waterloo have died after COVID-19 infection and 1000 of the plant's 2,800 workers have contracted the virus. In May family members of an employee at a Tyson plant in Amarillo Texas filed a wrongful death lawsuit after the worker contracted the coronavirus and died. ProPublica obtained documents from several meat processing facilities that revealed a pattern of chaos and delay. Emails between health officials and Tyson chicken plant in North Carolina revealed management was slow to confirm infections at its facility. The non-profit investigative news organization found that 25 out of 87 meat packing plant workers who died of coronavirus across the company worked for Tyson.
Business and trade groups across the country have lobbied hard for extra legal protection against lawsuits related to coronavirus. They argue that special measures are needed to prevent a wave of lawsuits. The White House and senate majority leader Mitch McConnell have echoed those messages. Iowa passed a new law shielding businesses and healthcare providers from virus related lawsuits, though it excludes cases that lead to hospitalization or death. A handful of other states including Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah have passed similar measures. Families of workers who died from coronavirus have filed lawsuits against Smithfield Foods, JBS USA, Amazon and Walmart.
Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that more than 17,000 meat and poultry processing facility workers in the U.S. have been infected with COVID-19 as of May 31st, including 91 deaths. Advocates have estimated the number of infected to be much higher with ProPublica reporting more than 24,000 cases linked to meat packing plants. The CDC data also shows that the overwhelming majority workers were people of racial and ethnic minorities. Out of the nearly 10,000 cases where race and ethnicity were reported, 87% were minorities, including 56% Hispanic, 19% black, and 12% Asian.
That report comes to us from Chad Bouchard. For Earth Eats News, I'm Renee Reed.
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KAYTE YOUNG: Climate change and the environmental damage caused by large scale agriculture have researchers looking for ways to increase productivity without furthering harm. Harvest Public Media's Amy Mayer looks at a network of research sites across the country combining their local data into a national understanding of what might need to change.
(Rusty hinges opening)
AMY MAYER: On a windy June day, microbiologist Tom Moorman lifts a metal lid and reveals a collection of bottles, tubes, meters and cables in a shallow pit on the edge of a farm field.
TOM MOORMAN: So, you see in those bottles, and they're labeled 17, 18, 19, 22...
AMY MAYER: Moorman works for the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Ames Iowa. He explains that each bottle collects water running off one specific quad. His research team grows corn and soybeans. About half of plots are business as usual - planted, fertilized, harvested and so forth the way a local farmer might do it. But the others are what Moorman and his colleagues call aspirational.
TOM MOORMAN: So, we have two basic ones that we're looking at here, rye cover crops which we've looked at for quite some time, but this particular treatment [inaudible] we're trying to grow winter camelina.
AMY MAYER: Camelina is an oil seed that can be planted in the fall and harvested in the summer even as soybeans are growing in the rows around it. Moorman's looking at whether the camelina helps reduce nutrient runoff. He measures that in the water collected in those plastic bottles. He's also hopeful camelina or some other option could ultimately offer traditional Midwest farmers a third cash crop in addition to corn and soybeans.
TOM MOORMAN: ...agricultural science in Midwest and (I) spend a lot of time thinking about another big third crop and haven't come up with it exactly yet.
AMY MAYER: Moorman's team looks at row crops and water quality with additional locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. They're one site in the Long Term Agroecosystem Research Network which has 18 sites across the country. The overarching goal is to figure out how agricultural can scale up to feed more people while also reducing negative environmental impacts, and that takes time. In Michigan the Kellogg Biological Station has been studying the impact of no-till farming for so long Nick Haddock says the results are conclusive. Not turning over the land before planting is beneficial when you do it year after year.
NICK HADDAD: If we had stopped at any point in that 30 years we wouldn't know the extent that a less intense cropping system has on yield.
AMY MAYER: Plus, Haddad said no-till leads to higher soil moisture and keeps more carbon in the ground. He says the results likely would hold true on 20-40% of upper Midwest cornfields. But the agricultural landscape looks different in Nebraska where there's more livestock and less water. The Platte-River / High Plains Aquifer site of the agroecosystem network has records on ground water, pesticide residue, productivity...
TALA AWADA: We have several long-term data sets. Several of them goes back to the 70's, a few goes back to the 40's.
AMY MAYER: Tala Awada of the University of Nebraska Lincoln is a co-leader of the site.
TALA AWADA: The groundwater fluctuation goes back to the early 1900's.
AMY MAYER: These data have helped land managers advise farmers for decades. Now using the same business as usual versus aspirational framework, the whole research network is exploring water quantity and quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental impacts across many agricultural landscapes. The coordinated effort aims to illustrate how the different regions are related.
TALA AWADA: We are all facing changes in the environment changes in climate, that one of us cannot capture.
AMY MAYER: USDA's Teferi Tesegaye is the national coordinator of the network. He says with a growing global population and no additional arable land, sustainably increasing production is a must.
TEFERI TESEGAYE: We have one Earth, physically. So, you have to increase the productivity with the same land that we have currently... you know, producing.
AMY MAYER: Researchers hope their work will demonstrate viable ways for farmers to do that. Amy Mayer, Harvest Public Media.
KAYTE YOUNG: Find more from this reporting collective from at HarvestPublicMedia.org
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Production support comes from: Bloomingfoods Coop Market, providing local residents with locally sourced food since 1976. Owned by over 12,000 residents in Monroe County and beyond. More at Bloomingfoods.Coop. Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent with personal financial services. Assisting businesses and individuals with tax preparation and planning for over 15 years. More at PersonalFinancialServices.net. And Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial and community projects. Sustainable, energy positive and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. Bill at GriffyCreek.studio.
Pacific seafood depends on skilled workers and not just the ones out of the boats. In workshops that dock the Oregon coast, industrial craftspeople make and modify the fishing gear behind our seafood meals. In part three of our series on the Oregon fishing industry, Josephine McRobbie and Joe O'Connell speak with these makers who are factoring sustainability into their gear designs.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Sarah makes and modifies commercial fishing nets in Newport Oregon.
SARA SKAMSER: Midwater net will say, start out with say a hundred-foot mesh, in the way it's tapered as a funnel is really the mesh size.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: She got her start on the small fishing boats.
SARA SKAMSER: I love the fishing, I love being at sea, I did crabbing. I did some trowel work, mostly with salmon fishing.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Net skills like sowing and splicing became one more thing to help Sarah land a gig.
SARA SKAMSER: In the late 70's / early 80's I was bucking to get on a boat - big money, big boat. And I was a welder, all these boats are steel, had good sea legs, had proven myself to be strong enough to handle everything. And you know a winning personality and you name it and I just needed this net skill to get on these boats where guys were making a lot of money and so that's why I was doing the nets.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: That big money / big boat dream, it hit a dead end.
SARA SKAMSER: So, I asked one of the owners if I could possibly get in, and these guys just absolutely turned like purple. And just... (the owners said) "Uh... no." They didn’t' take me seriously. I was just was left out of the picture because I'm a woman.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: So, Sarah channeled her energy into netmaking.
SARA SKAMSER: We've kind of cornered the shrimp net market, and so the bottom line to that is I invoice those people now.
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JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Networkers have a special skill set - maneuvering a needle loaded with twine has to become second nature.
SARA SKAMSER: You know, you can't just kind of get it. You have to really get it. You have to move like lighting.
When you're bringing 5-inch mesh to 8-inch mesh, you do a thing called debating where you're picking up two meshes into smaller mesh. And so you do one, skip one, do two, skip one, do one, skip one, do two, skip one. And I'm saying that in my head all the time.
(In the background, Sara repeating as like a mantra "Do one, skip one. Do one, skip one, do two, skip one...")
And so, you have to have your hands moving really fast to get this to pay.
And so, you have to have that sing songy rhythm going otherwise you... you're not gonna... you're a person that a netshop would not want.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Sara and her team have earned quite a reputation for their work.
SARA SKAMSER: I have young fisherman coming to say, "You might not remember me, I met you in the 80's." They go, "I've always wanted to be able to order one of your nets and my owner said I can order a net." It just lifts a person up to know that I have touched so many lives with these nets.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: About a half hour south on the coastal highway, Leonard Van Curler is also making fishing gear. Some of the tools he uses are similar to Sarah's.
LEONARD VAN CURLER: We've got a needle right in front of you, and that's what it's called, a needle.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: But what he's making is a totally different animal, made to catch a totally different animal. The dungeness crab, one of Oregon's most lucrative catches.
LEONARD VAN CURLER: This summer, it went up to $8 a pound for crab.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: To catch the dungeness, Leonard needed crab pots, and lots of them. He already had the welding skills he needed to make them himself.
LEONARD VAN CURLER: So, I started making crab pots in earnest. I started building a couple hundred a year.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: And he tinkered with the size, design, and materials as the years went on.
LEONARD VAN CURLER: I wanted to improve the crab pot. Everybody wants to make the best mouse trap, right?
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: In some ways, making a crab pot is simple.
LEONARD VAN CURLER: Well I told everybody rule number one is make sure they can get into it (laughs). Rule number two is keep them, but I mean make sure they can get into it.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: But other parts of the process, bending steel, wrapping it with rubber, knitting wire mesh - these things require a practiced hand.
LEONARD VAN CURLER: It took a while to learn to net, you know. You watch a guy for one minute you know what the initial process is, you know, you learn how to roll hand when you're knitting. And then after doing it for 40 years you learn how to make it look good.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Crab pot design, it's both form and function.
LEONARD VAN CURLER: That's the neat thing about this fishery, it's totally sustainable because of the escape ring we put in the pots. Anything smaller than a 4 or 6.25 inch crab doesn't stay in the pot. They're made so that the crab can go in there, walk through the triggers, then the triggers close back down, and he can't walk back out again. Unless he's small enough to get through the escape rings. The escape rings will let him walk right out again if he's small enough.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Design also matters to Sara Skamser.
SARA SKAMSER: I redesigned the ye old traditional shrimp net, that's just using, we use knotless netting from Japan that goes through the water easier.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: At the back of Sara's shrimp nets is another innovation that she helped perfect.
SARA SKAMSER: And it basically is a barbeque grill, it looks just like a barbeque grill made out of aluminum at the back of the net at an angle. So, it's 3/4 inch between the bars of the barbeque grill, a big hole at the top.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: All the fish you could accidentally catch with a shrimp net, this excluder helps keep them out.
SARA SKAMSER: The shrimp are small - oregon pink shrimp, and so they go through the grid, and the fish just go swimming right out. And so, there's no... virtually no by-catch.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: As it co-evolves with regulations, new gear like these excluders is making a difference in the local habitat.
SARA SKAMSER: We found solutions for bycatch reduction and it's very exciting. The shrimp fishery is deemed an NSCE certified sustainable first pink shrimp fishery in the world that's going on right now.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: She gets a kick out of opening lines to more sustainable gear.
SARA SKAMSER: We built a halibut excluder for cod in Alaska, and we built 17 of them, it was brand new. And a fisherman came in, he's been fishing cod for 35 years. He was really not liking it. He's like, "There's just holes everywhere."
I said, "No, there's slots. The cod will stay in."
And so he goes up there and so he said, "Put it on my cod trowel."
And they were fishing clean. And then he saw. And so, he saw it right away that that did make a difference. And then he got on the radio and he goes, "Hey, you guys got a halibut excluder over there? I got two, you're gonna need one man. This shit works good."
And so, he took ownership of it, and the fleet took ownership of it, and the fisherman take ownership of it, and then they start competing to fish clean, and that's the secret.
KAYTE YOUNG: That story comes to us from producer Josephine McRobbie and public folklorist Joe O'Connell. O'Connell conducted the original research in August 2019 for the Oregon Folklife Network with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.
When schools closed and businesses began to shut down due to COVID-19, organizations and individuals stepped up to help people who may have suddenly lost income or otherwise needed assistance. On the campus of Indiana University, the IU food institute suspected that there were people in the IU community who might need help with meals.
CARL IPSEN: We were thinking about students who had supported themselves with jobs maybe in the service industry, and everything was closed. All the restaurants were closed. And you know what kind of situation were they facing.
KAYTE YOUNG: The director of the IU Food Institute saw an opportunity to help.
CARL IPSEN: Carl Ipsen, I'm a professor of history at IU Bloomington and the director of the IU Food Institute.
KAYTE YOUNG: So, he started a conversation with the Executive Director of IU Dining.
RAHUL SHRIVASTAV: My name is Raul Shrivastav.
CARL IPSEN: In the conversation it emerged, the IU dining staff was still employed but obviously feeding many fewer people because the dining halls were for the most part closed. Well we have the cooks, but we don't have the ingredients - we don't have the foods for them to cook, so we need to find a way to get that.
KAYTE YOUNG: So, Carl appealed to a list of people associated with the IU Food Institute and sent out a call for donations.
CARL IPSEN: Using the Food Institute and the context we have there, and sort of with the foundation, doing some fundraising among alumni, and...
KAYTE YOUNG: They quickly raised the funding they needed to get started and spread the word about the emergency meal project.
RAHUL SHRIVASTAV: I think it was four days that we pulled this off. We talked about it on Thursday, by Monday morning we were serving our first meals. David and Ashley were key in this area, they started developing menus based off locally provided foods from the IU farm and local ingredient providers that we have. Among the chefs led by Ashley Massie and David Tallent we had a good systems team that took this all on, prepared a form that students could order these meals from, put in their preferences and allergies. Ashley Massie she had the whole form laid out, how it transfers to a spreadsheet, whose on the delivery piece of it, who's coming and picking it up - as you saw a couple of cars just drove by here picking it up. She had all that organized.
KAYTE YOUNG: They set up a system. An online ordering process, a time and a place for meal pickups, and a delivery process for those who can't make it to the pickup spot.
RAHUL SHRIVASTAV: And through the Food Institute intern and the campus kitchen intern, we have been able to deliver meals to people who are for whatever reason, whether they were quarantined, or didn't have transportation, or maybe even were sick, couldn't make here. So, we've been doing deliveries everyday as well.
KAYTE YOUNG: And it worked out. By the 12th week in early July they had provided more than 3,5000 meals and they had their biggest day that week, 101 meals in one day. Of course, I wanted to know about the meals themselves. What kind of food were they serving?
RAHUL SHRIVASTAV: Today there was a vegan pasta with a great vegetable sauce and sautéed snap peas which are in season right now. There is a full meal, it's highly nutritious. There's salad, there's an entree, and very well portioned. It can be stretched out of lunch to a snack or even dinner at times. The food's been amazing actually and yesterday, just yesterday there was stir fried rice. I'm vegan so I'm gonna give you the vegan descriptions so... it was stir fried rice with a lot of vegetables in it, and it was absolutely delicious. And I know the non-vegans got pot stickers, which was made from scratch over here so... the chefs are getting... it's also very good for our staff, you know? They're getting... you know during this break, when you're cooking you need some momentum, okay, you know, you keep going with it. And right now, they're cooking and innovating more and more and so it has been a lot of... it has been a lot of fun with them, with the meals.
KAYTE YOUNG: The emergency meal project will close down at the end of July, as IU dining prepares for the return of students to campus. Carl and Rahul are brainstorming and working with the administration on more stable and sustainable ways to address food insecurity on campus. Check our website for more information about the emergency meal project - EarthEarts.org.
Studies have found higher rates of mental illness and suicide for farmers. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has farmers facing unprecedented challenges. As Natalie Krebs reports for Harvest Public Media, this has some worried about a mental health crisis in the farming community.
NATALIE KREBS: Bill Tentinger has been a hog farmer for 50 years. He's been through droughts, market crashes, and even other viral outbreaks, but he says this pandemic is unlike any of those.
BILL TENTINGER: So, we've experienced everything and I gotta tell you I have never seen anything like this, in all the years that I've operated.
NATALIE KREBS: Tentinger operates a farm in the northwest Iowa town of Le Mars and he's on the National Pork Board. He says since pork processing have slowed due to the COVID-19 outbreaks in the workforce, he's been struggling with what to do with 2,5000 excess pigs with no end in sight.
BILL TENTINGER: You know if we don't get more of a move, the next group of pigs moves up and that number is gonna start increasing.
NATALIE KREBS: Tentinger says cramming them into pens isn't good for their health, and not being able to sell them is taking a heavy toll on his farm.
BILL TENTINGER: Basically, I'm using up my retirement plan to... you know to continue to operate.
NATALIE KREBS: Many farmers like Tentinger are under an extreme amount of stress from the pandemic. David Brown is a behavioral health specialist with Iowa State University Extension. He says he's anticipating seeing more farmers struggle.
DAVID BROWN: They see more concerns related to alcohol abuse, concerns related to depression, some forms of trauma if they are euthanizing livestock, things like that. We're also concerned about a potential spike in suicides.
NATALIE KREBS: As restaurants closed and crop prices plummeted, groups such as the Farm Bureau and Iowa Pork Industry Center have been sending out resources to farmers on managing their mental health and stress. Senator Chuck Grassley said last month he's planning to ask the federal government for additional mental health resources for farmers. But the financial toll has already been devastating. Family farms filing for bankruptcy jumped 23% in March, a sharp increase from the past 12 months. Mental health advocates say this financial stress can quickly trickle down. Tammy Jacobs is the coordinator of the Iowa Concerned Hotline, which helps farmers with financial, legal, and mental health concerns.
TAMMY JACOBS: And those financial concerns will always lead to you know, relationship issues, issues within the family, concerns about how they're gonna continue to be able to keep on farming.
NATALIE KREBS: Jacobs says Iowa Concern is creating a new state funded program to help farmers deal with the effects of COVID-19. She says one part of the new program will try to steer farmers who call in for financial health to counseling. But the COVID-19 related stress for farmers isn't all financial. Some farmers maybe facing traumatic experiences from having to do things like euthanize healthy animals.
TED MATTHEWS: They're going to be reflecting back on all of the things they're going through and some of them definitely going to have PTSD.
NATALIE KREBS: That's Ted Matthews, he's the director of Minnesota Rural Mental Health. Matthews has worked with farmers for decades and he says it can be hard for them to seek help. That's because so many feel their outcome and even their identity is tied to working hard.
TED MATHEWS: I found that in working with farmers, you have to look at them differently than other occupations because to them it's not an occupation, it's a way of life.
NATALIE KREBS: But Matthews says that many farmers need to learn to cope with the things they don't have control over. Kevin Dietzel says it took him a while to seek help for his depression, which started when he opened his dairy farm in Jewell Iowa a few years ago. He says he struggled working long hours, all alone, while making no profit.
KEVIN DIETZEL: That's when depression started to really kick in, in a really hard way. And then I started to have days where I just I almost couldn't get up and function.
NATALIE KREBS: Dietzel says he understand why farmers might not seek help, even now.
KEVIN DIETZEL: I think there are... within this sort of male dominated macho farming community, I think there's still a lot of people would not admit to you know having a problem or wouldn't want to deal with it in that way.
NATALIE KREBS: Dietzel says he continues to get help today. He says it’s one of the ways he's able to cope with the pandemic now. For Harvest Public Media I'm Natalie Krebs.
KAYTE YOUNG: Please know that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support for people in distress. You can call toll free anytime for you or your loved ones. 800-273-TALK, that's 800-273-8255.
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That's it for our show, thanks for listening.
RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Chad Bouchard, Mark Chilla, Abraham Hill, Taylor Killough, Josephine McRobbie, Daniel Orr, The IU Food Institute, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.
KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Joe O'Connell, Rahul Shrivastav, and Carl Ipsen.
Production Support comes from: Insurance agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive home, auto, business and life coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at BillRescheInsurance.com Bloomingfoods Coop Market, providing local residents with locally sourced food since 1976. Owned by over 12,000 residents in Monroe County and beyond. More at Bloomingfoods.Coop. And Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent, providing customized financial services for individuals, businesses, and disabled adults including tax planning, bill paying, and estate services. More at Personal Financial Services.net.