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agriculture

Wilcox Farms, where a man was buried under tons of corn on Monday when a silo gave way, was cited for six violations last summer that could have put workers in serious danger, according to inspection reports.

One out of every five cranberries grown in the U.S. is eaten Thanksgiving week, according to industry giant Ocean Spray.

A set of lawsuits winding its way through federal court in Idaho combine a couple phrases you might not expect to find together: "massive international cartel" and "potato."

Early crop reports from farmers say Washington and Oregon’s wine grape harvest appears to be up a tick for 2013.

Many organic farmers are hopping mad at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and their reason involves perhaps the most underappreciated part of agriculture: plant food, aka fertilizer. Specifically, the FDA, as part of its overhaul of food safety regulations, wants to limit the use of animal manure.

"We think of it as the best thing in the world," says organic farmer Jim Crawford, "and they think of it as toxic and nasty and disgusting."

This is part one of a two-part report about sexual assault of agricultural workers in the U.S.

Even though it's a warm day in California's Salinas Valley, Maricruz Ladino looks like she's going ice fishing.

"I look like a tamale — so many layers!" she says in Spanish.

A malodorous invasive bug has gone from a worry to a certifiable nuisance for some Northwest farmers and gardeners. The name of this insect is a mouthful: the brown marmorated stink bug.

Child Labor And The Dark Side Of Chocolate

Oct 31, 2013
Habermann 1 / Flickr

This Halloween millions of children across the US will hit the streets looking to score some treats and maybe, if they’re ambitious, give their neighbors a fright. But perhaps more frightening is the story behind many of candy they collect.

Agribusiness and the food industry have pumped a record $17 million into Washington state so far to defeat Initiative 522.

Courtney Flatt / Earthfix

HOOD RIVER, Ore. — For 20 years, Victor Gonzales has traveled the West picking crops. In the Northwest that means pears, cherries and apples.

Right now, he’s working at a Hood River pear orchard. In the summer, temperatures here can reach 100 degrees. Gonzalez remembers one day when he’d been working really hard, sweating more than normal.

Gonzales felt like he was going to pass out. He was shaky and very sleepy, he says through a translator. Instead of sleeping, he went to the farmworker housing unit and drank a lot of water and rested until he recovered.

The Future Of Food With Vandana Shiva

Sep 19, 2013
Flickr Photo/Elevate Festival

What is the future of food? How can it sustain us? Vandana Shiva is an environmental and anti-globalization activist. Throughout her career, she’s fought for changes in agriculture practices, among other causes. Her latest book is called “Making Peace with the Earth.” She spoke at Town Hall on September 12, 2013, in a talk sponsored by YES! Magazine.

KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

More than a week has passed since more than 200 berry pickers walked off the job at a major farm near Burlington, marking the third strike at Sakuma Brothers Farms since July.

Tests of alfalfa seed from a field in eastern Washington have come back positive for genetically engineered genes called Round-Up-Ready.

Monsanto logo

The Monsanto Co. has jumped into Washington state politics in a big way.

With a check for nearly $4.6 million, the St. Louis-based Fortune 500 company has more than doubled the money raised by opponents of Initiative 522, which would require labeling genetically modified foods.

The No on 522 campaign has now raised about $7.9 million, giving it a $3.5 million advantage over backers of the measure to label GMO foods.

Flats of blueberries from Sakuma Brothers Farms are seen at Ballard Market in Seattle in 2013.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

Disgruntled berry pickers at a major farm in Skagit Valley have brought their fight to grocery stores in Seattle, Mount Vernon and Bellingham. On Tuesday, about a dozen farm workers and advocates waved handmade signs outside of the upscale Ballard Market in Seattle, calling for a boycott.

“Don’t buy Sakuma berries,” shouted Anna Lopez, who’s picked berries at Sakuma Brothers Farms for about 10 years. Just inside the store, the produce section features deals on fresh-picked Sakuma blueberries and strawberries.

Wine grapes throughout the Northwest are ripening faster this year because of the hot dry summer. Vineyard managers and winemakers are preparing for a breakneck harvest over the next few weeks -- if it stays warm.

This year Eastern Washington had record-setting heat in July, while Oregon had consistently warm weather. Growers throughout the Northwest are hoping for cooler temperatures so the grapes don’t race to ripeness.

The prediction is for more wine, deeper colors and higher alcohol levels.

KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Correction 8/22/13: A previous version of this story contained errors. It overstated the contributions received by the Yes on 522 campaign and the share of donations received from Washington state. The Yes campaign has amassed $3.5 (not 3.9) million, with 79 (not 71) percent of the funds coming from out of state. The nonprofit MapLight, based in Berkeley, Calif., informed us on Aug. 21 that it had double-counted some contributions, which led to the errors.

From Sakuma Market Stands' Facebook page.

For the second time in 10 days, workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms have gone on strike. More than 200 berry pickers have walked off the job at the farm near Burlington, saying they want the farm to pay more for each box of blueberries and strawberries they harvest.

Flickr Photo/Jonny Boy

WASHINGTON (AP) — World markets are responding to this week’s discovery of genetically engineered wheat on an Oregon farm. Japan has suspended some imports of US wheat, while the European Union and South Korea will increase inspections of wheat imported from the US.

A sexual harassment lawsuit against an Eastern Washington farm came under scrutiny this week during a congressional hearing. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently lost this expensive, high-profile case and some Congress members are now asking, “Was it worth it?” 

Flickr Photo/Au Zut

In her green minivan, Angelica Villa navigates the farm roads north of Bellingham like a seasoned tour guide. She points out a cannery, a potato plant and miles of berry fields.  Villa previously worked at many of these places and she rattles off story after story about harassment on the job.

For about seven years, many Western beekeepers have been plagued by unexplained die-offs in their hives. It happened recently to Mark Emrich.

"I was doing great until about five weeks ago," he says. "Then I came down and opened up the hives and I had five dead boxes of bees. That was a huge hit."

He lost one third of his production on his small farm near Olympia.

Northwest Asparagus Comes A Tad Early

Apr 5, 2013

PASCO, Wash. – Northwest farmers are beginning to harvest the first asparagus of the year this week in southeast Washington. That’s a tad earlier than usual. And after last year's farm-labor shortage, growers across the region are keeping an eye on how many asparagus workers show up for the harvest.

At the Middleton farm stand near Pasco, Washington asparagus – both purple and green – is selling by the pound to passersby. Bins of fresh asparagus are brought here right off the fields. Workers come and go. At the helm is Laura Middleton.

Michelle Rhee: A "Radical" On Education Reform

Feb 19, 2013
Michelle Rhee
Flickr photo/The National Academy Of Sciences

Michelle Rhee says our education system is failing. The founder and CEO of StudentsFirst and former chancellor of Washington, DC, public schools says she would rigorously evaluate teachers, end tenure and boost pay for high-performing teachers while firing the least effective. Her critics say her reliance on test scores and support for school vouchers would destroy the public education system. Michelle Rhee joins us for a conversation about students, standardized tests, teachers unions, charter schools and her new book, "Radical: Fighting to Put Students First."

Shannon Dininny, File / AP Photo

This week, something new is sprouting in the Northwest’s fields and fruit orchards: optimism about immigration reform.

RICHLAND, Wash. – Many Northwest growers are left out of the partial extension of the U.S. Farm Bill included in this week’s fiscal cliff legislation. The new law largely covers conventional agriculture and not the organics, specialty crops and conservation programs that our region’s farmers are known for.

Northwest wheat growers are hoping for a swift resolution to a labor dispute that could keep their grain from reaching the world market. Grain terminals remain open in Portland, Vancouver and Seattle, even though the terminals' owners have implemented a contract offer unionized longshoremen rejected.

Most of the wheat that grows on the rolling hills of eastern Washington is bound for the international market. But to get there, the wheat passes through one of a handful of grain terminals in the Northwest.

 


A possible strike or lock out at Northwest grain terminals would have a profound effect on U.S. wheat exports. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a long history of discriminating against farmers who are women, Hispanic, Native American and African American. Numerous lawsuits have cost the government several billion dollars. The latest legal settlement is for women and Hispanic farmers who can prove they were discriminated against in the 1980s and ‘90s. But some of these farmers say the deal to make amends for discrimination is itself discriminatory.

Groves of olive trees might bring to mind for you sun-soaked Mediterranean or Californian landscapes. But in the last 10 years, a few Northwest growers have significantly ramped-up their production of domestic olive oil. They harvest just in time for the holidays.

The Durant family started in the wine grape business in Yamhill County, Oregon. The family diversified into olive growing about seven years ago.

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