Nebraska

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Schools across the U.S. served more than 5 billion meals in the national school lunch program to millions of students last year. Each one of the meals has to meet federal rules for nutrition.

Now, those rules are up for debate and Congress could impose changes on the cafeteria.

School lunch was transformed by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. The law, passed in 2010, forces schools to switch to whole grains, cut calories, limit fat and sugar, start reducing sodium, and serve more fruits and vegetables.

More than a year after Nebraska and Oklahoma sought to sue Colorado over the carry-over effects of that state's law making recreational marijuana legal, the U.S. Supreme Court has denied the two states' complaint.

The court did not explain its decision, with which Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas disagreed. Thomas wrote a five-page dissent in which Alito joined (a reminder: the court is currently at eight members).

Pat Aylward / NET News File Photo

Every year Americans spend billions of dollars to grow, process and transport food that’s never eaten.

ReFED, a group of nonprofits and foundations, say they have a roadmap to keep that from happening. Their plan focuses on preventing food from ending up in the trash in the first place, and diverting it to a more beneficial use when it does get tossed out.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The middle of winter is when the stream of locally grown fruits and vegetables in the Midwest begins to freeze up.

Nicole Saville knows first-hand. Saville is the produce manager at Open Harvest, a grocery coop in Lincoln, Neb. The store promotes food grown by local farmers, but this time of year there just isn’t much available.

“We can get kale and some culinary herbs this time of year,” Saville said. “Otherwise the only other local option is a soil mix in our garden center.”

That means the bunches of carrots, bags of onions, and piles of pears on shelves from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Ames, Iowa, to Columbia, Missouri, made a long trip to get there.

Can Cover Crops Help Farmers Cut Back On Fertilizer?

Jan 18, 2016
Brian Seifferlein/Harvest Public Media) / Harvest Public Media

By some estimates, producing our food consumes about a fifth of the nation’s energy supply. It takes a lot of diesel to move tractors and semis around the farm, and electricity to pump water and dry grain. But some farmers are trying to cut back on the coal and gas they use and make our food system more energy efficient.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Wheat is one of the world’s staple foods and a big crop on the Great Plains, but it has been left in the dust. A corn farmer can grow 44 percent more bushels per acre than 30 years ago, but only 16 percent more wheat. That’s led many farmers to make a switch.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Earlier this year, Des Moines, Iowa, made news when the city announced it would sue farmers in a legal battle over fertilizer. The city’s water supply from the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers often surpasses the legal limit for nitrates (10 mg/L), which commonly appear in water contaminated by runoff from farm fields.

Too many nitrates are a health hazard, particularly for infants whose blood can lose its ability to absorb oxygen. So nitrates must be reduced or removed, but cleaning nitrates from the city’s water is a huge expense. When nitrate levels rise above the safe drinking water limit, Des Moines fires up a filtering system that costs thousands of dollars to operate each day.

Colorado's Wet Spring Brought Downriver Changes For The Platte

Oct 14, 2015
Peter Stegen / Platte Basin Timelapse

Wet spring and summer rains soaked much of the High Plains in 2015. The Platte River, which runs through Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska before emptying into the Missouri River, saw historic flooding.

"We were, at the beginning of this year, looking at a really large project this fall as far as clearing bars in the river," said Andrew Pierson, the conservation director at Audubon's Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon, Nebraska. "The high flow that we had, both volume and duration of flows, did 80 percent of that work for us."

Like other conservation groups on the central Platte, Audubon routinely clears vegetation from the river channel to improve habitat for cranes and other species. All the water though scoured tons of vegetation from the river channel. Now, the newly-created swath of flat, bare sandbars and braided river channels will make an ideal wildlife habitat.

Brian Seifferlein / Harvest Public Media

Americans have a big appetite for everything meat. We smoke it, grill it, slice it, and chop it.

The typical American puts away around 200 pounds [.pdf] of beef, pork, and poultry every year . That's true in many of the wealthiest countries. But developing countries are showing a growing appetite for meat.

"Globally there have been very strong increases in livestock product demand," said Thomas Hertel, an agricultural economist at Purdue University. "Most of those increases have been in the poorest countries and the (most) populous countries of the world. China and India for example."

Satisfying that demand sets up one of the biggest challenges for agriculture over the next few decades.

Farm Income Falling, Putting The Rural Economy On Edge

Sep 14, 2015
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Farmers in the Midwest are facing a situation they haven’t seen in years. Grain prices are down. After some of the most lucrative growing seasons they’ve ever seen, some producers could lose money on this year’s crop. That could slow down the rural economy.

According to forecasts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this corn crop is worth about $7.1 billion less than last year. Receipts for soybeans will also be down $3.4 billion. The agency is predicting the largest single-year drop in farm income since 1983.

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