Amy Mayer

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also  previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth.  She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times,  Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.

Amy has a bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies from Wellesley College and a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Amy’s favorite public radio program is The World.

Careful Food Formulation Can Yield Trendy Label Claims

Jun 10, 2015
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Walk down a grocery store aisle today and you’re likely to find lots of food…and lots of marketing claims. Whether a product’s label says it’s low in fat, produced without hormones, or a good source of protein is largely governed by consumer demand and corporate profit.

Long before a new product gets onto a store shelf, a team has to work diligently in the lab to come up with a recipe formula that will earn it the label claims discerning customers want, while still netting the company a profit. Students at Iowa State University get a real-life glimpse of how that works in the Food Product Development class.

What It Takes To Get Processed Food From Lab To Market

Jun 9, 2015
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The packaged foods found in supermarkets, convenience stores and vending machines are full of ingredients you often can’t pronounce. They’ve been carefully developed and tested in a lab and likely have been shipped long distances. They can hold up to weeks or even months on the shelf. But most of them began with fresh food you might cook with at home.

File: Kathleen Masterson / Harvest Public Media

As the number of farms hit with avian flu grows over 100 nationwide, regulators are implementing containment plans meant to stop the virus’ spread, spare millions of at-risk birds and thousands of poultry farms.

Farms in many states, including Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, are struggling to contain an active outbreak.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

It’s planting time for Midwest farmers and much of the corn they grow will end up feeding livestock in China, which has become a huge importer of grain from the Corn Belt. That means the farmers can’t just select seeds based on which ones will get the best yield. They have to think about where their grain will be sold.

China has its own rules for the kind of crops it wants and when American farmers don’t comply, China can close off its market.

Poultry Industry Warily Watches Bird Flu Outbreak

Jan 27, 2015
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Since a highly contagious strain of bird flu was found in the U.S. in December, many countries have closed their doors to chickens and turkeys raised here.

The virus isn’t harmful to humans. So far, mostly wild birds and backyard flocks have been infected, though bird flu was recently detected in a Foster Farms turkey flock in California. Commercial poultry farmers are worried because they have the most to lose.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Demand for products that don’t contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, is exploding.  

Many food companies are seeking certification that their products don’t have any genetically modified ingredients, and not just the brands popular in the health food aisle. Even plain Cheerios, that iconic cereal from General Mills, no longer contains GMOs.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Department of Agriculture touches Americans from the field to the cafeteria, with a bevy of programs that include subsidies for farmers and for school lunches. It also has a role in supporting rural communities more generally, with things like broadband internet, telemedicine and microloans for entrepreneurs.

It’s a diverse mandate, but it fits with the man at the top: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who is now the longest-serving person in that position since Orville Freeman left the post in 1969.

Children Of Latino Immigrants Forge Paths In Agriculture

Nov 4, 2014
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

In a dimly-lit lab on the Des Moines, Iowa, public schools’ agricultural science campus, students in aprons, safety goggles and plastic gloves poke and probe chicken wings. About 15 girls and just one boy in this vet careers class are looking for ligaments, tendons, cartilage and other features of this animal part that teenagers more often experience cooked and covered in barbecue sauce.

A 17-year old senior, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail for the dissection, high-fives her lab partner when they identify the ligament and show it to their teacher. This young woman is a chapter officer in the Des Moines FFA group and recently got elected to a district-wide leadership position. She’s already earned a full scholarship to Iowa State University and aspires to be a large animal veterinarian with her own small cattle herd.

Her name is Melissa Garcia Rodriquez. Born and raised in Iowa, Garcia comes from a Mexican family.

Young Immigrants Search For Home On The Farm

Nov 3, 2014
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Bear Creek Dairy in Brooklyn, Iowa, is home to more than 1,100 cows, who provide about 100,000 pounds of milk each day. The 15-year-old farmer who works closely with the farm’s calves comes from a long line of dairymen – in Europe.

Technology, Infrastructure Cut Down On Farm Food Waste

Sep 23, 2014
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a wet, grey day in Grinnell, Iowa, the rain beats a rhythm on the metal roof of a packing shed at Grinnell Heritage Farm. Crew member Whitney Brewer picks big bunches of kale out of a washing tank, lets them drip on a drying table and then packs them into cardboard boxes.

Like most farms in the United States, this one uses ample labor, harvesting tools and technology, and readily available refrigeration to ensure that most of its produce makes it to market. Most food that can’t be sold is eaten by the crew or donated to area food banks that can distribute it to people who need it.

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