Abbie Fentress Swanson

Abbie Fentress Swanson joined Harvest Public Media in 2012 and is based at KBIA Radio in Columbia, Missouri. Before that, she covered arts and culture for WNYC Radio in New York. There she was part of a team that won an Online News Association award in 2012 and an Associated Press award in 2010 for outstanding digital news coverage. In 2011, she won the Garden State Journalists Association "Best Radio Feature" award for "Music Therapy Helps Vets Control Symptoms of PTSD." Reporting fellowships prior to WNYC took her to Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, India, Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium. Abbie's travels led to multimedia stories on a wide range of subjects -- from the World Cup in South Africa, to the gay rights movement in India, to San Francisco's immigration court. She's filed stories for The New York Times, The Patriot Ledger, KALW Public Radio, The World, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Abbie holds a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in Italian studies from the College of William & Mary. Check her out on twitter @dearabbie.

Harvest Public Media
7:45 am
Tue March 11, 2014

Padlock The Milk! FDA’s Push To Safeguard The Food Supply

Milk that Central Dairy delivers is kept behind doors secured with three-inch long padlocks.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

Many of the food terrorism scenarios outlined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration involve liquid.

And there’s good reason for that.

Liquids like orange juice and milk go through many processing steps -- farm, bottling plant, delivery – before reaching the consumers who drink them. And these liquids are moved, manufactured and stored in huge batches that get distributed and consumed quickly. Should a toxin be injected somewhere along the supply chain, experts believe it could have devastating human health and economic consequences.

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Business
4:27 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

Even As Dairy Industry Booms, There Are Fewer And Fewer Farms

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 6:55 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

On Friday, President Obama is scheduled to sign a new farm bill into law. It contains a provision that allows all dairy farms to be part of a safety net. The point is to offset risk when milk prices are too low or feed costs too high. But Abbie Fentress Swanson reports that even in good times, smaller dairy farms in traditional milk producing states are now giving up.

(SOUNDBITE OF COWS)

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Harvest Public Media
7:52 am
Mon January 27, 2014

More Than One In Seven Americans Receive Food Stamp Benefits

Fifteen percent of Americans received federal food stamp benefits in the 2013 fiscal year, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report. That includes about 936,000 people in Missouri and 316,000 in Kansas. The program is the most controversial issue for negotiators working on a new farm bill.

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Harvest Public Media
9:19 am
Mon December 16, 2013

FDA Inspects Just 2 Percent Of Imported Food Shipments

According to a recent Food and Drug Administration report, FDA regulators inspected less than two percent of the food shipments that were imported to the U.S. in the 2012 fiscal year.

FDA inspectors are responsible for all domestic and imported food except meat, poultry and eggs, which fall under U.S. Department of Agriculture purview.

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Code Switch
2:33 pm
Tue December 10, 2013

In A Small Missouri Town, Immigrants Turn To Schools For Help

Abbie Fentress Swanson Harvest Public Media

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 11:30 am

This story comes to us from Harvest Public Media, a public radio reporting project that focuses on agriculture and food production issues. You can see more photos and hear more audio from the series here. Wednesday, we'll have a story from a meatpacking plant in Garden City, Kan., which takes a proactive stance toward its newest immigrants.

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Harvest Public Media
7:43 am
Mon November 25, 2013

Some Grocery Store Meat Will Now Be Labeled With Country Of Origin

The pork cooler at a Hyvee grocery store in Columbia, Mo., is full of meat. New rules that just went into full effect force meatpackers to detail where much of this meat was born, raised and slaughtered.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

A new labeling rule that went into full effect Saturday requires meatpackers and retailers to provide consumers with more information about where their meat comes from.

The country-of-origin labeling mandate (COOL) forces retailers and meatpackers to detail where the livestock from which meat came was born, raised and slaughtered. It applies to certain cuts of beef, veal, chicken, pork, lamb and goat sold in the supermarket. Processed, deli and ground meats are exempt from the new rules.

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Harvest Public Media
8:37 am
Wed October 30, 2013

Children Of Meatpackers Dream Big, Cultivate Opportunity

Binh Hua (left) and My Nguyen, both 18, work in the Garden City Community College chemistry lab. The two best friends graduated from high school in three years and after community college, plan to go on to universities.
Peggy Lowe Harvest Public Media

Not yet 9 a.m. on a warm fall day, freshmen Binh Hua and My Nguyen are in protective goggles, long hair pulled back, ready for their chemistry class in a Garden City Community College lab.

The teacher calls the class to order, calling the students “Busters,” short for “Broncbusters,” the college’s mascot and a reminder of this old West town’s history of raising cattle.

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Harvest Public Media
8:56 am
Mon October 28, 2013

Schools Become The Safety-Net For Immigrants In Rural Missouri

At the primary school in rural Noel, Mo., teachers and staff function as educators about as often as they do de facto social workers.
Abbie Fentress Swanson Harvest Public Media

It’s almost 9 a.m., and Noel Primary School teacher Erin McPherson is helping a group of Spanish-speaking students complete English language exercises. But it’s tough going.

One student in a bright blue T-shirt – 9-year-old Isac Martinez – has not yet picked up his pencil. He’s clearly sick. When McPherson asks him what’s wrong, Isac’s small voice is barely audible in between coughs. He says he threw up four times last night but did not go to a doctor.

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Agriculture
8:20 am
Wed October 16, 2013

Govt. Shutdown Halts Farm Chemical Inspections

Millions of dollars worth of chemicals used to make pesticides are being held at U.S. ports because the EPA personnel that normally inspect the shipments are furloughed during the government shutdown.
Credit Rennett Stowe / Flickr--CC

American farmers count on a steady supply of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides to keep pests from destroying their crops,  but the government shutdown is creating a backlog of chemicals needed to produce the vital tools.

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Harvest Public Media
1:43 pm
Wed October 2, 2013

Government Shutdown Crimps Some Food Inspections

Credit rick / Flickr--CC

Consumers can rest assured that even with the government shutdown that went into effect on Tuesday, all of the meat, poultry and eggs bought from the grocery store will be inspected as usual by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But that’s not necessarily the case for other foods -- like cheese, produce and boxes of cereal. Inspections for these products fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration, which had to furlough 45 percent of its staff on Tuesday.

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Harvest Public Media
9:11 am
Thu September 5, 2013

New Fruit Fly Damaging Midwest Crops

A spotted wing drosophila rests on a raspberry.
courtesy of Timothy Baker

Shoppers hoping to buy berries, peaches and grapes at farmers markets in Missouri may be looking a little bit harder this summer due to a newly arrived pest that is damaging crops across the state.

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Harvest Public Media
7:59 am
Tue September 3, 2013

Scientists Detect High Levels Of Nitrogen In Midwest Waterways

Joe Schatz, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, prepares to take a sample of Missouri River water near Hermann, Mo.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

This spring and summer, U.S. Geological Survey scientists waded into 100 Midwest streams to test for hundreds of chemicals used in farming, including nutrients, pesticides like atrazine and glyphosate, and livestock hormones. The results from the study are trickling in. But preliminary findings indicate that from May through early July, 21 percent of the region’s streams contained very high levels of nitrogen in the form of nitrates.

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Harvest Public Media
7:39 am
Mon August 5, 2013

International Demand, Competition Spurs Soybean Innovation

University of Missouri plant scientist Melissa Mitchum inspects a plant for soybean cyst nematode in her greenhouse.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts the nation’s farmers will deliver a record 3.42 billion bushels of soybeans this year. The USDA is also forecasting that this year for the first time Brazil will overtake the United States as the world’s leading producer of soybeans. That means the pressure is on American soybean farmers like Brian Flatt, 41, to eke out even more soybeans from his fields.

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Harvest Public Media
7:44 am
Wed July 10, 2013

After A City Life, Retiring To The Farm

Tom Thomas retired two years ago after teaching exercise physiology for 35 years. At 65, Thomas lives on a 300-acre farm in central Missouri.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

It’s not just lifelong farmers who feel the pull of the land as they get older. For some Americans, retirement is an opportunity to begin the farming dream.

“I wanted to be able to be active and have a pastime that ensured physical activity,” said beginning farmer Tom Thomas, who at 65 still has the physical fitness to wrestle and brand steers at his son’s ranch in Oklahoma.

Thomas retired two years ago after teaching exercise physiology for 35 years and he knew what he wanted to do next.

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The Salt
4:53 pm
Fri July 5, 2013

What Is Farm Runoff Doing To The Water? Scientists Wade In

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey sample water in Goodwater Creek, Mo., for pesticides and other chemicals that may have run off from the surrounding land.
Abbie Fentress Swanson Harvest Public Media

Originally published on Tue July 9, 2013 11:37 am

America's hugely productive food system is one of its success stories. The nation will export a projected $139.5 billion in agricultural products this fiscal year alone. It's an industry that supports "more than 1 million jobs," according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

But all that productivity has taken a toll on the environment, especially rivers and lakes: Agriculture is the nation's leading cause of impaired water quality, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Wed June 12, 2013

My Farm Roots: In Hip Brooklyn, Connecting With A Farm Past

On the Brooklyn rooftop garden she helps maintain, Missouri native Monica Johnson says she's not afraid to show her farm roots.
Abbie Fentress Swanson Harvest Public Media

Monica Johnson, 36, watered edible yellow kale flowers on a recent sunny morning at a rooftop garden in Greenpoint in Brooklyn, N.Y. Standing in front of the Manhattan skyline in her sleeveless top, shades and blond ponytail pulled back in a trucker cap, she looked part-farm girl and part-hipster.

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Agriculture
7:35 am
Mon June 3, 2013

Smithsonian To Feature Farms And Farmers In New Exhibit

Smithsonian curator Peter Liebhold shows off some of the artifacts he's been collecting from farms all over rural America for the museum's upcoming 'American Enterprise' exhibition.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

Crops and cattle, soil and sweat. American agriculture has a proud history to share, a story to tell. But getting the attention of a tech-savvy nation that has mostly moved away from its farm roots has been difficult. Today, though, there is a glimmer of hope for farm fans. The plow, truth be told, looks a little lonely.

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Harvest Public Media
10:28 am
Mon May 27, 2013

Amended USDA Rule Will Require More Info On Meat Labels

The USDA’s amended COOL rule will require packers and retailers to include more information on labels on beef, pork, lamb, chicken and goat meat, specifically where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

Currently, labels only require companies to include where the animal was born.

Companies are also now barred from commingling cuts of meat from animals of different origins, which could make it easier to trace contaminated products. The USDA estimates these labeling changes could cost more than 7,000 companies up to $192 million.

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The Salt
2:25 am
Wed April 24, 2013

For Corn, Fickle Weather Makes For Uncertain Yields

By this time last year, 26 percent of the country's corn crop was already planted. A wet, cold spring means that only 4 percent is in the ground right now.
Seth Perlman AP

Originally published on Wed April 24, 2013 8:06 am

Last year's drought wreaked havoc on farmers' fields in much of the Midwest, cutting crop yields and forcing livestock producers to cull their herds. This spring, the rain that farmers needed so badly in 2012 has finally returned. But maybe too much, and at the wrong time.

It's almost the end of April, which is prime time to plant corn. But farmers need a break in the rain so they can get this year's crops in the ground and try to lock in good yields at harvest.

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Health
8:47 am
Mon April 22, 2013

Gluten-Free: Fad Or Fix?

Eliminating certain foods from a diet can be risky, says Paula Vandelicht, a nutritionist at a Hy-Vee grocery store in Columbia, Mo. Among other things, she advises customers about the shortcomings of a gluten-free diet.
Abbie Fentress Swanson Harvest Public Media

Six months ago, Kara Welter drastically changed her diet by eliminating food that contains wheat, rye or barley.

“I don’t eat gluten,” said Welter, a 41-year-old marketing executive in Kansas City.

“I happened to just try it because I was having stomach issues for years. And it turns out within three days, I stopped having stomach issues.”

Welter’s gluten decision stemmed from what she read online. Medical tests showed that she did not have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, the disorder that causes the immune system to reject the gluten.

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Agriculture
9:24 am
Tue April 2, 2013

A New Frontier In Genetically Engineered Food

The Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to approve AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon for the U.S. market.
Credit Courtesy Barrett & MacKay Photography Inc.

Kevin Wells has been genetically engineering animals for 24 years.

“It’s sort of like a jigsaw puzzle,” said Wells recently as he walked through his lab at the University of Missouri - Columbia. “You take DNA apart and put it back together in different orders, different orientations.”

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Agriculture
10:12 am
Mon March 18, 2013

GMO Labeling Laws On Deck In The Midwest

Labels at Swiss Meat and Sausage Co. near Hermann, Mo., do not indicate if products contain genetically modified organisms.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

Just south of Hermann, Mo., Swiss Meat and Sausage Co. processes 2 million pounds of meat a year -- everything from cattle to hogs to buffalo to elk.

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The Salt
10:27 am
Mon February 4, 2013

Small Farmers Aren't Cashing In With Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart claims that 11 percent of the produce in its stores now comes from local farms.
Abbie Fentress Swanson Harvest Public Media

Originally published on Tue February 5, 2013 7:21 am

When Wal-Mart calls, Herman Farris always finds whatever the retailer wants, even if it's yucca root in the dead of winter. Farris is a produce broker in Columbia, Mo., who has been buying for Wal-Mart from auctions and farms since the company began carrying fruits and vegetables in the early 1990s.

During the summer and fall, nearly everything Farris delivers is grown in Missouri. That's Wal-Mart's definition of "local" — produce grown and sold in the same state. In winter, it's a bit tougher to source locally.

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Agriculture
9:16 am
Wed January 23, 2013

Farm Bill Extension Doesn’t Sit Well With Many Organic Farmers

Liz Graznak, who runs Happy Hollow Farm in Jamestown, Mo., is one of many farmers who say they may not be able to afford the cost of organic certification without federal support.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

Shoppers looking for organic food may have to look a bit harder this year.

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Agriculture
11:54 am
Mon January 14, 2013

Can Small Farms Benefit From Wal-Mart’s Push Into Local Foods?

Produce broker Herman Farris stands in the parking lot of the east-side Wal-Mart in Columbia, Mo., before heading to St. Louis to pick up a shipment of bananas for Wal-Mart.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is muscling in on one of the fastest growing segments of American agriculture: local food.

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Harvest Public Media
1:59 am
Mon December 24, 2012

How Much Is Organic Certification Worth?

Schnuck’s produce manager Dave Guthrie unpacks potatoes in the grocery’s Columbia, Mo., store produce department.
Abbie Fentress Swanson Harvest Public Media

The organic farming industry is booming. Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its federal organic certification program in 2002, the number of organic farms has more than doubled.

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Around the Nation
5:52 am
Tue November 20, 2012

Drought Hurts U.S. Grain Exporters, Market Share

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And now for today's business bottom line. Last summer's drought has brought bad news this fall - low crop yields, especially of corn; plus higher prices, and a prediction from the Department of Agriculture that corn exports will be at a 40-year low. The U.S. still is the world's biggest supplier of corn. But this year, American exporters won't be quite as dominant as usual, in the global corn market. From Missouri, Abbie Fentress Swanson reports on the impact this is having.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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Agriculture
3:54 pm
Thu November 8, 2012

Corn Belt Farmland: The Newest Real Estate Bubble?

This field is part of a 160-acre tract in Saline County, Mo., that sold for $10,700 per acre in February — double what it would have gone for five years ago.
Abby Fentress Swanson Harvest Public Media

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 5:02 pm

Howard Audsley has been driving through Missouri for the past 30 years to assess the value of farmland. Barreling down the flat roads of Saline County on a recent day, he stopped his truck at a 160-acre tract of newly tilled black land. The land sold in February for $10,700 per acre, double what it would have gone for five years ago.

Heading out into the field, Audsley picked up a clod of the dirt that makes this pocket of land some of the priciest in the state.

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