Abbie Fentress Swanson

Reporter

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.

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Agriculture
6:00 am
Fri November 22, 2013

Field Notes: Midwest pumpkins on Thanksgiving plates

Ackerman Farms in Morton, Ill., boasts over 160 varieties of pumpkins and squash.
Credit Peter Gray/Harvest Public Media

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which we talk about important issues related to food production.

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Agriculture
3:42 pm
Fri November 15, 2013

Field Notes: Farmer Joel Salatin on the local food movement

Joel Salatin on his farm in Virginia
Credit Creative Commons

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which we talk about important issues related to food production.

Joel Salatin has become one of the rock stars of the local food movement. He’s written books, appeared in documentaries and schedules speaking engagements nationwide. Among foodies, he’s a celebrity.

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Agriculture
6:00 am
Fri November 8, 2013

Field Notes: Immigrant children share dreams beyond the slaughterhouse

In Noel, Mo., these Somali refugee children have dreams beyond the Tyson poultry plant where their parents work.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which we talk about important issues related to food production.

For our special series “In the Shadows of the Slaughterhouse,” Reporter Peggy Lowe and I interviewed immigrant children in Noel, Mo., and Garden City, Kan., whose parents work for Tyson Foods poultry and beef plants.

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Agriculture
5:19 pm
Wed October 30, 2013

Learning English key for slaughterhouse workers

Sudanese refugees who work at the Tyson plant get English language instruction.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Three days a week, First Baptist Church in Noel, Mo., becomes a school for about 100 immigrants and refugees who work at the Tyson poultry plant. English language and citizenship classes are held in four small rooms in a building behind the church. One of the youngest students here, Soe Soe, is an 18-year-old Burmese refugee who debones chicken at the plant from 4:30 PM until 2 or 3 each morning.

“I really don’t like it. I’d like to go to school and learn more English. But I have problems, like nobody working in my house, nobody paying for rent,” he said.

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Agriculture
9:57 am
Wed October 30, 2013

Dreaming beyond the slaughterhouse

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

In the Shadows of the Slaughterhouse, part 3: Since large meatpacking plants left big cities like Kansas City and Chicago, rural Midwestern towns have been dealing with a huge influx of immigrants and refugees and their children. Many of these kids are hoping to achieve the American Dream by moving out of the shadows and into a bright future.

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.

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Agriculture
10:54 am
Mon October 28, 2013

Noel, Mo.: Schools build safety net for immigrant children

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

In the Shadows of the Slaughterhouse, part 1: Attracted to stable jobs in the meatpacking industry, communities of immigrants are springing up across rural America. Many small, rural towns, however, struggle to provide much more than instruction.

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.

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Agriculture
5:44 pm
Tue October 15, 2013

Government shutdown creates backlog of ag chemicals used in pesticides

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 flickr/ingridtaylar

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

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Agriculture
8:06 am
Wed October 2, 2013

Government shutdown crimps some food inspections

Furloughs at the Food and Drug Administration mean fewer inspections for some foods.
Credit rick/Flickr

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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Agriculture
9:11 am
Mon September 23, 2013

Columbia forum highlights conflict between consumers and farmers

Chipotle’s controversial animated “The Scarecrow” video, which casts a dim eye on industrial agriculture, was criticized during a panel discussion at the Food Dialogues event in Columbia, Mo.
Credit Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media

The disconnect between consumers wanting to know more about where their food comes from and farmers producing that food is nothing new to Harvest Public Media.

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Agriculture
12:12 pm
Wed September 11, 2013

COOL should rule the meat case, judge decides

Meat in the shop.
Credit BigStock image

A federal judge has ruled that the meat industry must implement a new U.S. Department of Agriculture country-of-labeling rule, also known as COOL. The rule, which the USDA finalized in May, requires companies to label where animals were born, raised and slaughtered; and prohibits meat from two different animals from being comingled and sold in the same package.

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Agriculture
3:57 pm
Wed September 4, 2013

Newly arrived pest damaging Midwest fruit crops

A spotted wing drosophila rests on a raspberry.
Credit Photo 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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Agriculture
9:51 am
Fri August 30, 2013

Field Notes: Overhaul of meat labels on hold

From his vantage point, Ron Plain, a University of Missouri agricultural economist who focuses on the swine industry, believes the new COOL rule would be cumbersome for the food industry to implement.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which reporters talk to newsmakers and experts about important issues related to food production.

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Agriculture
9:39 am
Tue August 27, 2013

Scientists detect high levels of nitrogen in Midwest waterways

Joe Schatz, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, cranks up a sample of Missouri River water near Hermann, Mo.
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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Agriculture
6:04 pm
Fri August 16, 2013

Field Notes: Howard Buffett on organic and biological farming

Howard Buffett stands in front of a lab being built on his research farm in southeastern Arizona
Credit Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’sField Notes, in which reporters talk to newsmakers and experts about important issues related to food production.

A Midwestern farmer with a well-known last name has set out to fight hunger on a global scale. 

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Agriculture
11:57 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Field Notes: Allan Savory makes case for holistic grazing

Allan Savory, known as the godfather of holistic grazing, pitched his ideas at the Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colo., recently.
Credit Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which reporters talk to newsmakers and experts about important issues related to food production.

For this edition of Field Notes, Harvest Public Media's Luke Runyon spoke with Allan Savory, an activist and environmentalist who created a grazing practice known as “holistic management.”

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Agriculture
8:00 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Field to tap: The impact of farm runoff on drinking water

Water treatment plant operator Fred Omer gets ready to do an iron test on water samples at the Clarence Cannon Wholesale Water Commission in Stoutsville, Mo.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

It doesn’t come as a major surprise that agricultural runoff is doing more harm than good to the environment. Agriculture is the nation’s leading cause of impaired water quality, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Storms move pesticides, nutrients and sediment from farmers’ fields to nearby waterways. These will ultimately end up in the Gulf of Mexico where they can threaten aquatic life.

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Agriculture
10:14 am
Mon August 5, 2013

WTO ruling could boost US chicken exports

Last year, the US poultry industry exported a record 8.1 billion pounds of chicken, including chicken feet, which are considered a delicacy in China.
Credit Credit: DanBruell/Flickr

The nation’s poultry industry exported a record 8.1 billion pounds of chicken last year, according to the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. But a recent decision from the World Trade Organization in the latest skirmish between the US and China could drive up that number dramatically. It’s the latest volley in the export battle between the world’s top two economic superpowers.

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Agriculture
9:48 am
Sat August 3, 2013

Going on a picnic? Pack the refrigerator pickles and slaw

Mike Odette, chef and co-owner of Sycamore Restaurant, finds beets and turnips that will make tasty refrigerator pickles at the Columbia, Mo. farmers market.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Most Saturdays, Chef Mike Odette, who is co-owner of Sycamore Restaurant in Columbia, Mo., is talking to farmers and customers at the farmers market and searching for food to work into his next menu. Odette makes a point of getting the best local, seasonal food that he can for Sycamore, which is one of the most popular restaurants in town. But today, his mission is a little different.

“We're looking for some veggies that would make good slaw to take on a picnic, and some veggies that would make good refrigerator pickles,” he says.

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Science, Health and Technology
2:47 pm
Fri July 26, 2013

Scientists in the Corn Belt make great strides in soybean science

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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Agriculture
2:06 pm
Fri July 19, 2013

Field Notes: Want to invest in farmland? Now, you can join the crowd

Charles Polanco's company allows investors to team up and invest in farmland.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which reporters talk to newsmakers and experts about important issues related to food production.

The new company Fquare is bringing crowd-sourcing to the increasingly lucrative market of investing in farmland.

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Agriculture
12:42 pm
Fri July 12, 2013

Retiring to the farm anything but quiet

Jim Schulte and his wife, Rita, bought their 450-acre farm near Columbia, Mo., in 1991, but didn’t start farming full time until Jim finished working in the mortgage business.
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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Agriculture
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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Agriculture
9:00 am
Fri June 21, 2013

Field Notes: The historical impact of drought

Jeff Masters, meteorologist and co-founder of wunderground.com.
Credit Courtesy of wunderground.com

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which reporters talk to newsmakers and experts about important issues related to food production.

Over the last three years, the Midwest has gone from flooding to drought and back to flooding. This is a case of “weather whiplash,” a term first used in April by Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and co-founder of the online weather forecasting site Weather Underground.

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Agriculture
3:13 pm
Mon June 17, 2013

Scientists check Corn Belt waters for effects of ag runoff

One of the U.S. Geological Survey teams collecting water samples and checking cages for fish eggs in Missouri this summer: biologist Diana Papoulias, chemist Dave Alvarez, hydrologist Peter Van Metre, biologist Diane Nicks and toxicologist Don Tillitt.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Eleven miles northeast of Centralia, Mo., five U.S. Geological Survey scientists don waders and bright reflective life jackets to wade into Goodwater Creek. Plenty of fish live in the stream’s murky slow-moving waters, along with snakes, crayfish, mussels and snapping turtles. On this overcast morning, the team collects water samples and checks submerged cages of fathead minnows for eggs.

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Agriculture
5:20 pm
Tue June 11, 2013

My Farm Roots: In hip Brooklyn, Missouri native connects with 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

This story is part of the 2013 edition of My Farm Roots, a series from KBIA Radio's partner Harvest Public Media that chronicles Americans’ connection to the land. Click here to explore more My Farm Roots stories and to share your own.

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Agriculture
9:23 am
Fri June 7, 2013

Field Notes: How are decisions made about projects that benefit rural America?

Doug O'Brien, acting undersecretary for the USDA's rural development program.
Credit Photo courtesy of the USDA.

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which reporters talk to newsmakers and experts about important issues related to food production.  

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Agriculture
12:47 pm
Tue May 28, 2013

Smithsonian plows into farming history

In the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History's staging area, 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.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Visitors to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. only get small glimpses of farming, such as a mural display of immigrant farmworkers planting crops in a 19th century California town. The museum once had an Agriculture Hall, but it was removed in 2006.

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Agriculture
9:00 am
Fri May 24, 2013

Field Notes: Looking inside plants for answers to a changing climate

The 2013 Water for Food Conference featured speakers from around the globe discussing the impact of climate change on agriculture.
Credit Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which reporters talk to newsmakers and experts about important issues related to food production.

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Agriculture
1:52 pm
Thu May 23, 2013

USDA releases labeling rule for meat

Under new USDA rules, products like this will need to carry a label that will notify consumers where the animals from which their meat was derived were born, raised and slaughtered.
Credit Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

Consumers may soon know more about where their meat comes from because of a long-debated change made by the US Department of Agriculture on Thursday.

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Agriculture
11:46 am
Tue May 21, 2013

How would you vote on Missouri’s ‘Right-to-Farm’ amendment?

Credit twi$tbarbie/Flickr

Next year, Missouri voters will get a chance to consider a controversial constitutional amendment that would affirm the rights of farmers to engage in "modern" farming and ranching practices.

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