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.

Ways To Connect

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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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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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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.

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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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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.”

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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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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