The midterm culture war over plant-based meat

Last week, Nebraskans elected Republican businessman Jim Pillen to be the state’s next governor. It’s no surprise he won: Nebraska has picked a Republican in every gubernatorial election since 1998. But what made Pillen’s campaign so peculiar — and alarming to those who care about animal welfare and climate change — is that no other political candidate has campaigned so vehemently against veggie burgers and soy milk. Throughout his campaign, Pillen vowed to “stand up to radicals who want to use red tape and fake meat to put Nebraska out of business,” and promised to work to pass laws that ban plant-based food producers from using words like “meat” and “milk” on their packaging. Continue reading

Why we’re suing the Department of Environment and Energy

The Flatwater Free Press is suing the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy over its response to a public records request for emails. I’d like to tell you why. Our reporter, the intrepid Yanqi Xu, has spent months digging into issues related to nitrates that seep into groundwater. As her reporting has revealed, that pollution is likely related to our state’s high rates of pediatric cancer.  We got a tip from a well-placed source that regulators aren’t really regulating. Tips like that are a key ingredient in investigative reporting. Journalists take them and report them out, proving or disproving them, looking for evidence one way or another to indicate just how true the claims are. Continue reading

Compost piles containing dead chickens near David City wellfield to be removed

Piles of compost containing dead chicken parts are expected to be removed soon after the mayor of David City and nearby residents complained that the compost was within the wellhead protection area for the town’s water supply. But while state officials said the composting operation followed applicable rules, the incident has opened old sores about the abundance of huge chicken barns built around David City in recent years to supply broilers for Costco and the affiliated Lincoln Premium Poultry processing plant in Fremont. At least 94 barns holding more than 47,000 chickens each are located within a few miles west of David City, the county seat of Butler County. All but 10 are owned by a North Carolina-based investment group, Gallus Capital. Continue reading

OUR DIRTY WATER: NEBRASKA'S NITRATE PROBLEM IS GROWING WORSE. IT'S LIKELY HARMING OUR KIDS

Standing in front of a big screen, Nick Herringer claps in time with a metronome. He draws lines on the screen, repeating patterns drawn by the computer. He identifies icons of cars when they flash before his eyes. This is the 22-year-old’s speech and cognitive therapy, which he has been doing at least twice a week. Every week. For three years. Nick’s thick brown hair hides a massive, ear-to-ear scar from his four brain surgeries for glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer he has battled since he was a teenager. The lifelong Nebraska football fan had to quit playing football his freshman year at Hastings High School after his doctor told him: Your brain can’t withstand the hits. His mom, Tammy Herringer, drives Nick to therapy and back to the quiet country home his dad Jay Herringer built for the family. She takes Nick along shopping and to community events because he can’t go alone after the cancer and a car accident that further damaged his brain. Continue reading

Milpa: Growing Food in Harmony with Nature

Nebraska farmer Graham Christensen teams up with members of Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim, a local Maya community center, to plant and harvest a milpa garden. Milpa, the ancient Indigenous tradition of intercropping, provides multiple benefits to the grower and the community, as well as the soil, the broader ecosystem and the long-term health of our planet. Continue reading

Landowners, Environmental Groups Ask for More 'Proactive" State Regulation

One after another, landowners and representatives of environmental groups lined up Thursday night to urge state regulators to get tougher on large cattle feedlots and chicken and hog barns. During a public hearing held by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy, there were calls for more “proactive” enforcement in clamping down on bad actors, and requests to track how manure is land applied to avoid contamination of groundwater and nearby streams. One Butler County resident said he could not understand how hundreds of thousands of dead chickens, which he said died in a complex of 12 chicken barns near his rural home, could be composted and then left to rot just outside David City. Continue reading

5th-Generation Farmer Graham Christensen on Regeneration, the Farm Bill and 'Talking Nebraska to Nebraskans'

A common concern on "Riverside Chats" isn't just the climate crisis, but the seeming inability to talk about existential risks like global warming when much of our bandwidth is taken up by the noise of culture wars. In previous conversations, a concept has come up as a model for what can help undo the damage of the past: regeneration. This is often employed through farming and grazing practices that restore degraded soil biodiversity — sequestering carbon and improving the water cycle. Continue reading

Costco's Inflation-Proof $4.99 Rotisserie Chicken, Explained

Americans love their chicken, eating some 7.5 billion of them every year. That’s enough for about 23 birds for every man, woman, and child in the country. So the fact that inflation has hit poultry prices particularly hard — chicken prices increased 18.6 percent between June 2021 and June 2022, outpacing inflation for food as a whole — has been tough for Americans to swallow. But throughout the year of inflation — and for 11 years before that — one poultry product has remained at the same bargain-basement price: Costco’s $4.99 rotisserie chicken. The roasted birds have been hailed as an economic lifeline — most rotisserie chickens will run you $6 to $10 — but the chicken isn’t cheap because of corporate benevolence. In 2015, Costco said it was able to maintain its low price because the company considers the rotisserie chicken a “loss leader.”  Continue reading

Stockholders Sue Costco Officials Over Alleged Mistreatment of Chickens Grown Too Big

A lawsuit claims that Costco is in violation of Nebraska and Iowa livestock welfare laws by breeding chickens that “unnaturally” grow too fast, become so fat they can’t stand up to reach food or water and end up dying. Two Costco shareholders filed the lawsuit Monday in Washington State, where Costco is based, against the company’s top executives and members of its board of directors, which includes Nebraska native Jeff Raikes. Some birds are so heavy they cannot stand up after falling on their backs, says the lawsuit, citing a 2021 hidden camera investigation by an animal rights group, Mercy for Animals. The Los Angeles-based group opposes large-scale, “factory farms.” Continue reading

A 5,000-Tractor Farmer Army: The Legacy of Tractorcade

Eating wind for 1,800 miles, Don Kimbrell crossed a country in 21 days, driving a John Deere G into history. He rode in Tractorcade — a 5,000-tractor farmer army that rumbled into Washington, D.C., in 1979, and occupied the National Mall, demanding political attention to address an agriculture industry in collapse. “I’d drive it all again right now, but my body wouldn’t stand the wear,” says Kimbrell, 78. “I was only 36 when I started that cross-country trip, but when I finished, I was an older man than I am right now.” What compelled a farmer to rage against the political machine?  Continue reading