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.

Food Security
5:59 am
Mon March 17, 2014

Padlock the milk! FDA’s push to safeguard the food supply

Milk is an extremely popular item on the University of Missouri campus, says purchasing coordinator Sandy Perley. "Our entire campus in a year drinks about 96,000 gallons of milk. And by our best calculation, that’s about 326 gallons a day."
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.

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Impact of dairy consolidation
8:00 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

Changing dairy industry leaves some in the dust

Donnie Davidson turns off the lights in his dairy parlor. His family has been producing grade A milk in Holden, Mo., since the 1930s.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

The growth of the dairy industry across the High Plains has been a boon to the economy and communities of the region.  Urbanization and increasing regulation in states such as California are often cited as the reason for the migration of large dairies to our area.  But there’s also on overall industry consolidation underway that’s driving out small producers from nearby states, including dairyman Donnie Davidson and others in Missouri, as profiled in this story from Harvest Public Media.

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Donnie Davidson’s family has been producing bottled milk in Holden, Mo., since the 1930s. But the 63-year-old farmer decided to sell his herd of 50 milking cows in November after the roof on one of his barns collapsed from last winter’s snow.

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Code Switch
10:33 am
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 7:30 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 story
8:01 pm
Thu October 31, 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

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 story
6:15 am
Mon October 28, 2013

In the Shadows of the Slaughterhouse: 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.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

NOEL, MO - 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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Harvest Public Media series
8:01 pm
Wed July 10, 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.
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
12:53 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 7:37 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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The Salt
10:25 pm
Tue April 23, 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 4:06 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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Harvest Public Media story
4:12 pm
Tue April 2, 2013

A new frontier in genetically engineered food

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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The Salt
6:27 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 3:21 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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Around the Nation
12:23 am
Tue November 20, 2012

Drought Hurts U.S. Grain Exporters, Market Share

Originally published on Tue November 20, 2012 1:52 am

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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Economy
11:54 am
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 1:02 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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