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Three Ways to Support a Healthy Food System During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Three Ways to Support a Healthy Food System During the COVID-19 Pandemic
A woman shops at a local farmers' market during the COVID-19 crisis. BakiBG / Getty Images

By Paolo Mutia

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, it has exposed and exacerbated how the corporate, industrialized food system is harming people and our planet.



Family farmers across the country, many already on the brink, have lost markets and are struggling to survive. Simultaneously, food workers, from farmworkers to slaughterhouse workers and grocery workers are on the frontlines of this crisis, facing huge risks to their health with little to no protection. And as unemployment skyrockets, more Americans than ever lack access to nutritious food.

It's clear that supporting a healthy, sustainable and just food system is crucial to overcoming this crisis and building a better future for all of us.

That's why the next stimulus bill must support the farmers who need it most: small family farmers, organic farmers and producers of color who usually supply restaurants, foodservice companies and other buyers whose demand has dropped off dramatically during the pandemic. It must also protect and support food workers who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and help ensure that the growing numbers of people reliant on food assistance, and all of us, have access to healthy, fresh food.

The last coronavirus aid package included $23 billion for agriculture, which predominantly is going to the largest industrial farms, and it could happen again. Friends of the Earth is fighting to ensure the next stimulus bill doesn't bail out Big Ag, but instead supports and protects family farmers, frontline food workers and others who need it the most.

Here are three ways you can help support a resilient and regenerative local food system that can strengthen our communities' health, our local economies and our environment:

1. Sign Up For a CSA Membership.

Purchasing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share is a great way to access fresh, healthy, often organic, foods while supporting local small farmers that the Trump administration is leaving behind. Many farmers are adapting to the current crisis with more direct distribution models, from classic CSAs to custom-built boxes, no-contact drive-thru pickups, deliveries, and more.

By signing up for a CSA you can avoid going to a busy supermarket, and your share can be picked up or delivered. You can find your local CSA here.

2. Shop at a Local Farmers' Market.

Farmers markets serve as a direct channel to sustainable, healthy, locally sourced fresh fruits and vegetables and other food staples within your community. Many farmers markets remain open as an essential service during the crisis, thanks to the efforts of local farmers and their allies.

Many farmers markets are instituting strict rules to keep customers safe. Coupled with a shorter supply chain than most supermarkets, farmers markets are a safe choice for meeting your family's food needs during this crisis. Double-Up Food Bucks and other programs under GusNIP, which doubles the value of federal nutrition (SNAP) benefits, are also still being accepted for purchasing fresh produce at participating farmers markets, CSAs, and grocery stores. Here are some tips to help you plan your trip to any farmers' market and safely shop!

3. Tell Congress to Support Family Farmers, Food Workers and Healthy, Sustainable Food for All.

Amid the terrible impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, it's clearer than ever that we need to move towards a regenerative, resilient and just food system. Building strong and equitable local food economies make our food system more resilient to shocks and crises.

For those of us with the ability, we can make daily choices about where we shop. But what is truly needed is a shift in the public policies to make it easier to grow and access healthy, sustainable and local foods. For too long, our policies have led to increased corporate consolidation that has devastated farmer livelihoods and harmed food workers and rural communities. In the US, farm bankruptcies were up 12% last year, and farm debt is at an all-time high.

As farmers face the new crisis of the pandemic, we must come together to demand that federal stimulus funding and future farm policies support small and mid-scale farmers across the country who are supporting resilient and regenerative local and regional food systems.

Congress must ensure that fruit and vegetable farmers have the support they need to keep producing healthy food instead of subsidizing unhealthy factory-farmed meat and processed foods. At a time when our healthcare system is in crisis, it is more important than ever that Americans have access to healthy food. People with diet-related conditions like heart disease and diabetes are at greater risk of COVID-19 complications.

The next stimulus package must also do better for food workers and families in need. Farmworkers and other food chain workers, already some of the lowest paid and least protected workers, are also on the frontlines of this pandemic — and are incredibly vulnerable to COVID-19. Congress and the administration must ensure safe working conditions and a family-supporting livable wage. And families across the country need assistance to ensure they can continue accessing and purchasing healthy foods.

With your help, we can support and protect some of the most essential heroes of this crisis — farmers and food workers — while ensuring a resilient, regenerative, healthy and equitable food system for all of us.

Reposted with permission from Friends of the Earth.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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