Family farms are struggling with two hidden challenges

Agriculture, Family, Policies

Family farms are struggling with two hidden challenges

Kat Becker feeds hundreds of people with the vegetables she grows on her Wisconsin farm, and she wants to expand. But her ability to grow her business collides with her need for affordable health insurance and child care.

She has had to make difficult choices over the years: keep her farm income low enough so her children can qualify for the state’s public health insurance, or expand the farm and buy expensive private insurance. To look after her three young children, she could hire a cheap but inexperienced babysitter, or spend a significant share of her income on child care and have peace of mind that the kids are safe from dangers on the farm. “The stable choice for my children to have health insurance is an irrational choice for my farm business,” she said.

We’ve heard numerous stories like Kat’s in our work as social scientists supporting the next generation of farmers. Through thousands of interviews, surveys and conversations with farmers across the country, we have documented how household expenses like access to health care and child care undercut investments that could increase food production across the United States.

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Can Teaching Be Improved by Law?

Education, Policies

Can Teaching Be Improved by Law?

If there’s one lesson education policymakers might have learned in the last twenty-five years, it’s that it’s not hard to make schools and districts do something, but it’s extremely hard to make them do it well. There has always been at least a tacit assumption among policy wonks that schools and teachers are sitting on vast reserves of untapped potential that must either to be set free from bureaucratic constraints or shaken out of its complacency. Those of us who have spent lots of time in classrooms watching teachers trying their best and failing (or trying hard and failing ourselves) often find those assumptions curious. Compliance is easy. It’s competence that’s the rub.

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The US food system creates hunger and debt – but there is another way

Agriculture, Policies

The US food system creates hunger and debt – but there is another way

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only been a public health crisis, it has also been a hunger crisis. When millions of Americans lost their jobs, they no longer had enough money to feed themselves and their families. Hunger predictably struck people who were already marginalized. As was evidenced by long lines at food banks, it also struck middle-class families and exacerbated inequality. Even with vaccines, people continue getting weak and sick during the pandemic and the burden is disproportionately landing on women to work harder to ensure everyone stays healthy and alive.

To add injury upon injury, parts of the food system are also a public health hazard. For example, meatpacking plants in the US and around the world have fostered the pandemic, spreading the virus to nearby communities due to poor working conditions and environmental abuses.

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The U.S. Water and Wastewater Crisis – How Many Wake-up Calls Are Enough?

Policies, Water

The U.S. Water and Wastewater Crisis – How Many Wake-up Calls Are Enough?

In February, much of Texas plunged into darkness when the state’s electricity grid failed due to extreme cold weather conditions. What started as a foreseeable blackout quickly became a life-threatening calamity. The frigid temperatures cracked pipes and froze wells.  To escape the frigid cold, have drinking water, and flush toilets, Texans were forced to boil snow and icicles. The extreme weather conditions and lack of basic amenities resulted in several fatal cases of hypothermia, frostbite, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

More than 14 million people in Texas were affected, and lost access to clean water at the height of the crisis. At the beginning of March, there were still nearly 390,000 people who did not have water safe enough to drink in their homes

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20 Hotspots to Start Fixing Nitrogen Pollution in Agriculture

Agriculture, Policies

20 Hotspots to Start Fixing Nitrogen Pollution in Agriculture

Surplus nitrogen from farm fertilizer contaminates drinking water, creates dead zones, and contributes to climate change. A new study pinpoints prime places to target with solutions.

Nitrogen pollution is one of agriculture’s biggest and most intractable problems. Crops can’t grow without the critical nutrient, and because sources of nitrogen are easy to come by—synthetic fertilizer is cheap and manure from large animal agriculture operations is plentiful—farmers often apply too much, to try to ensure the highest yields.

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