The UC Food Observer chooses a handful of important stories for you to read as you finish your work week. On the menu, in no particular order: the rise of Africa’s “super” vegetables; this summer, the cafeteria comes to the kids; a UK development finance arm is accused of bankrolling ‘agro-colonialism’ in Congo; it’s planting season behind bars; and Bittman: “Let’s help create more farmers.”


1. Traditional indigenous greens – “super” vegetables – are growing in popularity in East Africa. They are gaining attention for a number of reasons, including their nutritional and environmental benefits. The research work on these plants has global implications, as “lost crops” may hold some of the keys to increasing global food security. Mary Abukutsa-Onyango is emerging as an international leader in researching and advocating for their use. Rachel Cernansky (@rachelcernansky) produced this piece for Nature.


2. This summer, the cafeteria comes to the kids. Nearly 21 million American children eat free and reduced-price meals throughout the school year, through a program administered by the USDA. Feeding those children during the summer presents real challenges. Some school districts are trying new ways to reach into their communities to feed kids. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a CHOW Bus takes food to kids. In one year, they’ve doubled the number of meals they’ve served to 60,000. This summer, the school district will add two more buses to its food fleet. Blake Farmer (@flakebarmer) provides this piece for nprEd and NPR’s Morning Edition.


3. A UK-government funded development entity is accused of bankrolling “agro-colonialsm” in the Congo. A Canadian palm-oil company owned in part by the British government is being accused of “land-grabbing and human rights abuses” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Government-backed investments in the UK are legally mandated to support “poverty alleviation in developing countries.” Community leaders say living conditions for workers are “abysmal” and that their ancestral land has been illegally taken from them. And local (and international) rights groups cite a new report with accusations of “agro-colonialism.” The report claims that the British government has invested more than fourteen million pounds of public funds in a company “that paid workers as little as $1 a day to work and live in harsh tropical conditions…”


4. It’s planting season behind bars. Across the nation, prisons are reintroducing gardens after a long hiatus. Prisoners are gardening at Rikers and at San Quentin. They’re gardening for a variety of reasons: to give food to the poor, to improve food quality at prisons, to help feed inmates and reduce prison health care costs…and as a form of restorative justice. They are turning prison yards into thriving gardens. The idea? Transformation.


5. Bittman: “Let’s help create more farmers.” Noted journalist, author and chef Mark Bittman pens a provocative opinion piece for the New York Times. He identifies an issue most of us are concerned with – the aging of the American farmer – and explores some of the policy ideas under discussion to increase the number of young farmers. Access to land is clearly critical. The scale of agriculture involved is a key discussion point in this piece. A great read.


If you haven’t seen it, the UC Food Observer highly recommends the new California Matters video series, with host Mark Bittman. In the first episode, he explores urban foraging with UC Berkeley’s Tom Carlson and Philip Stark. We’re including our Q&A with Philip Stark. Watch, and read.



Have a great weekend.