Insect Feed Could Be the Next Frontier in Animal Agriculture

My latest piece for Earth Island Journal is about how insect feed could be the next frontier in animal agriculture. I focus on the research — and breakthroughs — of scientist Philip Taylor, who is examining the role the black soldier fly can play as an alternative protein source in livestock feed. Read an excerpt below:

Site of new refinery being built at Black Cat in the foothills just north of Boulder (photo courtesy Philip Taylor).
Site of new refinery being built at Black Cat Farm near Boulder (photo courtesy Philip Taylor).

Insect Feed Could Be the Next Frontier in Animal Agriculture

Bugs offer an environmentally friendly alternative to soy and fishmeal when it comes to feeding livestock

By Sena Christian

Philip Taylor knew that when the black soldier fly began mating under artificial light in his hatchery at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research in Boulder, Colorado, something important was happening.

“For the mass production of larvae there needs to be a large and consistent source of eggs,” he explains. Taylor, a fellow with Duke University and INSTARR, needs a lot of larvae for his investigation into how insects can be used as an alternative protein source in animal feed. Using ultraviolet light, humidity and temperature, Taylor is trying to influence mating and egg production among the black solider fly. The goal is to mimic the subtropical and warmer temperate climates where these flies naturally occur, and Taylor is confident he’s found the light bulb that provides just the right balance. He says he’s already achieved about an 80 percent reproduction rate, which is the highest he knows of under artificial conditions.

The motivation for Taylor’s research stems from his belief that insects can be the cornerstone of a new-and-improved food system. He’s not alone in touting this great source of protein; putting edible insects on the menu has garnered plenty of media attention recently. Feasting on these healthy little buggers could help feed a growing global population projected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050 and reduce the environmental impact of eating meat. But if chowing down insects isn’t your cultural norm, the option might sound kind of gross. Maybe one day most Americans will get there. But, in the meantime, why not use insects as a protein source in animal feed to replace fishmeal and soy?

Read the rest of the article here …

A Visit to Where the U.S. Government Keeps Confiscated Animal Parts

I’m taking a departure from my agriculture reporting to showcase an article I wrote on the illegal wildlife trade for Newsweek. In February, Ted Scripps Fellows visited the repository at the National Wildlife Property Repository near Denver, Colorado to learn about trafficking and see up close and personal the many products and dead animals seized by law enforcement in this global trade. Here’s an excerpt from my article:

A rug made out of a lion at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge repository in Colorado.
A rug made out of a lion at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge repository in Colorado.

Where the U.S. Government Keeps Confiscated Animal Parts

By Sena Christian

When visitors to the National Wildlife Property Repository near Denver enter the 16,000-square-foot warehouse and see the full array of dead animals and products kept within, they tend to stop short, open their eyes wide and utter something that suggests shock and awe. “Whoa” seems to be a popular choice.

“I always like to see people’s faces when they turn the corner,” repository supervisor Coleen Schaefer tells a group of visitors on a warm day in February. She’s part of the office of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which confiscated all of these products from the illegal wildlife trade and brought them to the repository, situated inside the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

Outside the repository, snowcapped mountains rise up in the distance. Throughout the year, deer, coyotes, burrowing owls, bison and a few hundred other creatures roam the 15,000 acres. Once an Army weapons factory and then a manufacturing plant for pesticides and herbicides, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal underwent a massive environmental cleanup and was designated as a refuge in 1992. The cleanup finished in 2010.

Inside, visitors come face-to-face with more than 1.5 million specimens in the repository—the only one of its kind in the United States. The sheer volume is, Schaefer says, “mind-boggling.” There are palettes of sea-turtle-skin boots, fur coats, taxidermied tigers, exotic birds, coral stolen from the ocean and rows and rows of reptiles from Mexico and South America. There are curios—turtle paperweights, bookends made of zebra feet and footstools crafted from elephant feet. Tiny seahorses packed tightly into plastic bags will never reach their intended destination in Southeast Asia for use as traditional medicine. Shelves stock the heads of tigers and jaguars, their mouths open in a perpetual roar.

Schaefer motions to a small item on a table across from the heads. “Probably the saddest thing is the tiger fetus carved out of its mother, stuffed for someone to put on a shelf,” she says.

… read the rest of the article here …

Cities Figure Out How To Accommodate Urban Farming

For my Ted Scripps Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, I’m focusing on projects related to sustainable farming. I’ll be writing several articles on this subject over the course of the next nine months, and have begun with one for Earth Island Journal on how cities facilitate or impede urban farming. Here’s an excerpt:

Anne Cure owns and operates Cure Organic Farm outside the city limits of Boulder, Colorado. She rents eight acres of open space from the City of Boulder. (Photo/Cole Allen)
Anne Cure runs Cure Organic Farm outside the city limits of Boulder, CO. (Photo/Cole Allen)

Across the US, Cities Struggle to Figure Out How to Accommodate Urban Farming

Widespread interest in urban agriculture is forcing local authorities to re-examine rules that prohibit farming in cities

By Sena Christian

Sacramento has worked diligently over the past two years to brand itself as America’s farm-to-fork capital, hosting local food festivals, wine tastings, and gala dinners featuring the city’s premier chefs. Tickets for this year’s dinner, at $175 dollars each, sold out in five minutes. The Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau has even organized a cattle drive and tractor parade through downtown.

Sure, nearly 1.4 million acres of farmland exist around the city, which is located in California’s vast and fertile Central Valley region, and the climate is amenable to growing produce year-round (drought complications notwithstanding). But there are no urban farms in Sacramento. The closest and most prominent urban farm, the 55-acre Soil Born Farms, exists outside the city limits.

Sacramento is relatively progressive when it comes to gardening: The city already allows frontyard vegetable gardens, urban chickens, and community gardens on private land and runs 13 community gardens on public land. But farming — that is, growing crops to sell — has fallen behind.

… Read the rest of the article here …

It’s Go Time

I’ve been in Boulder for a month now. Moved here from Northern California to take part in the Ted Scripps Fellowship in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado. After moving here and settling in, and brief forays to New York for a wedding and New Orleans for the annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference, I finally had a moment to pause and think … and realize I had gone three whole weeks without writing a single article! What the heck?! That’s a record for me. Determined not to waste another second, I have officially begun my fellowship project, focusing on sustainable farming. I interviewed farmers from Indiana, Illinois, California and Colorado this week, including the operator of Cure Organic Farm and interns with the Farmer Cultivation Center (see below):

Anne Cure owns and operates Cure Organic Farm in Boulder, Colorado.
Anne Cure owns and operates Cure Organic Farm in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo/Cole Allen)
Mel Piazza is a first-year intern at the Farmer Cultivation Center in Niwot, Colorado.
Mel Piazza is a first-year intern at the Farmer Cultivation Center in Niwot, Colorado. (Photo/Cole Allen)

On Puget Sound

As I prepare to move to Boulder, Colorado, and begin my participation in the Ted Scripps Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, I’m — not gonna lie — feverishly brushing up on my knowledge of the history of the environmental movement in the United States. And, I’m reminded of another great environmental journalism fellowship I was honored to take part in through the Institutes for Journalism & Natural Resources. The nonprofit organization organizes learning expeditions to help reporters and editors become better storytellers. In 2009, I went on an IJNR journey through and around Washington state’s Puget Sound.

Into a forest.
On a boat.
On a clear-cut


Anti-Fracking Rally

I covered the anti-fracking rally in Sacramento, Calif., on March 15 for Earth Island Journal. You can read the article here. People from all over California converged on the capitol in what organizers said was the largest anti-fracking mobilization in the state to date. Protestors urged Gov. Jerry Brown to place a moratorium on the controversial form of oil and natural gas extraction.

People from all over California converged on the capitol in Sacramento for an anti-fracking rally that organizers said is the largest one in the state to date. (Photo by Cole Allen).
Fracking Rally4
Opponents of hydraulic fracking call on Gov. Jerry Brown to ban this form of oil and natural gas extraction during a rally in Sacramento (Photos by Cole Allen).Fracking Rally2

No More Blah Blog!

Blogging is weird. I’m new to this and must admit, I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. This came as a surprise to me, considering I am a journalist and write for a living. I actually looked at my blog today — which is apparently an important thing to do on a regular basis — and had a realization: If I was a first-time reader to “Wailing Peacocks,” I’d  be totally lost.

That is not OK!

I think my problem is I don’t update this blog enough. I’ll try hard to do better, I promise. Sometimes I just get distracted. I can’t help it — I recently discovered “Dexter” on DVD.

I’m sure my legions of loyal readers remember the point of this blog, but for you newbies, here’s a recap. “Wailing Peacocks” chronicles my attempts to research and write about the revival of ancient Polynesian voyaging and its role in the Hawaiian Renaissance.

I plan to visit Honolulu, HI in August to conduct interviews and hang out with Polynesian Voyaging Society crew members as they prepare to embark on a worldwide voyage. Hopefully, all of this will result in a feature article —written by me, duh — published in a national magazine.

Now, you’re up to speed! Watch for more blog posts soon. In the meantime, feel free to offer tips on how this blog can go from “blah” to “blaze -,” um, “blaph -,” let’s see … to “bl-awesome!”

The ‘Don’ Of A New Day

You’re probably wondering what originally sparked my interest in non-instrument navigation and traditional technologies.

Why do I care? Good question, and I shall tell you!

In 2006, I witnessed Grand Ronde tribal elder Don Day split a felled 200-year-old western red cedar log with a 30-pound wooden mallet. He’d use the planks to build a longhouse on his reservation and, in the process, provide a gathering space for ceremonies and celebrations that had been missing for hundreds of years ever since — you guessed it — the White Man arrived.

Don Day, left, demonstrates plank splitting. (Photo by Becky Taylor, 2006)

Standing there, I scanned the reservation of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde for buildings, houses, people, dogs. There weren’t many, at least not back then. Maybe the place has since changed. The tribe does operate a casino, but that’s located elsewhere. This place seemed so empty. Not like those tribal members brimming with knowledge of their native folklore and customs, and who still speak the last remaining words of an endangered language. Don handed me the mallet so I could feel the tool’s weight in my hands. Whoa, it was heavy. Scrapes and bruises covered the mallet, which looked near breaking. But not just yet. Not with work left to do.

He split the massive log surprisingly quick, it seemed to me. But I wasn’t the one heaving a 30-pound mallet. I also wasn’t the one on a single-minded pursuit with centuries of history and cultural pride powering the muscles in my arms.

On another afternoon, I followed Don deep into the Willamette National Forest in western Oregon, where the U.S. Forest Service had alerted him to another fallen tree. They had an arrangement. He’d use a chainsaw to chop up this tree just enough so he could load the pieces into his truck and head back to the reservation, eager to split this new material into usable planks.

I don’t know if Don Day ever finished building the longhouse, and I don’t really want to know. Maybe I’m worried I’ll be let down.

In the following years, I’ve sought out stories about other people resuscitating a lost art. There was the cob builder in Sacramento, who built ovens and planters mixing together clay, sand and straw. Dump in some water and do the chicken dance on the mix until the consistency is as thick as peanut butter. There you have it, folks, an ancient tradition that dates back 11,000 years.

I’ve also come across flintknappers and basketweavers, and read about radical homemakers who forgo modern devices to live simply, off the earth. But my search for practitioners of traditional technologies hasn’t turned up very much, at least not without me traveling several hundred miles to find them. Which brings me back to my quest to write about the revival of ancient Polynesian voyaging.

Wow, you sure do ask a lot of questions. This is starting to get a little too personal and now I’m feeling uncomfortable. I shall answer no more of your questions! (Try again tomorrow).

Loss To The PVS ‘Ohana

The Polynesian Voyaging Society lost a special member of its family March 8 with the death of Herb Kawainui Kāne. A Hawaiian artist, historian and cofounder of PVS, Kāne, 82, passed away on the 36th anniversary of Hokule’a’s maiden launch. He helped design this voyaging canoe and served as its first captain.

Herb Kawainui Kāne, Hawaiian artist, historian and cofounder of Polynesian Voyaging Society, passed away March 8.

Kāne helped usher in the Hawaiian Renaissance. A statement on the PVS blog says, “his vision of drawing upon our heritage to build our future was not just the founding of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, but the basis of rediscovery of pride for thousands of Hawaiians.”

I hope my “Wailing Peacocks” project will offer insight into the legacy he’s left behind.