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Daniel Charles

Dan Charles is NPR's food and agriculture correspondent.

Primarily responsible for covering farming and the food industry, Charles focuses on the stories of culture, business, and the science behind what arrives on your dinner plate.

This is his second time working for NPR; from 1993 to 1999, Charles was a technology correspondent at NPR. He returned in 2011.

During his time away from NPR, Charles was an independent writer and radio producer and occasionally filled in at NPR on the Science and National desks, and at Weekend Edition. Over the course of his career Charles has reported on software engineers in India, fertilizer use in China, dengue fever in Peru, alternative medicine in Germany, and efforts to turn around a troubled school in Washington, DC.

In 2009-2010, he taught journalism in Ukraine through the Fulbright program. He has been guest researcher at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, Germany, and a Knight Science Journalism fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From 1990 to 1993, Charles was a U.S. correspondent for New Scientist, a major British science magazine.

The author of two books, Charles wrote Master Mind: The Rise and Fall of Fritz Haber, The Nobel Laureate Who Launched the Age of Chemical Warfare (Ecco, 2005) and Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food (Perseus, 2001) about the making of genetically engineered crops.

Charles graduated magna cum laude from American University with a degree in economics and international affairs. After graduation Charles spent a year studying in Bonn, which was then part of West Germany, through the German Academic Exchange Service.

Two years ago, a U.N.-sponsored scientific agency declared that the popular weedkiller glyphosate probably causes cancer. That finding from the International Agency for Research on Cancer caused an international uproar. Monsanto, the company that invented glyphosate and still sells most of it, unleashed a fierce campaign to discredit the IARC's conclusions.

The way environmentalist Craig Cox sees it, streams and rivers across much of the country are suffering from the side effects of growing our food. Yet the people responsible for that pollution, America's farmers, are fighting any hint of regulation to prevent it.

"The leading problems are driven by fertilizer and manure runoff from farm operations," says Cox, who is the Environmental Working Group's top expert on agriculture.

The dream of reviving Puerto Rico's chocolate tradition took root in Juan Carlos Vizcarrondo's mind years ago.

He's always been obsessed with flowers and trees. As a boy, he planted so much greenery in his mother's backyard, there was hardly room to walk.

But in his thirties, he started planting cocoa trees, with their colorful pods full of magical seeds. "Something told me, just keep planting, because nobody has it! It's so strange, nobody has it!," he recalls.

The system that delivers fresh salad greens like clockwork to the nation's grocery stores is breaking down slightly. In about three weeks, consumers may get a reminder of two things. First, vegetables really are fragile living things, and most of them have to survive outdoors. Second, we depend to a remarkable degree on just a few places to grow them. (That's a lesson U.K. lettuce lovers also recently got.)

Garland Reiter is one of the people behind the rise in imported food from Mexico.

His family has been growing strawberries in California for generations and selling them under the name Driscoll's. Today, it's the biggest berry producer in the world.

Two of the most influential groups in the food industry are asking companies to change those pesky "expiration" or "sell by" labels on packaged food.

The other day, in Puerto Rico, I stumbled across one small piece of an agricultural revolution. It didn't look all that revolutionary — just an abandoned sugar plantation where workers are clearing away a mass of grass, bushes and trees in order to create better pasture for cattle.

Mike McCloskey, who runs one of the biggest dairy operations in America, is driving down a road in Puerto Rico in an unusually reflective mood.

"This is a full circle-type story, right?" he muses. "I was raised here, had such a fantastic childhood." He ticks off other way stations in his life: Mexico, California, New Mexico, and Indiana. Along the way, McCloskey built an empire of milk. Now, the dairy business has brought him back home again.

Last week, as official Washington obsessed over the Coming Of Trump, there was a gathering in our nation's capital that had almost nothing to do with the inauguration or politics.

It took place at a sleek and stylish restaurant/brewery called Bluejacket, built inside the walls of an old factory. It's a striking and airy space, the dining room framed by tall fermentation tanks made of gleaming steel.

Six years ago, Don Cameron, the general manager of Terranova Ranch, southwest of Fresno, Calif., did something that seemed kind of crazy.

He went out to a nearby river, which was running high because of recent rains, and he opened an irrigation gate. Water rushed down a canal and flooded hundreds of acres of vineyards — even though it was wintertime. The vineyards were quiet. Nothing was growing.

"We started in February, and we flooded grapes continuously, for the most part, until May," Cameron says.

Let's say you're a farmer in the Midwest, growing conventional corn and soybeans. Times are tough right now. Prices are in the toilet.

If only you were selling organic soybeans and corn. They're worth almost twice as much, per bushel, as your conventional crops.

Eighteen years ago, on New Year's Eve, David Fisher visited an old farm in western Massachusetts, near the small town of Conway. No one was farming there at the time, and that's what had drawn Fisher to the place. He was scouting for farmland.

"I remember walking out [to the fallow fields] at some point," Fisher recalls. "And in the moonlight – it was all snowy – it was like a blank canvas."

It's a continuing paradox of the meat industry. Every year, more restaurants and food companies announce that they will sell only meat produced with minimal or no use of antibiotics. And every year, despite those pledges, more antibiotics are administered to the nation's swine, cattle and poultry.

Beth Briczinski has been keeping a list of all the things companies are turning into products labeled as a kind of milk. "There's soy and almond and rice," she says. "Hemp, pistachio, macadamia nut, sunflower."

Briczinski is highly annoyed by these products. She's vice president for dairy foods and nutrition at the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents the original milk producers: dairy farmers.

This week, just days before he says goodbye to his job, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack landed one last punch in a brawl that's gone on at his department since he got there eight long years ago.

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