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Harvest Public Media Launches Investigative Unit

Peggy Lowe
Harvest Public Media

I had lunch at the Golden Ox just a couple days before the old steakhouse closed in December.

The Golden Ox is set smack dab in the Kansas City Stockyards, now long closed, but which for 120 years churned out billions of pounds of beef.

As the name would suggest, the Golden Ox is not a place of, well, subtleties. There were large aerial black-and-white photos of the stockyards in the entry way, the brass sconces were shaped as cow skulls and the specially-made carpets have a wagon wheel design.

The Kansas City Stockyards went the way of other meatpacking towns, like Omaha and Chicago, all long gone. With them goes a way of life we now only know from history books and exhibits like the one at the Kansas City Public Library.

I’m the daughter of a guy who worked at the Sioux City Stockyards, so perhaps I’ve romanticized those old days somewhat. While I watched those times pass with some sadness, I'm thrilled with the sea change I've seen in reporting on food production.

I've now worked this beat for the last three-plus years, a witness to the significant changes in ag journalism and the growing conflict between what I see as the new Red State-Blue State debate.

Following the demise of the ag beat at most newspapers, Harvest Public Media was birthed to better serve the growing number of consumers who want to know about their food. In addition to our public media collaborative, the last few years has seen the growth of reputable reporting like work by NPR's food and ag correspondent, Dan Charles, the Food and Environment Reporting NetworkCivilEats and the ag pros over at Politico. That's in addition to innovative investigative pieces, like this one by Reuters.

(If I’ve missed others, please add to the comments below.)

All that good journalism heartens me on a beat that, in the past, was largely aimed at producers and done by advocates.

This is all a lead-up to a post in which I’ve buried the lead: Harvest Public Media is launching an investigative unit, an extension of Harvest’s mission of deep coverage of food, fuel and field. We hope to produce top-notch watchdog work and to explore how the big business of agriculture has affected farming, ranching, workplace safety, and most importantly, what we eat.

Our first project was an extensive explanatory piece on the Beef Check-off, the $1-a-head charge to producers that’s raised billions for research and promotion of the industry. Produced with veteran ag reporter Mike McGraw, our story revealed that a growing number of independent producers are unhappy that the $80 million raised each year goes mostly to promote big business and programs that only benefit the industrialized beef business.

We’re going to need your help on our next steps. If you have ideas or tips on what you’d like to see covered, please click here and respond to this query. Or, you can email me directly at peggy.lowe@harvestpublicmedia.org and we can keep the conversation private.  We want to hear from you.

And now please excuse me...I think I'll call over to the Livestock Exchange Building to see if I can get one of those brass cow-head lights.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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