Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson


Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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There Might Be Fracking Wastewater on Your Organic Fruits and Veggies

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Irrigation water appears to be a major loophole in the USDA's organic food safety program.

The US Department of Agriculture's organics standards, written 15 years ago, strictly ban petroleum-derived fertilizers commonly used in conventional agriculture. But the same rules do not prohibit farmers from irrigating their crops with petroleum-laced wastewater obtained from oil and gas wells—a practice that is increasingly common in drought-stricken Southern California.

"No one expects their lettuce to contain heavy chemicals from fracking wastewater."

As I reported last month, oil companies last year supplied half the water that went to the 45,000 acres of farmland in Kern County's Cawelo Water District, farmland that is owned, in part, by Sunview, a company that sells certified organic raisins and grapes. Food watchdog groups are concerned that the state hasn't required oil companies to disclose all the chemicals they use in oil drilling and fracking operations, much less set safety limits for all those chemicals in irrigation water.

A spokesman for the USDA's National Organics Program confirmed that it has little to say on the matter. "The USDA organic regulations do not directly address the use of irrigation water on organic farms," said the spokesman, who asked to be quoted on background, "but organic operations must generally maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality."

Of course, that's easier said than done. USDA organic regulations do not require farms to perform water quality tests, and irrigation water is not evaluated as an input by the Organic Materials Review Institute, which vets products used on organic farms. Calls placed to California Certified Organic Farmers, which certifies organic farms in California, were not returned.

Irrigation water appears to be a major loophole in a food safety program that otherwise strictly controls what farmers can apply to their land. Notably, the organics program does prohibit the use of sewage sludge-based fertilizer, a product widely used on nonorganic farms that sometimes contains chemicals such as flame retardants and pharmaceuticals.

On Monday, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Democrat from Glendale, introduced a bill that would require crops irrigated with wastewater from oil and gas operations to be labeled as such. "No one expects their lettuce to contain heavy chemicals from fracking wastewater," he explained in a press release.

That's especially true if their lettuce is labeled "organic," adds Adam Scow, the California director of the environmental group Food and Water Watch: "I think most people's logic would tell them that's not a practice consistent with organic standards."

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This California Farmers Market Sells Marijuana

| Fri Aug. 14, 2015 3:01 PM EDT

In the fruit and veggie cornucopia that is California, local farmers markets sell everything from brandywine tomatoes and lemon cucumbers to hedgehog mushrooms and fresh medjool dates. But no farmers market can match the selection of the one in the Mendocino County town of Laytonville, which offers, among other things, an ample supply of heirloom cannabis.

Admittedly, this is not a typical farmers market. It takes place just once a year, at a hippie enclave replete with UFO murals and Ganesh shrines, and only certified medical marijuana patients may enter (though there's a doctor on site to help with that). But it does offer the spectacle of actual farmers selling their own produce and pot side by side.

Emily Hobelmann of the Lost Coast Outpost visited last year and was wowed by the selection:

All told, I saw squash and apples and pears and peppers and world-class cannabis flowers. I saw leeks and tomatoes, peaches and dab rigs. I saw picked beans and marijuana clones, carrots and cold water hash.

If you happen to be up that way, you can stop by between 11 a.m. and 4:20 p.m. next Saturday.

This Silicon Valley Giant Is Actually Hiring Women and Minorities

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 3:51 PM EDT

In January, Intel raised the bar in Silicon Valley by setting concrete targets for hiring women and minorities. While other major tech firms had cut big checks to groups that promote workplace diversity, Intel was the only one to commit to measurable change, pledging to make its workforce reflect the diversity of the tech talent pool by 2020. Some saw the goal as overly optimistic, but Intel's midyear diversity report, released today, shows that it is largely on track to meet its goals.

Overall, more than 43 percent of the company's new hires since January have been women or racial minorities such as African-Americans and Hispanics:

These numbers may not seem particularly high—African-Americans, after all, make up 13 percent of the American workforce but just 3.5 percent of Intel's. But they do compare favorably with the talent pipeline for technical jobs. (Just 4.5 percent of computer science degrees last year went to African-Americans). And the overall demographics in the tech sector are pretty skewed to white dudes:

Compared to those industry-wide numbers, Intel is still falling behind in hiring African-Americans. Yet a comparison of workplace demographics in December and July shows that it's making progress on several fronts: 

Though these shifts aren't huge in percentage terms, they are notable for a company with tens of thousands of employees. The biggest jumps in minority representation have come within the company's leadership ranks—which still remain heavily white and male:

Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose Rainbow PUSH Coalition has played a major behind-the-scenes role in Intel's efforts to diversify, issued a press release praising the company. "Rainbow PUSH argues that companies must set measurable diversity and inclusion goals, targets, and timetables," he said. "Due to CEO Brian Krzanich's steady and visionary leadership, Intel is doing that and more."

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