Peggy Lowe

Peggy Lowe joined Harvest Public Media in 2011, returning to the Midwest after 22 years as a journalist in Denver and Southern California. Most recently she was at The Orange County Register, where she was a multimedia producer and writer. In Denver she worked for The Associated Press, The Denver Post and the late, great Rocky Mountain News. She was on the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of Columbine. Peggy was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in 2008-09. She is from O'Neill, the Irish Capital of Nebraska, and now lives in Kansas City. Based at KCUR, Peggy is the analyst for The Harvest Network and often reports for Harvest Public Media.

Earl Dotter/Oxfam America

Americans eat more chicken than any other meat, an average of 89 pounds per year. That enormous demand for what's considered a relatively inexpensive protein source is feeding the $50 billion poultry industry. 

In recent years, consumer groups have pushed the industry to stop feeding antibiotics and move laying hens to cage-free pens. But while many people are concerned with the welfare of meat animals, there appears to be little consumer concern for how workers in the meat industry are treated.


Congress inched closer to setting a national standard for labeling genetically-modified foods Wednesday, even as farm-state Democrats and Republicans championed the safety of GMOs and voiced frustration that most consumers don't agree.

Photo by Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

The Chipotle Cultivate Festival had it all: an indie pop band on stage, long lines at the beer booths, folks hanging out on a hot summer day.

Sort of like a Grateful Dead concert, only with free burritos.

But the Chipotle Cultivate events, with four held across the country this summer, aim to do a little more than just the classic summertime music festival. Billed as offering “food, ideas and music,” the festivals offer a chance to “learn a free burrito” after going through four exhibits.

Photo by Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media


Farm dog? Check.

Barn cats? Check.

Muddy work books lined up at the back door? Five checks.

We kick off our fourth season of “My Farm Roots” with the Renyer Family, five farm kids I had the pleasure of meeting.

Driving onto the Renyer farm, out in Nemaha County, Kan., I was struck by the many classic examples of a farm family. After being met by the family dog, a very sweet boy named Salty, I watched as the barn cats scattered and I met Leah coming out the back door, where the knee-high work boots were standing guard.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

On Thursday, the U.S. House passed a bill that would prevent states from passing and enacting laws that require mandatory labels on genetically modified food. Here’s what you should know about it:

The bill would change labels for GMO foods

The bill:

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

(Editor's note, 5:27pm)  Cathy Cochran, USDA spokeswoman, clarified that Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack misspoke when he used the term "outbreak".  In fact, Cochran said, the agency was preparing for 500 "detections" of bird flu in the fall.  That means the USDA is preparing for an outbreak that is essentially double in size of the one experienced by Midwestern states this spring.  The headline and lead of this story have been changed to reflect this.)



Photo by Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

Agriculture officials don’t know just how the massive outbreak of avian flu in the Midwest was spread, but they believe the culprits include humans breaking biosecurity measures and the virus going airborne.

IPR file photo by Kathleen Masterson

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will soon allow pasteurized egg imports from the Netherlands because of dwindling supplies and higher prices caused by the huge bird flu outbreak in the Midwest.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media


An avian flu outbreak is sweeping across the Midwest at a frightening pace, ravaging chicken and turkey farms and leaving officials stumped on the virus’s seemingly unstoppable spread.


Susanne Byerly can laugh now, four years later, talking about how she and her husband were trying to eat healthy food when they bought ground turkey for their spaghetti dinner.

Byerly, along with her husband, Jerry, and their two-year-old, Jack, were on vacation with extended family in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. While buying supplies at a local grocery store, they decided to swap ground beef for poultry because they were watching their weight.

Ranchers Rebel Over Beef Checkoff

Jan 27, 2015
Courtesy Jill Toyoshiba/The Kansas City Star

From their small farms set in the rolling hills of northeast Kansas, two ranchers are raising a few cattle, and a lot of Cain.


2014 was the year even the lunch ladies got political.

Harvest Public Media was created four years ago to report on agriculture and food production in the geographic area where the majority of that takes place – the Midwest. This year, my third of counting the top ag stories of the year, I find that the issues taking center stage were set not here, but in the politics, policies and processes of Washington D.C., state legislatures or the ballot box.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

The long line of semi-trucks waiting to get in the gates of the Farmland Foods plant could simply wait around for a few hours to head back, fresh products on board.

The trucks are loaded with hogs from several confinement operations near this factory in Milan, a small town in northeast Missouri. Within just 19 hours, those pigs will be slaughtered, butchered and boxed into cuts that consumers see in the grocery store and in restaurants.

But that effort will use only about half of the animal.

Courtesy of Emily Robbins

Emily Robbins is a city girl now.

Well, I’m using that term as a cliché. Robbins, 27, lives in Kansas City and works as an engineer at a large firm. She is part of a profession that is made up of just 14 percent women.

Her choice of professions makes sense, though, when you know that she started out as her father’s “boy.”

Courtesy David Kosling/USDA

When U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced passage of the Farm Bill in February, she echoed a refrain from a car commercial.

“This is not your father’s Farm Bill,” she said.

Courtesy RADiUS-TWC

Just who’s to blame for the childhood obesity epidemic? Over the years, the finger has been pointed at parents, video games and vending machines, to name a few.

To the makers of the new activist documentary, “Fed Up,” the bottom line of blame lies with a simple substance poured into our diets every day: sugar. And the pushers of what this film calls a drug and “the new tobacco” are the food industry and our own government.

“What if our whole approach to this epidemic has been dead wrong?” the film’s narrator, TV journalist Katie Couric, says in the film’s open.

The Kansas Board of Regents gave final approval Wednesday to a strict new policy on what employees may say on social media. Critics say the policy violates both the First Amendment and academic freedom, but school officials say providing faculty with more specific guidelines will actually bolster academic freedom on campus.

The controversial policy was triggered by an equally controversial tweet posted last September by David Guth, an associate journalism professor. Reacting to a lone gunman who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., he wrote:

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media file photo


State efforts to label genetically-modified food would be outlawed under a bill unveiled by a Kansas congressman Wednesday – a plan immediately criticized as a “legislative Hail Mary” that won’t pass.

The bill by Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Wichita, would also bar the Food and Drug Administration from labeling efforts, a move highly popular with consumers, and allow so-called “natural” foods to contain bio-engineered ingredients.  

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media


When the people from the drug company came out to visit Tyler Karney at Ordway Feedyard here on Colorado’s eastern plains, he was a little skeptical.

They said their product, Zilmax, could put another 30 pounds on an animal in the last days before slaughter. Then he started blending it into the feed for the 6,500 head of Holsteins at this huge feedlot.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media


Not yet 9 a.m. on a warm fall day, freshmen Binh Hua and My Nguyen are in protective goggles, long hair pulled back, ready for their chemistry class in a Garden City Community College lab.

The teacher calls the class to order, calling the students “Busters,” short for “Broncbusters,” the college’s mascot and a reminder of this old West town’s history of raising cattle.

(Design by Scott Pham/KBIA)

Across the country, rural towns are becoming home to a diverse population of children whose parents work in the meatpacking industry. These young immigrants and refugees have dreams that are bigger than working at the plant. They’re hoping to move out of the shadows of the slaughterhouses that paved the way for their parents to move here from parts of Asia, Africa and Central America.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

Sister Janice Thome’s office is a 2003 brown Ford Focus with a backseat piled high with paperwork and a prayer book.

Thome puts 125,000 miles a year on this car, picking up boxes from the food pantry, finding a mattress for a newcomer, delivering a sick soul to a doctor’s appointment. All the while, she fields emergency calls on her flip phone, responding to her mission to serve the poor of Garden City, out on the plains of southwest Kansas.

This day, Thome is teaching her teen parenting class at the alternative high school.

Nearly two years after allegations of a sexual assault rocked a small Missouri town, the case may be reopened.

A county prosecutor in Maryville, Mo., has requested that an independent attorney look at accusations of rape and other charges against two former high school athletes — despite his earlier decision to drop the case.

The Internet activist group Anonymous, which crusaded for another high-profile rape case, is taking credit for this turnaround.

The Events

Tyson Foods Inc. announced this week that it would soon suspend purchases of cattle that had been treated with a controversial drug, citing animal welfare concerns.

But many in the industry wonder if the real reason is the battle for sales in other countries, where certain drugs that make livestock grow faster are banned.

"I really do think this is more of a marketing ploy from Tyson to raise some awareness so they can garner some export business from our overseas export partners," says Dan Norcini, an independent commodities broker.

As Chris Webber checked the 40 acres of muddy field he wanted to plant on a recent morning, he worried about getting more rain, even as he worried about the lack of it.

"The drought is over at the moment," he says. "But in Missouri, we tend to say that in 10 days or two weeks, we can be in a drought again. That's how fast it can get back to dry."

There were questions Wednesday about whether U.S. regulators will approve the takeover of Smithfield Foods Inc., the company that sells all-American hams, hot dogs and bacon, by China's Shuanghui International.

The local food movement has a powerful new poster girl.

More glowing than American Gothic, Oprah Winfrey and her pal, Bob Greene, appear on the cover of the June issue of The Oprah Magazine, standing in what looks to be a field of kale.

"Oprah's New Farm!" reads the headline splashed across the pair's checkered shirts. "How She's Growing Healthier — and You Can Too."

The devastating drought in the Midwest last summer is a story often told by the numbers, with statistics on large crop failures, days without rain and thousands of parched acres.

This story is also about a tree — a bur oak in rural Columbia, Mo., that everyone calls "The Big Tree." Although it's survived all kinds of punishments during its 350 years on the prairie, last year's record drought was especially tough.

Farmers who had hoped to get some answers on why prices for their raw milk went into free fall a decade ago were disappointed Tuesday by the settlement of a case accusing Dairy Farmers of America Inc. of creating a milk monopoly in the Southeast.

Dairy farmers and industry observers had hoped for their day in court after years of delays in the large class-action suit. But the day before the trial was to start in federal court in Tennessee, DFA announced a $158.6 million deal, saying it didn't want to risk going to trial.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

Abraham Lincoln established the land-grant colleges 150 years ago as the “peoples’ universities” – places where research could be done to help the common man. But times have changed and some public colleges are now often working for big business. Peggy Lowe has the story in part 1 of Harvest Public Media's series America’s Big Beef