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Top Stories for 10/23/14

West Bank Olive Growers Face Ongoing Harvest Attacks

West Bank Olive Growers Face Ongoing Harvest Attacks

U.S. specialty food shops will be indirectly impacted by the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestine as the West Bank's olive harvest season gets underway. Harvest forecasts for this year were already low due to weather, and Palestinean growers anticipate vandalism similar to incidents last year. According to a U.N. report, in 2013 Israeli settlers damaged or destroyed nearly 11,000 olive trees. Many of the groves are owned by members of Canaan Fair Trade, which imports products to U.S. stores that include Whole Food Markets, and get aid from European agencies and the U.S. Agency for International Development, reports The Washington PostFull Story

First Domestic Chia Seeds Grown in KY

First Domestic Chia Seeds Grown in KY

US Chia is growing the first chia seeds domestically in Kentucky. The U.K. patented two varieties that can grow in the U.S., for horses and the food industry, and three companies, including US Chia, obtained the licenses to grow the plants and sell seeds. US Chia plans to grow food-grade seeds in the future, but for now it's focusing on horse feed. The seeds are said to be rich in omega-3 fats, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and protein, and are tasteless, making them an ideal nutrient-boosting addition to a variety of foods.

Behind the company are four University of Louisville MBA grads, who started plans to grow the plant commercially in 2010. The company's first harvest, through seed grower Roundstone Farm, yielded 25,000 pounds of chia, reports The Courier-JournalFull Story

Chocolate Demand Unscathed by Rising Prices

Chocolate Demand Unscathed by Rising Prices

U.S. chocolate demand is still growing, despite higher prices due to disruptions in production, including the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Sales of chocolate in the U.S. are expected to hit a record $17.75 billion this year, according to Euromonitor. Cocoa prices are also on the rise, increasing 2.2 percent last month. As other food and gasoline prices drop, U.S. consumers may seek chocolate "as an affordable luxury," says Pinar Hosafci, a packaged-food analyst at Euromonitor.

Despite the increase in ingredient prices, like cocoa butter, which is up 5 percent this year, chocolate sales increased 1.9 percent to 2.2 billion pounds in the 52 weeks ending Oct. 5, compared with a year before, according to IRI. Demand is not only increasing in the U.S. In the year ended Sept. 30, global cocoa processing jumped 3.7 percent to 4.26 million tons and output increased 10 percent to 4.3 million tons, according to the International Cocoa Organization, reports Bloomberg. Full Story

Appeals Panel: Brazilian Specialty Chefs Can Work in U.S.

Foreign chefs specializing in cultural traditions can work in the U.S., a federal appellate court panel ruled Oct. 21. The decision is a victory for such foreign specialty restaurants like Brazil's Fogo de Chao, which imports chefs from that country's sourthern Rio Grande do Sul area who are trained in roasting meats the "gaucho way." Under the work visa criteria involved in the ruling, foreign companies may transfer employees to the U.S. for up to five years, providing they can prove the employees have specialized knowledge that can't be acquired in their home country.

While the Brazilian restaurant has managed to obtain more than 200 visas for chefs, called Churrasqueiros, in 2010 a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services branch in Vermont rejected a request, stating the skills were not that specialized. When an appeals court sided with a federal district ruling favoring the CIS claim, the matter went before the federal panel, where members decided 2-1 that cultural knowledge is "relevant," reports The Wall Street JournalFull Story (Subscription Required)

Fresh Food Program Launches in 15 CA School Districts

California is taking the farm-to-table movement to school cafeterias. Through the program "California Thursdays," 15 school districts in the state are set to serve fresh food from local sources on Thursdays. Among the participating districts is Elk Grove Unified School District, which comprises 65 schools numbering some 62,000 students. The meals must still meet federal nutrition standards and many kitchens, equipped for handling mostly processed and frozen foods, may need to make upgrades for the program.

Grants from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Endowment, TomKat Charitable Trust, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture help fund California Thursdays, reports Sacramento Business JournalFull Story

Organic Bean Producer Raises $1.5M for Expansion

Better Beans, maker of refrigerated bean products, has raised $1.5 million to go national. The organic beans are currently available in 1,500 grocery stores in 32 states and have tripled their footprint since the second quarter of this year. Better Beans will invest in equipment, marketing efforts, and an upgrade to quadruple production at its 6,000-square-foot production facility in Wilsonville, Ore.

"The Better Bean team is improving both health and the sustainability of our food systems by making plant-based proteins a delicious option for families," says Paul Richardson, CEO of Renewal Funds, which led the round of funding, reports Portland Business JournalFull Story

Gracious Gourmet Debuts Essentials Line

Gracious Gourmet Debuts Essentials Line

The Gracious Gourmet’s award-winning spreads, chutneys, and pestos welcomes a new line called The Gracious Gourmet Essentials. The Essentials line launches with Sauteed Mixed Mushrooms and Sweet Caramelized Onions. The sauteed mushrooms combine white, crimini, and shiitake mushrooms cooked with onions in olive oil and finished with a dash of lemon juice. The caramelized onions boast the equivalent of one pound of raw sweet onions in every 7-ounce container; fresh onions are cooked in olive oil with a hint of brown sugar to boost the onions’ natural sweetness.

Also new is Date Apricot Spread. The fruit spread is packed with dates combined with apricots, spices, and orange juice. It pairs well with cheese like ricotta, fresh goat, brie, and cheddar, or can be served with chicken, duck, or turkey and mixed with basmati rice. All three products are available for foodservice, in 76-ounce containers.

Colonial Farm Drink Switchel Enters 21st Century

Switchel, a colonial-era drink, is gaining some traction in the modern artisan market. The drink is generally made of water, ginger, cider vinegar, and a sweetener such as molasses, brown sugar, or maple syrup. The drink use to be the go-to for farmers, especially during hay harvest. Up Mountain Switchel, a company that brews a variety from 18th century Vermont, says the drink's health benefits—said to include anti-inflammatory properties, probiotics, and minerals—appeals to many of its customers. In fact, Up Mountain Switchel received its initial loan from a company in the field of progressive healthcare. Vermont Switchel Company founder Susan Alexander says the drink can be used to replenish electrolytes while exercising. Both companies are growing distribution in the Northeast and beyond, reports Modern FarmerFull Story

KY Launches Food-Forward Tourism Website

The Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism is launching The tourism website features an assortment of destinations including restaurants, farms, and farmers' markets, as well as breweries, wineries, and more. The initiative was announced at the annual fall conference hosted by the Kentucky Travel Industry Association and comes after state travel and tourism officials kicked off culinary initiatives in July, when 47 food destinations in the state were included in the Appalachian Regional Commission's national "Bon Appetit Appalalachia.Local chefs and videos will also be featured on the site. reports Washington Times. Full Story

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