The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting depends not only on readers like you to support our work but also on the hard work of our staff to produce the in-depth news on Big Ag you've come to rely on. 

This summer, the Midwest Center was gifted with five hard-working up and coming journalists - either just finishing school or recently graduated.  It is this issue of our newsletter, then, that we dedicate to the work of our Summer 2020 interns: Frank Hernandez, Madeline Perry, Marissa Plescia, Heather Schlitz and Sam Trilling.
Frank Hernandez is a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso, majoring in philosophy and multimedia journalism. Previously, he reported for, an online news magazine covering life on the US-Mexico border. He is interested in reporting on the environment, climate change and vulnerable communities across the country and the world. 

With no guaranteed protections from COVID-19, agricultural workers face tough decision: protect their lives or retain financial security

By  September 21, 2020

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Pedro Cabrera Flores, 70, had spent the past eight summers packing green beans into cans in Gillett, Wisconsin. In order to be hired again, he had to complete the season, but, in August, he decided to quit his job because he felt unsafe, he said.

New workers were not being tested for the coronavirus, he said.

Madeline Perry is a graduate of the University of Illinois where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a concentration in Public Policy and Democratic Institutions and a minor in Journalism. She hopes to one day inspire systemic change with her stories. 

Amid price-fixing indictment for poultry processors, growers say they continue to struggle

By Madeline Perry and Sky Chadde, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting July 10, 2020

On November 13, 2012, Scott Brady, Claxton Poultry’s vice president, texted his boss, Mikell Fries, about a conversation he had with Roger Austin, Pilgrim’s Pride vice president. 

“I talked to Roger,” Brady wrote. “He said to raise our prices, on wings.”

"Tell him we are trying!" Fries replied.

“Will do,” Brady said.

Marissa Plescia is from Barrington, IL, and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with a major in journalism and a minor in public relations. Over the last few years, she has interned with the Chicago Tribune's collection of suburban papers, The Daily Herald and Southwest Lake Lifestyle Magazine. She also worked with The Daily Illini as a features reporter and later assistant features editor. 

“Fall-off-a-cliff moment”: Covid-19 adds new dimension to farmers’ stress

By Marissa Plescia, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting June 23, 2020

Meg Moynihan knows what it’s like to struggle.

In 2016 she and her husband, who own an organic dairy farm in Minnesota, found themselves without a processor, which turns farm milk into a consumer product. Their farm was too far a drive for too little milk, they were told. They didn’t find another processor for eight months. 

Heather Schlitz is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she studies journalism, global studies and East Asian languages and cultures. Previously, Heather reported on climate change and the environment as a Dow Jones Data Journalism intern at AccuWeather and has spent three years writing about science news for the student newspaper and the University News Bureau.

Meatpacking workers say attendance policy forces them to work with potential Covid-19 symptoms

By Heather Schlitz, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting October 20, 2020

In April, despite his fever, a meatpacking worker continued to carve neck bones out of pig carcasses at a JBS plant in Iowa.

Two weeks later, he would test positive for COVID-19. But in the meantime, he said, he kept clocking in because of a punitive attendance system widely used in meatpacking plants: the point system.

Samuel Trilling is a recent graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, where he majored in Journalism and Political Science. A Dow Jones intern at the Midwest Center, Sam spent last summer in Sarajevo, Bosnia working for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. Sam is originally from rural New Jersey and is currently based in Philadelphia, and hopes to continue working in investigative reporting.

Graphic: Among agribusinesses, dairies received the most loans from federal Paycheck Protection Program

By Samuel Trilling and Pramod Acharya, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting August 26, 2020

A very small percentage of businesses in the agriculture industry received Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loans, which were intended to help keep people employed as the economy convulsed during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, of the agricultural companies that did receive loans, dairies received the most, according to a Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting analysis of federal data released in July.


GRAPHIC: Farm bankruptcies keep pace with last year’s jump

ICYMI: Read these stories now

EPA documents show dicamba damage worse than previously thought

Meatpacking workers say attendance policy forces them to work with potential Covid-19 symptoms

Confidential coronavirus outbreak data shows undisclosed incidents at prisons, workplaces, schools, meatpacking plants across Illinois

USDA continues to fund companies with no food service experience to help feed needy families

Minnesota has figured out a way to help stressed farmers. Can it be replicated?

Copyright © 2020 Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, All rights reserved.

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