Break Time

Hey there! We’re taking a little break, but never fear. We’ll be back!

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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
onetogrowonpod.com

53: Harriet Tubman Freedom Farm with Dallas Robinson

This week we talk with farmer Dallas Robinson on her project, the Harriet Tubman Freedom Farm. She talks about what it means to grow food on her own and reconnect with the land and her ancestry as a person of color in the United States. Also, the South does have beauty, y’all.

Visit: https://www.harriettubmanfreedomfarm.com/

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Connect with us!
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[email protected]

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

Support us on Patreon!
patreon.com/onetogrowonpod

About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
onetogrowonpod.com

#AskOnetoGrowOn 7: What’s a Weed and Other Questions

What makes something a weed? What is pumpkin spice? What are our favorite fruits and vegetables? These an many more listener questions answered on this week’s episode.

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patreon.com/onetogrowonpod

About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
onetogrowonpod.com

51: Christmas Trees Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we’re focusing on Christmas trees.

[Background music].

Hallie: Today we’re going to talk about the agronomic information around Christmas trees, a little bit about the history. This is an episode for all people of all faiths, even if you do not celebrate Christmas. Welcome to the Christmas tree episode, everyone.

Chris: Welcome. It’s more about trees than about Christmas, right?

Hallie: Yes, absolutely. Except for, I hope you are wearing warm, cozy socks, wherever you are.

Chris: I am wearing no socks, but I am wearing my Baby Yoda PJ pants.

Hallie: Totally counts. Dad, what do you know about Christmas trees?

Chris: I know they’re trees.

Hallie: Yeah, great.

Chris: I know they’re often made of fir.

Hallie: Made of fir. What do you mean made of fir?

Chris: There’s Douglas fir and noble fir and what other kind of fir treating.

Hallie: Right. Not like cat fur.

Chris: I mean, I just assumed it’s all the same fir, right?

Hallie: It is not the same fir. [Laughs].

Chris: Definitely not. Okay. I mean, and they are trees.

Hallie: Yeah, you said that.

Chris: I guess that’s all I really know. Usually, I guess we have some sort of pine tree as our Christmas tree when we’ve had Christmas trees. I feel like my grandparents once went out into the field and cut down some sort of Christmasy shaped Cedar tree.

Hallie: Oh, that’s so cool.

Chris: Or what we call Cedar trees here in Central Texas, which are actually what Ashe juniper or whatever.

Hallie: Correct. Great work.

Chris: Go me and they usually have lovely decorations and some sort of ridiculous, massive thing on top.

Hallie: Yeah, botanically speaking, Christmas trees are not very specific. They’re kind of just generally a conifer. A conifer could be like you mentioned fir trees, it could also be pines, spruces, et cetera. What the term conifer means is it’s within this category of seed plants so that is all plants that make seeds. We have within seed plants, angiosperms that’s plants that flower like an apple tree or a sunflower, anything with a flower on it is an angiosperm and then you have gymnosperms and gymno.

Chris: Means they’re doing gymnastics.

Hallie: It does not mean they’re doing gymnastics. Gymnosperm means naked seed. So sperm meaning seed and gymno meaning naked.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Within gymnosperms, you have a couple of different categories, ginkgo trees, which we’ve talked about before are gymnosperm, cycads are gymnosperm, which are like a kind of palm and then conifers are also a type of gymnosperms. That’s what conifer means. It is a cone bearing plant. It does not have flowers and it makes cones.

Chris: I think cone bearing was the thing that I had learned in I don’t know elementary or high school or somewhere along the way, but there’s a little more to it than that and they bear these lovely cones and the cones are what contain the seeds.

Hallie: Exactly. Yes, these trees that we use as Christmas trees don’t make flowers. They make instead cones with seeds in them. If you’ve ever seen like there’s really cool videos on YouTube with a pine cone exploding outwards.

Chris: What?

Hallie: Which is when a pine cone gets ripe when it’s not ripe, when it’s ready. Then when it’s not ready, all of those little edge guys are like uptight so it kind of looks just like an egg. Then when it’s ready, it kind of just like pops open and all of the seeds kind of shoot-out, which is a great seed dispersal method and then that’s when you get kind of that classic pine cone shape because it kind of just hoots open.

Chris: Okay. We’re putting the link to one of those videos in the show notes because I got to see this.

Hallie: Let’s talk about the history of Christmas trees. There is a very long tradition of people putting green things in their houses. The Egyptians did it, the Romans did it, the pagans did it. When it’s winter time, it’s dark and gross and there’s some green stuff outside. Let’s bring it inside and make it nicer inside. We’ve been doing that for a long time, but the practice of bringing a whole entire tree into your house started in Germany. The church was putting on plays to educate people about the Bible because people couldn’t read very well. So they would put on place showing stories from the Bible and the 24th of December was celebrated as like the feast day for Adam and Eve. Not really sure what that means, but they would put on an Adam and Eve play. Within the story of Adam and Eve, there is a tree famously and so they would bring a tree and from outside as kind of a prop in a play and they would put like red balls on it if they couldn’t source any apples.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: Yeah, so that was like the first time we started putting trees inside of our houses around Christmas time. Eventually, they started adding candles to these trees and other things and it started looking lovely and people started thinking, hey, that’s nice. I’ll just put that in my house so eventually, it became a German tradition to actually have a tree around the 25th of December. That was around like the 1500, 1600. Eventually, people started immigrating from Germany over West to the Americas and they kind of took that tradition with them, but it didn’t really take off until Queen Victoria in 1848. There was an engraving made of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who is German. What?

Chris: He’s the guy in the can.

Hallie: What can?

Chris: Prince Albert in a can.

Hallie: I don’t know what you’re talking about, dad.

Chris: You’ve never heard of Prince Albert in a can?

Hallie: Prince Albert in a can? What?

Chris: It’s a joke. You call up a grocery store. You say, do you have Prince Albert in a can? They say yes and you say, you better let him out.

Hallie: Why would they say yes though? I don’t understand.

Chris: That’s a great question. Oh, it’s tobacco.

Hallie: Okay. Well, probably makes sense as to why I’ve never heard this weird joke because nobody chews tobacco anymore.

[Laughter].

Chris: It’s true. I mean, I’m sure some people do, but yeah.

Hallie: I will say I went to school for agriculture and we did have signs around the school saying this is a tobacco free campus so you can’t chew your tobacco or smoke it because that’s what I went to school with.

Chris: Good for them.

Hallie: Farm folks and that is not uncommon for some people in some areas of the country, but anyways. Great, weird old joke, dad.

Chris: Thank you.

Hallie: So in 1848, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their kids, there was an engraving made. It got put in a couple of magazines and everyone was like, oh my God, how cool and fashionable a tree inside the house with candles on it and stuff so it became kind of a thing and then in the 19th century, the electric lobby here in the US pushed for an electrically lit tree in the white house, which kind of brought the tradition here to the US.

Chris: Naturally.

Hallie: Eventually in the late fifties and early sixties, plastic trees and otherwise non-natural trees came into fashion, which we will talk about later, but that’s kind of the brief history of the Christmas tree.

Chris: Okay. Super brief.

Hallie: Really quickly before we went into the mid-role, I wanted to kind of talk to you about your favorite part of a Christmas tree.

Chris: Oh, wow. I used to help my mom decorate the Christmas tree and it was a lot of fun and for some reason, there were these two little wooden pan hand painted bird ornaments that I always put on the Christmas tree and I’d always sort of dig through the ornament box and look for those specific ornaments so I could put them on the tree. I’d try to give find little places where they could have nest in the branches.

Hallie: Oh, well. That’s so cool.

Chris: Yeah, and then I really pushed hard for blinking Christmas lights.

Hallie: Oh yes.

Chris: Because I thought blinking Christmas lights were the coolest. My mom of course wanted static white lights. The blinking drove her nuts but I just for some reason really loved blinking Christmas lights and then at some point, we had this giant star on the top of the tree that was basically one big series of concentric circles of blinking lights and I loved it.

Hallie: I love that. That’s awesome. I don’t know when you got this, but had like a little X wing that plugged into a Christmas light and so it would like light up different colors if I remember correctly.

Chris: That’s true. The engines would light up.

Hallie: Very cool.

Chris: Yeah, I still got that [inaudible].

Hallie: I also used to decorate the Christmas trees with your mom and my sister and I think my favorite part was always at the very end. Our Christmas trees over the years got more and more elaborate. At one point, we were buying like 18 foot Christmas trees and doing the entire tree and it was like really intense, but my favorite part was always at the very end we would do tinsel and I know it’s not very environmentally sound to be putting strings of plastic on to your Christmas tree, but we would save it from year to year. We would like pull it out of this baggie and it would like always have little pine needles from last year in there and we would like sprinkle the tinsel on and it would just look so incredible this giant monstrous tree that was just covered in a bunch of handmade ornaments and lights and shiny, shiny tinsel. It was my favorite.

Chris: Okay. I want to make sure the listener understands here because my first memory of tinsel was this sort of shiny plastic stuff that was fixed to a string and then you’d sort of draped the string around the tree and there’d be the shiny plastic stuff attached to the string and so you’d have tinsel all around the tree. Now, this tinsel to which Hallie is referring was just the shiny plastic stuff. It was just a bunch of loose tinsel in the bag that they would get up and they would sort of drape all over the tree and then to clean it up, we’d have to pick up the individual pieces and I’m sure we would lose a little bit each year to sweeping or vacuuming or whatever and then stuff it back in the bag. Yeah, it was a mess, but it did look pretty cool.

Hallie: To be fair, we also had this string kind of tinsel. We really went for a maximalist look with our Christmas trees.

Chris: That was like, I think we hit peak tinsel in one year. I don’t know.

[Background music].

Hallie: Dad?

Chris: Yo.

Hallie: You know what people wear every day?

Chris: What do people wear every day?

Hallie: Underwear.

Chris: I mean, we’ll say most people. I don’t want to speak for everyone.

Hallie: That’s fair. Most people, most days. We are in Zoom life so live your bliss. There are very few societal norms that we all have to follow anymore.

Chris: It’s true. If you like go commando, but if you don’t.

Hallie: If you don’t, then you should absolutely check out Knickey. Knickey is an underwear brand that makes underwears from organic fair trade cotton and it ships in 100% plastic free packaging. I cannot tell you how happy I am that I don’t have to take little baggies to the grocery store and have them recycled there or just worse, put them in landfill into the garbage. That’s the worst, so you get totally plastic free packaging. They are committed to earth friendly practices across the entire supply chain, as well as beyond the customer’s use because they have a first of its kind recycling program for old undies. This is an amazing sustainable underwear brand. It is so hard to find comfortable sustainable underwear in my opinion and these ones really knock it out of the park. I am such a fan and you can become a fan too today. If you go to knickey.com and use the code GROWON at checkout, you can get 10% off. That’s K-N-I-C-K-E-Y and use the code GROWON at checkout.

Chris: You know who I bet loves comfortable underwear.

Hallie: Who’s that?

Chris: Our patrons, especially our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick and Shianne.

Hallie: We are so grateful for you guys. You do the mostess, the absolute mostess and we are so, so grateful and we hope that you guys are having a wonderful day wherever you are.

Chris: Thank you to each and every one of you.

Hallie: Shall we get back to the episode?

Chris: Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: So dad, do you have a nature fact for us?

Chris: A figure very often associated with Christmas is of course, Santa Claus.

Hallie: Sure.

Chris: But did you know that in the Marvel Universe, Santa Claus is the most powerful mutant according to Cerebro.

Hallie: What?

Chris: Yeah, in 1991, they declared that he was an Omega level mutant with abilities that included immortality, weather manipulation, molecular manipulation, immunity to cold and heat and gravity manipulation, which if you think about it, he’s going to have to be able to do all that stuff to get around the world and deliver those presents.

Hallie: Honestly, I love that. There’s this very, very powerful person and all he wants to do with his big, strong powers is just go deliver presents to children. When you think about the traditional Santa Claus mythos that’s just his job but the idea of thinking of him as like a mutant, that’s not just his job. He just has all these strong powers and then he made the decision to I could do literally anything, but what I will be doing is becoming Santa Claus and taking all these presents to these kids. That’s adorable.

Chris: Does it justify the surveillance though?

Hallie: Oh sure. It does.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Absolutely, dad.

Chris: Also in 1927, the US government issued him a pilot’s license.

Hallie: Oh my God. I love that. I love how the United States military is so dedicated to truly collaborating with Santa Claus throughout the years. It’s wonderful.

Chris: It really is, but also the Canadians do it too. Both he and Mrs. Claus have Canadian e-passports.

Hallie: Amazing. Wait, what’s an e-passport?

Chris: I don’t know. I assume it’s some sort of Canadian electronic passport thing.

Hallie: Well, love it. Great work. Terrific. Do you want to hear about the farming involved with Christmas trees?

Chris: I can’t wait.

Hallie: In 2012, which was the most recent numbers I could find, there were 295,000 acres in production for Christmas trees.

Chris: Is that a lot?

Hallie: I mean, it’s not none acres. That’s a considerable amount of acres that equated to about 17 million trees being cut in 2012.

Chris: That sounds like a lot.

Hallie: It’s yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of Christmas trees around the world. There are a lot. The biggest States here in the US for it are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Oregon and North Carolina are really like the two big, heavy hitters. Although the interesting thing about Christmas trees that is not really the same for any other crops, including flowers is that Christmas trees are very often procured close to your region just because one, they’re alive so they need to be taken care of well so that you can have a long Christmas tree life and two, they’re also really big and hard to move. Flowers are alive and you want to have as long shelf life as possible, but we get a lot of our flowers from South America and Europe, but they’re really, really small so it’s not that hard to move a giant Christmas tree, very hard to move around the world. So Christmas trees are very often procured within your region. You do have like Oregon supplies a lot of the Christmas trees on the West coast. North Carolina does a lot of the East coast, but like here in Texas, a lot of the Christmas trees that we see are just grown here in Texas.

Chris: Oh, cool. I had no idea.

Hallie: Yeah, pretty cool.

I mentioned like Oregon does a lot of the West coast Christmas trees, there is like one farm that is exceptionally large. I think it is the largest Christmas tree farm in the US. It’s called Holiday Tree Farms and they do about 1 million trees per year. But still, if you think about like more than 17 million trees, that’s not even a 10th of the market.

Chris: So are we going to get into this later? How long does it take to grow a Christmas tree?

Hallie: Christmas trees take like 6 to 10 years usually.

Chris: There’s this giant farm in the Pacific Northwest that sort of every 6 to 10 years, they cut down a giant swath of trees and then plant new ones and then rotate out I guess the rest of their acreage over time.

Hallie: I think what’s more common with Christmas tree farming and I’m sure it depends on the farm is you have what’s called like nurserying, where you have some older growth trees next to smaller trees so that once those older trees are cut down, the smaller trees have room to grow. It’s kind of interplanted and staggered based on age.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: The most common Christmas tree types are Fraser fir, Douglas fir, Colorado blue spruce. I think the last year I had a pine tree, which is not represented on the most common, but it was adorable and I loved it.

Chris: It was a cute little Christmas tree.

Hallie: About three quarters of Christmas tree farms sell retail. As I mentioned, a lot of Christmas tree procurement is very localized. This is a huge amount. I mean, you have about half of Christmas tree farms that do at least some wholesaling, but the majority like 75% do a good amount of retail so that is a lot of local sales.

Chris: The pop-up tents, they sell the Christmas trees. Those are basically the people that grew them. Is that what you’re saying?

Hallie: Sometimes those pop-up tents are wholesale, but sometimes they are just run by farms. Like last year I got my Christmas tree from a non-profit here in town where it’s like a fundraiser for the boys and girls club and they buy wholesale trees and then sell them here in Austin.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: But a lot of Christmas tree farms do at least some local retail where you can come out and you can pick your own tree, you can cut your own tree down, you can pick it out of a pile or they take it into town and they set up in a parking lot or something like that. There are some like Christmas tree sales cooperatives where some farmers all come together and they rent out a parking lot together. There’s a lot of different models, but yeah, it is quite localized. Most of those smaller farms are often retirement projects for folks who maybe are from that area and their family has been doing Christmas tree farming or they were a farmer and they want something that’s a little bit more hands-off, not that Christmas tree farming is easy. There are definitely difficulties with it, particularly like the weather. It’s real cold when you have to go out there and cut all the trees down.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: But generally, you’re doing less year round maintenance because so many of your crops are just perennial. A lot of the larger ones are full-time operations, but those smaller ones can be retirement options.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: How much money is in Christmas trees? Wholesale, it’s around like between 250 and 500 million. I found a couple of different sources from different extension documents as well as industry publications and that’s about the range I saw and then for retail, it can be upwards of 2 billion so that includes wholesalers who bought Christmas trees from farmers and then sold them retail as well as farmers selling directly to retail.

Chris: Christmas is big business.

Hallie: It’s big, big, big business. I promised earlier that we would talk about this. Let’s talk about fake Christmas trees.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Most fake Christmas trees are made of what’s called poly vinyl chloride, also known as PVC. You can also get fake Christmas trees made of aluminum, made of fiber optic cable, feathers, et cetera, et cetera, kind of whatever. Most of the fake Christmas trees, like most, most of them are all made in China.

Chris: How would you like to be a bird and see a fake Christmas tree made of feathers?

Hallie: Oh my God.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: That would be so hurtful I feel like.

Chris: It would be horrifying.

Hallie: That’s your home. The fundamental question I feel like everyone has when it comes to Christmas trees is which is more environmentally friendly, a natural tree or a fake tree so that’s what I wanted to get into here. Here’s like a little bit of the pro con breakdown or first actually, dad, I wanted to know, do you guys do a fake tree or a real tree? I don’t know.

Chris: When we do trees, we’ve done real trees. We haven’t done trees in the last couple of years just because I don’t know effort, I guess and we need to clear out the space where we would put the tree. I know historically growing up, we always had real trees although later in life, my parents or maybe just my dad got a fake tree. His parents had a fake tree. I believe that they would get out every year and they used it for 20, 30 years or something like that. It’s been a mix for me. My mom’s parents always had real trees so I was most familiar with real trees.

Hallie: Same. Like you said, we always did real trees growing up. I’ve only had like a Christmas tree once. I have like put Christmas tree ornaments on my houseplants before, which is how I did it all throughout college and grad school.

Chris: There you go.

Hallie: Then last year was my first year getting like a real actual tree, which was really fun. Here’s kind of the pro con breakdown.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: Fake trees are made of plastic. That requires a lot of oil, right? Because it’s what? It’s an oil byproduct so that’s like a lot of energy, a lot of non-renewable resources. They are also made in China so it’s a lot of transportation. Real trees require agricultural inputs. Typically, this is like a lot of pesticides to keep the trees looking nice. They do also require pruning and maintenance as they live for between 6 and 10 years.

That’s like a lot of work and can be a lot of petroleum if that is what is driving the trucks around the Christmas tree farms.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: The other big consideration with real trees is where they go at the end of their life. If they go to the dump, then they just decompose and produce a lot of methane versus if they are taken away and chipped and made into mulch and recycled or if they go and do something else where they’re not just decomposing in the dump.

Chris: Turn it into Dillo Dirt.

Hallie: Yeah, they can totally be composted for sure. That’s kind of the pro con. Here is the breakdown. There’s not a lot of science, unfortunately about like truly what is the best option. I found two life cycle analysis and one of them said, in order to balance out what you would be spending in terms of carbon on real tree versus a fake tree, you would have to keep your fake tree for more than nine years and the other study, I found said more than 20 years. One of the studies was paid for by the Christmas Tree Association of America and the other one was I found it linked on the US department of energy’s office of scientific and technical information website, but it was done by a French Canadian research firm who apparently does life cycle analysis, but this is the only study I could find from them and it was done in 2016 I think and I also couldn’t find anything under the names of the researchers other than this life cycle analysis so these are very different numbers.

I cannot say for sure that either of these life cycle analysis are really better than one or the other of them, neither of them have been cited that much. One of them obviously was paid for by the industry. The other one, I don’t know who it was paid for by, so it’s unclear which one. I can’t just go out and tell you, here’s the answer. Here’s my thoughts. When you do buy a new fake Christmas tree, unless it’s like a wooden balsa wood Christmas tree, it’s going to stay on the planet for ever, for ever and ever. It’s not going to go anywhere. If you buy a real tree, it can be decomposed. It can be turned into wood chip mulch, which we can always use more mulch. Believe me I know. That’s kind of like my take on it. My gut is if you have a fake Christmas tree already, no point in getting rid of it. But if you don’t have one and if you can’t find a used one that already exists, then maybe we don’t need to be creating more that will just stay on the planet.

Chris: Well, that sounds reasonable. Although real trees are certainly getting more and more expensive over the years, but to review, Christmas trees are generally conifers, which means they are cone bearing and we’re linking a cool video. They were like so many things popularized by a queen and thank goodness Santa Claus is benevolent with all those powers.

Hallie: No kidding.

Chris: Buy yourself a tree if you like. If not, that’s cool.

Hallie: Have a wonderful and warm winter season, everyone. Take care.

Chris: Bye.

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is made by me Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

Chris: If you’d like to connect with us, follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod or join our Discord and Facebook communities and leaf us your thoughts on this episode.

Hallie: You can find all of our episodes and transcripts as well as information about the team and the show on our website, onetogrowonpod.com.

Chris: Help us take root and grow organically by recommending the show to your friends or consider donating to our Patreon at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There, you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, exclusive bonus content and boxes of our favorite goodies.

Hallie: If you liked the show, please share it with a friend. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris: Be sure to see what’s sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].

52: Insect Agriculture

This week we talk to Robert Nathan Allen (known by most as RNA) of Little Herds! We talk about what’s exciting in the world of edible insects, as well as break down a few misconceptions. Also, would a grouping of insects even be called a herd?

https://twitter.com/rnaeatsbugs, https://www.instagram.com/rnaeatsbugs/, https://twitter.com/littleherds, https://www.instagram.com/littleherds/

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Connect with us!
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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
onetogrowonpod.com

51: Christmas Trees

This week we’re talking about Chistmas trees! What is a conifer? Should you buy real or plastic? How many super powers does Santa Claus have?

Pine cone opening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUhubDdGRuo

Sponsors

Knickey makes undies from organic, fair trade cotton and ships in 100% plastic-free packaging. Use code GROWON at checkout to save 10%!

Read the transcript.

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Connect with us!
twitter.com/onetogrowonpod
instagram.com/onetogrowonpod
facebook.com/onetogrowonpod
[email protected]

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

Support us on Patreon!
patreon.com/onetogrowonpod

About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
onetogrowonpod.com

50: Food Rescue with Jess Palmer Transcript

Listen to the full podcast.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we’re talking about food rescue with Jess Palmer.

[Background music].

Hallie: This week we have Jess Palmer who is a programs coordinator with Keep Austin Fed here in our hometown and I’m so excited to have her on. Welcome to the show, Jess.

Jess: Thank you, guys. I’m really happy to be here.

Chris: I mean, I think the first thing that everyone is wondering, the obvious question is why does food need to be rescued?

Jess: [Laughs]. Well, food needs to be rescued because actually, there’s a lot of food going to waste. I think people may not realize it, but in this country, we waste 40% of the food that is grown and processed and that can be kind of hard to visualize. But if you think about going out and buying a pizza and you come home and you immediately throw away three slices, that’s perfectly good food, but it’s getting tossed and a lot of that food that is getting wasted is happening at home. But there’s still a significant amount that’s wasted at larger distribution points like grocery stores and restaurants and so that’s where Keep Austin Fed comes in. We are based here in Austin, Texas and we’re just a local food recovery nonprofit with the mission of diverting that edible surplus food from the landfill and redistributing it to people who are food insecure in our communities.

Chris: Now, see. That’s the kind of guest you want to have on a podcast is when you ask a dumb question, it’s supposed to sound funny and they give you a real answer that’s perfect.

[Laughter].

Jess: I may have given away all my answers for the whole interview now.

Chris: Yeah, we’re done. The show is sort of over.

Jess: There we go.

Hallie: Yes, that’s it. That’s the show.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I’m really curious, like what a day in your work looks like? How does that function?

Jess: Well, it’s interesting because my title is programs coordinator with an S and that’s because there’s a lot of logistics and coordination that goes into the programming of food rescue. We are a heavily volunteer oriented organization. We have around 200 active volunteers and they all donate their time, their cars and the gas to go pick up the surplus food and drive it to the recipient organizations to drop off. I mean, yeah, there’s no middlemen. Food is getting picked up and directly taken to a recipient organization. There’s a lot that goes into coordinating that kind of stuff. We have a schedule of food pickups that volunteers can register for and those runs happen on a weekly basis. I think right now we have about 75 food runs every week that we have filled by our volunteers. There’s a lot of volunteer coordination both sort of corresponding with current volunteers and then also familiarizing new volunteers with how we work. There’s managing the food run schedule. We use a platform called GiftPulse that was actually developed here in Austin too, but we use them as our volunteer database and our scheduling platform. There’s always some data management to be done and also we have to have places who are contributing food and places to bring that food. So we’re always reaching out to new places to see if they are interested in donating food, if they’re interested in receiving food. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that goes into onboarding those new partners. That’s sort of the basic of our scheduled runs. There’s more on top of that too because we can go into unscheduled food runs.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Peek behind the curtain for listeners, that’s actually how Jess and I met. I was running a program that involves food and she sent me a very polite email asking if we had any surplus that we’d like to donate.

Jess: That’s right.

Hallie: I’d known a little bit about Keep Austin Fed, but I didn’t know that much about it and actually I did not realize until I was preparing for this interview, that one of my sister’s best friend’s moms apparently helped start Keep Austin Fed.

Jess: Oh, really?

Hallie: Yeah.

Jess: Wow.

Hallie: I mean, Austin is such a small town. People always talk about how big and growing it is, but also it’s very small.

Jess: Yes, it is. I’m from Central Texas. I grew up in the very rural Hill Country, but I went to college outside of Austin and lived here for a little while and then left in 2005 and then just came back last year. It’s interesting the city has totally changed, but there’s still pockets. When we first moved back, I was running into college acquaintances in the grocery store. [Laughs].

Hallie: Yeah, that happens to me all the time and it’s so weird because it’s like this massive town of like millions of people and it feels like a tiny town.

Jess: It does.

Chris: How did you end up getting into this stuff?

Jess: Honestly, I kind of fell into food systems work and I haven’t done food access work for a long time. This is actually the first time I have worked in food insecurity and food access. My background is actually more in natural resources management. I have a bachelor’s in environmental studies and then I went to the University of Michigan for a masters in natural resources really focusing on land restoration, but food and agriculture has really always had a role in my life. Like I mentioned, I grew up in rural Texas and that was 45 minutes from the nearest ATB. Many of our neighbors, we grew up with a really big garden that helped feed us in the summers and I carried that with me too. Every place that I’ve lived, I’ve always found a way to put in a backyard garden somewhere and throughout school, I was working for student groups that ran community gardens on campuses and things like that and also I just really love to cook. I eventually landed a position at a land trust in Central Virginia about 10 years ago and I started out there coordinating their local food branding and marketing program and eventually turned it into a farm and food program that focused on things like strengthening farmer access to land and capital and training and market access. I was there for about nine years and then we moved to Austin for a change of scenery and work and I started working for Keep Austin Fed and it’s been really exciting to work on sort of the opposite end of the food system spectrum. There’s a lot in food access and food insecurity for me to learn.

Hallie: That is so cool. Can you tell me some of the organizations that you’ve been working with since you started working in food access?

Jess: Yeah, we work with a wide range of organizations actually on the food contributors’ side. Like I mentioned, food waste happens at every point of food distribution, but we’re really focused on the larger scale not necessarily individuals. So we’re working with places like grocery stores Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, AGV. We also work with a lot of restaurants occasionally with caterers. That’s a little bit different now because of the pandemic and then smaller cafes and bakeries and really we’ll talk to anybody who has surplus food that they want to donate rather than toss. Actually, I wanted to mention that when we talk about surplus food, I want to be really clear that we are not out there dumpster diving. [Laughs]. We are picking up perfectly edible food. Food that may be close to an expiration date or it’s just leftover and anybody would be happily willing to eat it. I just wanted to make sure that everybody understood that this is perfectly good food that we’re picking up and redistributing. Tangent, but important. That’s really who we’re working with on the contributor side and then on the recipient side, we don’t distribute directly to individuals. We work with nonprofits who provide services to their clients. We will work with places like foundation communities. They provide affordable housing and we donate food to them and they distribute it to their clients. Other places like family elder care facilities that work with seniors, support organizations for folks facing homelessness, domestic abuse shelters, refugee service organizations, addiction recovery homes. I mean, we will work really with a bunch of food pantries. We’ll work with them. As long as if you’re a nonprofit and you’re serving food to clients for free, then we’re able to try to find a way to work you into our schedules. Right now, we work with about 30 to 40 food contributors and about 50 recipient organizations and that’s on a weekly basis.

Chris: I agree. Wow. That sounds like a lot of people you’re working with. Now I’m wondering, how much food is it that you’re sending through this supply chain that you have set up?

Jess: Last year in 2019, we distributed just over 800,000 pounds of surplus food.

Chris: Wow!

Hallie: That’s amazing.

Jess: It’s like 13,000 meals per week that our volunteers are redistributing to folks in need in the Austin area.

Hallie: How many volunteers do you guys have that run this every day or every week?

Jess: We have probably around 200 active volunteers. You know people take breaks or people come back on and offline, so it just really depends, but I mean, our volunteers are why we can do what we do. They are the heart and soul of this organization. Last year, they made 3,500 food runs to distribute all those 800,000 pounds of food. They are the reason we do what we do and they’re so dedicated. They really are. We have folks who adopt food runs and they are there every week at the same time, same day to pick up food from one place and take it to another.

Hallie: That is so cool. Has Keep Austin Fed always had this many volunteers?

Jess: No, it hasn’t. We actually started in 2004 and our founder is a man named Randy Rosens and I think he was at a fundraising event and noticed that the food that was being catered for the event was going to get tossed and he was like, no, thank you. That’s not going to happen. So he rescued the food right there from the event and delivered it to a woman’s shelter in South Austin and that’s sort of how Keep Austin Fed was born. It’s just a small group of folks who felt that this was really important and they wanted to make sure that people could get involved in doing food rescue and redistribution. Over the last 16 years, we’ve gone from that small group of folks to a nonprofit with two paid staff and this really giant group of volunteers.

Hallie: That’s amazing.

Jess: Yes.

Hallie: I have so many questions that I’m trying to figure out which one to ask.

Jess: [Laughs].

Hallie: I think my first question and I think I know some of the answers to this, but I would love to hear the actual answer. I guess it makes sense if it’s a catering event, but most of the organizations you’re talking about, this rescue from is for profit companies who are trying to make a profit. How does it make sense for a company to throw food out?

Jess: Well, I mean, I think part of it is some folks just want to give back to the community and if they know that they’re going to be tossing food, but there’s another outlet for it through us. A lot of the places that we work with are smaller caterers and food places that just want to give back and also I think too in Austin you have to pay to have composting material picked up, so it’s a way for them to cut down on the amount of food that is getting thrown out.

Hallie: Yeah, that totally makes sense, but I wonder if the food is edible and it’s perfectly fine, then why is it getting tossed out in the first place, whether it’s being composted or given to KAF?

Chris: I was going to say, I used to work at a bakery and they’d make pastries every morning and they wouldn’t necessarily sell them all and so at the end of the day, we’d have to throw them all out, all the ones that we didn’t sell and sometimes people would call us for donations and then they could come pick up what was left in the event that we had any left, but that wasn’t every day. Sometimes we take a couple home, but most of the time we just tossed everything out.

Jess: Like I mentioned, the food is perfectly edible. It just may be close to expiration date. I think with the grocery stores, it’s more about nearing expiration date and just when they’re getting new shipments of food and having to make space.

Hallie:
No, that totally makes sense.

[Background music].

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Chris: K-N-I-C-K-E-Y. Oh man, that is amazing spelling. I love that.

Hallie: Thank you. I worked very hard on learning to spell when I was a child.

Chris: [Laughs]. Well, no, I mean, I love the way they spell their name. That’s very clever.

Hallie: No, that’s also great. It’s great.

Chris: You know who else is great is our patrons, especially our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick, and Shianne.

Hallie: Also our newest patron, Jessica. Thank you guys so much for your support of the show. You absolutely make our world go round. If you listener are interested in learning more about Patreon and the tiers that we have, you can go to patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. We do lots of cool and fun stuff over there and we just have a blast. You can listen to outtakes. You can get extra research and bonus content. All of it at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod.

Chris: Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: You mentioned that you have this massive fleet. I think you said 200 volunteers. I mean, that’s a huge amount of volunteers for a nonprofit with only two employees. I’m just wondering what your perspective is on why people are so excited and compelled by KAF’s work and mission.

Jess: I mean, from conversations that I’ve had with volunteers being able to do something like this, you can do a food run in easily less than an hour. We have it set up to where our pickup locations and our delivery locations are pretty close to each other and we’ve gone through not necessarily trainings, but we’ve gone through an overview with both the contributors and the recipient organizations about how everything’s going to work. So everyone’s pretty well-versed on what a food pickup and drop off is going to entail and so I think that a lot of it is because that in a really short period of a time, a volunteer can pick up. Especially if you’re at a grocery store, you can pick up hundreds of pounds of surplus food and take it to a group of people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. I think it’s really about understanding how food connects us and that by their actions, they’re able to help provide nourishment to our neighbors and really, it just comes down to it. It feels good to be able to give back to our community like that.

Hallie: I love that.

Chris: In such an impactful way as well.

Jess: Right. Because a lot of times this food it’s not going to be going somewhere and sitting. It’s going to be eaten that day or the next morning when you drop it off. It’s not going to sit around and you’re not going to have to wonder where it went or if it got eaten. It will be eaten.

Hallie: We’ve talked about food waste and food loss on the show before and I feel like that is one of the things I don’t know what it is, but it just aches at this inner part of people when they think about the food system. That is one thing that, especially people who are really conscious of the climate and conscious of how we’re going to be feeding people in the future. It tugs at you. You’re like, how are we waiting this food? I don’t know what it is, but it’s just like, there’s something internal. It just drives you crazy about it and I think your mission is so cool.

Jess: I mean, I think too. That’s something that I feel is really important right now that we’re having and it’s largely because of this pandemic that we’re just having a larger national conversation about food access and food insecurity.

Hallie: Totally.

Jess: We’re hearing more and more about individuals and families falling into food insecurity. I mean, we’ve all seen the photos of thousands of cars lined up for a food pantry distribution and there’s multitudes of articles about families struggling to put food on the table and it’s really distressing to see that kind of suffering, right? I think having this kind of topic move into the spotlight, it makes me hopeful that this conversation continues because food insecurity was here before the pandemic and it will be here after the pandemic. It’s a complex problem and it’s tied to a lot of other things. It doesn’t work in a silo. It’s tied to things like affordable housing and income and transportation and it’s so big, but maybe with a larger conversation happening now and being in the forefront, it’s hopefully an opportunity to really tackle the issue.

Chris: Despite the fact that Hallie has said we’re not doing anymore COVID content, how have you seen your operation changed or impacted in any new ways this year?

Jess: This year has definitely been different. Like I said, I actually started at Keep Austin Fed a year ago, next week or two weeks from now.

Chris: Okay.

Jess: So I had about four months under my belt before the pandemic hit. [Laughs]. But I mean, I’ve seen a lot of change just in this amount of time that I’ve been at Keep Austin Fed. We’ve really had to pivot in terms of what kind of foods we’re able to provide our recipients mainly because things like large group dining or buffets or the general congregation of people has really stopped. We would work with catering companies and just pick up large catering size trays of food from them and we could just go take it and drop it off. We had a dozen different recipient organizations who we could go drop it off to and we’re not really able to do that anymore. There’s a huge need for food that is grab and go, individually packaged and very easy to distribute, so we’re not creating groups of people hanging around together and eating. That’s been a really big change and it’s interesting too because at the beginning of the year, we were starting a pilot project, the repack it project where we were going to be bringing together high school college students with senior populations and having them work together to take those large catered trays and repackage it into this individual serving size meals. One, it’s a volunteer opportunity, it’s intergenerational and then also the individual meals are generally easier for us to distribute to our recipient organizations, but obviously, that project got put on hold because of COVID. We’ve seen some changes in the food that we’re able to distribute in some of our programming. We’ve also seen differences in how we can bring on volunteers. Traditionally, we would have an in-person volunteer orientation where we go through a quick training session taught by one of our volunteer trainers and then they would do a shadow food run. So this is basically actually doing a food run together, going through the boxes at Trader Joe’s and divvying it out and then taking it to a recipient organization. But now, we’re having to do trainings online and forego that shadow food run. That’s definitely different. We’re not getting as much contact right now I guess with the recipients and the contributing organizations and even with the volunteers. Those things have definitely changed.

Chris: With all the change that’s been going on, is there anything you see that you’re hopeful about or excited about?

Jess: Yes, I’m excited. Even though we have had to move our volunteer orientations and all this stuff to a virtual setting, I have been so excited to see the number of people who want to join us and start volunteering for Keep Austin Fed. Probably, at the end of the summer, we started bringing on the virtual orientations and every single orientation, there’s 9, 10, 11 volunteers signed up to learn more about Keep Austin Fed and really excited to get involved in the work that we’re doing. I also think too and it’s not necessarily food rescue work, but I am also very excited to see this renewed interest in backyard or victory gardens because I think any opportunity for people to get their hands in the dirt is a good one. Even if it’s just a few container gardens and just connecting people to how their food is grown is always a step in the right direction plus it’s really great therapy right now.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Yes, I totally agree.

Jess: That’s how I got out my initial pandemic anx. I had tackled a plot of my backyard and I was like, well, you get a little bit of sun, you’re going to turn into a garden.

[Laughter].

Hallie: That’s amazing. How’s it been doing?

Jess: It’s doing great actually. It’s been really fun. We had lots of tomatoes and green beans over the summer and now have my little spinach and kale and things are popping up, so it’s great. I love it and it’s really fun to introduce my kids to it as well.

Hallie: Oh my gosh. I love it.

Chris: That’s great.

Hallie: I love it so much. I’ve got my kale out-front. I live in Lincoln, small duplex with no backyard and so my kale is out front for all the world to see.

Jess: There you go. That’s awesome.

Hallie: Stand it up straight.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I love it. Jess, I’m curious. Do you have any words of advice or wisdom for our listeners who might be wanting to take this idea of food rescue into their daily lives?

Jess: Sure. Definitely because like I mentioned before too, like a lot of food waste happens in our kitchens. So how do we help combat all that food waste? I think the number one thing folks can do is meal plan and that’s just a really great way to help you buy only what you know you’re going to use and it cuts down on waste in your kitchen and you can also make sure that you’re storing your food correctly because not all fruits and vegetables should be refrigerated. If they are, where you put them in the fridge matters and knowing those kinds of things can help maximize the freshness. Then also reduce spoilage of that food. If you do have more food that you can eat, try finding ways to preserve it. You could freeze it. You could dry it. You don’t necessarily need to toss an over ripe banana, you could cut it up and freeze it for a smoothie or banana bread later. You can chop up herbs and freeze them in ice cubes so you can use them later. Little things like that. You can also purchase ugly produce. Those imperfect fruits and vegetables so that they’re not getting thrown out. It’s maybe a little bit easier if you shop at a farmer’s market and vendors there will sometimes have those kinds of seconds, fruits and vegetables that they’ll sell for a lower cost and it’s still fresh, healthy edible food and it won’t get thrown out and you can always compost. Either set one up at your home or if your city has a composting program like Austin does, make sure you have a bin.

Chris: I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in my life suggest that I should compost before.

Hallie: Oh my God. Jess, we talk about composting here on the show. Almost every episode, I’m constantly trying to talk my dad into starting a home compost.

Jess: [Laughs]. Wait, you have all different kinds of options too.

Hallie: I know.

Chris: It’s true.

Jess: You just have compost [inaudible], Burma composting. One gets some worms.

Hallie: It’s so fun. It’s like a pet, but less work.

Jess: Exactly.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: It doesn’t love you back.

Chris: That is pretty good spam.

Jess: You still have to feed it though.

Hallie: Yes, you do. Definitely, you have to feed it. Well, Jess, thank you so much for your time today. How can people support Keep Austin Fed and where can they find you?

Jess: You can find us on Instagram, on Facebook. You can go to our website, keepaustinfed.org and there, you can learn more about us and you can learn how to become a volunteer and you can also find our donate button on our website, which helps support our daily food pickups in our programming.

Hallie: Fabulous. Thank you so much. This was amazing.

Jess: I know. Thank you guys so much for having me on.

Chris: Loved it.

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is made by me Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

Chris: If you’d like to connect with us, follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod or join our Discord and Facebook communities and leaf us your thoughts on this episode.

Hallie: You can find all of our episodes and transcripts as well as information about the team and the show on our website, onetogrowonpod.com.

Chris: Help us take root and grow organically by recommending the show to your friends or consider donating to our Patreon at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There, you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, exclusive bonus content and boxes of our favorite goodies.

Hallie: If you liked the show, please share it with a friend. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris: Be sure to see what’s sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].

50: Food Rescue with Jess Palmer

This week we’re talking to Jess Palmer of Keep Austin Fed about food rescue. Why is food rescue something we need to worry about, and what can we do to help?

Image courtesy of Keep Austin Fed.

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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
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49: Apples Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we are talking about apples.

[Background music].


Hallie: Okay, dad. What do you know about apples?

Chris: I know that some of them are delicious. Some of them are not. Some of them taste way too sour or like cardboard.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: I know that they can be stored for up to a year, which still blows my mind.

Hallie: That’s true. [Laughs].

Chris: I know they got little seeds in them and worms like to use them for houses at least in cartoons or something. I don’t know.

Hallie: Yeah, good stuff.

Chris: You can stick a crabapple on the end of a stick and fling it really far.

Hallie: We used to play like, I don’t know. I can’t remember if we had a name for it, but we had a crabapple tree up at the farm and we would take crabapples and throw them and the other person would hit them with a tennis racket and they would just explode. It was so much fun.

Chris: Oh boy.

Hallie: Probably not good for the tennis racket, but that tennis racket was probably like 45 years old.

Chris: Or crabapples. Sure.

Hallie: I mean, it was really not good for the crabapple. [Laughs].

Chris: Alright. So apples, what do you got? What’s so great about the apple?

Hallie: The apple also known as Malus domestica is in the Rosaceae family. We have talked about lots of things in the Rosaceae family, so I thought it would actually be interesting to talk about where in the Rosaceae family apples are compared to other things in the Rosaceae family. Listeners, I will put this on the Instagram and probably on the Twitter.

If you want to see what it is that dad and I are going to be talking about, you can find it there, but dad, this is basically a hypothesis of the evolutionary structure of the Rosaceae family that you can see here. Can you describe what it is for the listeners?

Chris: Well, I see Johnny and Maura up top and there’s also some David.

Hallie: What? No. [Laughs].

Chris: Okay. Now, what I’m looking at is this sort of ridiculous graph. On the left-hand side, it starts out as I guess, three lines sort of splitting out from each other at not quite, but almost a right angle and branching into a whole bunch of other little lines, which branch into even more little lines. It just sort of makes this little kind of tree like structure I guess and towards the lines become different colors I guess to represent different species of apple.

Hallie: It’s to represent different types of fruits within the Rosaceae family.

Chris: Oh, got it.

Hallie: Like if you see on the left, there’s like achene, druplet, follicles, capsules, dry drupe pome, et cetera. We’ve talked about some of these different types. We’ve talked about drupes on the show, we’re going to be talking about pomes today but basically, this is just like different structures of fruit within the family. You can see up here at the top, we have Fragaria and Rosaceae.

Rosaceae is roses like you have in your garden, Fragaria is strawberries and then you have rubrics, so those are all up at the top. Then down at the very bottom there’s Prunus, which is things like peaches and apricots and plums and then in the middle, you have Malus and Pyrus. Can you guess what Pyrus is if we know Malus is Apple?

Chris: Are Pyrus cherries?

Hallie: No, that’s Prunus.

Chris: Okay. Pyrus, I don’t know. Does it have to do with papyrus? Is it like little paper reeds?

Hallie: No, it’s pears. [Laughs].

Chris: Oh, that makes sense sort of.

Hallie: Yeah, apples and pears are quite similar. They’re both pomes.

Chris: Alright. Do they rhyme?

Hallie: No, not a poem. A pome, so P-O-M-E. A pome is a fruit consisting of a fleshy enlarged receptacle and then a tuft central core containing the seeds. A receptacle is basically the thing that holds the flower and it’s right below the ovary and this is actually what strawberries are as well as they’re mostly a receptacle. Then on the outside is where the actual fruit is.

Pomes are a little bit different where the enlarged receptacle is on the outside and then the seeds from the ovaries are on the inside. Basically, the inside bit is what comes from the ovaries and on the outside this technically vegetative part of the flower structure grows up and around it to protect those seeds.

Chris: Okay. When you say receptacle, basically, you mean the delicious part?

Hallie: Yeah, well, so the receptacle strictly speaking is like the stock that holds the flower and it’s the part on the stock that’s right below the ovary, but with like pears, apples, strawberries, when the ovaries are fertilized, then that part also grows as well as the ovary itself.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: The fleshy part is the receptacle, the enlarged receptacle. The part we eat is the enlarged receptacle. We have talked about Amygdalin once on the show before. We talked about it actually in our Halloween episode last year when we were talking about apricot pits, but Amygdalin is also present in apple seeds, although in a smaller amount.

Chris: I do not remember what Amygdalin is.

Hallie: It is the thing that makes cyanide.

Chris: Maybe don’t eat those seeds in large quantities.

Hallie: I mean, you would have to eat a lot of them and honestly, it would be very hard because you would also have to like break them open. Usually, if people eat apple seeds, sometimes they just chew on them. Sometimes they swallow them whole accidentally. You’d have to basically make a smoothie of like 500 apple seeds and then eat all of it, which would be horrible and disgusting, so it’s not that big of a deal.

Chris: It definitely sounds unpleasant. Actually, now I do remember this. We talked about apricot seeds in foods that kill if you’d like to re-examine that episode, but yes, that’s where I’m remembering this knowledge from. Apple seeds have the same potential, but probably not a thing.

Hallie: Apricot pits have dramatically more Amygdalin. Definitely do not chew on an apricot pit.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: But apple seeds are not that big of a deal. Like I have heard that as a fun fact, like, oh, apple seeds can kill you. They can’t really kill you unless you eat an immense amount, which is true for most foods.

Chris: Fair enough.

Hallie: Originally, it is thought that apples originated in Central Asia, but modern apples actually share more genetic material with European apples just because of hybridization along the Silk Road. We started domesticating apples a very, very, very long time ago and Malus domestica is just such a distinct species and has genetic material from many, many different kinds of apples that is really like its own thing now, which is why it’s its own species, even though it was just hybrids from all these wild species. But that’s super cool.

Chris: This sounds like the kind of question that would get you thrown off a bridge on Monty Python.

Hallie: [Laughs]. One of the interesting things about apples is that they are self-incompatible. We’ll talk about this later on in the show when we talk about breeding. But that basically means that one apple tree cannot fertilize itself. It needs a second other apple tree to make apples. This plus the long lifespan of apples plus it being involved in cultural practices and being eaten by a lot of people made for hybridization and a lot of genetic variation during domestication. It’s very different from corn that we have now where like we have a lot of different varieties of corn, but they’re very genetically similar because apples cannot self-fertilize, you have so many, so many, so many different kinds of apples and they’re very, very genetically distinct.

Chris: I know we’ve got a lot to talk about and I don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent, but how common are self-compatible plants versus self-incompatible plants? That’s not something that I ever would have really thought of.

Hallie: With herbaceous plants, things like tomatoes, they have a year to live and then they’re done, so it’s much more common for them to be self-compatible and self-fertilizing just because it makes much more sense. If you have a year and then you’re done, then you really want to be cranking out those seeds as quickly and as easily as possible. If you have a tree crop, that’s really their goal is to live as long as possible, it makes sense to want to have a lot of genetic diversity because that will make you more resistant to disease.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: That’s really your goal. If a disease gets to a tree, that tree might be done. If there are a lot of other trees that are very similar genetically, then they also might be done. Having like self-incompatibilities just makes a lot more sense evolutionarily as an advantage to trees versus if you’re talking about more short-lived species.

Chris: So every apple tree is unique and special just like people.

Hallie: It’s true except for it’s not which we will be talking about. [Laughs].

Chris: Alright.

Hallie:
I want to talk about Johnny Appleseed. Dad, for any non-Americans that we have listening to the show, can you give a very brief summary of who Johnny Appleseed is?

Chris: Actually, I’m not sure that I can.

Hallie: What do you know about him?

Chris: Johnny Appleseed is one of those names that you hear here in American, even if you don’t know a lot about him. He’s like a guy that planted a lot of apple trees and had this philosophy of life that I’ve got everything I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed and I’m thankful to God for all of these things.

Hallie: Yeah, that was a great summary.

Chris: Thanks. That’s all I know.

Hallie: Johnny Appleseed is based on a real man called John Chapman who was born in 1774 right before the American Revolution in Massachusetts. As he was growing up, where he was living was going through like a lot. Capital, A capital L, A Lot. Eventually, he moved west to Ohio and he was in Pennsylvania for a bit as well. Basically, he moved to Ohio during a land deal. The rules of it basically were the settlers could take land from indigenous people “settle it” up to 100 acres of land in what we now call Ohio if they planted 80 trees. You had to plant 80 trees to be able to claim your 100 acres. So Johnny Appleseed moved to Ohio and he would go up to the cider presses in the winter and load up on apple seeds that were a leftover a by-product and then come spring, he’d go and plant them all by a river with a little fence of brush around them to keep the deer out.

Then five years later, he’d come back, get all the saplings out of the ground and sell them to new settlers.

Chris: Sounds like a lot of work.

Hallie: Well, but the thing is it’s not a lot of work. You plant seeds and then five years later you have something to sell. It’s not like he was tending these apple trees. He was basically setting up little nurseries that he would just leave by themselves to function. Sometimes he would come back in once or twice to check on them and make sure everything was going well, but he wasn’t doing much.

Chris: So he made money off the land rush, basically.

Hallie: He made money off a land rush. It was like a very capitalist opportunity facilitating settler colonialism, but he was a weird guy. He took this money and it’s not like he went and bought a bunch of land or bought a bunch of people or resources or tried to make himself rich. He started to run a horse rescue with the money he was making. He would take in horses that he thought were being abused. He really couldn’t stand to see animals or plants abused or hurt, which is why he didn’t graft apple trees. We will talk more later about grafting apple trees, but that is something that was really, really common for hundreds of years. By the time Johnny Appleseed rolled around, it was very common to graft apples and he wouldn’t do it because he thought it was hurting the trees. He didn’t really live any particular places. He was a wanderer. He was very religious, so he would kind of wander around and spread the gospel.

He was a vegetarian later in life. There was this account that I found that Anthony Banning Norton, who was a journalist and historian he called Chapman the oddest character in all of our history in his 1862 History of Ohio. I copy and pasted a little account because I just thought it was really interesting. He said, “One cool autumn night while lying by his campfire in the woods, he observed that the mosquitoes flew in the blaze and were burned. Johnny who wore on his head a tin utensil, which answered both as a cap and as a mush pot, filled it with water and quenched the fire and afterwards remarked, God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort. That should be the means of destroying any of his creatures,” meaning God’s creatures. Then in that same account, they talk about him sleeping in the woods, him walking around barefoot in the snow. I don’t know how truthful these accounts are just because it’s history and this guy wasn’t there. He was a journalist and he was talking to people who said that they were there, but boy, what a picture they draw.

Chris: Indeed.

Hallie: This really reminds me of if you’ve seen the Good Place you remember Doug Fawcett.

Chris: Yes.

[Laughter].

Hallie: This is what this reminds me of.

Chris: Right. Living on his own trying to make no impact whatsoever and just to backtrack super quick, as you said it very casually. He said he didn’t buy anything. He didn’t buy any land or people or whatever. Just to be clear, he did live in a time when buying people was possible.

Hallie: Exactly. I did want to be clear at the front, he did facilitate settler colonialism. He was taking advantage of these capitalist structures in this late time of oppression and he was able to benefit from that, but he was a weirdo amongst those systems. For sure.

Chris: [Laughs]. That’s awesome. Now, I’m curious. I wish we had more firsthand historical accounts of him. I’m sort of interested to learn more about the individual.

Hallie: Yeah, there’s a lot of interesting history, but the really interesting thing about Johnny Appleseed is really the impact he had because he wasn’t grafting plants and basically making clones, he was planting from seed and making genetically distinct individual trees. He dramatically increased the genetic diversity of apple trees in North America and made it really possible for genetic apple breeders today to have a lot of material to work with.

Chris: Okay. If apples are so genetically diverse, then how do apple growers predict how an apple is going to come out?

Hallie: We’re going to talk about that after the break.

[Background music].

Chris: Welcome to the break.

Hallie: Welcome everyone to the break. Dad, did you know we have a Patreon.

Chris: I did.

Hallie: We have a Patreon. It has several tiers on it. They are all super fun and I would encourage anyone who is listening and interested in supporting the show to just mosey your way on over there to patreon.com/onetogrowonpod.

Chris: We have several tiers. One of which includes our starfruit patrons, who should have just gotten a shipment of salt, which is amazing.

Hallie: It’s not just salt though. I want people to understand it’s not just salt. We worked very closely with this extremely cool shop that is based out of San Diego and they got like six specialty salts all of which I tried with you and oh my God, were they amazing?

Chris: Let me tell you a piece of sourdough bread with some butter and a little dash of the truffle oil salt is amazing. Also, the other night I had some corn on the cob with some butter and the Havana spice salt. Wow. That was incredible.

Hallie: That’s one of our tiers over on Patreon.

Starfruit patrons get a shipment every six months of very cool goodies that we love and we think they’ll love, but mostly we are just extraordinarily grateful for everyone on Patreon and all of your support of the show. You make it possible for us to do this and make it as wonderful as we are able to make it and thank you, especially to our wonderful starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick and Shianne.

Chris: Thank you so much. We could not do the show without you.

Hallie: Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: Hey dad, do you have a nature fact for us?

Chris: I do have a nature fact.

Hallie: What is it?

Chris: One of the things that apples are used for is apple pie and I love me a good apple pie and there’s the expression American is apple pie, but did you know that apple pie actually originated in the UK and the first known recipe that was recorded that we have written down was by Geoffrey Chaucer?

Hallie: What? No way.

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: Really?

Chris: Author of the Canterbury Tales often referred to as the father of modern English literature.

Hallie: Wow. That’s an incredible nature fact.

Chris: It included apples, figs, raisins, and pears in a pastry shell. But no sugar, which I’m guessing was probably much more expensive at the time.

Hallie: Honestly, that sounds pretty good. I feel like the raisins would bring that sweetness. It sounds like it would not be too sweet, but just right.

Chris: I was saying at the time I would probably be really happy to eat that pie.

Hallie: I feel like I would be happy to eat that now. Apples and pears and raisins, I could totally go with that and figs. I love figs. Figs are my favorite.

Chris: Figs are great.

Hallie: Tara tarara! Nature fact. Okay. You want to know about apple breeding.

Chris: You have no idea how much I want to know about apple breeding.

Hallie: A lot of the crops we eat as mentioned before can be pollinated by other flowers on the same tree or plant. Some flowers can even be pollinated by itself, like tomato flowers can just be pollinated by themselves. Apple pollen cannot fertilize flowers from the same plant. Their system to reject their own pollen actually also reduces the likelihood that parent or sibling plants can breed with them. As I mentioned, this makes for healthier plants more resistant to pathogens and pests, but it also makes it impossible to breed. The apples that Johnny Appleseed spread around North America, which were created by seed were mostly cider apples because for cider, you really just need the sugar content. They don’t have to taste good. They don’t have to look good. It’s very rare for an apple planted by seed to taste good and look good. It’s not common. The spread of apples across North America precipitated by Johnny Appleseed, but of course, not exclusively to John Appleseed, did lead to things called chance seedlings. Some of which led to varieties. We now know like the Golden Delicious, which is where you just have a random seed and eventually, wow. Something great comes of it, but almost never does that happen. We now have genetic sequencing, which does take some of the guesswork out of it. But honestly, if you think about it, if you’re trying to create a new apple, you can’t crossbreed between two apple trees necessarily that are related and you’re trying to isolate specific like genes, specific traits. Really, it’s just roll a dice. You have to plant a seed and then you have to wait 15 years to get an apple to see if it is good.

Chris: 15 years?

Hallie: That’s how long apple trees take. It’s like 10 to 15 years until the apples are ready to be harvested. It takes a long time. Sometimes it can be earlier if you have ideal conditions, but generally, that’s about how long it takes. It’s very hard. It’s very, very hard to breed apples. It’s very hard to breed apples. I cannot stress this enough.

Chris: Okay. Let me try to sort of clarify this in my mind. Let’s take Golden Delicious as an example because it’s like one of my favorite apples. Love me a Golden Delicious. If I want an orchard of Golden Delicious, then I get Golden Delicious apple seeds or do I start with saplings or whatever and plant them and then wait for years for them to become trees and then they keep producing apples forever or how does that all work?

Hallie: If you want a Golden Delicious apple orchard and you start with Golden Delicious apple seeds, you will not get Golden Delicious apples.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: Because the flowers on the Golden Delicious apple tree were pollinated by some other random tree, right?

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: The seeds are half Golden Delicious, half something else. How we breed plants is we do a lot of back crossing, so you cross with something else and then you cross back with the original plant. You cross with something else and you cross back with the original plant. That’s almost impossible to do on apples because of the self in compatibility and because they take so long to get to maturity. We don’t have these specific genes isolated. We don’t have the traits isolated. So Golden Delicious is really just totally random. How we get Golden Delicious apples, we take a root stock and we graft onto the top of it. Meaning we take part of a Golden Delicious apple tree and we cut off the top part of an apple tree and we stick on the top part of a Golden Delicious apple tree and they grow together and it’s basically cloning. This is how apples have been grown for a very long time. The oldest apple variety might be the Annurcha Apple, which some people think is the one mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his naturalist historia as maaleh or celer before the year 79.

Chris: Oh, that’s a while ago.

Hallie: We have been doing this for a very long time. We have been grafting apples because it’s very hard to breed apples, so we just clone them. We just clone them because that’s how you get good apples.

Chris: Okay. What’s the difference then between breeding and cloning? In this case, cloning, you’re taking an existing plant and you’re taking a piece of it and you’re growing that or you’re grafting something else on to it to grow it.

Whereas when you say breeding, you mean growing from seed and hoping that they’re pollinated by plants close enough to it to produce something predictable, except it sounds like that won’t happen. It’s just going to get pollinated however it gets pollinated and have fun with whatever you get that could be really interesting or it could be awful.

Hallie: Right. For example, say we’re breeding like sunflowers. You want a bigger sunflower seeds so that you can put them in the Piggly Wiggly’s and you also want something that is resistant to sunflower blight or whatever diseases affect sunflowers. So you take a sunflower that might be really affected by whatever disease is affecting the sunflowers but it has big seeds. Then you take another sunflower that has small seeds and is really resistant to this disease and you cross pollinate them like 200 times. Then you look at all of the babies that came out of those and see, do any of these have both of the traits that I want. You just keep doing that over and over again until you’re able to breed the specific traits that you want. That’s a really simplified version. Plant breeding is a lot more complicated than that, but you can’t really do that with apples just because of that self-incompatibility. You can’t keep breeding back and forth because of this mechanism to reject pollen that is related to the original tree. We just have to clone it. We roll the dice. We go out into the woods. Literally, this is how they found the Golden Delicious apple. They were just talking to farmers, going out into the woods, being oh, I heard so-and-so has an apple that’s good. They went and they found it in the woods and they took it and they said, this is a good apple. We will now take part of these branches and go clone them and now you can eat them in the grocery store.

Chris: Thank you to those people.

Hallie: Yeah, absolutely. But also, it’s roll the dice. They didn’t really do anything other than facilitate the growth of the apple tree.

Chris: Fair enough.

Hallie: We graft all the apples. They’re all clones. All the Red Delicious apples are exactly the same. All the Golden Delicious apples are exactly the same. All the Granny Smith apples are exactly genetically the same. Of course, this creates issues with genetic diversity and disease. But because we just have so much apple genetics, apples as a whole are not really at risk of a disease wiping out a monoculture, but like specific apple varieties might be.

Chris: Okay. As long as Golden Delicious are safe, I’m fine.

Hallie: Well, as of 2008, 90% of the apples produced in the US were just 15 varieties.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: So Golden Delicious is probably one of those 15. That’s a lot of Golden Delicious apples. They’re probably okay, but compared to every other apple out there, they are definitely at a higher risk in terms of risk to diseases.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: That’s how we make apples. In terms of who eats apples, China eats 40 million tons of apples. The US eats 4 million tons of apples, which is second place. So China eats the most apples.

Chris: I mean, they got a lot more people, so I guess it makes sense.

Hallie: The highest per capita, I was actually really surprised by this is Poland, Turkey and then Iran.

Chris: Interesting.

Hallie: Very interesting. China also grows the most apples. They grow 41 million tons. The US grows 4.7 million tons and then Turkey comes in third with 3 million tons.

Chris: The little good Turkey.

Hallie: I know. Apparently, very big apple people over in Turkey, had no idea. Post-harvest, this is the thing that you really wanted to talk about when I brought up talking about apples, you wanted to know how we get the apples off the trees and into storage and then to the grocery store.

Chris: Indeed.

At some point, we have to blame Hollywood for the need for them to be red, but we will come to that.

Hallie: No, that’s the first thing I have.

Chris: Oh really?

Hallie: Yeah, red color is normally just cosmetic. Like Gala apples, it’s an indicator of maturation, but that is pretty much the only apple that we eat commercially where that’s really an indicator. Normally, it just is consumers won’t eat an apple unless it has some red on it or it’s specifically not a red apple.

Chris: I remember in the nineties, there were a bunch of farmers that tried to breed some really great bright shiny red apples, but they all tasted like cardboard.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: They ended up going out of business and there was this whole thing about farmer relief for these people who were losing a bunch of money because they grew really not good apples and some of them were like, you know we’re in business. We tried and we failed. That’s it. That’s what happened.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I mean, it is very hard to breed apples to be fair. As you mentioned at the top of the show, apples can be in storage for up to 12 months. Their storage period is 1 to 12 months in storage. Usually, that has to be in the right conditions though, so like the temperature is usually between 30°F and 40°F. The humidity has to be like 90% to 95% just so that they can stay good and edible and delicious.

Chris: You can’t just put it in the cupboard for a year.

Hallie: Can’t just put it in a cupboard for a year.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: The next thing I wanted to talk about was browning. Do you know why apples go brown, dad?

Chris: I assume it’s some sort of oxidation.

Hallie: It is. Great work.

Chris: Thank you.

Hallie: Yes, I found a really helpful article in the Scientific American, which is called, “Why do Apple Slices Turn Brown After Being Cut?” When apples are cut or bruised, oxygen is introduced into that injured plant tissue and then when the oxygen is present in the cells an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase also known as PPO, which is in the chloroplasts will rapidly oxidize phenolic compounds. Then that oxidation creates a brown colored secondary like product. You can use lemon or pineapple juice to coat apple slices, which will slow enzymatic browning both because they have antioxidants in them and because they have a lower pH so all in all that causes the enzyme to be less active.

Chris: If you want lemon juice on your apple, it’ll stay better longer.

Hallie: It’s true, but in 2017 there was an apple approved. There was a GMO apple called the Arctic Apple and there’s actually several different varieties of Arctic apples.

Chris: Interesting.

Hallie: They basically just took out that PPO, that polyphenol oxidase enzyme out and so now, there’s no oxidation process happening. Other than that, the apples are the same, so they don’t brown. There was a lot of talk when these were first released about like kid’s snacks, pre-cut apple snacks, the apples that you can buy from McDonald’s and stuff like that when you are on the go, you have small kids that need the apples already cut up and you don’t have time to cut them up. There was a lot of talk about those consumer packaged goods, ready to go apples. But of course, apple trees take a long time to grow and they weren’t approved until 2017. So we still have a ways to go until we know really what the market’s going to be.

This year was their highest harvest to date, according to Growing Produce, which is like an industry publication. This article was published on October 28th, so pretty recently. We’re recording this on Halloween. This is pretty up to date. They had almost 8 million pounds and of course, fall is usually when apples are ready, like early fall. 8 million pounds of Arctic Apples this year. Probably will be more next year.

Chris: I wonder how they taste.

Hallie: I mean, they taste the same. They took like existing apple varieties and then just took out that enzyme, so they probably taste exactly the same.

Chris: Also kids, you don’t need time to cut up an apple. You can just take an apple and bite it directly.

Hallie: What if you’re like a tiny baby with the little tiny baby teeth or a small little baby mouth?

Chris: Your parents can cut it up for you. But I mean, let’s face it. That’s not who these things are marketed to. They’re marketed to kids that are 8, 9, 10 years old, who don’t want to be bothered with whole apples or parents that don’t want their kids to be bothered with whole apples and would rather just get them pre-cut apples. I don’t know.

Hallie: Maybe probably. I don’t really mind a pre-cut apple. I mean, we’ve talked on the show before about the question ability of pre-cut fruits, whether that’s apples whether that’s pineapples whether it’s watermelon, when you go into the store and there is like a precut section, one creates plastic, but two, also makes it possible for people to eat fruit that that it might’ve been challenging otherwise maybe because they have a disability maybe because they just don’t have enough time in the day to really take time to prepare fruits like that. There’s a lot of reasons why pre-cut fruit is complicated in terms of creating plastic, but beneficial. It’s complicated.

Chris: Well, pre-cut fruit is fine. Sure. I’ll keep an open mind.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: That’s really cool apples. Love an apple. I’m not going to try to breed an apple, but I will definitely eat an apple and I might try some medieval apple pie.

Hallie: Absolutely. That sounds great. Got to go get me some figs.

Chris: Also Mama Casey, if you’re listening, we haven’t had apple pie in a while. Just saying it.

Hallie: You can make an apple pie. It’s not hard. No, dad come on. You can make an apple pie. You don’t need mom to make an apple pie.

Chris: I mean, she really makes good pie. Just saying it.

Hallie: Oh my God.[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is made by me Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

Chris: If you’d like to connect with us, follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod or join our Discord and Facebook communities and leaf us your thoughts on this episode.

Hallie: You can find all of our episodes and transcripts as well as information about the team and the show on our website, onetogrowonpod.com.

Chris: Help us take root and grow organically by recommending the show to your friends or consider donating to our Patreon at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There, you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, exclusive bonus content and boxes of our favorite goodies.

Hallie: If you liked the show, please share it with a friend. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris: Be sure to see what’s sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].

49: Apples

This week we’re talking about apples! We discuss varieties, methods of propagation, and how apples were first domesticated. Also, how well do you know Chaucer?

The Johnny Appleseed song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_IrdS-zu48

Read the transcript of this episode.

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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
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