All posts by Hallie Casey

41: How Plants Communicate 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 and I don’t know anything about agriculture. Each episode, we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we’re focusing on fungal networks.

[Background music].

Hallie: Let’s get into it. Dad, what do you know about fungal networks specifically related to plants?

Chris: I know that there’s something called the mycelial network.

Hallie: Okay.

Chris: I know about it because of Star Trek Discovery.

Hallie: What?

Chris: Part of the premise of Star Trek Discovery is there’s some sort of mycelial network in space that a giant tardigrade can float around on.

Hallie: That doesn’t make any sense.

Chris: [Laughs]. I agree.

Hallie: If the tardigrade is giant, how is it floating around on the mycelia, which are tiny?

Chris: It was a little hand wavy even by Star Trek standards. It helped the enterprise go really far really fast. Faster than their normal work drive could take them. Oops! Editing Chris here. If you’re thinking, hey, Chris. Star Trek Discovery is about the discovery and not the enterprise. You’d be right. Hey, listener, editing Chris here. If you’re thinking Star Trek Discovery is about the discovery and not the enterprise, you’d be right.

Hallie: Because they rode the fungus.

Chris: Yeah, they rode the mycelial network.

Hallie: Mycelia is basically fungus.

Chris: Okay. But at some point their chief engineer takes over of the person that sort of flies them through the mycelial network because they don’t want to be cruel to the tardigrade.

Hallie: This doesn’t make any sense at all. [Laughs].

Chris: Star Trek, man. It’s about philosophy.

Hallie: Okay. Do you know what fungi is compared to mushrooms? Let’s start there.

Chris: So far as I know and of course I grew up with the five plant kingdoms and from what I remember from my education is fungus is one of the kingdoms and mushrooms are in that fungal kingdom along with athlete’s foot.

Hallie: Wait, you said five plant kingdoms.

Chris: Well, sorry. You’re right. I guess the five light kingdoms of life.

Hallie: Yeah, right. Yes.

Chris: Animals, plants, and then fungus there is another one that aren’t quite the same as plants.

Hallie: Separate from plants.

Chris: Right. Because they don’t have chlorophyll I guess, but more for them.

Hallie: Yeah, I have heard people say, they thought fungus was plants. Fungus is not plants. It is separate from plants.

The mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the fungi and they’re just the very, very tip of the iceberg. The mycelia are actually the body of the fungus. They make up the majority of the fungus and then the hyphae are basically branching filaments that make up the mycelium, the total body of a fungus.

Chris: Wait, are they a berry?

Hallie: No.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Oh my God. Absolutely not.

Chris: All right. They’re not a berry. The mushroom part is like you said, the fruiting body.

Hallie: Yeah, pretty much.

Chris: When you say fruiting body, you mean that’s what produces the seed.

Hallie: It’s what produces the reproductive parts.

Chris: Yes, I was going to say, thank you for interrupting me.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: Then on a mushroom the seed is I guess spores or at least that’s what I know of, but maybe they’re not all spores.

Hallie: I mean, we’re using the word seed here very liberally. I don’t know if we want to apply seed to the animal kingdom if we can extrapolate that way.

Chris: It’s not that kind of podcast.

Hallie: I wouldn’t say seed. Yeah, the fruiting body, meaning that that is what creates new mushrooms.

Chris: Got it. Okay.

Hallie: Then the mycelia is like the body of it. If we’re thinking about it in analogous to a plant, the mushroom would be like an apple and the mycelia would be all the rest of the tree.

Chris: Oh, okay. It’s not just the trunk or just the roots. It’s the whole thing.

Hallie: Then the hyphae is a branch.

Chris: I don’t think I’ve ever seen any part of a mushroom that wasn’t just the mushroom.

Hallie: The mushroom is the mushroom, right? The part of a fungi or fungus.

Chris: When I buy a mushroom at the grocery store or I see a mushroom growing on a log in the forest, there’s just this mushroom popping up and I don’t know what the mycelia part is.

Hallie: Right. I wanted to start talking about these different definitions because I want to get you away from that idea of a mushroom. Have you seen other fungus?

Chris: Oh, yeah. Because I used to work in a bakery and sometimes we’d have to throw the bread out or sometimes we keep food too long and that’s mold.

Hallie: Yeah, exactly. Boom answered. The mycelia there is the fuzzy bits. In the soil, they’re really, really small. Typically, they are microscopic, but they’re very important. We are specifically going to be talking about mycorrhiza fungi. That word, we can break it up into two parts. The word myco, meaning fungus in Greek and the word rhiza, meaning root in Greek.

Chris: Okay. Just to be clear, when I walk along the path in the forest and I see the mushrooms, there are fuzzy bits somewhere.

Hallie: Under the ground in the soil.

Chris: There are fuzzy bits.

Hallie: There is a network of branching hyphae filaments that make up the mycelium.

Chris: Wait, is that where the enterprise flies around?

Hallie: Yes, fine.

[Laughter].

Chris: I know you wanted to get away from mushrooms, but on a mushroom there’s the cap and the stock.

Hallie: Sometimes.

Chris: Is all that part of the fruiting body or is some of that part of the mycelia?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: All that’s part of the fruiting body and the mycelia is the fuzzy bits underground and there is a network of them.

Hallie: We said fuzzy bits because we were trying to envision fungus. When you really see an image of an underground, like mycelium, it looks like a tree. It’s massive.

It’s really interconnected. If you could imagine grassroots, like really, really fine hyphae that are connected and huge. It’s going to be super huge. It’s not like a little fuzzy spot. It’s a huge network of these branching hyphae that connect.

Chris: Like a rhizome?

Hallie: Yeah, right. But a fungus though. It’s like a fungi. Anyways, we got the image now. There are many different kinds of fungi. We are going to specifically be talking about mycorrhiza fungi.

Chris: Mycorrhiza fungi.

Hallie: Yeah, do you remember the Greek I said earlier? Myco meaning.

Chris: Fungus and rhiza meaning root.

Hallie: Exactly.

Chris: I remember because I’m looking at the show notes.

Hallie: [Laughs]. This is all we’re going to be talking about. Basically, plants need nutrients from the soil, right? But they don’t spread out very well. It takes them a lot of energy to spread out.

Most plant roots are built with carbohydrates and plants make carbohydrates using photosynthesis, so it’s a lot of work to photosynthesize. You know what does spread out really well is mycelium.

Chris: Why is that?

Hallie: Because they’re real small and it’s easy for them to get very many places and it’s just what they’re specialized to do. It’s what they do. Plants trade carbohydrates with fungi in the soil for basically nutrients. They get the nutrients from the fungi and the fungi gets some carbohydrates to go and build some more little hyphae somewhere else or to go build a mushroom. Then I found an article from the journal nature that said that 85% of vascular plants are in some kind of mycorrhiza relationship.

Chris: When the fuzzy bits spread out, they’re not just transporting nutrients to each other or to their fruiting bodies or whatever. Plants somehow use them to transport nutrients.

Hallie: Yeah, they’re basically in relationship with the plants in the ecosystem, which makes sense when we think about it as an ecosystem, which it is, but yeah, they’re basically like buying and selling nutrients and carbohydrates back and forth between these plants and the fungus.

Chris: But whenever I hear someone talk about their plant getting a fungus, it’s a bad thing.

Hallie: Well, yeah.

You can have issues with houseplants if a plant gets anaerobic, but those fungi in the soil are really, really crucial to a plant being able to get enough nutrients. Like everything else pretty much in the soil, you can have beneficial fungi and you can have detrimental fungi or pest fungi. Most of it is beneficial fungi. That mycorrhiza network is so key for plants.

Chris: Got it. Okay, cool. But I think we need to establish something pretty quick right now. Is it fungi or is it fungi?

Hallie: [Laughs]. I switched between the two, which is probably not correct. I think technically it’s fungi, but I always grew up saying fungi, so let’s stick with fungi for the rest of the episode because I’m pretty sure that’s the scientifically correct way to say it.

Chris: It’s fungi like the peanut butter.

Hallie: Fungi peanut butter? What is fungi peanut butter?

Chris: Fungi like the peanut butter, not fungi like graphics.

Hallie: Oh my God.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Man, I can’t even say that sentence. A gif jif joke for those of you at home.

Within these mycorrhiza fungi that we’re discussing today, there are two main types. There are ectomycorrhiza fungi and arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi. An ectomycorrhiza fungi, basically these two types are describing how the fungi gets in relationship with a plant. An ectomycorrhiza fungi, do you know the prefix ecto?

Chris: Yeah, that’s what ghosts create as ectoplasm.

Hallie: No, oh my God. I mean, yes, but like in the science, like actual, what does it actually mean in Latin?

Chris: Ecto, does it mean outer?

Hallie: Exactly. Right.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Ectomycorrhiza fungi, basically, if you think about plant root cells, they’re kind of built like a brick wall. They’re like these little boxes that are stacked next to each other and an ectomycorrhiza fungi will penetrate the root, but doesn’t penetrate the actual cells. It creates this sheath around those little brick cells, which can be very helpful in protecting the roots from nematodes or something like that that might want to come and eat it, but it basically comes out and creates a little wall around that little cell along the root. It’s ecto meaning outside of the cell. This is often associated with forests.

A lot of conifers have these ectomycorrhiza fungi relationships. They’re great. They’re terrific. The other type is arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi. I tried to figure out what the word arbuscular means. It is based on the word tree, right? Arbuscular basically these guys squeeze in the actual root cells in the plant cells. They get in the walls and they live in the cells and the little arbuscular, which are the bits of the fungi that are inside the actual plant cell spread out and look like tree branches, which is where we get that arbor connection because it kind of looks like a tree branch inside of the actual cell. This is really typical in things like grasses, not always. These connect to all kinds of different things.

Chris: That sounds amazing.

Hallie: Yeah, they’re both great. They’re both super cool.

Chris: But they both do essentially the same thing. They have some sort of relationship with the plant where they do like a nutrient exchange.

Hallie: Right. That’s what this mycorrhiza fungi do. This is just basically a different way of establishing that relationship with the plant.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Now we’re going to get into the crazy part. We’re on board for a plant knows a mushroom and they like trade stuff back and forth, but here where it gets intense.

Trees are not in kind of the traditional way that we think about them, an individual organism.

Chris: Because they’re socialists?

Hallie: Because these fungal relationships form something that scientists have been calling the Wood Wide Web.

Chris: [Laughs]. Oh, mad respect.

Hallie: I think it’s good.

Chris: But wait, I don’t think I understand what it is you’re saying about why they’re not individuals. Trees are not individuals because they talk to each other or because they have the Wood Wide Web too. That goes between the tree roots so that the trees can talk to each other over the fungal network.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s basically that second one. This Wood Wide Web is a way of reimagining what we think of as a forest ecosystem. A lot of this work was pioneered by an amazing scientist, Suzanne Simard from the University of British Columbia and here’s like how she figured it out. What she did was she put a traceable form of carbon in a tree in a forest. Then she took samples from a neighboring tree at a later date and found carbon in the other tree that she did not put it in.

Chris: Dude.

Hallie: A tree had taken a carbon and put it down into the Wood Wide Web into this giant fungal mycelium and it had gone into a different tree.

Chris: Is she sure that the tree just didn’t reach over and said here have some of my carbon?

Hallie: We’re pretty sure that’s not what happened [laughs].

Chris: Okay. I mean, maybe a leaf fell and the leaf decomposed and then the other tree absorbed. I’m sorry. None of that’s correct. This is insane. That’s wild.

Hallie: Yeah, I did a lot of research on this and a lot of the analogies I found were actually specifically talking about the internet and how it’s kind of a series of tubes that connects servers.

Chris: Oh, boy.

Hallie: These trees can be thought of as servers and sometimes you have smaller servers or bigger servers. A bigger server would be a really big older tree. What’s often called like a mother tree when thinking about this type of framing of the ecosystem. What scientists have seen is that you have these source plants and then you have these sinking plants. Plants make carbohydrates, right? Using oxygen and carbon dioxide and using photon energy they create a carbohydrate. However, if you are on forest, you will have a big tree that gets much sun and many photons and you’ll have a small little tiny baby tree that will be under the big tree.

When you’re under the big tree, you get very few photons. You see what I’m saying?

Chris: Is this nature’s version of trickle-down economics?

Hallie: No, oh my God.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: It’s like nature’s version of motherhood. That’s why it’s called Mother Theresa.

Chris: Oh, okay.

Hallie: This big tree will pass carbohydrates across the Wood Wide Web to these little small trees so that they can continue to survive. They have seen examples of trees that are getting very, very few photons that are really not photosynthesizing a lot, but are able to continue to survive because they’re basically getting carbohydrates from the rest of their community.

Chris: Wait, can I use this in my backyard to grow plants that otherwise wouldn’t grow in the shade?

Hallie: Yeah, you know what you need in order to establish a good Wood Wide Web in your backyard.

Chris: What?

Hallie: Compost. You should compost, dad.

[Laughter].

Chris: I mean, that I have to go through the action of composting.

Hallie: You can also buy compost, but if you’re buying compost in order to establish the mycelial network, you do have to buy an active compost that’s not dead because you need living things in it like fungi.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: They send carbohydrates. They can also send nutrients around. They can also send water around and it has also been found that they can also send stress chemicals and like warning signals around on these internet of trees.

Chris: I’m just thinking of all the HTTP codes on the web. They can send two hundreds and five hundreds and maybe even a 404.

Hallie: Sure, dad?

Chris: Yeah.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Absolutely.

Chris: Site not found. I don’t know.

Hallie: What is the 500 code? I don’t know that one.

Chris: Internal server error.

Hallie: Okay. Yeah, I don’t really know what that means, but yeah, absolutely if that helps, sure.

Chris: That’s just, wow. Stress chemicals. I’m like, look out there’s a woodpecker or something.

Hallie: Yeah, exactly that. Look out, something is coming eating our leaves perhaps make more cellulose if you can. Something’s coming and then they will.

Chris: Well, that’s cool and herbicides too this is?

Hallie: Yeah, you’re reading a little bit ahead.

Chris: True.

Hallie: They can also transport things like herbicides, which we don’t really want transported, but that hasn’t been as studied, partly because if you’re using something like an herbicide, then that’s often diminishing the soil ecosystem, right? If we’re growing in a more conventional system, then you usually have a less robust soil ecosystem. Not that that has to be the case that you can’t use herbicides in a system that has a robust soil ecosystem. But as we’ve talked about on the show before, we can always use more science about regenerative, agricultural practices and soil science and soil health.

Chris: That is good.

Hallie: One of the other interesting things that they found about these “mother trees” is that when they are dying, they take the carbon that has been stored a lot, not all of it obviously, but they take some of the carbon, they have stored and they release that and as well as other nutrients back into the network, so they’re basically passing resources onto the next generation and it kind of speeds up their death. One of the things that a lot of forestry scientists have been talking about for the last, however long, like since the nineties, when this research was being done is considering that when we cut down these larger trees to make plywood or whatever, we’re basically taking those resources out, so it can be harder for the next generation of trees to actually grow up to maturity because they don’t have that kick start as these mother trees who are aging out and passing those resources on.

Chris: Man, that’s wow. Okay. Is this more like an Ethernet or like a token ring thing?

Hallie: I don’t know. I think that’s the point where we should perhaps get into the break because you were talking way beyond what I know of the internet.

Chris: [Laughs]. Into the break.

[Background music].

Chris: You really should learn more about computers and the internet and the way it all works I think.

Hallie: You know what? I do know more about our starfruit patrons.

Chris: What? Vikram, Lindsay, Patrick, Mama Casey and Shianne.

Hallie: Our starfruit patrons and all of our patrons have made our local food series possible. They have made it possible for us to get transcripts. They have made so many things possible for us to grow the show, things that have happened and things that are coming up that we’re planning. If you’re interested in supporting the show, we have perks at all kinds of different levels from $1 all the way up to $25 is the highest tier. We have pretty fun perks. If you’re interested, you can come join us over there at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod.

Chris: That’s patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. We would love to see you there. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: I do.

Hallie: Great.

Chris: All right. Earlier we established that in Star Trek Discovery they used the mycelial network to fly around.

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Okay. The engineer that was able to fly them around the mycelial network was played by Anthony Rapp.

Hallie: No way.

Chris: Oh, yeah way.

Hallie: You’re kidding. Broadway King Anthony Rapp was on the Star Trek.

Chris: As you know, Anthony Rapp was big in Rent.

Hallie: I mean, he was the lead in Rent.

Chris: Yes, the reason he was able to do so well in Rent is because he was a fun guy.

Hallie: What?

Chris: [Laughs]. He was a fun guy.

Hallie: That doesn’t even make any sense.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Oh, my God.

Chris: Also, there are mushrooms that go in the dark and they look really cool and you should look them up.

Hallie: I can’t even believe you could even come up with a Rent appropriate pun.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: The amount of Rent that you had to listen to when I was in high school and you couldn’t even come up with a Rent specific pun.

Chris: Oh, man. I did try to see if they talked about there being mold in the building, but there was no reference to it.

Hallie: No.

Chris: They were just jerks who didn’t want to pay rent.

Hallie: No, that’s not the takeaway at all from Rent.

Chris: Not the takeaway. It’s just who they were as characters.

Hallie: No, we don’t have the time to talk about how wrong you are.

Chris: [Laughs]. Thank God.

Hallie: Moving on. Back to fungus. There has been some cool research that’s shown that nutrient transfer from old growth. Douglas firs happens more with plants that are related to them like other conifers versus plants that are more distantly related to them, like broad leaf plants.

We don’t know how they know. We don’t know why that happens. It’s not like they’re talking to them. They’re talking to the fungi who is then talking to the plants. How do they tell the fungi, “Hey, take this to that tree over there, but not to that tree because that tree and me are not bros?” How do they know?

Chris: I don’t know. But it sounds like they got a little tribal thing going on.

Hallie: I want to know how they know so badly. It’s so weird.

Chris: Maybe they can see each other. I don’t know. That is pretty wild though.

Hallie: It’s wild.

Chris: Maybe it’s like some sort of gene expression over the network.

Hallie: I really don’t know. Yeah, there is so much we don’t know about this whole network. There’s so many more things that we will be learning in the next like 50 years and I’m sure in 50 years we are going to know so much more and it’s going to blow my freaking mind.

Chris: Maybe they just ask, “Is your name Douglas?” They say, “Yes.”

Hallie: That’s probably what the fungi do actually. Now that I think about it, that’s probably exactly what they do.

Chris: All right. Cool. Let’s go for that.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I want to talk a little bit more about the context of this in agriculture. We talked a lot about forestry in an oblique way, so obviously this is very relevant for our timber industries. We haven’t done an episode on timber yet, but we’re planning on doing it eventually. It’s like on my list of things I really want to talk about. But yeah, this is super connected, but mycorrhiza fungi don’t just exist in trees. We know about them mostly in trees because it’s pretty easy to put a weird carbon in a tree and then come back a while later and look at another tree, but if you have annual plants, you might not have the lifespan to really be able to measure what’s being passed back and forth, right? There is still really cool science being done. But like we do know that these mycorrhiza fungi are important to annual crops like tomatoes, wheat. Most of the things that we eat. We do know that they are important. We don’t just have as much science because there’s always more science we can be doing.

Chris: That is true.

Hallie: There is evidence that plants that are plugged into the network from a young age are generally healthier. Why? We don’t really know. It could be because they have more available nutrients when they’re young and so they’re able to grow to be more robust. It could be because they have more access to stress hormones, so they get less damaged. There could be other reasons that we don’t know of.

Chris: They’ve got mycelia privilege.

Hallie: Exactly. What does that mean? Who knows? We don’t know yet, but hopefully we will know soon. There can issues in agriculture related to the mycelia network. Overuse of fertilizer can damage mycorrhiza networks basically because the plants don’t need the fungi to provide nutrients, so they’re not giving the carbohydrates back to the fungal network.

Chris: Oh, that makes sense.

Hallie: Yeah, that’s specific to fertilizers, but we do know that large scale industrial agriculture does damage soil health. We can talk specifically about mycorrhiza fungi, but what we do definitely know and what is really clear is that the fungal network, this mycelium under the ground is related to nematodes and is related to protozoa and is related to plants and is related to bacteria, all of which are growing in the soil together. If one of those pieces is missing, like if you don’t have as much plant diversity, then that can damage all of the other pieces that create a healthy biological soil. If you have a healthy biological soil, then you also have a healthy physical soil and chemical soil. All of these different aspects of the soil and how it functions can function much better. You see what I’m saying?

Chris: It’s sort of like when everything lives together in harmony, it all works out better.

Hallie: I mean, yeah, sure. If we extrapolate very far back, that is what I am saying.

Chris: It’s a metaphor for life.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s a metaphor for life. We need balance including mycelium. It’s very important.

Chris: Cool. In conclusion, the trees talk to the mushrooms and the mushrooms relay the messages to other trees, or sometimes even other plants or at least trees of other species or whatever, but not usually. They all live together with their friends, the bacteria and the nematodes and the other things and good healthy soil, which is important. It’s just cool and amazing and important for a healthy ecosystem.

Hallie: That’s the stuff of it.

Chris: That’s the stuff of it, man. Well, thanks. Hallie, you know what? I had fun guy.

Hallie: Oh, my God. Well, I had mushroom.

Chris: You had mushroom for what? That makes no sense.

Hallie: Yeah, well, yours isn’t great either.

Chris: That’s true. Okay.

[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].

41: How Plants Communicate

This week, Hallie and Chris explore the fun-filled world of fungi! We learn about the ways the fungi support plant-life, how they make it possible for plants to communicate with each other, and what these relationships mean for agriculture. We definitely decide how to pronounce “gif” and “fungi.”

Read the full episode transcript here.

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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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A silver dollar plant in a pot

40: Houseplants 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 houseplants.

[Background music].

Hallie: What do you know about the humble houseplant, dad?

Chris: Why would anyone want to live inside of a plant?

Hallie: Oh brother.

Chris: As their house?

Hallie: Oh God.

Chris: Their house.

Hallie: Oh no. [Laughs].

Chris: I know that they are plants that you can put inside of your house. I suppose they’re usually in some sort of receptacle like a pot. You have to occasionally water them. That’s what I know.

Hallie: Pretty good.

Chris: Oh, really? Show over. We’re done?

Hallie: That’s the whole show. That’s all we wanted to say.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: No, not really.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: When talking about the beginning of the houseplant, which is where I want to start this episode, a lot of people talk about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, ancient China, ancient Egypt. They had plants and they were inside. People have had plants on the inside for a long time, but it didn’t really become trendy in modern times until really Victorian England when it kind of became a fixture of the middle class household at least here in the West.


Chris: Wow. I thought you were going to say something like the original cavemen had likened on their walls.

Hallie: I mean, they did. That’s true.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: One of the most famous old school houseplants from this Victorian period is cast iron plants. There’s actually a really good episode of the houseplant podcast On The Ledge with Jane Perrone. It’s episode 138 and they only talk about cast iron plants and it’s extremely fascinating.

Chris: Okay. What in the world is a cast iron plant? Is that a plant that you put in cast iron or grow on cast iron or is made of cast iron? I don’t know.

Hallie: It is none of those things. It’s also called an Aspidistra. They’re called cast iron plants because they’re tough. They’re really tough like cast iron would be.

Chris: They’re tough to eat or tough to kill?

Hallie: Tough to kill, yeah. They’re sturdy. That’s how they got the name. They’re just super sturdy, but Aspidistra is just the nicer name. Cast iron plant now has a bad connotation because it’s like an old school plant. It’s like passé, but if you say Aspidistra oh, that sounds so nice. But cast iron plant is old school.

Chris: All right. Cool.

Hallie: But this episode of On The Ledge, which also can I say is a very great name for a podcast about houseplants is terrific. You should check it out.

Chris: Do people put houseplants on ledges?

Hallie: Yeah, like on the ledge of a window, counter.

Chris: Okay. I like that. That’s great. I love that name.

Hallie: In 1960s, houseplants really got kicked up in terms of a design feature. Before that it was mostly just, oh yes a nice plant and they’re good for me, question mark. But in the 1960s, it was really considered a part of the design as we moved into this mid-century modern era of interior design. Houseplants and particularly different tropical plants really became big features of rooms. This kind of diminished as you moved into the 1980s. Particularly for like houses, it became more popular to have like a fake plant. But in the Moli’i Gardens, actually I was doing research for this episode and particularly like the Moli’i Garden was something that was called out as the first public space that had a larger planting more than just like a pot. You remember here in Austin at the Barton Creek Mall, there’s a big garden over by one of the fountains. That’s pretty common. That large indoor planting was the first time we really saw it in the 1980s in malls.

Chris: I got to be honest with you. I noticed the fountains but I don’t know that I noticed the plants maybe like some big leaves or something. I never really thought about that. Interesting. A garden inside of a mall, not just an outdoor shopping mall, but an indoor shopping mall.

Hallie: What a concept.

Chris: Okay. Is it like a big greenhouse with this sky roof, sun roof, translucent roof?

Hallie: I mean, it’s just on the ground floor, you got a fountain and you got plants around the fountain.

Chris: I guess the fluorescent lights are enough for them.

Hallie: A lot of malls also have skylights and stuff like that. Indoor plants really don’t need a lot of lights, so it works. Today, a lot of houseplants are popular, particularly because a lot of people are renting and it’s really easy to fill your house with houseplants as a way to make it feel homey, but without having to make any permanent changes to the structure, like painting or wallpapering or putting up shelves or something like that. They’re just super on trend now, so I want to talk about them.

Chris: It sounds like they sort of became popular in Victoria England and then all of a sudden few decades later it was akin to picking out furniture. You also had to pick out some houseplants.

Hallie: Right. A lot of reasons for that is mostly around the advancement of the industry and the advancement of the greenhouse technology. It’s become much easier to find those tropical plants that maybe we just couldn’t find them in the 1920s, 1930s because we didn’t have ways to transport them and carry them and that industry really hadn’t developed. Whereas now you can find them at every single supermarket at every single hardware store. They’re just super common because our industry has really developed and we have ways to transport them and care for them and all of that.

Chris: Is it true they do better if you play music for them?

Hallie: I don’t know. Maybe we could do a whole episode on playing music for your plants.

Chris: Okay. That’d be cool.

Hallie: What are the reasons that we keep houseplants? Number one, we’ve been talking about it. It adds to the aesthetic nature of a space. For sure, I found a lovely Architectural Digest article that particularly talked about Funkshway, which of course is an ancient Chinese method of creating a balanced energy in a space. They offered some suggestions of different things that you might want to do in your house, both in terms of design and in terms of more utilitarian things. For example, if you wanted to give your space a sense of grounding or softness, they recommended philodendron or jade. If you wanted to heighten the space, they recommended ficus or rubber plant or a banana leaf plant, all of which are quite tall.

If you wanted to balance excess water, kind of a more utilitarian need, like somewhere in a bathroom or a laundry room, they recommended the lincon air plant, or perhaps pothos, which you’re familiar with. These are all great plants and great uses for them. I’m going to talk a little bit later about all different options for some of my favorite plants and why they’re helpful, but yeah, they provide a really lovely aesthetic thing in your house. It’s really soft. They’re really lovely and it’s a very different shape than most of our furniture nowadays, so they’re great.

Chris: Nice.

Hallie: Plants can also clean the air. To what benefit is questionable and I’ll talk about that, but they can also for sure increase the humidity of the space. If you have a dry room, particularly if it’s winter time or you live in somewhere like the desert, having plants in your house is definitely going to increase the humidity of the space just because you’re watering them more frequently and then there’s water in their trays sometimes, and not all the water is going directly into the plants. Having water out is going to be increasing the humidity.

Chris: I can definitely see in the winter. July in central Texas, maybe we don’t need the humidity quite so much.

Hallie: We don’t need the humidity here, but I’ve definitely lived in places where I’m like, oh, it’s so nice. I come home, there’s a bit of moisture in the air as I’m parched from coming in from the desert sun.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: There was a NASA experiment that was published in 1989 that was investigating ways to effectively detoxify space station air and they found that in a lab environment, indoor plants can scrub the air of volatile compounds, like formaldehyde and benzene, which are things that we don’t want in our air. However, if you really have a medical need for air purification, don’t replace your air purifier, which is plants. Plants are doing this, but not on a huge level. They’re very small guys. They can only do so much.

Chris: You can’t put like a whole rainforest in your bathroom.

Hallie: Yeah, I mean, they’re lovely to have, but if you need air purification, maybe have both. I don’t know. But yeah, they do do this, but on the outside of a laboratory setting, it wasn’t a really remarkable difference. I want you to imagine a scenario for me, okay?

Chris: All right. I’ve got my brain camera turned on.

Hallie: Okay, so you’re sitting in a room. There are no windows.

Chris: Why?

Hallie: The chair you’re sitting in is really hard. It’s kind of uncomfortable.

Chris: Am I in prison?

Hallie: Sure. If you want to be in prison, you can imagine yourself in prison.

Chris: I don’t want to be in prison. I’m in a really hard chair in a room with no windows. Okay.

Hallie: The light overhead is kind of bright. It’s like fluorescent. The ground under your feet is like a reflective tile. There’s light reflecting back up at you and all the walls are like bright white.

Chris: This seriously sounds like the intro to a horror movie.

[Laughter].

Hallie: How do you feel, right?

Chris: No, it’s awful.

Hallie: Not good. Okay. Now imagine the same room, but there’s a really big rubber tree plant or ficus plant in the corner of the room. How does that change things?

Chris: I guess it creates one point of interest.

Hallie: Yeah?

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: How do you think your physical reaction would change to that room? Would you feel, I don’t know, more stress, less stress, no change?

Chris: I would feel less stressed, except if I walked into that room in the first description, I’d be like, oh, this is a really weird cold creepy room. The second description, I’d be like, oh, this is a really weird color, creepy room, but look, there’s a plant over there. That’s weird. Why did someone put a plant in the corner?

Hallie: [Laughs]. Sure. It’s not a perfect description.

Chris: But I see what you’re saying. It’s the cold creepy room versus the cold creepy room with like a little life in it. Adds as that little something extra.

Hallie: There have definitely been studies that have shown that plants in a space can improve your mood, improve your concentration, improve health outcomes. I found this piece from a Psychology Today article that said, “Based on several experimental studies, the presence of potted plants have been found to be helpful in many different settings, including work, school and hospitals. Particularly, they have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve reaction times, increase attentiveness, improve attendance at work and school, raise productivity at work, improve wellbeing, improve perceptions of the space,” which is a really vague term.

I don’t know how you measure that, but cool. “Lower levels of anxiety when you’re recovering from surgery and raise job satisfaction,” which is like a lot that we’re asking from just these little plants.

Chris: No, kidding. I almost feel like this is a superfoods episode and we should put a cape on a houseplant.

Hallie: [Laughs]. I had a professor in college who is actually studying the impact of plants in a classroom on college quiz test grades and the correlation there. It’s great to have plants in a room. They make you feel more relaxed and being inside of an angular stuffy cold room is not natural for our brains. It’s not where our brains pick operation. It’s weird and so having a little bit of that nature, it seems can help de-stress us and can help us feel more relaxed. Can help us enjoy a space more, which can then I’m assuming correlate to this like improved attendance. If you like the space more, you’re probably more likely to go to a space versus if you really hate the space.

Chris: Okay, cool. Magic plants.

Hallie: I mean, is it magic? Is it brain science? Who can say?

Chris: Fair enough, but you know what we can say.

Hallie: What’s that?

Chris: We can say that we’re going into a break right now.

Hallie: Here we go.

[Background music].

Chris: Hey, Hallie.

Hallie: Hey, dad.

Chris: Do you know who probably has houseplants?

Hallie: Who?

Chris: Our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey.

Hallie: Patrick, and Shianne. You guys are so wonderful and your support means the world to us. If you at home listening are interested in joining our Patreon family, it helps so much. It makes so many things possible for the show, including us to have series, we’ve got transcripts on the website now, which our patrons are paying for 100%. You have supported so many things about the show and we are so, so grateful. If you are interested in supporting the show, you can head over to patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. We have a lot of different, super fun tiers.

Chris: Tiers that get you bonus content like outtakes and little extra audios. We’ve got the plan of the month club. We send you a little digital file with some plant facts about certain plants and a recipe using that plant and sometimes we’ll mail you a postcard, but we haven’t recently because I have been a little afraid to go to Office Depot to get a print it out and go to the post office to mail it out. I don’t want to do that because there’s a plague on, but we will get those mailed out someday. Our starfruit patrons get all kinds of goodies, like boxes of stuff.

Hallie: We’ve been doing like goody boxes for our starfruit patrons. We just did the first one, I guess, back in June. Yeah, June is when they got delivered and we worked with a really cool artist in Australia and she mailed them soaps and handmade candles and handmade lip balms and a bunch of really cool stuff. The next one is going to be closer to November, December. We’re doing it about twice a year, so we’ll be talking about it again when we get closer to that. But if you’re interested in supporting the show at any tiers, any levels, you can do $1, you can do more than that. We would really appreciate the support. If the show is something that’s meaningful to you, it’s great. We have so much fun over there. You also get a Discord channel and we can chat. Gosh, I feel like this Benadryl is not going well.

Chris: It’s going super long. Do you know what, I would appreciate if we got back to the episode?

Hallie: What’s up?

[Background music].

Hallie: Oh my God. Okay. Dad, you got a nature fact for us?

Chris: I do have a nature fact.

Hallie: Hit me.

Chris: All right. In the beginning of the episode, I asked who would want to live in a plant anyway because it’s hilarious, right?

Hallie: Sure.

Chris: Well, you know who does live in plants. It is the Keebler elves. They live in a tree. They do. You know who it turns out is a subsidiary of Keebler?

Hallie: Who?

Chris: Little Brownie Bakers.

Hallie: Okay. [Laughs].

Chris: They are one of the bakers that make Girl Scout Cookies.

Hallie: Yeah, I know this.

Chris: For half of the country, Keebler makes Girl Scout Cookies. Not only that, but Keebler has their own cookies that are the same flavors as some of the Girl Scout Cookies, like thin mint and samosas. They’re just not as exciting to buy from Keebler as they are from Girl Scout.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: This blew my mind. Did you already know all this?

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: It’s not blowing your mind?

Hallie: I was a Girl’s Scout. I knew this.

Chris: What you knew? I feel like you were in on something.

Hallie: I was in on something like a conspiracy?

Chris: Yeah, you knew the secret.

Hallie: We don’t have Little Brownie in Texas.

We’ve got ABC, so it’s like a totally different distributor.

Chris: Even if I bought the Keebler thin mints, they wouldn’t be the same as the Girl Scout thin mints that we get here.

Hallie: I mean, it’s like the same formula. I don’t know how different it is bakery to bakery. I’ve never done a test comparison.

Chris: All right. Well, I don’t know. I feel like I’m giving some pretty significant information to the rest of the world so you can be like, yeah, I knew that, whatever, but I bet listener I bet there’s at least one of you out there that didn’t know that already.

Hallie: Congratulations to the rest of our listenership other than me on now finding out that you can buy thin mints all year round, but it does not go to support Girl Scout, which is really great for the development of leadership skills in young women, so sport Girl Scout.

Chris: True.

Hallie: Oh wait, I have to do the theme.

Chris: Oh yeah. You got to do the theme. Don’t forget to do the theme.

Hallie: Tara-tarara. Nature fact.

Chris: Let’s say I’ve gotten really excited about the idea of getting a houseplant after you told me about all this great stuff.

Hallie: I hope so.

Chris: What do I need to do other than purchase it?

Hallie: What do houseplants need?

Chris: Yeah, I want to put in the corner of the room that I use for my office.

Hallie: Okay. Plants need light and water and carbon dioxide and nitrogen and phosphorus and potassium.

Chris: I can definitely supply carbon dioxide.

Hallie: Great.

Chris: I would probably have to remember to give it water. How often would I need to give it water? I guess it probably depends on the plant.

Hallie: Correct.

Chris: You say it needs light. Is the light from my overhead enough?

Hallie: Probably.

Chris: Probably, really?

Hallie: But maybe not.

Chris: Maybe if there’s a window in there, that’s a good thing, but maybe the light is good enough, but I have no idea how to get it nitrogen phosphorus or potassium. Do I give it bananas?

Hallie: I wouldn’t know. Personally, I would not do that at all. If you planted in potting soil, it has a lot of nutrients in it. If you plant it with compost, then that improves the nutrition as well, but also you will probably want to have some kind of liquid fertilizer. Eventually, it will need it. There are different options. There are mineral versions, there are organic versions. You can just go to your local nursery and say, “Hey, I have this plant. What do you recommend?” They have a myriad of options. You can buy it at a large hardware store, like a big box, but I always recommend shopping local because they typically have a wider selection and they will also have great knowledge on what would do best for your houseplants.


Chris: Wait, if I have say a slightly bigger houseplant that I have to put on the floor, maybe it’s a ficus or something that takes up a large area of a pot, can I put my composting material directly on top of that and just have it compost on top of the plant soil and then sort of mix it in over time?

Hallie: Yeah, you can top dress with compost.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: But you can also just mix it in when you’re potting it up, if you’d like, and that typically helps the bacteria and the fungi and whatever else is living in your compost to just disperse. I mean, they’re very small little guys. If you put them on the top, it’s going to take them a long time to get down to the bottom. If you mix them in your own self, then it just helps them get around to all the different parts of your plant. But if your pot is already planted, you don’t want to repot it. You can totally just top dress with compost.

Chris: Okay. That makes sense.

Hallie: I wanted to talk about some of my favorite plants and specifically outlining what they need, what they’re good for and then after that I was going to talk about some of the common issues and some of the best practices for having houseplants.

Chris: Lay it on me.

Hallie: Number one, pothos ivy, you know this plant. It’s what your houseplant, Gary was. It doesn’t need full sun. Very expressive. They really let you know when something’s going on. Not all plants do that. Really easy to propagate, easy to grow and water. They’re great.

Chris: Actually, it’s Jerry.

Hallie: Okay. Sorry, Larry.

Chris: [Laughs]. Actually, it’s Jerry.

Hallie: Terry, got it.

[Laughter].

Chris: But I feel like I’m cutting you off a little bit here. I feel like there was a point where the little jar of water that I was growing him in wasn’t good enough anymore and I needed to do something else with them, like move them to a different container or to some dirt or something. Does that make sense? Should I have done something with them?

Hallie: Yeah, pothus ivy can grow 100% hydroponically. Austin has hardish water, so usually there’s a good amount of nutrition in the water itself.

But if you want the plant to continue creating new leaves, and growing as opposed to just growing small amounts and then shedding the old leaves, so really increasing the amount of leaves and the size of the plant, then you probably will have to add additional nutrition into the water just so that it can fill all themselves up.

Chris: But you don’t move it to a bigger container or anything like that. I don’t know.

Hallie: You might eventually need to do that just based on gravity, mostly like physics if physics-lly it’s not holding up, but you can have a tall plant with a small root ball in a small container, but you just have to make sure that it’s getting the nutrition and the water it needs without burning it. If you had a lot of leaves in a small root area, you would have to water it probably more frequently with the low dilution because otherwise it wouldn’t be getting enough nutrition and you could have the potential of burning the leaves if you added more nutrition. Increase the dilution of it. Does that make sense?

Chris: Yes.

Hallie: Cool. Next, Rosemary. Rosemary does need full sun, so you got to have one of the big windows for it, but it does not need a lot of water. Also, smells very nice and it will flower and you can also eat it, which is a bonus.

Chris: It goes great on chicken.

Hallie: Three, piece lily. I was informed one time by someone who worked at a florist shop that this is a plant that you get people when they know someone who has died. It’s like a condolence plant, but it’s not just that, but just so you know, they might make a comment when you try and buy it. It does not need direct sun. It’s one of the best plants for low light. It’s a really, really good office plant because it’s nice and big, but it grows really slowly and it doesn’t get super tall. It’s super manageable and it has nice flowers.

Chris: Flowers are great. Love a flower.

Hallie: Number four is the bromeliad. The flowers on this one have super nice color depending on what you get. You can get a pink, a yellow, an orange or red. They do need high drainage and they can tolerate high sun, but they’re super lovely. The fifth one is a dieffenbachia. These are good for small plants, but they can also get really big, which is super nice. They do need good drainage, but they’re also super good for low light.

Chris: Cool. Lots of options.

Hallie: Those are my faves. There’s a billion gillion houseplants, so you don’t have to get one of these. Please send us pictures of your house plants on Twitter, even if they’re not one of these six plants, but especially if they are, please send pictures.

Chris: Five plants. You talked about five plants.

Hallie: One, two, three, four, five. I talked about five plants.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Next, I was going to talk about some of the common issues. With houseplants, you can get some pest problems. Some of the most common pests are white fly, spider mites, scale. The most common time to get pest for your houseplant is when you buy a new plant and it’s already infected. You can have one of your existing plants get infected with a pest, but it’s just not as likely because the pest has to be introduced somehow and it’s your house, so you’re usually not bringing spider mites in to your own house other than on a plant. When you buy a plant, this is another reason to be really critical. When buying your plants, thinking through where you’re buying it from, do you trust them? Are you sure it’s clean? Inspecting plants before you bring them home. I oftentimes if I buy a new plant, I’ll keep it away from my older plants, like my existing plants in the house, just to make sure I don’t see any symptoms or issues before introducing it to the rest of the house.

Chris: Do they follow you home?

Hallie: Wait, what do you mean?

Chris: Spider mites. Like maybe you’re walking home from work and the spider might say, “Oh, I bet he has a nice houseplant.”

Hallie: [Laughs]. Probably not. If you get an infestation in your plants just start by pinching off as many of the insects as you see. That might be able to curb the infestation before it really takes off. But if it kind of takes off, you want to separate the infested plants from those that are not infested and you just have to research treatment methods based on what the infestation is. It depends based on pest. Sorry, I can’t give more specific advice.

Chris: I was going to say if the pest is new to you, you probably have to research what even the pest is before you research the treatment method.

Hallie: Yeah, unfortunately. Other issues you can get disease. Typically, it’s a fungus. Sometimes it’s a bacteria that will affect a houseplant. Similar to a pest the most frequent time to get this is with a new plant. Similar to pest, you’ll want to cordon off the infected plant. There are several common diseases that can plaque houseplants. One of them is powdery mildew, which can really easily be treated by spraying a solution of water and baking soda onto the leaves of the plant. If you get a fungus in your potting soil, you just have to replant the plant in brand new soil, toss out the old stuff. But also if you see mushrooms in your houseplants, don’t worry about it. It’s probably just compost mycelia that is now fruiting, so it’s fine.

Chris: Are they talking to the plant?

Hallie: Yeah, they’re probably talking to the plant. It’s great to have fungi in your soil, but if it’s like a fungal infection, if it’s causing issues, then repot just shake off as much of the soil from the roots as you can. Try to get it really clean and then repot.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: If your plant is wilting, yellowing, showing general signs of poor health, then it could be being watered incorrectly. Both over-watering and underwater can show similar stress signs, which can be frustrating. However, you probably know how much you’re watering it. If you think you’re watering it too much, water it less. If you think you’re not watering enough, then water it more. Both cases of over and under watering, it’s because the roots aren’t functioning properly. They’re not able to take up water. If you’re under watering it, then the water is just not there, so the roots begin to die off and they’re not able to take that water up, but if you’re over-watering it, then the roots become anaerobic. They don’t have enough oxygen and so the roots begin to die off and they can’t take up water. That’s why it looks similar, but usually if your roots are becoming anaerobic, it’s being overwatered, then you can just feel the soil. If it’s still wet, then it just really needs to dry off. You might need to pull your plant out and repot it, but usually just changing the watering regime is good enough. You can’t also have incorrect light. If your plant is yellowing, it’s not getting enough sun. If it’s being scorched, if it looks like it’s being burned, like there’s brown spots on the leaves, then it might be getting too much sun. That’s the run through of issues. Some of the best practices to avoid these issues, always consider your environment when deciding which plant to get. We talked about this in the vegetable gardening episode as well. Don’t get a full sun plant if you’re planning on putting it under a fluorescent light. Don’t get a partial sun plant and put it next to a window, it will get scorched. Consider how often you want to be watering your plants. Think about your own preferences with how you want to be interacting with your plants. Always plant it correctly.

You want to make sure that your root ball is higher up in the pot. This is one of the main mistakes that I see people make. With houseplants is they plant the root ball too low and then it’s hard to get oxygen into the root ball zone. Make sure it’s planted nice and high up in the pot.

Chris: The root ball, I guess is just the roots of the plant and if it’s too low, it can’t get oxygen. Which sounds weird. I don’t understand why that is.

Hallie: Well, I mean, we’ve talked about soil in the past. Potting soil is different from ground soil obviously, but potting soil still has a lot of oxygen in the roots. The soil in the ground is like 50% pore space, usually. Potting soil usually has a little bit more than that, but our plants are used to growing in soil in the ground and so they need that pore space. Usually, it’ll get filled up with water and then the water will drain quickly and then it will get filled up with air again. If you don’t have air in your root zone, then you get, like I was talking about earlier, you can get anaerobic conditions with your roots.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: If they’re not getting enough water, then the roots can begin to rot. You can begin to have fungal issues. You need to have some air movement, which does not seem intuitive it’s true, but it’s still important for good plant health. The exception is if you’re growing something hydroponically, obviously it’s already anaerobic, but it’s a different situation. Make sure you’re always using high quality compost and/or a good potting soil or core or whatever you’re using.

If you’re planting in a jar or a mug or a cup or something without drainage, you can do that, but you will need to repot the plant regularly at least once a year. If you plant it in a pot, you might start to see like a white crust appear on the top of your potting soil. That’s salts building up from your tap water. Tap water is not purified. If you water your plants with like 100% purified bottled water, then you won’t see that, but it’s a waste. It’s fine. It’s not hurting the plant, but it can become unsightly. It can be a good practice to repot once in a while after you start to see that salt buildup.

Chris: You keep talking about repotting, is this like an as needed thing or should you report periodically? You were talking about, I guess the mugs and cups and jar plants repot at least once a year as a good guideline.

Hallie: Other than that it’s as needed. Honestly, you could have plants in the same pot for decades and they can do fine. One trick if you’re dealing with bigger plants, it can be easier to leave them in like the plastic pots that you get at the store just because if you need to repot them, you can really easily cut those pots out. If you just take that flimsy plastic pot and put it whole hog into like a nicer looking planter, but not actually replant it into the planter. Those planters can be super heavy. If a bigger plant needs to be repotted and it’s like planted into the planter, it can just be a real pain to get that done. That’s one of the main issues I think with repotting is if they’re really big, so it might just be easier do that, but yeah, other than that, it’s just as needed. There’s not always a regime. Some plants need more maintenance in repotting, but it’s got to be like a plant by plant rule. There’s not kind of a rule of thumb that you can go by.

Chris: Not even a green thumb.

Hallie: Not even a rule of green rule of thumb.

Chris: Green rule of thumb.

Hallie: [Laughs]. That’s pretty much it for tropical houseplants. I also included a little bit at the end. If you want to be doing like food crops indoors, pretty much always, they will need a lot more light so you can buy grow lights. You can just use any fluorescent or led bulb and usually it says like how many lumens they are, and there’s really helpful resources online for knowing how bright you want a light to be a grow light. I would opt for led if you’re between fluorescent led, because fluorescents can get really hot, which unless you’re growing something like, I don’t know, peppers or tomatoes or something that you probably won’t want, especially if your plants are growing up and they might end up touching the bulbs, that can be really damaging to the leaves if they end up touching like a hot fluorescent bulb, but yeah, you can grow whatever you want inside. Why not?

Chris: All right. So grow something. There’s some maintenance, but it sounds pretty easy and it’ll make you a happier, better person in the end.

Hallie: Yeah.

[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].

Crates of produce at a local market.

39: Good Food and Supply Chains

For the third part in our local food series, Hallie and Chris sit down will Anna Crofts and Bob Benenson from the Chicago Good Food non-profit FamilyFarmed. They discuss the Good Food movement, what it means to bring local food into the supply chain, and why you should eat locally when you can. Also, we finally find out if Hallie or Chris show up to an interview first.

Read the full episode transcript.

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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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38: Farmers’ Markets with Amy Gallo 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 and I don’t know anything about it. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we’re talking about local food with Amy Gallo.

[Background music].

Amy: Hello.

Chris: Hello.

Hallie: Amy is the farmer’s market programming manager at the Sustainable Food Center, which happens to be where I work.

Amy: Yes.

Hallie: No, are you the marketing manager or the programming manager?

Amy: Yeah, I’m the programming manager.

Hallie: Okay. Good. [Laughs].

Amy: But I can maybe explain a little bit what that actually means.

Hallie: Yeah.

Amy: Sure. I’ve been with SFC since 2017 in various roles. First off, I was just hired to run the Downtown Farmer’s Market and then sort of moved up or maybe sideways into some marketing and communications work for our entire department, the farm viability department, which probably takes its own bit of explaining what that term means. [Laughs].

Chris: Actually, I would love that. I think Hallie has done a cursory job once or twice I’m saying. This is what the Sustainable Food Center does, but I don’t know. There’s other people out there that have no idea. What is this thing?

Amy: Well, the Sustainable Food Center has been around in one form or another for maybe 40 years. In Austin, it’s been a community garden organizing body. It has run farmer’s markets, done some cooking classes and trainings, facilitator programs for both home gardening and home cooking and now sort of pivoting the organization where we’re at the tail end of pivoting the organization away from individual behavior, change programming and towards more of systems level work on food systems and local agriculture.

Right now a main focus of our programming is farm viability, which I take to mean assisting local, small to mid-scale farmers, where they need help to continue to be viable on whether that’s operationally, financially, with backend policy work, maybe some administration, business management, marketing assistance. Wherever small to midsize farmers are feeling that pinch, we’re hoping that we can step in and fulfill a little bit of the help for them.

Chris: Cool. Okay. Yeah, all kinds of good help with agriculture stuff.

Amy: Everybody I think is familiar or under the belief that farming is hard. It’s not just long hundred degree days outside digging holes and stuff like that, but the whole business of it is pretty difficult. We’re sort of finding our niche of where we can provide some relief and support.

Chris: I’m used to being able to type some code into a computer and get something working within a few hours or a few days. I can’t imagine putting something in the ground and waiting months or a year to see the results of your labor.

Amy: Exactly. Dealing with that unknown and with these factors outside of your control, battling the weather constantly, it’s almost biblical.

Hallie: This episode is part of a larger series that we’re doing where we’re trying to talk about local food and what it means and I actually don’t know that much about your background professionally. How did you get into the farmer’s market and local food space?

Amy: I sort of fell sideways into this. This is not maybe where I thought my professional career was going to go. I studied neuroscience in school.

Hallie: Oh, wow.

[Laughter].

Amy: Maybe not a linear trajectory, but I moved to Austin in 2010 from the Northeast. I’m from New York and went to school in Boston. My partner and I moved down here and I started volunteering first at Springdale Farm and then at Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Just a shift for exchange of free, fresh, local delicious vegetables and I really liked it. I picked up a part time job helping out at the farmer’s markets on the weekends and then ended up quitting my full time job in healthcare and helping to run the farmer’s markets department at JBG, so I was there for about four years. I went to California briefly to work on a farm and found myself back here and Sustainable Food Center was hiring. I took the job helping to run the downtown market.

Hallie: That is very interesting.

[Laughter].

Hallie: But I feel like I hear a lot of people who come to the local food scene are kind of more I guess like values based eating area in one of those less linear paths I guess.

It seems like it’s something that really just draws people in and if you believe in it and if you’re into it, then you just have to end up there.

Amy: I’m a pretty emotional person and I have always been better at working at something I really care about and I sort of figured this is the thing that I really care about.

Hallie: That thing being like farmer’s markets specifically?

Amy: Yeah, farmer’s markets are definitely a tangible hands on sort of product that I really thrived in, but I always thought I would be a therapist or doing something to help people individually. When I came to farmer’s markets and just thinking about this connection people have with food and how that can heal both people on a one on one basis and communities and maybe a society to be a dreamer. For a second, I thought this is maybe having more of an impact. People coming together around food, people physically handing food over to one another, seeing how things are grown, eating food that is nutritionally dense and really healthy. All of these things sort of wrapped up and clicked in my mind of this is where I need to be. I need to be helping this process.

Hallie: Wow. In this series, we’re hoping to talk to an urban farmer and we’re hoping to talk to someone higher up who’s doing more like institutional buying, focused on value chains, but I would love to hear your thoughts on where farmer’s markets fit into that and what role they serve both to farmers and to consumers. I know it’s kind of a big question.

Amy: We can dive right in. Where do farmer’s markets fit? Farmer’s markets maybe traditionally, and I’m not exactly studied in this, despite how long I’ve been working with farmer’s markets, we are a way where farmers could sell off sort of excess food. This wasn’t people’s first or only outlet. A lot of people would have their farm growing corn or soy or doing whatever they needed to do and then have their personal garden for their own home use and then come to market with excess stuff. I think it’s always filled sort of that role in a community where you can get a lot of very things, where you can sort of get to know your farmers, where there’s this breakdown of the urban rural divide. Then now I think farmer’s markets fill definitely a different role. A lot of people maybe think markets are a little pretentious or inaccessible or expensive or just some fun thing you do on the weekend and not necessarily your main outlet for groceries. I think maybe a little bit of that perception is breaking down now during this pandemic. Farmer’s markets have been at least in our city and stayed open since the beginning and people have really been coming to market to stock up, to get their groceries, to come to a place where they know is safe. That there’s a high level of trust, where they know the farmers, where they know that they’re going to be supporting local people to feed their families and stay healthy through everything. I don’t know if I actually answered your question.

Hallie: I mean, it was a very big question, but I think that you answered it in a very beautiful way. I think that that part of bringing people together and farmer’s markets as a community building tool beyond just like the economic value that it brings, is something that is so hard to describe and to really get people to buy into and understand the value of.


Amy: To me, it’s definitely been this cultural institution as much as it’s been a true place where financial transactions happen. Farmer’s markets are great at letting people who are maybe smaller or starting out, get their start. Farmers who are just starting, who are maybe trying to pick which crops they will then become known for, or to try to make those initial connections to restaurants because they need to be seen, you can’t just pop up out of nowhere, to maybe figure out their brand identity, to work those kinks out in the sort of like live on the ground. Maybe people in micro economics should study farmer’s markets. [Laughs]. It feels like a really good testing ground for working all of these things out. There’s a real immediate result there.

Hallie: I know it. I definitely hear that. You mentioned inaccessibility earlier, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that idea as it relates to farmer’s markets and at least in your experience, how the margin that is versus how real it is.

Amy: Farmer’s markets are a little bit inaccessible. They’re temporary popups. They only last a few hours. They’re not necessarily in a place that’s easy to get to. There’s not a huge wide parking lot always outside of a central location where you know that you can just get everything and check everything off of your list. You have to know how to be flexible, how to cook seasonally, how to have a list, but go off of it a little bit. So for all of those reasons, farmer’s markets definitely attract a different crowd. A crowd that’s comfortable and maybe excited about dealing with those challenges, but for most, that’s not really what you think of when you think of food shopping, you don’t want to be challenged maybe.

Hallie: Right.

Amy: I think there’s a little bit inherently of that inaccessibility in a farmer’s market, but I think that the things on the flip side, maybe to challenge that a little bit are the opportunities there to happen upon half price, fresh peaches, first of the season, because there were too many. Though that’s not something that you’re going to necessarily get at a grocery store. To be able to know where your food came from, to meet the farmer who picks something and grows something for you is sort of an invaluable thing. To walk around and just have strangers or market staff shout a recipe at you when you look kind of quizzically at purple green beans or something, you’re not going to necessarily get that in a grocery store. I don’t have as many of those friendly interactions when I’m just shopping for normal things.

Hallie: Right. Totally. For me, at least when I’m shopping at a farmer’s market, I find it so much easier to try new things and experiment with new ingredients because there is someone there who knows literally the entire lifespan of this plant and can tell me everything they know about it just right in front of me.

Amy: Absolutely, that’s always what initially drew me to this work. When I was working at Johnson’s Backyard Garden, I was a market manager and I would drive the box truck downtown and set up and take out hundreds of pounds of produce out and display it all. I was really trying to get inside the mind of the shopper and make everything look beautiful and abundant. Then all day, I would just talk to thousands of people all day. Just every time somebody side eyed a weird looking cauliflower, I’d just be there ready trying to identify it.

[Laughter].

Amy: I definitely came by that. Honestly, that’s my favorite thing to do is to help people with weird food problems. [Laughs].

[Background music].

Chris: Welcome to the break. Who’s excited to go to a farmer’s market? I am.

Hallie: I’m always excited. I go all the time and I’m always excited to go.

Chris: It’s true.

Hallie: This episode is the second in a series of three episodes we’re doing about the local food system. If this is something you’re enjoying, I would really love it if you could share this episode with a friend.

Chris: Sharing this episode with a friend is the best way for us to grow the podcast and get more people involved in the discussion.

Hallie: The more people we have that are listening and engaging with us on Twitter and Discord, the better the show can be. The show is all about learning out loud and growing together, no pun intended.

If you have someone who you think might be interested in what we’re talking about, we would love it if they could show up and join the conversation.

Chris: Speaking of people being involved. Thank you so much to our patrons, especially our starfruit patrons, Lindsay, Vikram, Mama Casey, Patrick, and Shianne.

Hallie: You guys are such superstars and we’re so grateful to you.

Chris: You are a superstar fruit.

Hallie: Hey, all right. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Chris: Do you know much about the impact of having a pop up and having a bunch of people go to the pop up and all the individual farmers take their food to the pop up versus having some giant truck take a bunch of food to a grocery store and people just go to that larger distribution center?

Amy: The benefit to farmers for farmer’s market is if there’s a nice large central farmer’s market in the town or city where you are and a farmer can make that one stop, and unload a lot of things. The financial benefit for the farmer is pretty great. There are no middlemen, there are no wholesale pricing.

All of that money over $0.90 on the dollar goes directly into the farmer’s pocket. When you start getting into distribution models and wholesaling and selling to grocery stores, or even restaurants or institutions, farmers are going to start incrementally seeing less of the money end up back in their pocket. It’s easier. It’s less personal time or staff time or waiting out in the sun and maybe the unknown. What if you have a rainy day and the farmer’s market isn’t that profitable for you that day? But there’s definitely a sense of less of it is going into your pocket. Unless if it’s going into your pocket also from just being able to personally sell someone on something. If I had all really small zucchinis or something like that, I can unload them at the farmer’s market and I can’t sell those to a grocery store. I can convince people that they’re better for frying or zucchini salad or something and I’m not going to be able to make that same pitch to a school district or something along those lines.

Chris: Interesting. Now I’m curious about tiny zucchini.

Amy: Tiny zucchini are so good.

[Laughter].

Hallie: They can be so much sweeter.

Amy: They’re very tender at that size. I would almost never cook them.


Hallie: Well, I guess me asking you these questions, I’m trying to put myself in our listener’s shoes for folks who don’t work at the Sustainable Food Center and think about these questions that you and I think about all the time, but I was wondering my work and I’ve talked about that on the show before is much more like further down the line I guess. Kind of that next step from the farmer’s market, trying to see how farmers could connect to a school or a grocery store or something like that. We’ve touched on this a little bit, but could you talk a little bit more about the things that farmer’s markets do uniquely for customers beyond just taste and meeting farmers, but more broadly, I guess. Well, now I don’t know. I feel like I had a question now. I don’t really know where I was going.

Amy: Beyond I think the sort of intangibles about going to the farmer’s market just that connection piece and the community building piece, I think there are real benefits to shopping at a farmer’s market. A lot of times produce has been picked very recently. If I’m a farmer and I’m selling to Central Market or something along those lines, I’m sending 24 cases of lettuce on Tuesday, and it’s going to be sold at that grocery store all week. They’ll restock it. They’ll move it. Customers will come pick it up, put it down, but it’s been in and out of cold storage for a week or more. At the farmer’s market, someone picked it, boxed it up and it went to the farmer’s market. I’m the first person who’s really been handling it and taking it home. There’s an argument there for food lasting longer. If people are concerned about food waste, if you’ve ever gotten something home and opened the fridge two days later just made to find that it’s gone bad. I found that that’s a lot more rare at the market than anywhere else.

There’s a sense of the nutritional value being higher in something that was picked ripe versus something that was picked unripe and traveled a long way, but it’s difficult when you start thinking about the difference between local food that’s bought at a farmer’s market and local food that’s procured by a local institution. If it’s coming from the same farm, is there much of a difference? There’s a lot of evidence that the food that you can get that’s local versus conventional or as cross state lines. There’s a big difference there.

Hallie: Totally. I guess I have some more practical questions that I would love your expertise on as a food expert.

Amy: [Laughs].

Hallie: Are there things that you tell people if you’re going to get anything farm-fresh at your local market or from your local farmers here, the specific crops to get, because they’re so much different if you get them fresh. I mean, everything’s better fresh. Don’t get me wrong.

Amy: [Laughs]. I always say carrots definitely.

Hallie: Oh my god.

Amy: You haven’t tried a carrot until you’ve tried a really fresh local carrot. I thought I didn’t like carrots I think until I got it from the market.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Oh yeah.

Amy: Fruit is always popular. It’s rare I would say if you get to know the seasonality of things come to the market early in those times. We have raspberries and blackberries that grow here for maybe three weeks out of the year. [Laughs]. It’s very important to get to the market earlier on.

Chris: I was listening to another podcast the other day, and they were interviewing someone who said they had a friend that grew kale and their fresh kale was just unlike any other kale they’d ever had and it was the best kale and the only kale they ever ate.

Amy: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Chris: I don’t know. Maybe there’s no limit.

Hallie: There are very few limits. Like fresh produce it is so much tastier in my experience.

Amy: Oh, absolutely.

Hallie: I remember the first time I had farm-fresh romanesco and I was like, what is this food? Because I thought I’ve tasted broccoli and this is like nothing I’ve ever tasted.

Chris: Wait, what is that food?

Hallie: Romanesco. It’s like a fancy broccoli. It’s like broccoli, if it like had a Pinterest board.

Chris: [Laughs]. Okay.

Amy: It’s like a broccoli cauliflower. It has beautiful pointy fractals all over it. I think it’s much more convenient to cook as well. I usually just rip it apart with my hands into individual little triangles and throw it in the oven to roast and they just come out perfect.

Hallie: It’s a great vegetable.

Chris: I like the idea of eating fractals.

Amy: Yes.

Hallie: [Laughs]. I don’t think I have any other questions. Dad, do you have any other questions?

Chris: Let’s say you were talking to someone who either had never been to a farmer’s market before, or was sort of reluctant because of things like cost. I guess in your mind, what’s the one thing, like sort of the top item you would say you should try a farmer’s market because of this one thing?

Amy: You should try a farmer’s market to just experience a new way of interacting with your community. I find a lot of joy in just walking the farmer’s market, talking to people, picking up a new recipe or technique, working at the beautiful produce, all aligned straightly in a row just appeals to me, aesthetically, running into neighbors, people you didn’t think you were going to see there. I like to make a morning out of it. I like to go to this place that’s not a bar or work and really get to be with people.

Chris: I love that. Do you have a favorite one?

Amy: Favorite farmer’s market?

Chris: Aha.

Amy: Well, yes. Definitely the SFC Farmers Market downtown. It’s a classic urban market. It’s in a beautiful park.

Chris: Is that the one at Republic Square?

Amy: Yeah, that’s the one at Republic Square.

Chris: I don’t think I realized that was an SFC market.

Amy: That’s sort of our flagship market. It’s been open for 17 years.

Chris: Wow.

Amy: Approaching that coveted heritage status pretty soon.

Hallie: [Laughs]. I would also like to say, Amy, you mentioned running into neighbors that you don’t expect to see, and if I’m not mistaken, I think many of your neighbors are farmers at the market.

Amy: I am living in Bastrop County on a farm and a lot of my neighbors are farmers.

[Laughter].

Chris: Hallie told me you had chickens and you are very excited about them.

Amy: Oh yes. I have many chickens. I’ve been lucky enough for the past year to be living and working on Milagro Farm with Kris Olson. He’s the owner. My partner and I moved out here. Two days a week, we take care of the chickens. We have about 5,000 of them.

Chris: Wow.

Amy: So yeah.

Hallie: They make the best eggs.

Amy: [Laughs].

Hallie: They love to eat their eggs.

Amy: They do make the best eggs.

Hallie: Awesome. Well, Amy, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. This was super fun.

Amy: Thank you. This was great.

[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 sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then keep on growing.

[Background music].

38: Farmers’ Markets with Amy Gallo

This week Hallie and Chris sit down with Amy Gallo, the Farmers’ Market Programming Manager at the Sustainable Food Center. They discuss how farmers’ markets impact consumers and their communities, as well as what crops are the best to buy fresh. They also develop an interest in tiny zucchini. Who do you have to help you with your weird food problems?

Read the full transcript.

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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

monarch butterfly perched on a flower

Amaranth to Zinnias with Gretchen O’Neil (Hothouse)

We’re kicking off our agricultural podcast exchange with a fellow Austin podcast: Hothouse. In this episode, host Leah and her guest Gretchen discuss growing cut flowers, women-run farms, and the (many) differences between Texas and New England. We learn how Gretchen got her start in farming as well as the many intricacies of running an agricultural business. We hope you like this episode of Hothouse and we’re so excited to bring new agriculture podcasts to your feeds this month!

Listen to Hothouse: hothousepodcast.com/
Listen to Leah’s new podcast Horticulturati: https://www.horticulturati.com/
More about Leah: http://www.deltadawngardens.com/
More about Gretchen: https://www.petalsinkfloral.com/

March is National Agriculture Month and we are celebrating by highlighting some amazing creators talking about food and farming! Join us on Instagram and Twitter @FoodFarmPod or #ListentoYourFood

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twitter.com/onetogrowonpod
instagram.com/onetogrowonpod
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onetog[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

aerial view of agricultural fields

31: Water – Modern Challenges 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 that confuses a lot of people and try to get Hallie to explain it to us and this week we are talking about water again.

[Background music].


Hallie: Today is a follow-up from last week, we were talking about the history of irrigation where some of this technology came from. Today, now we’re talking about where we are now.

Chris: Yeah, to sort of sum up last week.

Hallie: Two weeks ago.

Chris: To sum up two weeks ago, you basically either have rain or you have irrigation or you have no food. If you have something like drip irrigation, then you can irrigate more efficiently so you can get more crops out of the same amount of water. This kind of stuff sort of grew up all over the world and was innovated and improved on in various places by various people.

Hallie: Yes, my favorite type of irrigation is topography based irrigation.

Chris: Which sounds amazing.

Hallie: It’s extremely cool. Today, where is water being used? The highest total water withdrawal countries are the US, China and India.

Chris: Question.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: When you say water withdrawal that means you’re withdrawing water from some sort of local resource and using it for agriculture?

Hallie: It’s basically just freshwater use broad spectrum.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: That includes things other than agriculture. If you expand that to consider your extra no water footprint, so water withdrawal, meaning just like the water that you use in that country, not considering kind of the water footprint of your import export market. If you expand to include all the things that you import and how that uses water, then Europe and the Middle East are also added to that list of the higher water users.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: That’s helpful to think about whenever we’re talking about resource use, because a lot of resource intense products and produce are being created in developing economies and then consumed in Europe and in America and other larger, more affluent countries.

Chris: We import a lot of our stuff.

Hallie: Yeah, it takes a lot of resources. If we just break it down by which countries are using the most resources, we’ll oftentimes see emerging economies using a lot of resources, but they’re using a lot of resources to create products that are then being consumed here in wealthier nations.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Looking at crops, according to an FAO, 2017 report, it takes between 0.5 and 1.5 tons of water to produce a pound of cereal crop, so that’s things like wheat or rice.

Chris: That’s mind blowing.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s like a lot. It’s weird to think of water in weight, but it’s very helpful because we’re also thinking about the food in weight if you think about it comparatively.

Chris: Right.

Hallie: For beef, that number is about 7.5 tons of water per pound of beef, which is obviously exponentially larger, which is one of the reasons why meat production in general is much more resource intensive.

Chris: Yes.

Hallie: The FAO estimates that between 2,000 and 5,000 liters of water, which is about 530 to about 1,320 gallons of water are needed to produce a person’s daily food.

Chris: If I have like some bacon and eggs for breakfast and maybe some coleslaw and quonia salad for lunch and then say a cheeseburger or steak or something, and some salad for dinner, producing those meals that I ate took between 2,000 and 5,000 liters of water.

Hallie: Yeah, I mean, if that’s your breakdown, then it’s probably much closer to 5,000 liters than if you were like a vegetarian kind of diet would be much closer to the 2000 liter.

Chris: Wow. It’s mind blowing.

Hallie: We use a lot of water.

Chris: That’s true.

Hallie: Even though we’re using all this water, irrigation is declining in the US and other places as well. A lot of places are looking at using less water in irrigation. In Texas, irrigation is down 10%.

Chris: Okay. Because?

Hallie: Because of droughts and over usage and climate change.

Chris: There’s just not the water to move from one place to another.

Hallie: There’s just not the water and so a lot of farmers and renters are seeing this pressure. They’re seeing water is either becoming more expensive or they can really see that it’s becoming less available. Droughts are becoming more intense and so they are needing to irrigate less to utilize that resource in a smarter way. For farmers particularly, this issue is twofold. We’re overdrawing our aquifers, so a lot of our irrigation water comes from groundwater and then we’re also often seeing a decrease in precipitation, whether that’s rain water, or snow melt.

Chris: We say our irrigation is coming from groundwater. Is that specifically a Central Texas thing?

Hallie: No, that’s globally. A lot of irrigation is from groundwater. 38% of our irrigated land globally is going to be irrigated by groundwater and then 62% is irrigated by surface water.

That surface water is going to be lakes and rivers that are filled up by snow melt and filled up by rain, so you’re seeing we’re overdrawing our groundwater aquifers. That 38% of global irrigated agriculture is having less water that they can reliably pump up from our underground caves. Then the 62% of global irrigated agriculture that relies on surface water, we’re seeing less precipitation, so our rivers are going down, lakes are going down.

Chris: Got it. Water, water. Not so much everywhere.

Hallie: Not so much. When we’re looking at aquifer recharge, which is here in the US a really big part of agriculture and as you mentioned here in Texas, we get a lot of our agricultural irrigation water and also a lot of our drinking water from our underground aquifers, we’re seeing recharge of those aquifers actually go down. The recharge of the southern aquifers in the southern part of the US is going down by 10% to 20%.

Chris: That’s presumably because of less precipitation.

Hallie: It’s hard for us to figure out. Models don’t have the capacity to fully understand why this is happening, but we’re definitely seeing it. Scientists are suggesting that it could be from lack of precipitation, but also due to increased concrete, right? If you have concrete, concrete is not very permeable. Your water cannot go down and soak through the concrete to get down to the aquifer.

Chris: Regardless, it doesn’t sound good.

Hallie: Definitely not. Because the climate is also warming, we’re getting less snow and we are also seeing less frequent rain or less predictable rain. If there’s snow melt that is feeding surface water or aquifers, then we’re not seeing that either.

Chris: I would imagine that would affect the topographical irrigation systems as well.

Hallie: Oh, definitely. Yeah, in the last episode, we talked about a really cool irrigation system that has existed for thousands of years that relies on snow melt from a mountain and if that mountain is heating up and getting less snow then that’s going to disrupt that irrigation system. I don’t know if climate change has yet disrupted that particular irrigation system, but yeah, we are also seeing of course, rising sea levels, and that will continue to happen as the temperature of the globe continues to rise. With rising sea levels, you also see the potential for salient of groundwater, so you can get salt in your groundwater.

Chris: I was about to ask you what salient was, but you just answered that question and salt in the groundwater presumably makes it unusable, or at least harder to make usable.

Hallie: It makes it about as usable as saltwater is, which is we can go through and purify it, but it’s extremely expensive and it requires a lot of energy.

Chris: Yeah, that sounds like the wrong direction to go.

Hallie: For sure. It’s not great.

On a lot of different fronts, we are facing a lot of issues with our irrigation just with drinking water as well, right? This is water that we need to live and there are a lot of challenges that we’re facing because of climate change and because of over use of our resources. There are some solutions. In the next half, we’ll talk about some, but there’s some that just like farmers are implementing. We talked about using irrigation less. This comes back to soil health, my favorite topic.

Chris: How is soil health related to irrigation?

Hallie: Well, if you have a healthy soil, then the soil particles hold onto themselves better, and they’re also able to hold onto water better, so you’re actually able to use the water that you do get from rain or from irrigation in a more efficient way. You lose less of your water.

Chris: Okay. When we talked about drip irrigation, last episode, you said that you don’t necessarily use less water. You’re just able to use the water more efficiently. With the healthy soil, is it the same thing, or are you actually able to use less water?

Hallie: That’s a good question. With drip irrigation and soil health, they’re kind of polar opposites. Not polar opposites, that’s kind of rude. Some farmers would get on me for saying that. Some farmers do implement soil health practices and also use drip irrigation, but it can be problematic because you have other things living in your soil that also need water.

If you’re only watering a very small part of your soil, because you’re just watering where that drip emitter is, and the rest of your soil is left, basically dry and fallow, then you’re not really feeding your soil ecosystem. It can be complicated. Usually, if you have a healthier soil, what we see is that that field is going to be more resilient to drought and will need less irrigation.

Chris: Okay. That makes sense.

Hallie: Sometimes your yield will go down and you’re not going to be growing as many plants, but you will not rely on irrigation in the same way if that makes sense.

Chris: It does.

Hallie: Cool.

Chris: All right. Soil health is a complicated topic, but episode health not so much.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: For that, we need a break.

Hallie: Let’s go.

[Background music].

Chris: Hallie, do you feel healthy?

Hallie: It’s the doctor’s orders we’re in the break.

Chris: We are in the break.

Hallie: I would like to thank our starfruit level patrons, Vikram, Mama Casey, Lindsay, and Shianne. Thank you guys so much. You light up my life.

Chris: You do and you light up the podcast.

Hallie: You do, honestly. You literally do light up the podcast.

Chris: It’s true.

Hallie: You keep the lights of the podcast on.

Chris: Thank you to you and to all of our other Patreon listeners.

Hallie: This is your last chance. If you’re interested in helping the show out by providing some feedback, we have a listener survey. It will be closing on the 31st of January. That’s pretty soon from when you’re listening to this. If you haven’t yet, please take a sec.

It takes less than 10 minutes to go head over. You can go to onetogrowonpod.com/survey, or you can just go to onetogrowonpod.com and hit the survey button.

Chris: Yeah, just click the survey link. You can do it anonymously. You can tell us what you like, what you don’t like. It’ll help us make better content. Better content, better show. Better show, better you.

Hallie: Totally. We ask for a little bit of feedback about the show, what you like, what you don’t like, what other kinds of show you listen to. All in all, this will mean a lot to our ability to produce this show better and easier and make it more enjoyable for everyone, including me and dad, including you as a listener. Again, onetogrowonpod.com/survey. Dad mentioned you can do it anonymously. You can also leave your name and email and you get entered to win a very cool sticker pack.

Chris: We got some great stickers.

Hallie: Extremely cool stickers. Onetogrowonpod.com/survey, less than 10 minutes.

Chris: Back to the episode.

[Background music].


Hallie: Okay. In the first half, we talked about a lot of problems and issues, and I thought that it would be nice to do the second half talking about some solutions and how thinking about solutions work. Peek behind the curtain. We did a lot of research for this episode. It was too much research and we cannot fit it all into one episode because there are a lot of people doing this really important work trying to think about the current and upcoming water crises. I thought I would specifically talk about some of the solutions for the part of the US that I know the most about, which is the Southwest from California over to Texas.

Chris: Got some good news, bad news going on. Oh no bad news. Good news.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, kind of.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: I pulled a lot for this part of the episode from a report that was written by Frank Ackerman and Elizabeth Stanton called climate change in the Southwest water crisis and I pulled from this because I thought that they summarized the problem with agriculture and water use very well. In this report, they propose a couple of different solutions. I’m specifically going to look at the third one because the third one is what they say in the report. The only one that makes sense, which is planned conservation. The other ones are like pull water from somewhere else or make water somehow don’t know, or we just run out of water and oops, now we can’t use water anymore. Then we’ll be conserving not plants, just because we have no more water.

They’re saying that this option of we plan on conserving water so that we have water in the future is the only way to go, which sounds very reasonable.

Chris: They gave us five options, but then they said really, option three is the way to go.

Hallie: Yeah, which is planning on conserving and then doing so. In terms of ways to plan for conservation, they talk about energy, urban and agriculture, but this is an agriculture show, so let’s talk about agriculture. In agriculture, in specifically the Southwest of the US which is the area that I know the most about, one third of the water in that region goes to it’s the least valuable crop. Guess what that is?

Chris: Turf grass.

Hallie: No, hay.

Chris: Hay. This is why beef takes so much water. It’s because you got to water the hay to give to the beef.

Hallie: Right. Beef and dairy use a lot of hay. Hay does not go for very much on the market, but you do use a lot of water, especially in the Southwest.

Chris: I thought hay was for horses.

Hallie: Well, it is also for horses. You don’t eat a lot of horses.

[Laughter].

Chris: Oh, okay. I didn’t go there.

Hallie: This was put together by people who have a background in economics, so they mark that off as a good thing. I, with the more environmental background would say, perhaps this is something to consider. We should be growing this hay, but then they go on to say like, oh, but we feed that to cows and cows make a lot of money, so that’s fine. But they say that there are other crops that we grow in the Southwest where farmers could actually make more money selling the water than actually putting it on food and then selling the food.

Chris: The water is more valuable with the crop and it probably doesn’t take as much work.

Hallie: Right. Exactly. But there’s not an option for farmers to sell water. It’s not an option.

Chris: Why is it not an option?

Hallie: Because that’s not how water markets work. Pretty much anywhere in the US and in the Southwest in most states, how it works is farmers and municipalities pay a fee to utilize the water, whether it’s surface water or groundwater. Sometimes if it’s ground water, farmers don’t have to pay any kind of fee to use that water.

But the fee for farmers is significantly lower than the fee for municipalities. Farmers are using this water and it does have a value both intrinsically and technically it has a monetary value, but farmers one, they’re not paying per gallon, they’re paying a fee. Two, they’re being much less than people in urban environments or peri-urban environments pay for that same water.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: In this report, they cite the statistic that eliminating these crops that are not basically worth the water that they’re grown with. Eliminating those from the agricultural landscape would lower agricultural water use by one quarter.

Chris: Hold the phone.

Hallie: Yeah, by 25%

Chris: Wait, eliminating those crops completely.

Hallie: Not eliminating them from our diets, but eliminating them from being grown in like California and Utah and Nevada. Places where one, they don’t have a lot of water. Two, these crops that do need a lot of water are being grown by being irrigated with water that they don’t really have. Saying instead of growing these very water intensive crops, like peas in Utah, instead they could be grown in like Guatemala where they don’t really have as much of a water shortage.

Chris: You’re not talking about eliminating hay.

Hallie: Well, they’re not talking about it. I would love to talk about it, but nobody really wants to talk about it. [Laughs].

Chris: Okay. But there are some crops that take a lot of water that we don’t need to grow here and we’re talking about eliminating those.

Hallie: Right. Actually, the water itself is worth more than the eventual crops because they just don’t go for that much on them. They’re not that valuable of crops.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: This is like one option for saving a lot of money in the agricultural industry and also saving a lot of water because while would reduce water use in the agriculture industry, in this region of the US by 25%, it would only decrease the amount of profits in the ag industry by 5%. That would be an option. But when we really think about it that is at the crux. I know that that was very convoluted and kind of confusing, but that’s the crux of at least here in the US the issue with water and food, because we are running into a shortage of water because if you make the water more expensive, so that it’s clear to farmers that are like, oh, I’m growing this food, but this water is worth more than the food that I’m trying to grow with it so I just won’t use this water, then the food that is still worth it becomes more expensive for the end users.

Who ends up getting punished? Farmers and poor people, but we’re still conserving water. Does that make sense? The fundamental issue is how we value water, because water is so intrinsically important. We don’t want to make it more expensive, but because it’s not expensive, everyone can use it very cheaply and so we waste and pollute it.

Chris: You want to make it more expensive to punish farmers and poor people.

Hallie: No, I don’t.

[Laughter].

Chris: Okay. I’m trying to follow. If we make the water more expensive, they’ll use less.

Hallie: Right. But then food will be more expensive and farmers will be making less money. Also, people will not be able to buy food as easily because it will become more expensive. It’s not a good policy solution, right?

Chris: It’s a terrible idea.

Hallie: But when we’re thinking through, like, how do we use less water? Because agriculture uses so much like we talked about in the first half, how?

Chris: Of the five ideas, this is the one that they said, “Hey, this is our best shot at saving water.”

Hallie: Well, they didn’t say specifically, make water more expensive. They said we need to figure out how to make farmers who are growing these crops that you use so much water and are not getting them that much benefit. They are not making that much money. We need to figure out a way to help farmers not do that. Farmers need to be using less water. We don’t want to make it more expensive, which is usually the economic answer. How do we do it? Fundamentally, that’s the thing that people have been coming back to for like 20 years because people have seen this on the horizon. They’ve said like, oh my God, we don’t have so much fresh water. Farmers are using a lot of it, but like that’s the crux of it.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: I know we talked about solutions and that sounds another problem and it can miss. That’s a really hard problem to solve, but since we’re also talking about policy and water, I thought I would talk about my experience doing agricultural water policy.

Chris: When did you do the agricultural water policy?

Hallie: Well, I’m currently doing it right now or I’m trying to. We haven’t actually done anything related to policy yet, but I lead currently, a policy group where we’re trying to find ways for Texas farmers to use water more efficiently.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: I thought I would talk about that a little bit. We are running a group that is focused on making it easier for farmers and ranchers in Texas to change their systems so that they are one, using less irrigation water, and two, are able to capture the water that falls on their land more efficiently.

Chris: You said you’re working on policies where you’re leading a policy group, so what kind of policies would help with that?

Hallie: Well, that’s part of what we’re trying to figure out. I did not realize how confusing being the leader of a policy group is until I did it. A lot of what we’re doing is throwing ideas around. Some of the ideas we have are just around education. There’s a lot of reasons farmers want to do this. Farmers are stewards of their land. For a lot of farmers, they’ve had this land for generations and they can tell that they only have so much water and so that they can use less. Oftentimes, farmers are interested in doing that. Part of it’s just around expanding education and extension funding for farmers in Texas, which would be hard. Part of it is just legally creating some kind of body to look at this further in Texas because there’s really no one in Texas, who’s doing this at the state level. Creating a task force who researches ideas, basically what we’re doing, but people who actually have government authority to go and research this things.

Chris: Not to mention that it’s their jobs and they get paid to do it.

Hallie: Well, actually, I don’t think you would get paid to do it.

I think it’s just another thing that the government asks you to do.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: I think they pay for your snacks for the meetings and stuff like that.

Chris: There you go. Kind of like jury duty.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, except for that you’re an expert on soil and water and agriculture. Then the third thing that we’re looking at is trying to make it financially easier. Instead of making water more expensive for farmers, so they use less of it giving money to farmers to use less water basically.

Chris: Is this similar to giving money to farmers to not grow crops?

Hallie: Yeah, we talked in the previous episode. Was it the green new deal episode?

Chris: I don’t remember.

Hallie: I think it was the green new deal episode. There is a policy where farmers can put their agricultural land in a conservation program where they don’t grow crops and they just keep it as basically a wildlife habitat.

It’s kind of similar where there is a natural resource that has value to the commons and so the government gives money to farmers for taking care of that resource.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: That’s just one of the cool things I’m doing. If anyone has any pull with people in water in Texas hit me up, we’re going to be continuing to work on this and it’s super interesting. If you want to know more about it, you can also let me know.

Chris: We started the series with some cool irrigation facts, which were super neat, but then we realized that agriculture uses a lot of water and we need water to eat and to drink. It’s just one of those realities, but there are people working on it. I remember you once told me that and maybe it was earlier in this episode or last episode, you had talked to government officials and government officials would say, yeah, there’s some really promising technology right around the corner and that doesn’t sound encouraging. But if there’s people actually doing actual work on it, that kind of does.

Hallie: Yes, I think there are actual people doing actual work. Part of it is that it’s really not very popular to talk about using less water because it means that people get less water. It’s a really hard policy to enact and also a hard one to think through. We talked through one policy solution for one specific part of one country on the planet. Like if you look globally, there are a lot of different challenges facing water systems and there’s not one solution and almost none of them are terribly popular. There are definitely people doing this work. I encourage listeners to try and learn more about water conservation in your region, because it is something that is going to become increasingly more important. I know sometimes these episodes can be frustrating for you dad, where we get to the end and I’m like, everything’s complicated and hard.

Chris: It’s true. But you know, that’s the way life is.

Hallie: It is. I hope that you learned a little bit more about water and why I’m so excited about creating policy solutions for farmers because it’s so important.

Chris: My daughter, the lady excited about creating policy solutions.

Hallie: [Laughs].

[Background music].

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

Hallie: This show is hosted by me, Hallie Casey and Chris Casey.

Chris: It is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey.

Hallie: Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

Chris: Connect with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod.

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

Chris: Join our community and learn more about each episode at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, and even custom art created just for you.

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

Chris: Be sure to check out the next episode in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

Chris: Bye everybody.

[Background music].

30: Water – History of Irrigation

In the first of a two-part series on water, Hallie and Chris discuss irrigation and water use. We learn it’s history, dating from prehistory to today, how it’s used and why it’s so important. We also learn that Chris is still confused about what is and is not a berry.

You can check out the stellar podcast the future of agriculture at futureofag.com or wherever you get your podcasts.

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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

26: Navajo Food Sovereignty with Nate Etsitty & Felix Earle

*Content warning: there is a PG-13 un-bleeped curse word in this episode*

This week, Hallie brings us an interviewe with two Navajo growers and activists: Nate Etsitty and Felix Earle. Our guests share their perspective on farming and why they do it, discuss food sovereignty and its importance on Navajo, and reflect on the legacy the colonization has left of food systems.

Connect with our guests:
Nate: https://www.instagram.com/nateetsitty/
Felix: https://www.facebook.com/earle.couture
Their organization The Green Team: https://www.facebook.com/navajogreenteam/

If you want more information on supporting Native food sovereignty organizations, we recommend connecting with The Green Team, or researching regional organizations supporting or lead by indigenous farmers in your area.

Additional podcast episodes on food sovereignty and historical farm and food access in the U.S.:
– E45: El Paso — Indigenous food at the border by Toasted Sister: https://toastedsisterpodcast.com/2018/12/22/e45-el-paso-indigenous-food-at-the-border/
– E43: Southwest Intertribal Food Summit by Toasted Sister: https://toastedsisterpodcast.com/2018/10/31/e43-southwest-intertribal-food-summit/
– E31: Navajo Sheep — “They’re my life… I love them.” by Toasted Sister: https://toastedsisterpodcast.com/2018/04/17/e31-navajo-sheep-theyre-my-life-i-love-them/
– Land of Our Fathers by 1619: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/04/podcasts/1619-slavery-sugar-farm-land.html?action=click&module=audio-series-bar&region=header&pgtype=Article
– Ep1: Gardening is Political with Colleen Dieter by Hothouse: https://www.hothousepodcast.com/eps/2018/5/22/gardening-is-a-political-act-colleen-dieter
– Ep6: Conservation & Identity with LaJuan Tucker by Hothouse: https://www.hothousepodcast.com/eps/2018/7/6/conservation-identity-with-lajuan-tucker
– Heirloom Corn by Sourceress: https://www.sourceresshq.com/corn

Cole Burkhardt mastered this interview audio. They do amazing work and you can hire them here: https://coleburkhardt.carrd.co/

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

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

onetogrowonpod.com

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.