All posts by Hallie Casey

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 with FamilyFarmed

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.
onetogrowonpod.com

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.

Join our discord our facebook group!

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twitter.com/onetogrowonpod
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Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

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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

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

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

Support us on Patreon!
patreon.com/onetogrowonpod

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

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 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 week we pick an area of agriculture or food production that confuses a lot of people and get Hallie to explain it to us. This week we’re focusing on water.

Hallie: The history of water.

[Background music].

Chris: I know what this is.

Hallie: Do you?

Chris: Yeah, I know what water is. There’s been a lot of stuff that we’ve talked about like I have no idea what that is. I know water is.

Hallie: What is it? [Laughs].

Chris: It’s a liquid and it’s made up of an oxygen molecule and two hydrogen molecules bonded together. Hey, astute listener. Editing Chris here. If you’re thinking, hey, wait.

A water molecule is made up of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms because atoms make molecules, you’d be right.

Hallie: One time when I was in grad school, I didn’t have to, but I wanted to make an animation for a presentation about how passive water transport happens in plants and so I did this whole lovely animation and I realized at the end I had built the molecules backwards, so there was one hydrogen and two oxygen. [Laughs].

Chris: I remember that.

Hallie: It was deeply embarrassing.

Chris: Also, the famous Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink, but this is water that I’m guessing plants drink.

Hallie: Yeah, we’re going to talk today mostly the history of irrigation. This is going to be a two-parter, so today it’s the history of irrigation and how we’ve used water in agriculture. Then the next time we’ll talk about how we are currently using water in agriculture and it’s going to be heads up less fun.

Chris: Okay. Are we going to talk about California politics?

Hallie: In the next one, yeah.

Chris: Really? Okay.

Hallie: Oh, yeah for sure.

Chris: I remember seeing those signs driving down highway 5.

Hallie: Oh, yes. Talk about the signs that we saw. This is when we were moving me into grad school.

Chris: Right. We were driving you up to Davis and there were signs outside of farms that said the government caused the drought and it just sort of boggled my mind.

Hallie: For those of you who’ve never been to California, there’s a lot of great parts of California. Highway five North of LA is not a great part of California. It’s a pretty bad part of California.

Chris: It’s one of the worst drives I’ve ever taken.

Hallie: It’s really, really bad and you just basically drive and it’s just expanses of farmland forever and ever. Even if you’re driving through Kansas or something, people talk about how flat Kansas is. You got stuff like trees in Kansas like you can see a tree line. Northern California, Central Valley, there is no trees. It’s just flat tomato fields, zucchini. It’s really terrible.

But you do see these very bizarre billboards that are talking about no water, no food, and stuff like that. But that is for the next episode. Right now we’re just going to talk about history. Fun, fun history.

Chris: All right. History of irrigation.

Hallie: Yes, we are just going to be talking about irrigation in regards to agriculture. I’m not really going to be talking about landscape plants, not going to be talking about recreational irrigation stuff like turf grass and golf today.

Chris: Sorry, Vikram.

Hallie: Yeah, if you want to hear us talk about turf grass, we did a whole episode about it. We start from patron Vikram Pilliga.

Chris: It’s true.

Hallie: Irrigation started in prehistoric times, right? We have a lot of records of irrigation because this is what made civilization possible. We’ve talked a lot on the show about how agriculture is what shifts people throughout many different histories around the world from hunting and gathering to being able to be stationary and do things like build buildings. Irrigation is a really huge part of that.

The first evidence we have in the prehistoric record of irrigation is around 10,000 BCE, which is pretty much when a lot of people started farming throughout the world in different places. Very early civilizations in the Fertile Crescent really got a handle on irrigation in some super cool ways. This is mostly like Egypt and Mesopotamia, which is what present day Iran and Iraq is. They were able to use floodwaters from the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates to irrigate their lands.

Chris: You need all that water to water all the plants.

Hallie: Yeah, you got to have water to water the plants. It’s extremely important and these people in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia were able to divert floodwaters into their fields, so that’s like irrigation.

Chris: When you say divert, did they literally just dig trenches and the water would start going that way?

Hallie: Actually in ancient Egypt is where we see the first instance of a canal that was invented by a people called the Hyksos who lived in Egypt. They weren’t technically Egyptian, but they were as some medic people that lived in Egypt for a while and they invented canals.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: Very cool.

Chris: The V-nation should be very thankful.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s true. Except they’re not really anymore because they’re sinking. The canals are causing some trouble for Venice.

Chris: So are rising tide waters. Anyway, back to irrigation.

Hallie: There was also evidence in ancient Egypt that they use gauges to measure tide waters so that they would be able to track when the tides would rise on the river. They would use things like steps or cylindrical gauges to make predictions about when the floods would come.

Chris: Oh, like when you cross low water crossing and there’s a little pole with numbers etched on it, that kind of thing?

Hallie: Yeah, kind of like that.

Chris: Nice. Did they have a sign that said turn around, don’t drown?

Hallie: I wouldn’t think they would know. [Laughs]. That’s something that we have here in Texas because we have a lot of flooding. We have a lot of flash floods that happened like extremely quickly.

Chris: It’s true and we have a lot of low water crossings that get flooded very quickly in those situations.

Hallie: In ancient Egypt, they also came up with the concept of a Shadoof, which is basically a bucket on a lever and it’s the first evidence we have of people physically moving water.

Chris: How? Like a bucket on a lever that they carried or the water got moved from where to where in this bucket?

Hallie: They were able to irrigate basically farmland that wasn’t on the flood plain by moving it in a bucket. It was instead of like diverting water that was already going to be flooding these flood plains so that it was flooding it more efficiently, they were actually able to get farther out from the rivers flood plains, using a Shadoof a bucket and a lever. Ancient Egypt also, we see the first evidence of a water wheel, which is like the first use of irrigation technology that does not require human labor.

Chris: That’s awesome.

Hallie: Extremely awesome.

Chris: Water wheels isn’t something I normally associate with ancient Egypt.


Hallie: It’s extremely awesome mostly because prior to this, a lot of it was slave labor because it was human labor and that was the cheapest available. The invention of a water wheel is extremely huge. Also, windmills were generally a big thing. We’re going to talk about windmills a little bit throughout. We’re going to kind of bounce around talk about Rome, talk about China. There are windmills throughout history. In many places, we don’t really have like an origin of the windmill story. A lot of people thought about windmills in many different places.

Chris: Wow. They’re just everywhere, so that makes sense though. I mean, everyone’s figuring out ways to grow their food and grind up the grain and eat it. It kind of makes sense that everyone would have similar ideas on how to do it.

Hallie: Exactly. It’s similar to a water wheel and it doesn’t use human labor, but not really an origin story there.

Chris: Don Quixote couldn’t slay them all.

Hallie: He could not [laughs]. Particularly in ancient Egypt to kind of wrap up the canals were extremely important in Egypt’s ability to grow as an empire and as this huge civilization. The canals themselves were culturally very important. They were often decorated with art or with images of a Pharaoh and they really ended up symbolizing a lot from what we can tell the Egyptian people to like wealth and being fertile and having fertile fields and being able to grow food, which is amazing. Irrigation is super important as is agriculture. We love to see it.

Chris: It is. It makes sense that you’ve got all this water that you’re able to divert and so it’s easier to have access to food. When it’s easier to have access to food, you have a population center that grows more and yeah, that’s really cool.

Hallie: You mentioned Venice earlier. Moving on to the Roman Empire, they also had canals. They in fact copied Egyptian style canals.

Chris: Oh, I had no idea.

Hallie: Being an empire they were able to appropriate a lot of technologies from their conquered peoples and this included canals.

Chris: I remember seeing some of the obelisks when we were there.

Hallie: Exactly. [Laughs]. Yeah.

Chris: Some stuff appropriated. Some outright stolen.

Hallie: Yeah, in terms of technology much more appropriated because it would be pretty hard for you to move the canal, but they were also very into pipes, particularly led pipes which now in retrospect, hindsight being 2020 led, not the greatest thing to build a pipe out of, but pipes in general, huge for Rome.

Chris: Super useful. Super great way to move water around.

Hallie: Totally. The Romans as a people, as an empire were extremely good at agriculture and this is definitely one of the things that allowed the empire to grow as much as it did was that they really were able to grow food very efficiently and this included irrigation. Pipes were a big part of that. Canals were a real part of that and aqueducts were something that not only helped agriculture, but aqueduct and pipes also helped the growth of what we consider really like the first city centers where you really had things like the Roman bath houses and people were able to live close together and they had running water and indoor plumbing and there were fountains on squares and people had access to safe water generally, which was very huge.

Chris: When did they start throwing money in the fountains?

Hallie: I couldn’t tell you.

Chris: Okay. That makes sense though. I mean, it goes back to the irrigation and agriculture fostering access to food and a population center.

Hallie: Totally. We’re going to see a lot of that in this episode. We also did see reservoirs in Rome. They put them down like below mountains so that when the snow melted, they were able to capture that water instead of it just all going either out into the ocean or it being put into groundwater.

Chris: That’s smart. I had no idea that reservoirs had a strategic placement like that.

Hallie: I mean today, some of them do. Not all of them. Usually today, most of our snow melt goes into surface water, so it naturally goes out into rivers. But I can imagine if you are in Southern Europe, the ocean is very close to you. If it goes out to the river, the river is going to be going to the ocean. That’s not where you want your fresh water.

Chris: Also now, if we need to fill a reservoir and we have access to water that we can pump into it for later, we have that technology now. Back then when they didn’t have a technology to pump water around, putting it at the base of a snow melt is great a idea.

Hallie: For sure. More on Mesopotamia. I mentioned this earlier, but going a little bit more in depth on Mesopotamia, there were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. We don’t really know how this worked. It seems like they definitely existed and they definitely needed irrigation, but we have not yet been able to figure out what irrigation technology they used for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which is extremely cool, which was around like circa 600 BCE.

Chris: Maybe it was prehistoric hydroponics.

Hallie: May be. I don’t know. I really want to know.

Chris: [Laughs]. When we invented the time machine to stop the spread of the Asian Chestnut, then we can also go back and check out that.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yes, go see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I would love to. That would be wild. The Mesopotamians also invented something called a komet, I think is how you pronounce it, which is basically an underground tunnel that brought water from a well to somewhere else. Today, we have things like subsurface irrigation pipes, which is kind of comparable. But this was particularly for transporting water from one area to another, which we have tons of pipes in Mesopotamia 550 BCE twenty-five hundred years ago almost.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: More than. Pretty wild.

Chris: This is really cool. I’m thinking about sanitation because we think about how ancient sanitation practices weren’t what they are today. They didn’t know as much about things like germs and whatnot, but clearly what they had was good enough to create these population centers and create easier access to food and water and stuff like that that was good enough for life.

Hallie: I mean, particularly for Rome, having running water was huge. Having access to clean, running water was extremely important in Mesopotamia and we’re going to talk about China here in a second and then Egypt, we did see like population centers, but it wasn’t in the same way where it was definitely this is like a city center, like what we would modern day recognize as a city.

It was more like you had more people who were doing less farming closer together and then like the further out you got, it was like just farmers. Whereas Rome, you really had a very close concentration of people who were not at all farming, which is very cool for back then. But the ability to transport water is definitely linked in with a civilization’s ability to thrive because you’re able to grow your population if you’re able to grow more food.

Chris: All right. You mentioned China.

Hallie: Yes, I mentioned China. There is a lot of technology that was created in China, but one that is like particularly cool around irrigation is something that and I think this is how you pronounce it, the Dujiangyan water irrigation system, which was invented in the third century BCE, long time ago, still in use today.

Chris: Like being used for irrigation.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Wow. That’s awesome.

Hallie: Extremely cool. This guy, Lee Bang he was a hydrologist. The emperor at the time, asked him to go look at this because the main river ran through this city/province, the Sichuan Province and it was flooding a lot, which was causing a lot of issues naturally. So he had this hydrologist go out there.

I don’t know what a third century BCE hydrologists looks like, but I guess it’s just a guy who thought a lot about water. He went out there and he thought about how we can make this river not flood. Basically, it was a system of terraces and canals and it still exists today and right now today it irrigates like 600,000 hectares of farmland. It’s basically a method of using natural topography to control the spring snow melt off of the Dujiangyan Mountain that’s like right pushup behind the city. It was like, the snow was melting and the river was flooding so they terrorist it and they added canals and that just slowed the water down immensely so that it was able to percolate down into the soil and you weren’t seeing flooding.

Chris: That’s amazing, so it serves two purposes, both irrigation and flood control.

Hallie: Absolutely. Extremely cool.

Chris: Real quick. Do you know off the top of your head the conversion of acres to hectares?

Hallie: Yes, I do. It is one hectare to every 2.47 acres.

Chris: Okay. So 668,000 hectors times 2.4 acres is a lot.

Hallie: A lot of land.

Chris: It’s a lot of freaking land. Are people able to look at the staff and say, “Hey, let’s do that.” Or I guess this is sort of unique to this region.

Hallie: The idea of using natural topography to slow water down generally is something that has been used for a long time in lots of different places. A lot in Southeast Asia, definitely in South America, the Inca people and people before them, which we’ll talk about here in a second, used it. In the Andean region because they had mountains and they had to get some flat land that the water would slow down percolate into and that they would be able to cultivate easily. That idea has existed in many different forms, in many different places, but this is like one example of it that has one like lasted so long and two is just extremely effective and they’re using the snow melt from one mountain to irrigate just such a huge area. It’s like a really incredible example.

Chris: Nice.

Hallie: One really cool thing. This was right before we had gunpowder because it was third century BCE. What they did was they alternated, heating and cooling rock in order to like break the canals open.

Chris: What do you mean? Oh, you mean there’s a rock in the way and so they would heat the rock up and then they’d cool the rock down and then the rock would crack and water would flow through.

Hallie: Yeah, basically. I mean, it was like kind of on a mountain side part of this hydrology landscaping. They had to like basically break through a lot of rock in order to like build canals and that’s how they would do it.

Chris: By that point, they’d figured out not only irrigation, but thermal expansion I guess.

Hallie: Right which is so cool.

Chris: That’s very cool.

Hallie: Yeah, and some researchers today think that like this irrigation system fundamentally changed the culture of the Sichuan Province and Chengdu, which is the largest city in the Sichuan Province because it was so much easier to farm. It’s always been easier to farm in the Sichuan Province because this hydrologically minded irrigation system is still functioning. It has been functioning there for like more than 2000 years. There are so many fewer disasters. You have fewer floods, so people were just able to be more laid back. You had fewer worries on your mind and so it changed how people interacted with each other and the world.

Chris: That’s awesome.

Hallie: It’s so cool. Irrigation is amazing.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: I mentioned a second ago talking about South America.

For different reasons including that there was not ever the same kind of research effort from the European, like “institutions of research” put into the North and South American ancient cultures as there was a huge research effort, both in the Fertile Crescent and in ancient China from these massive academic institutions in Western Europe. Then of course there was a genocide that arguably is still happening today against indigenous people for the past 500 years and there was a massive knowledge loss. Unfortunately, we do not know a lot about ancient irrigation in the Americas, but we do know some things. The Hohokam people in what is today considered Arizona made a very complex system of canals that carried water from the Salt River to their farmland between 850 and 1450 Common Era.

Chris: Okay. It could be argued that, I mean, they didn’t do it first, but they also invented canals on their own.

Hallie: Yeah, totally. On the Eastern side of the US, there were several different Mound Building cultures and there is some evidence that topography change influenced irrigation as well. The Chimu people in what is now mostly Peru also had canals and this allowed their culture to flourish until they were then conquered by the Inca. Then in modern day, Central America, what is mostly Mexico now, the Aztec also had Chinampas. Do you know about Chinampas?

Chris: I’ve never heard of the Chinampa.

Hallie: They are super cool. They still exist today, although they are no longer floating. Basically, they would have cane plants that they would lie down and they would build up a huge mound of organic matter in the middle of a lake and then they would be able to plant crops on that. Mostly they would have a lot of Chinampas and circled [inaudible], which is where Mexico City is now, which was like the Aztec capital.

Chris: Okay. Help me with the visual on this Chinampa real quick. You got a lake full of water. You lay down a cane plant, which means what? You make a raft out of.

Hallie: No, it’s basically you lay down a lot of cane plants on the bottom of the lake until the bottom of the lake is now above the lake. So it’s like this huge mound of just organic matter, like cane plants and sometimes other plants, but they used a lot of cane because it grows in lakes.

Chris: When I hear cane plant, I think of sugar cane, but this can’t just be any sort of cane plant.

Hallie: Yeah, like a reed.

Chris: Oh, okay like reeds and sort of lake bound grasses, things like that. Cool. Then when they build that up, they put dirt on top of that?

Hallie: It was mostly organic matter that had broken down. The lakes would flood and you would get, I mean, there’s some evidence that it was a lot of what we now call night soil, which is human excrement, which has lots of good organic matter, minerals, nutrients, but we don’t really use it anymore.

The lake would flood and it would bring more stuff in from surrounding areas. You would also get some soil that washes some sediment, but it was a lot of organic matter and then they would just be able to farm on top of that. That’s a cool technology. It’s not terribly scalable in terms of irrigation. It’s kind of a cool thing that doesn’t really exist anywhere else as far as we know.

Chris: Well, much like they had to break the reeds down to put them in the lake, we have to break this episode up into parts.

Hallie: In order to put it into a lake.

Chris: Yes, or in order to have a midroll, which we’re going to do now. We’ll be back soon.

[Background music].

Chris: Hello, listener. Welcome to the break.

Hallie: Dad, I would like to thank our starfruit level patrons, Lindsay, Vikram, Mama Casey.

Chris: Shianne. Thank you all so much.

Hallie: Thank you so so much.

Chris: Thank you to our newest patron, Tim.

Hallie: Thank you so much, Tim. Also, if you’re interested in the agriculture industry, Tim runs one of the best agriculture podcasts out there. You should definitely go check him out. Future of agriculture is the name of his podcast.

Chris: Yeah, it’s great. Also, he makes great dad jokes or at least he should. Don’t limit yourself, man.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: Also, we have a listener survey we would love for you to fill out.

Hallie: We do. I spent a really long time putting this listener survey together.

Chris: But it won’t take a really long time for you to fill it out.

Hallie: It won’t. It’ll only take you like 10 minutes, but we really want to know more about you for many different reasons. It’s helpful for us as we try and grow the show to one, know how you listen to the show, what you like about the show, what works, what doesn’t and also we are collecting a little bit of demographic info so that if we want to start selling ads, we have that info that we can then take to sponsors.


Chris: Also, mostly in the survey what we want to see is what you get out of the show, what you enjoy listening to most. We know what we like producing and we want to try to focus on a few things and make sure you get the most out of it that you can.

Hallie: Honestly, this would be incredibly helpful. If you could go to onetogrowonpod.com/survey and take 10 minutes of your time, you can tweet at us afterwards and we will personally thank you. At the beginning of the survey, we also ask name and email. You can be totally anonymous, but if you leave your name and email, we will enter you into a raffle to win some stickers and a handwritten thank you note.

Chris: Yeah, but like she said, if you want to take the survey anonymously, the name and email are optional. You can just skip that page.

Hallie: It’s onetogrowonpod.com/survey. One more time. That’s onetogrowonpod.com/survey. 10 minutes of your time would mean so much to us.

Chris: Thank you very much and now back to the episode.

Hallie: Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: All right we’re back. Do you have a nature fact for us?

Chris: I do. This is going to be nature fact with help from Hallie. For Christmas, I was gifted a book called Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: While we were at the party, I started reading it and it’s really kind of so far cool, interesting read. But one of the things he wrote in here was that the banana was a berry and it’s the world’s biggest herb and I’m like, what the hey man? What do you mean? First of all, please explain to me how it’s a berry.

Hallie: Oh my gosh. I did a whole Ask One to Grow On about this.

Chris: Oh, did we do? Do we have an episode doing this?

Hallie: Yes, it’s called what is a berry?

Chris: Okay and you talked about the banana.

Hallie: I think I talked about the banana yeah. Bananas, tomatoes, blueberries.

Chris: Wait. Is the tomato a berry?

Hallie: Yes, I will refer you to the Ask One to Grow On as per my last email.

[Laughter].

Hallie: The Ask One to Grow On episode what is a berry. You can refer to that.

Chris: Okay. All right. I will go back and re-listen to that and listener, if you want to go listen to that too it’s called what is a berry?

Hallie: Also, if you have any additional questions listener, you can hashtag #askonetogrowon on Twitter and Instagram and I will see it and answer it.

Chris: I’m guessing it’s not because it comes in a bunch of bananas that it’s a berry.

Hallie: No, definitely not.

Chris: Okay. That was the only thing I could think of, but I’ll check. Why is it a herb?

Hallie: I wouldn’t really call it a herb because we use the word herb colloquially to mean things like herbs and spices and many of the herbs that we use in the kitchen are not actually herbaceous. They’re referring to the word herbaceous. Basically, we categorize our plants in many different ways. One of them being woody versus herbaceous plants. Woody plants have things like lignin.

Chris: I was going to answer that.

Hallie: Woody plants have lignin. They have bark. They have wood tissue on the inside, which is like old xylem tissue, basically. Our herbaceous plants like bananas and papayas and grasses don’t have that woody tissue. They never develop any kind of lignin. They don’t develop wood. They don’t develop bark or cork. If you cut into a banana plant or like a grass plant or a papaya plant, it’s just like fleshy gooeyness on the inside.

Chris: Even on the stock?

Hallie: Right. Yeah, there’s like no woody part. There’s no dry part. It’s just gooey flesh. They also aren’t really able to grow outwards so they’re like the same size round all the way up kind of like bamboo. Bamboos are grass so it’s herbaceous. It’s like the same size around forever. You’re going to have a 20 year old banana plant. It doesn’t really get bigger around because they’re not able to build that cambium layer that pushes it out and builds wood on the inside. Does that make sense?

Chris: It does. Cool. All right. Tara tara tata nature fact.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Okay. That’s kind of talking about when things first came about, like who was thinking about canals and how all these different technologies first were thought of.

After that, technology was transferred, things became pretty unified around much of the world until the 18th century. Not a lot happened. We thought of canals and we got some pipes and we’re like, all right. This is working for us until we really were trying to scale up due to colonialism. The British Empire was expanding greatly and they were trying to get more people. In order to have more people, you need more food and they had all of these people that they had just subjugated and so they had a lot of really cheap labor. We had a lot of technological advances that was then dubbed the second agricultural revolution. What I would now call the agricultural revolution because the first agricultural revolution is like the beginning of agriculture. Not really revolutionizing anything you’re like inventing it. So like beginning of agriculture and then the agriculture revolution. But if you look it up in textbooks it is termed as the second agriculture revolution. It’s a bone epic. That’s like we started draining fens and bogs to get water. We also invented the hose as well in the 1870s.

Chris: Hang on. The hose as in the hose that water comes out of?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Oh, okay. Not the plural of hoe.

Hallie: Correct.

Chris: Which makes sense in this context which we’re talking about.

Hallie: The plural of hoe like the tool a hoe was invented definitely before the hose, like the long thing that water comes out of. Hose was amended in 1870s. That’s pretty recently.

Chris: Wow. Yeah.

Hallie: In the 1900s, in the America rural people didn’t really have access to electricity, so you didn’t really have electric pumps. Once people got electricity, they were then able to pump water, which was closer to the 1950s. In 1952, a guy called Frank Zybach invented center pivot irrigation, which completely changed the game for particularly the Great Plains in the US.

Chris: Oh, I can guess from the name is that when we’re driving out in the country and we see these long, I don’t know basically sprinklers on wheels that stretch out from a center point and look like they sort of drive around in a circle watering things.

Hallie: Yeah, pretty much. You basically have a big, long arm that has sprinklers on it that runs the radius of a circle. The hub of it is in the center of the circle and then the spoke goes out the radius of the circle and then it’s able to move around in a circle. Basically you’re using very little energy in order to irrigate this circle and it’s a very large area generally. If you’re flying over farmland, oftentimes you’ll see like circles and that is what that’s from. That’s from the center pivot irrigation system.

Chris: Actual crop circles as opposed to things that people call crop circles.

Hallie: That’s true.

Chris: Anyway, that takes us to what?

Hallie: In 1965, a person called Simcha Blass is attributed as inventing drip irrigation. This is kind of questionable because drip irrigation is basically using passive irrigation and that has existed for a long time. There’s a concept called an oya where basically you use terracotta. Basically, you fill something that is terracotta up with water and then because the terracotta is permeable that water can be drawn out through the terracotta itself. It’s similar to drip irrigation and that’s existed in China and that’s existed in Spain for a long time and then it was used by indigenous people, but in 1965, there was an Israeli agronomist who put a lot of pieces together. In Germany, there was an underground pipe that basically there were very small perforations on the pipe and so the plants were able to slowly draw water out of the pipe. Then in 1965, this Israeli agronomist took all these different pieces and added a drip emitter and “invented” what we now call modern day drip irrigation. Although he didn’t invent the drip emitter for sure, but the concept of passives or slow release irrigation has existed for a long time.

Chris: It sounds like he made a decent innovation on an existing concept.

Hallie: Yeah, for sure which is huge. People really are moving a lot more towards drip irrigation not because you use less water, but because you use less water per plant, which is good. A lot of people talk about how drip irrigation ends up using less water. It doesn’t necessarily. You end up using about the same amount of water, but you’re able to grow more plants if that makes sense.

Chris: Yeah, more efficient watering practices.

Hallie: Kind of. Yeah.

Chris: Great. How does that work?

Hallie: Drip irrigation?

Chris: Well, why are you able to use less water per plant?

Hallie: Basically, drip irrigation is you have a thin plastic. We call it a ribbon. It’s a very thin flexible plastic pipe that you lay along the ground and you have little holes that are punched into it and you have little emitters and the emitters control how much water comes out, so you’re able to slow release a gallon an hour or half a gallon an hour basically in drops. It like very, very slowly releases this irrigation, so you’re not irrigating to the left of your plant or to the right of your plant. You’re irrigating a very localized spot. That’s basically why. It has mixed uses. There are some ways that it’s not as good as things like sprinkler irrigation, but you end up with yes, more efficient irrigation technically. Today, 38% of irrigated land is irrigated with groundwater. 62% is irrigated with surface water. 69% of all water withdrawal globally is for agriculture.

Chris: That’s not a figure I would have thought of that’s a lot. Wow.

Hallie: It is a lot. The highest percent is an Africa and Asia. This number has increased dramatically over the past hundred years. I mean, earlier I was talking about how people weren’t really pumping water in the early to mid-20th century. Now, pretty much everyone is able to pump water because we have things like solar technology. Slap a solar panel on it. You don’t have to be hooked up to the grid. It can just pump away. Then worldwide, only 20% of cultivated land is irrigated. But the land that is irrigated produces 40% of the food supply.

Chris: Okay. That sounds like a pretty significant percentage. Do we know how the rest of the land gets water if it’s not irrigated?

Hallie: It gets watered by the rain and if the rains don’t come, then the food doesn’t grow.

Chris: Oh, wow. Bummer. Okay. So it’s either rain or irrigation.

Hallie: Yeah, pretty much. Sometimes like in some places you do still have flood irrigated areas, but it’s much less common mostly because there are a lot of dams now that control rivers and we don’t really want rivers to flood anymore because we have a lot more people. It can be very dangerous if rivers flood. It’s much less common to have flood irrigated.

Chris: Cool. To sum up irrigation is really cool. Not only super important, but like critical innovation for people to go from a sort of hunter gatherer lifestyle to agrarian and somewhat city centered lifestyle.

Hallie: Yeah, for sure.

Chris: People came up with it all over the world and been doing it for a very long time.

Hallie: Today, it is such a huge part of how we globally use water as a people, as a species. It is an immense part of how we use our water.

Chris: That’s where most of our water goes it sounds like.

Hallie: Yeah, 69%.

Chris: That’s the history of irrigation. Come back for the next episode where we’ll talk about.

Hallie: Next week, we are going to talk about climate change and we’re going to talk about policy change and we’re going to talk about the future of irrigation in two weeks.

[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 Katherine Arjet and Hallie Cassie.

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.

Take our survey at onetogrowonpod.com/survey

Read the transcript of this episode.

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

29: Superfoods IV – Bok Choy, Wheat Germ, Ginger and Seaweed 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. This week we’re focusing on superfoods and we got a song.

[Superfoods song playing].

Hallie: I love it.

[Laughter].

Chris: Hallie just knocked her mic over.

Hallie: That’s how much I love it.

Chris: It’s such a great song. We’re so happy.

Hallie: I’m so excited for this song. It was made for us by a friend of mine, KC, who is an incredible scientist and science communicator out of Nashville. You can find more info about where to hire her in the show notes of this show and I am just so excited for this new song we have.

Chris: It is great. Usually, when you get a song by someone out of Nashville, you think, oh they are a musician. I want to go live in Nashville and play music. You don’t think, oh, they must be a scientist which I didn’t know.

Hallie: Yeah, she works in astronomy.

Chris: Oh, that’s so cool.

Hallie: I remember one time you were taking an astronomy class at UT when I was a child and I was a pretty young child and one time you came home and I was, dad, how was your astrology class? You got so mad at me. [Laughs].

Chris: That sounds like something I would be mad about for sure.

Hallie: Should we start the episode?

Chris: Yes, what are we talking about today?

Hallie: We’re talking about superfoods. You already said so.

Chris: I know that, which foods? Okay. I’m looking at the list now.

I see bok choy and I see note about China.

Hallie: Actually before recording this, I ran these foods by producer Catherine and spoiler alert, one of them is an actual probably cape worthy food and I asked Catherine for her perspective on which one she thought would be cape worthy and I’m gonna tell you right now, she got it wrong.

Chris: Oh, okay. What does that have to do with China?

Hallie: Oh, I forgot to put that in the outline.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: You can probably cut all that stuff out.

Chris: Not going to happen.

Hallie: I wanted to quickly note. I noticed after I did all this research that three of the four foods we’re talking about today are from China and have been eaten in Eastern Asia for thousands of years and I think that’s just important to remember and notice when we talk about things that are like “superfoods”, oftentimes they are Orientalized or for some reason, exotic in ways that have a lot of racial undertones and we should think about that when we think about our food system.

Chris: Or even romanticized in some way that’s completely unrealistic.

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: These are just foods that people eat. So people eat bok choy.

Hallie: People do eat bok choy. It’s also called Chinese cabbage. Technically, it’s a kind of Chinese cabbage. There’s other kinds of Chinese cabbage. This is one kind.

Chris: Are they all related to the cabbage that we know?

Hallie: Yeah, they are. Bok choy is Brassica rapa. The cabbage we eat is a different kind of brassica. What?

Chris: The Brassica is a rapa. Got to be some cabbage. Eat too much, you’re going to do some damage.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Keep going.

Chris: That’s all I got right now.

Hallie: That’s all you got?

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: Does it taste bad or does it taste good? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a superfood.

Hallie: That is not even a straight line.

Chris: [Laughs]. Food and good that’s [inaudible].

Hallie: Absolutely not in New Orleans.

Chris: It’s even spelled the same. They both have ood except one of them is odd, food, good. I don’t know. Whatever. They’re close enough, come on.

[Laughter].

Hallie: You’ve knocked my wheels off of the track. Where were we?

Chris: Brassica rapa.

Hallie: So other Brassicas are in the Brassica genus.

Chris: Go on. You can do it. I believe in you.

Hallie: There is broccoli and brussels sprouts and cabbage are all a different kind of Brassica. Brassica rapa also is home to turnips. They are also basically the same species as bok choy as are rapeseed, which I think is where rapa comes from. It’s from rapeseed.

Chris: The unfortunately named.

Hallie: Yes, it’s also called canola. Technically, canola is a subset of rapeseed, but we generally call all things canola now because no one wants to put rapeseed on a can. Chinese cabbage is similar to mustard greens, both physiologically nutritionally, generally closely related, very similar to mustard greens. Originally, Brassica rapa was actually classified by the big doc himself, Carl Linnaeus.

Chris: Oh, I remember that name from plant taxonomy.

Hallie: Well, you should and also all taxonomy of all species.

Chris: Okay. Cool.

Hallie: Yeah, he’s great and he’s a big doc. We talked about him in an episode called plant taxonomy.

Chris: Right.

Hallie: He got a portrait commission of himself and his favorite flower.

Chris: That’s nice.

Hallie: No, he was just a big doc. I love talking about Carl Linnaeus, but anyways, it’s been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. Originally, it is from the China region from Eastern Asia. Nutritionally in 2014, there was a CDC study that scored 47 different vegetables on nutritional density and bok choy came number two after watercress, which is the worst. I hate watercress so much.

Chris: But bok choy is high in nutrition.

Hallie: I mean, after watercress, it was a lot of different leafy vegetables. It is quite nutrient dense as is every other leafy green vegetables. It’s certainly good for you, but not as good for you as watercress.

Chris: Well, hey. Do we know of the claims around it?

Hallie: I mean, it’s a superfood, so there’s a lot of different claims. A lot of them are around like heart, which it is. All leafy greens are going to be good for your heart.

There are some claims around anti-arthritic benefits. It’s generally a superfood. We’ve seen a lot of the similar claims throughout all of the superfoods.

Chris: Anti-inflammatory.

Hallie: Yes, anticarcinogenic. It is a food that is good for you and that’s what we know.

Chris: Like all other leafy greens, moral of the story eat your salad, eat your leafy greens.

Hallie: Eat some vegetables. They have good nutrients, good minerals, lots of good folic acid.

Chris: Like all of the leafy greens, a good part of your diet not necessarily cape worthy.

Hallie: That’s what I would say.

Chris: Okay. Cool. Eat some bok choy or some spinach or some mustard greens. Go crazy or kale. That’s in the promo.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: Alright. So bok choy sounds good. It’s good in stir fry. What about wheat germ? I like that in my yogurt with fruit and chia.

Hallie: Do you know what wheat germ is?

Chris: It’s the germ of the wheat.

Hallie: Can you be more specific?

Chris: It’s the part that the wheat grows from.

Hallie: Yeah, kind of.

Chris: That’s what I got.

Hallie: [Laughs]. A wheat seed is technically called a caryopsis in differentiations of what a fruit is and caryopsis have different parts, so there is the brush, the bran, the germ and the endosperm.

Chris: That was a lot of words.

Hallie: The brush is the outside bit. Usually, brushes are developed to help carry a seed in the wind or to have it stick to an animal or something like that. Usually, we don’t really ever eat those or deal with them. They’re just kind of like hairs on the outside of the seed that carry it through so it can be planted somewhere else.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: We have the bran, which we also do eat wheat bran. The bran itself is the outer seed coat.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: We then have the endosperm. That’s mostly what we eat, right? That’s the starchy goodness and then we have the wheat germ, which is the embryo. So that’s what a wheat germ is.

Chris: Alright. It’s baby wheat.

Hallie: We eat bran. You can buy a raisin bran. You can buy a bread with bran in it. You can buy whole grain bread, which is all of the three. We take the brush off, but it’s the other three components are all included. White bread is just made with just the endosperm. So the germ and the bran are not included.

Chris: Oh, okay.

Hallie: Is this news?

Chris: Yes, I didn’t know that.

Hallie: What did you think white bread was?

Chris: I don’t know. Just not whole grain bread. I didn’t know what whole grain bread meant necessarily. I just thought white bread was made from flour that was crushed up more than wheat bread.

Hallie: The different parts of the seed have different things in them. Right? The bran has lots of fiber. That’s why it’s good for things like raisin bran, which is touted for keeping you regular because it’s got lots of good fiber and that’s because that bran, that outer stuff, it needs a lot of fiber to protect the endosperm and to protect the germ. What? You give me a face. What is that?

Chris: Sorry. I’m thinking about wrapping vegetables.

Hallie: Oh my God.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Do you want to continue talking about that?

Chris: I don’t, but I’m just thinking of a guy in a jacket with a microphone saying, yo, I’m wheat germ.

Hallie: [Laughs]. That’s nothing. That’s not even anything. The wheat germ is the embryo of the wheat seed.

Chris: Okay. Why do people think it’s a superfood?

Hallie: I mean, seeds are good for you. It’s got lots of fatty acids. People will say the things that we’ve heard. They say that it’s anti-inflammatory, they say that it’ll help protect your heart. All the things that we hear in every superfood episode. It’s got fatty acids. It’s got zinc, magnesium, folic acid, lots of nutrients all that stuff as do other seeds. Seeds generally, nut seeds, vegetables, they’re all good for you.

Chris: Seeds are good for you.

Hallie: Eat seeds. Wheat germ is part of a seed and it has some things in there that are not bad for you.

Chris: Are we going to put a cape on them?

Hallie: Personally, I wouldn’t. I mean, it’s good food, but you can eat sunflower seeds. You eat pumpkin seeds. There’s lots of things that you can get zinc from. Folic acid is in spinach. It’s really not bringing extra stuff. It’s definitely healthy. Go for it. Eat it. Eat as much as you want. Maybe not as much as you want, but eat it.

Chris: Just don’t expect miracles.

Hallie: That’s not miracles.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: It’s not bringing anything really revolutionary to the table.

Chris: What you should do is put some yogurt in a bowl, put your chia and your wheat germ and leave it overnight, along with some fruit and that’s good stuff.

Hallie: It’s such good stuff.

Chris: We know some superfoods are kind of fake, but you know what? It’s time to go into the break.

Hallie: [Laughs].

[Background music].

Chris: That was a better rap than some of the presents that I got.

Hallie: Oh my gosh. Well, today is New Year’s Eve. It’s a new year, new friend.

Chris: New year, new friend that you can share the podcast with.

Hallie: If you can think of someone, anyone in your life that you think would enjoy the things that we talk about here, the things that we do, the raps that dad makes.

Chris: Just say, hey, check out this one podcast. I think you’re really like it. Maybe you’re talking about podcasts anyway and it’s more organic and you’re talking about all the ones you love like reply all or science versus or whatever that you listen and you’re like, oh, also there’s this one called One to Grow on. I think you’ll really like it, especially if you care about where your food comes from and you’re really interested in the history of the chestnut.

Hallie: We would also like to very much think our starfruit level patrons, Lindsay, Vikram, Mama Casey and Shianne.

Chris: Thank you all so much and to all of our other patrons for all of your support, we really appreciate it. There’s so much we can do with your support, like hosting and we’re going to do transcripts soon and all this great stuff, so thank you very much.

Hallie: We’ve got a lot coming up and your support really has meant the absolute world to us. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: Yes.

Hallie: Hit me with it.

Chris: As we all know, there is a rapper named M&M.

Hallie: This is really showing a peek behind the curtain because we broke for the break and then I said, dad, do you have a nature fact? You said, no, I forgot. I said, okay, why don’t you look one up real fast before we record the second half of the episode?

Chris: There’s also a candy called M&M’s. M&M’s originally came in cardboard tubes. You knew that?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: How did you know that?

Hallie: We talked about it on the podcast.

Chris: On our podcast?

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Wait, was this a Catherine episode?

Hallie: Yeah, we talked about it in the process food episode because we talked about how the military invented M&M’s.

Chris: I mean, they were popular with the soldiers.

Hallie: No, they were invented for the soldiers because the soldiers wanted chocolate. No, for the soldiers because they needed the candy coating for the chocolate.

Chris: Tara-tarara, nature fact. Behind the curtain nature fact. But next on the list is one of my favorite Gilligan’s Island characters ever, Ginger.

Hallie: Is that a show?

Chris: Gilligan’s Island? What do you mean is that a show?

Hallie: Is it a book?

Chris: Yes, it’s a show. I’m like 90% positive we showed it to you when you were a child.

Hallie: Why?

Chris: It’s a TV show.

Hallie: No, I mean, why do you have that memory? I don’t have that memory.

Chris: I don’t know. Maybe we didn’t.

Hallie: I don’t think so.

Chris: It’s just one of those things that I assume everyone knows about because it’s such a thing.

Hallie: I don’t know about it.

Chris: Wow. Okay. We got to fix that.

Hallie: How do you feel about ginger as a food?

Chris: I love it. I load it in my cookies. I love it in my bread. I love it in my stir fry and I love candy ginger. Ginger is good stuff.

Hallie: Do you know what ginger is?

Chris: It’s a root.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Buying it fresh is kind of a pain because I got to peel it or cut the peel off somehow and cut it up, but that’s all I know about it.

Hallie: Technically, it’s a specialized modified stem that is underground. It’s a storage tissue called a rhizome. The most famous rhizomes are in grasses. Grasses have rhizome. If you ever have a grass in your yard and you can go in and pull it up and it pulls up the whole little line of grass pulls up, you know what I’m talking about? That’s a rhizome.

Chris: I had no idea that it was a rhizome. I thought that was grass.

Hallie: It’s like these little runners that run along the top of the ground and this is what ginger is. We eat it. It contains gingerol.

Chris: That’s very cleverly named.

Hallie: I know. I’m assuming they named it because Ginger is the thing it appears in, but maybe the ginger name came second. Probably not. There’s several gingerols in ginger. I think there’s three. There might be more than that. I don’t know, but Gingerol-[6] or [6]-Gingerol. I don’t know the naming convention for the gingerols. It’s the main one that I was reading about. There’s a lot of different claims. Again, similar to what we’ve read in the past, anticarcinogenic, stimulates brain function, anti-inflammatory, protects your heart from heart disease.

Chris: The one I always heard about ginger was it’s good for an upset stomach.

Hallie: Yes, I’ve definitely heard that it’s good for an upset stomach. I’ve heard that it boosts your immune system.

Chris: Which is nonsense. Those are nonsense words. Do not ever believe those words unless you’re taking steroids.

Hallie: In 2014, there was a paper that was a review of [6]-Gingerol. This is where I got a lot of the information. It was a very highly cited paper and it was basically just a literature review going through and summarizing a lot of the different things that people have found with [6]-Gingerol. It has been found definitely to help soothe upset stomachs.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: Yes, it has been shown to have some small anticancer benefits that said these were animal studies, not in humans, so there is no evidence in humans. It is also known more generally to have anti-inflammatory benefits and anti-oxidation properties. The paper also had this lovely sentence that said it was a potential therapeutic agent for the prevention and or treatment of various diseases.

Chris: That sounds pretty broad though.

Hallie: I mean, the paper specifically talks about this has been an herbal medicine in East Asia for thousands of years and we’re now finding that it does in fact have general benefits for anti-inflammation. That’s generally helpful for a lot of different diseases like maladies, whatever is going on. If you’re less inflamed, it’s generally helpful. It seems quite conclusive that like, this is not a medicine. To be clear, it’s not a medicine, but it does seem like it is a food that does help the human body in ways that we don’t really have anything else with this gingerol in it that has these properties that’s able to do these things.

Chris: It’s something that normal foods don’t do. I guess that makes it cape worthy.

Hallie: I would say so.

Chris: You know what? We got a song for that too.

[Superfoods song playing].

Chris: I love that song too.

Hallie: She’s so good. Everyone should go follow KC on Instagram because she does science song Mondays where she does Instagram questions and you can send your question to her and then she’ll write a little song about the answer and it’s the cutest thing ever. It’s really, really, really, really good. Best content out there. You guys should definitely go follow KC on Instagram.

Chris: I’m going to do that.

Hallie: It’s so good, dad.

Chris: Also, Joanna, if you’re listening, start cooking with more ginger. Take care of your arthritis.

Hallie: That’s my sister.

Chris: [Laughs]. Alright. Seaweed, which is one of those things I’ve heard about being generally healthy.

Hallie: Do you know what it is?

Chris: It’s seaweed. It’s weed that comes out of the sea and maybe lakes I don’t know. I’m going to make a prediction here and say that we’re going to say it’s roughly about as healthy as bok choy.

Hallie: So seaweed is an algae.

Chris: Wait, what? Seaweed is an algae?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: That can’t be right.

Hallie: Why?

Chris: Because algae is the stuff that blooms on the top, not the stuff that grows from the bottom that you wrap around your sushi.

Hallie: That’s green algae that you’re thinking of. I’m speaking of brown algae.

Chris: Mind blown.

Hallie: There’s green algae, brown algae and red algae. There’s a lot of different subspecies of these three algaes. I mean, we eat all three of them. The one that we eat the most of, I would say is brown algae. It was really hard for me to find disassociated data that talked about brown algae versus green algae, which is wild because they are not that closely related. They’re quite different, but generally the seaweed green, red, and brown have all been eaten in East Asia for millennia for a long time. There are generally very broad claims that they are good for you in all the similar ways we’ve been talking about. Good for your heart, anti-cancer benefits. There are some specific claims that it helps your thyroid to function.

Chris: Interesting.

Hallie: What I found and again, I could not find a lot of desegregated data, so there might be a species or a type of seaweed out there that really is a superfood. I was not able to find one. I did find generally they have lots of good iodine as does salt, so not really very special there. No offense to seaweed.

Chris: Or salt.

Hallie: The seaweed generally also does have tyrosine, which is good for your thyroid. True. It is an amino acid that you do find in most dairy products.

Chris: So if you eat what? Cheese.

Hallie: Yeah, cheese has a lot of tyrosine. So seaweed’s not going to be bringing a ton to the table on that one.

Chris: Okay. Maybe it’s a healthier alternative for tyrosines than some other things or it sounds fine.

Hallie: Maybe. I couldn’t find any data that was confirming that the seaweed that you buy would definitely have tyrosine because there are so many different like sub species and species and genuses and families of seaweed between the three different types.

So I don’t know if all seaweed has tyrosine. I don’t know if the seaweed you’re buying definitely does have tyrosine. It seems like it’s generally healthy. It’s got lots of good minerals in it because of being in the ocean, it’s got good vitamins. It’s pretty good for you. It’s got the yummy antioxidants, which everybody is all about. They’re great, great for you.

Chris: So go eat some seaweed. Unless it’s really expensive, in which case eat some cheese.

Hallie: There was something called fucoidans, I think is how you pronounce it. It’s F-U-C-O-I-D-A-N-S. That was something on some specific species of brown algae that looked quite promising, but there was not a ton of evidence, but it looked generally promising similar to what we were talking about with ginger, where it looked like it was generally like a healthier option for specific things in terms of feeding this human flesh body that we carry around with us. Honestly, there’s not a ton of very specific data on seaweeds, so maybe possibly a cape pending, but most of it is not desegregated by species or even by genus.

Chris: We don’t get to use the song again.

Hallie: I know. Definitely not on seaweed. Seems like it’s generally a good food.

Chris: That’s super. Okay.

Hallie: I mean, it might be super, but we don’t have a lot of info talking specifically about the different kinds of seaweed and what’s in them.

Chris: Bok choy, wheat germ seaweed, all good foods, nothing super special about them, but good stuff nonetheless and ginger.

Hallie: Get you some.

Chris: Going to go get me some ginger.

Hallie: Get you some of that good stuff.

Chris: Put it in my everything.

Hallie: Some tea. Get you some in like a stir fry. That would be good. Just get it all over the place.

Chris: Play a little song. Alright. Well, that wraps it up for this superfoods.

Hallie: Send us on a rap, dad.

Chris: Okay. Yeah, Ginger, see we got German bok choy. You can eat them if you’re a girl or a boy. Going to have a salad. Going to have a stir fry. I don’t know. I’m a burger kind of guy.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: That’s going into the outtakes.

Hallie: No, absolutely not. That’s the end of the episode. Absolutely, that has to be the end of the episode.

Chris: Bye everybody.

[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 Katherine Arjet and Hallie Cassie.

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].