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plant cells

45: How Plants Use Water 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 finally talking about how plants use water.

[Background music].

Hallie: You have been asking me this question for a little while.

Chris: It’s true and we did like what? 10 episodes on water or two or four or something. I don’t know.

Hallie: Only two.

Chris: Okay. We did not answer this question and now we can answer this question and I assume I’ve heard of xylem and phloem, which are the things in the trees and water goes up, water comes down, never a miscommunication.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, we’re going to be talking about mostly four different roles that water plays in plants and how they work. This is not completely everything that goes on in a plant that involves water because plants are mostly water.

There is a lot that goes on, but these are like the four begins.

Chris: Are they mostly water the same way that we are mostly water?

Hallie: The same way that most things are mostly water, yeah.

Chris: Most of the plant is mostly water. Okay.

Hallie: The first one we’re going to be talking about is structure. Dad, do you know what makes plants stand up?

Chris: Presumably, fiber that our doctors keep telling us to eat.

Hallie: Right. Humans have bones. Bones is what makes us be able to stand up and things like that, but plants do not have bones.

Chris: That would be super creepy if there were a plant with bones, super creepy.

Hallie: Yes, for some plants, it is cell walls. For some plants, it’s not cell walls. Do you know which plants it’s not cell walls for?

Chris: No, bananas would have to be cell walls. I don’t know. What do you even mean? What are you asking me? Like plants that stand up, but not because of their cell walls?

Hallie: We’ve talked about this a little bit in the past. There are different ways we categorize plants, right? One of the ways is between woody plants and herbaceous plants.

Chris: Got it. Are you going to tell me that the woody plants is not their cell walls, but I would argue that woody tissue is still some sort of cell wall. I don’t know.

Hallie: The main thing that keeps woody plants standing up is something called lignin.

Chris: Oh, lignin. I forgot about lignin.

Hallie: Your old friend lignin.

Chris: That’s right. For the listener who hasn’t listened to an episode where we have defined lignin. Lignin is?

Hallie: Oh me?

Chris: Yeah, you.

Hallie: I thought you are going to give the definition of lignin.

Chris: I wish.

Hallie: Lignin is basically like, if you look at branches, trunks, it’s what makes sticks sticky. It’s kind of those crunchier little cells and it gives those trees structure. It’s what builds out woody material. Whereas when you look at something like a banana or a sunflower is a really good example of this, they typically don’t have a lot of that woody tissue and so the thing that is keeping them stood up is water.

Chris: It’s like that old joke. What’s brown and sticky? A lignin based plant structure.

Hallie: A stick with lignin.

[Laughter].

Hallie: We said cell walls, right? I just mentioned water. What do you know about plant cells?

Chris: I know they are cells.

Hallie: Yeah, true.

Chris: I guess for the ones on the outside it’s called cellulose. I don’t know why it’s called cellulose. I don’t know what cellulose is. I don’t know. I got nothing else.

Hallie: Do you know what the largest part of a plant cell is?

Chris: No.

Hallie: The largest part of a plant cell is what’s called the vacuole.

Chris: Okay. That’s a word that was probably on some worksheet in ninth grade biology.

Hallie: [Laughs]. The vacuole is basically the goo of it all. Within a plant cell, you’ve got a mitochondria or two. You have some chloroplasts. You have lots of different things in there. All of that is sitting within the goo of it all, which is the vacuole. We can kind of think about plant cells like a balloon or I guess more accurately like a water balloon, but it’s easier for us to think about it as an airfield balloon because those are the ones that we really see stretched out. A water field plant cell is usually pretty tight. If it’s filled all the way up, those walls are really sturdy. It has a lot of structure to it. It’s not caving in. If you put pressure on it, it’s able to kind of keep its shape. That’s similar to how a cell wall works in a plant if you have a full vacuole. That’s what’s called turgor pressure. It’s that pressure within a cell that’s blowing up those cells. It pushes those cell walls out and it lets the plant stand up, which is why, if a plant isn’t watered enough, it loses that turgor pressure and those cell walls start to collapse in on each other and then that’s when we start to see wilting. It’s because those cells aren’t able to fill up the balloons with all that water.

Chris: I almost feel like saying the vacuole is the largest part of the cell. It’s like saying the biggest part is the part that’s not there.

Hallie: Yeah, I know.

[Laughter].

Chris: Except that it’s goo that requires water to be present.

Hallie: Right. One of the really nice things about this for plants is that water is not a solid right. It lets plants be a lot more flexible. Of course, trees are not as flexible as little bitty flowers on the ground or grasses or things like that.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: But having their structure being made up of water lets them be a lot more flexible for the wind and stuff. If wind comes along, it can blow about in the wind and it’s not going to be breaking because it has a lot more flexibility, which is great.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: That’s the number one thing that plants use water for. That’s like the thing that a lot of the water is. Most of the water in plants is within the vacuole. Another thing that plants use water for is thermal regulation.

Chris: Staying not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

Hallie: Mostly not too hot. Water is not going to keep you super warm, generally speaking.

Chris: Fair enough. Staying cool in the summer.

Hallie: Yeah, staying cool in the summer. This is very important for plants. The plant type term is actually called transpiration. Transpiration is the thing that keeps plants cool. It’s them losing that water off of their leaves. It’s like when we sweat. When you lose that water, the energy it takes to have that water evaporate pulls heat energy off of the plant.

Chris: Right. Heat of evaporation, good stuff.

Hallie: Exactly. This happens through the xylem, which you mentioned earlier.

Chris: Okay. What is that?

Hallie: How much do you know about the xylem?

Chris: I know it’s not the phloem.

Hallie: Is that it?

Chris: That’s it. I think one goes up. One goes down.

Hallie: That is very helpful. The xylem goes up. The xylem is different from the phloem in that the xylem is made up of dead cells, so there’s no actual energy. There’s no living cells that hold the water in the xylem. There’s no energy to move the water. It’s just dead cells and it’s what’s called passive transport.

Chris: Kind of like hair for the plant.

Hallie: Like hair?

Chris: Like hair. Hair’s dead cells, fingernails are dead cells. Now plants have like little fingernails type of stuff.

Hallie: Like how we lose our water through our hair.

Chris: I mean, maybe it doesn’t work quite the same way in animals.

Hallie: Like how our hair is little tubes of water.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: Sorry, I keep thinking about tubes of hair water.

[Laughter].

Chris: Okay. Just to be clear, plants don’t have hair, but the thing that they do have called xylem is dead cells that transports water from the inside of the plant to the outside of the plant.

Hallie: You did just say plants don’t have hair, but in this section we are actually talking about two different types of hair that plants have.

Chris: Oh, great.

Hallie: Let’s look into that. In the soil, you have roots and on the main parts of the roots you have little root hairs. Root hairs are really, really small oftentimes they’re microscopic but they have a lot more surface area than the root itself, so most of the intake and output from the root system is actually happening on those root hairs.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: The way that plants take up water, because again, there’s no energy expended to take up water is just a concentration gradient, which means that the water potential is lower inside of the root hairs than outside in the saturated soil. If there’s a puddle of water on the countertop and you have a dry sponge and you put that dry sponge in the teensiest bit in contact with that, that water is going to slowly move into the sponge, right?

Chris: Yeah, okay.

Hallie: That’s because of a concentration gradient. The water wants to be where water is not.

Chris: It’s exactly the same way in the root of the plant you’re saying.

Hallie: Well, I’m saying inside of the root hair there is going to be a lower water potential than outside. If you’ve just watered, the soil is fully saturated. There’s a lot of water out in the soil itself. That water is going to move to where water is not, which is inside of the root hair.

Chris: Right. The root hair functions the same way a sponge functions basically.

Hallie: In this case, yes. Water molecules H2O are cohesive, right?

Chris: Yes, they adhere to each other.

Hallie: They adhere to each other because they have those little hydrogen bonds. That’s why if you fill a cup up too much, you have a little bubble above the rim of the cup or it’s the same reason why you get droplets of water. It’s because those little molecules of water want to stick to each other. They have this cohesion property.

Chris: They’re like tiny magnets for each other.

Hallie: They’re like tiny little magnets. They love to stick together.

Chris: That’s why little bugs can skate across the ponds.

Hallie: Exactly. It’s the exact same reason. This is kind of wild, so prepare yourself. The way that transpiration works in a plant is you have the xylem. It’s these dead cells. It’s basically like a straw inside the plant. It goes all the way up to the leaves. The sun is shining or the wind is blowing and it pulls off a water molecule from the leaf. Every single water molecule within the plant is stuck together. They have those cohesive properties. As one water molecule gets pulled off of the leaf, it’s pulling one more up through the roots and into the stem. It’s like one big chain of links and it’s just slowly moving up through the plant.

Chris: That makes sense. This sounds similar. Not exactly the same, but similar to when you have a cup of water and you’re in a restaurant and you really want to know your parents, so you put the straw in the water and then you blow across the top of the straw and the water comes up the straw and out where you’re blowing. It sounds like a similar principle only you’re not using wind to do it. It’s just the pressure gradient is created by the fact that the water is exiting from the leaf and pulling out more.

Hallie: This does happen because of wind sometimes. The reasons why plants lose water are different reasons. It could just be there’s a really low humidity outside and so it’s being pulled out. There could be a high temperature. Sunshine could be evaporating the water or wind is something that can pull water out of a leaf.

There are different properties to a leaf to make it more or less likely that water will come out of the leaf. If they have a waxy cuticle, if they have more or fewer stemmata, which are like little pores, which is what the water actually comes out of or how open those pores are, they can be more or less open.

Chris: I’m sorry, you said waxy cuticle and now all I can think of is a plant like sitting in a chair getting a pedicure, getting the files down, talking to gossip and all those kind of stuff.

Hallie: That’s exactly what I mean.

Chris: What’s the cuticle on a plant?

Hallie: It’s something like if you think of the difference between a basil leaf versus like a holly leaf. A holly leaf has a really waxy cuticle because they kind of have that waxiness to them. They’re really thick. Basically, it just means that on top of the leaf skin, there is a really like thick layer of wax that’s protecting those pores from having water pulled out of them.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Another good example is like succulents. If you have like a jade plant or something in your house, then those have pretty waxy cuticles usually. But another difference could be the leaf size or the leaf shape, whether or not the leaf is folded inward.

If you look at desert plants, then usually they have really, really small leaves because they’re less likely to be losing water through those and then another factor is actually the pubescent on the leaf. How much pubescent there is, which is like little bitty leaf hairs.

Chris: This is something that makes middle schoolers laugh hysterically I’m sure.

Hallie: I’m sure it is.

[Laughter].

Chris: All right.

Hallie: Maybe that’s why we don’t teach plant anatomy to middle schoolers.

Chris: Maybe so.

Hallie: But yeah, we were talking about hairs earlier. This is another way that have hairs. They have root hairs and they have leaf hairs. The leaf hairs are called pubescent.

Chris: I had no idea and these are ways for plants to release water.

Hallie: These are basically ways for plants to not release water.

If you’re an understory plant and you might not be getting a lot of water, maybe you’re a small little bush and you’re sitting next to a big tree, you might develop a lot of pubescent so that you can hold onto as much water as possible or if you’re out in the middle of a prairie and it’s really sunny and there’s not a lot of water to go around because you’re surrounded by all these hungry grasses, then maybe you develop really small leaves so that you’re not losing water whenever willy nilly so that you’re able to survive or you know we have live oaks here in Texas and we have really unpredictable rainstorms. We have a drier season and in the wetter season, usually our live oaks have these pretty waxy leaves, so they’re not losing water throughout that dry season.

Chris: A plant on a prairie is wetter when it’s hairy.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Great work, dad. Absolutely great work.

Chris: Thank you. I mean, it’s basically like an animal in the cold is hairier and they don’t lose as much heat. A plant in the shade has these pubescent and doesn’t lose as much water.

Hallie: Right. We have been talking about this from the beginning as a way to regulate temperature as well.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: All accurate.

Chris: All right. Well, I think about these poor little plants when they do lose too much water, part of what they need other than more water is a break.

Hallie: Here we go.

[Background music].

Chris: Welcome to the break.

Hallie: Hello. I would like to talk to you about the census.

Chris: Why do you want to talk to people about the census? I mean, really.

Hallie: Well, if you live in the US once every 10 years, we do this big count of everyone living in the US and it’s extremely important for things like representative apportionment, which is how we decide what your political power as an area or region looks like or things like funding your schools and hospitals. The deadline to fill out the census is September 30th, 2020. It takes like two and a half minutes. It’s not a very long process and it’s extremely, extremely important. You don’t have to be a US citizen. All you have to be is living in the US. You don’t have to be a voting age. You don’t have to be anything like that. You should just be filling it out for your household. You can go to census2020.gov to fill out the census. It will not take you very long.

Chris: You know who I bet has filled out the census?

Hallie: Who’s that?

Chris: Our patrons, especially our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick, and Shianne. Thank you so much patrons. We can’t do this without you.

Hallie: All of our patrons, including and especially our starfruit patrons are absolutely amazing and we are so, so grateful for you all.

Chris: You’re all counted.

Hallie: In the census of our heart.

Chris: That’s right. [Laughs]. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: We talked about thermal regulation. We talked about structure. Now, let’s talk about the use of water as a solvent. Plants use water as a solvent inside of the phloem.

Chris: All right and the phloem is down.

Hallie: Phloem is not the xylem. It is in fact both up and down.

Chris: Oh, all right. Xylem goes from the root to the leaf.

Hallie: There’s not another way it can go because it’s passive transport. Phloem is active cells, so there is actual energy that is expended because it is moving against a concentration gradient. The phloem moves things like glucose, amino acids, some nutrients. The xylem also moves some nutrients, but it does not move all of the nutrients. The main thing that the phloem is moving is these sugars and proteins.

Chris: Wouldn’t have known that plants need proteins, but, okay.

Hallie: Where did you think the proteins in the plants come from? We eat plants and they have protein.

Chris: That’s true. I never really thought about it. I thought maybe they could just build proteins. But to me, if you need proteins, it’s because you have muscles you got to build because you’re working out. You’re getting jacked. I’ve never seen a rose with a six pack.

Hallie: Plants do build proteins. They don’t eat other plants that have proteins in them. They just build them themselves. But usually they’re building them and then they have to go around to all the different cells because one of the main things that we use proteins for is things like DNA synthesizing.

Chris: Oh, that’s important.

Hallie: There are lots of important amino acids out there. Lots of important sugars as well, but every single cell has to have sugars and amino acids. You have these little cells they’re alive. They have to expend little ATPs, little energies as they’re moving these proteins and sugars around the plant because oftentimes they’re going against a concentration gradient. When we’re thinking about like a straw for the xylem, the phloem is more kind of a well, so like pulling something up with the well. You’re moving energy to get a resource out of somewhere and into somewhere else.

Chris: Xylem is like a straw. Phloem is like a well or like something with an active pump.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: That’s the third one. The fourth one is bio chemical reactions.

Chris: Chemical reactions are great.

Hallie: You’re a fan?

Chris: I am a fan. Good old chemistry.

Hallie: Cool. Do you know the reaction for photosynthesis? Don’t look at the notes.

Chris: I don’t, but I think it’s like glucose in light makes carbon dioxide in water or something like that.

Hallie: Well close, but no. If we think about how plants function, it’s actually carbon dioxide and water plus light makes glucose and oxygen. When we think about what plants are creating and giving off, the end product is that glucose they’re able to store and utilize and then the oxygen is coming off of the plant. We’re starting with the carbon dioxide. That’s what the plants are taking in and they’re also of course taking the water in from the roots. Then once you have energy from light, then they’re able to convert that into glucose and oxygen.

Chris: It’s weird to me that it’s synthesizing sugar from carbon dioxide and water because I mean, I never studied biochemical reactions I guess, but I don’t think of carbon dioxide and water as reactive, but I guess this is how we talk about plants taking carbon dioxide out of the air. I guess this is reaction where they do it and they make sugar for us to eat and for them to use and oxygen for us to breathe, which is very nice of them. Thank you, plants.

Hallie: Exactly. That’s how it works. Of course, that’s not just how it works and I don’t have time to go all the way into all the intricacies of the photochemical reactions that are happening throughout photosynthesis.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: But I did want to talk about one example of where water comes into play because like you said, you don’t just like take a carbon dioxide molecule and a water molecule and you stick them together and you make sugar. There are a lot more biochemical reactions that have to go into it. I will link in the show notes an incredible comic that is made by a guy called Jay Hosler who’s a great science communicator. I was actually shown this comic when I was first learning about photosynthesis when I was in grad school and really trying to understand every single step of photosynthesis. This comic is like a little ant and a little bee and they jump inside of the plant and they walk you through photosynthesis in the most engaging way.

Chris: That sounds awesome.

Hallie: It’s great. I am going to link it in the show notes. I very strongly recommend anyone who’s interested to go check it out.

Chris: Why haven’t I rewritten something like this? Gosh.

Hallie: [Laughs]. In order to create the sugar and the oxygen you have to have water to be present. The xylem and the phloem are moving that water up and down the plant. How is the water actually used in the reaction of photosynthesis? Here’s one example. Inside of the plant, there are plant cells. Inside of a plant cell there are these things called chloroplasts.

Inside of chloroplasts, there are these little things that look like a stack of pancakes and they’re called thylakoids.

Chris: I like pancakes. That’s a word I’ve never heard before.

Hallie: The thylakoids is actually the thing that absorbs light during the photosynthetic reaction.

Chris: It’s like a little plant solar cell.

Hallie: Kind of like that. The part that actually grabs the light energy are what are called photosystems, which are inside of a single thylakoid. They’re basically clusters of chlorophyll molecules along the thylakoid membrane. There are two photosystems. There’s photosystem one and photosystem two. I’m going to talk just about photosystem two.

Chris: Oh, you’re going to make photosystem one pill all left.

Hallie: Listen, there’s a lot of steps to photosynthesis. It’s extremely complex. I’m amazed that plants do it every single second of the sunshiny day. It’s an amazing, amazing process. I cannot possibly walk through every single part of it because I do not understand it. It is so complex. It is so beautiful. It is so amazing.

Chris: Yet we eat them.

Hallie: I know. We eat them after they’ve made these beautiful sugars with this amazing miraculous process.

Chris: Thank you, plants.

Hallie: Photosystem two. What photosystem two does is it chops a water molecule into two hydrogens and an oxygen and an electron. The oxygen just jumps off and it gets given off as a waste product. It left the picture. Inside of the thylakoid pancake, one of the thylakoids is called a lumen. Inside of that lumen, it’s like the vacuole. It’s the inside part. Inside of that lumen, it’s chock full of hydrogens, which creates what’s called a proton gradient.

Chris: Ah, that’s a word I’ve heard before.

Hallie: What’s that?

Chris: It’s a proton gradient.

Hallie: Correct. Yes.

Chris: I did take a semester of biochemistry. It’s something I remember us talking about and areas of differing charge, basically.

Hallie: Exactly. That’s exactly what it is.

There are several different ways that plants use proton gradients. Here is an example of a proton gradient, but one of the things that they do with all these hydrogens, they have a bunch of them chock-a-block in the lumen. One of the things that they do is once you have 14 of these hydrogens to rub together, there’s an ATP synthase guy who’s able to go in there gets 14 hydrogens together, builds an ATP.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: An ATP is adenosine triphosphate and it’s kind of known as what a lot of people refer to as molecular unit of currency. It’s basically what plants use whenever they need to expend energy. ATP is what’s used in the phloem when they’re trying to move nutrients, glucose, amino acids, all up and down. They have to use those ATPs to get that movement.

Chris: These little energy cell guys build the ATPs from the photosynthesis.

Hallie: Here’s one example. You need ATP in order to eventually build a glucose. Photosystem two has a water molecule chops it into half, gives off the oxygen as just a waste product, goes off, gets hooked up with another two, goes out into the atmosphere, we breathe it in. That’s great. But eventually you get 14 of those hydrogens, right? You’ve got one oxygen, two hydrogens. You go through that a couple of seven times or whatever. You get 14 hydrogens and then you get an ATP. That’s one example of one of the many steps in photosynthesis. It’s not comprehensive. Water is used a lot of other places in photosynthesis, but there’s one example.

Chris: Nice. It’s the miracle of life.

Hallie: The miracle of photosynthetic life. The miracle of it. It’s amazing. I love plants.

Chris: It sounds pretty amazing. I think we’ll need to talk about photosynthesis more in another episode.

Hallie: We can do that. Do you want to do a little summary?

Chris: No. I mean, that was a lot. Plants need water to stay cool and to move nutrients and to make energy and oxygen for us to breathe. Everyone, make sure the plants get water.

Hallie: Water your plants, friends.

Chris: Water your plants, friends and water your plant friends. Plants are friends and food.

[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].

44: Bananas 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 it’s bananas.

[Background music].

Hallie: Bananas, that is what we are discussing.

Chris: Bananas, the fruit.

Hallie: What do you know about bananas, dad?

Chris: I know that bananas are a berry.

Hallie: Do you know that? How?

Chris: You have said so on multiple occasions over the course of this podcast.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Great work to you and me.

Chris: Especially when we were asked, what is a berry? Or rather, what is berry?

Hallie: Yeah, banana is berry.

Chris: I also have been reading a book about bananas, but I haven’t gotten very far. I know there was something about some rich guy forcing people to go into the jungle and build a railroad or something. I don’t know.

Hallie: Yeah, we’ll get to that.

Chris: Great. I’m sure it’s great. Oh, and there’s a place in Belgium where they sort of keep all of the different varieties of bananas. That’s like banana central.

Hallie: Oh, I don’t have that covered in this episode.

Chris: Okay. Well, great. I know something that you don’t.

Hallie: Maybe I can put that in the extra research.

Chris: Maybe, but that’s all I know about it really. I don’t remember exactly where it is or what it’s called, but I think it’s like the center for banana researcher, something. I remember you saying that all bananas are clones. At least all the ones we eat. All the Cavendish bananas.

Hallie: You know the word Cavendish. That’s something you know about bananas.

Chris: I do. I got that from the book.

Hallie: Nice.

Chris: I guess there are still other bananas, but I mean, they’re all going to die because of some blight anyway, so enjoy them while you can.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, good summary. We’re going to get further into all of those things. Let’s start at the very beginning. The banana, the Latin name is Musa and the family name is Musaceae. The family is named after the banana because it’s like the star of the family.

Chris: Wait, how is that named after the banana?

Hallie: The family is Musaceae and the bananas name is Musa. So, Musaceae.

Chris: I see. Okay. Got it.

Hallie: As you mentioned, the banana is a berry. The banana is also the largest herbaceous flowering plant. Herbaceous meaning never develops woody tissue and flowering meaning it has flowers. Typically, they get around 16 feet, but they can get up to 20 to 25 feet tall, so they’re a pretty big plant.

Chris: If it’s a berry, then why do people make cream pie out of it instead of a berry pie out of it?

Hallie: Because you add cream as opposed to a berry pie where you just add sugar.

Chris: I mean, I think a banana pie with sugar and a little pectin might turn out pretty well. What do you think?

Hallie: Well, you don’t put pectin in a berry pie. You just put sugar.

Chris: Oh, I thought you put pectin in it to make it all gloopy.

Hallie: I have never done that. I’ve only ever just added sugar to strawberries and then you just dump it in a pie shell and you cook it.

Chris: Or maybe some tapioca.

Hallie: I have put tapioca in sometimes, but it’s not necessary. I’ve definitely done it sometimes where it’s just sugar and berries and strawberries and blueberries and stuff.

Chris: All right. Well, I derail this into wanting to eat pie. So, you were saying.

Hallie: That’s the basics of the banana, but what actually is the banana?

The “root” of the banana is actually a corm, which is not root tissue, but stem tissue. We’ve talked about corms in the past. It’s modified stem tissue and then the banana “trunk” is not actually a trunk because trunks are woody. As we mentioned already, it’s an herbaceous plant. Never develops woody tissue. The “trunk of the banana tree” is actually what’s called the pseudostem. Pseudostem just means not actually a stem, but looks like a stem and it’s actually made of really tightly compacted leaf tissue.

Chris: Weird. It’s like one big green thing.

Hallie: Well, most plants are, dad.

Chris: But trees are brown in parts of them and I guess, would you call it like a stock? Would it be like a stock?

Hallie: Yeah, stock is totally a fine word, but usually people say trunk just because it’s so big. They’re used to saying trunk for a big thing like that.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Whereas usually I think of stock as like a flower stock or something, but it is in fact more of like a stock.

Chris: But you wouldn’t chop it down and pop it on the fireplace.

Hallie: Absolutely not. It would not go well. The corm itself is a perennial tissue, but the rest of the banana is usually not perennial. When a banana is mature, when it’s an adult banana, usually the corm, the stem tissue under the ground will send up an actual stem, like an actual legitimate stem as well as an inflorescence, meaning a head of flowers. This is also called the banana heart. In the industry, they call it the banana heart, which is lovely. Then usually the above ground structure will die it back, like the whole pseudostem and the leaves and everything. Once you have bananas, you harvest the bananas, the above ground stuff ties back and then you get new growth from that perennial corm that’s under the ground.

Chris: Cool. Sorry, I’m trying to track. I keep rolling with the word corm around in my head because it’s not corn. It’s corm and so I’m trying to make sure that sticks like a big old stock, but when it’s mature, it pops up the stem, it grows the heart and then when that’s done, you get the banana. Banana comes right off. Does it grow another stem?

Hallie: Yeah, once you pop the bananas off, then the above ground stuff is done for the year. It just like skedaddles and dies back to the ground. Then starting the next year, when it’s time for a new banana to grow, it just starts from the ground up, gets like that 16 feet tall and then once it’s nice and tall, you get a new inflorescence that pops up and new banana and year after year, that’s how it goes.

Chris: That is wild. I want to try to find a time lapse of this happening in a field of banana trees. Are they called trees? I don’t know.

Hallie: They are colloquially called trees. They’re not trees, but they’re called a banana tree.

Chris: Just seeing them grow 16 feet every year, that’s wild.

Hallie: Yeah, they’re pretty cool plants. How many bananas are there? There are more than 1000 varieties of bananas in the world that are produced for consumption locally. However, as you mentioned, we really only eat the Cavendish banana. That’s the name of the variety, the Cavendish.

Chris: Are there other varieties just eaten by other people just not by us in other areas of the world? Is that what it is?

Hallie: It’s a lot of like, this is the banana I have next to my house, so this is the banana that I eat. It’s just varieties that are native to different parts of the world and that’s what is locally grown, but it’s not to any commercial production.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: I want you to guess how many Cavendish bananas specifically just Cavendish bananas not the rest of the other 999 varieties, just the Cavendish bananas are grown? For a baseline, we got about 76 million metric tons of apples in 2019 and in oranges, it was about 46.1 million metric tons. If that’s apples and oranges, where do you think bananas falls?

Chris: I’m going to say 1 billion tons.

Hallie: Why would you go that far?

Chris: Because it sounds funnier than just trying to be accurate. I don’t know. We’ll say 200 million tons.

Hallie: 200 million tons when I gave you 76,000,000 and 46,000,000.

Chris: Well, you said 1 billion was like way too high.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s 200 million. Now you’re really like letting me down. I thought it was a high number and you’re like shooting above it. It’s 127.3 million. A lot more than apples and oranges.

Chris: Well, it is a lot more. It’s still within an order of magnitude-ish. Maybe not, but yeah that’s a lot. That’s okay. More than double oranges. One and a half times about apples, so bananas are like super popular.

Hallie: They’re very popular. As of 2015, bananas were the second most produced fruit by quantity not by weight after watermelons.

Chris: Jeez Louise.

Hallie: What is a banana? A banana by any other name would taste as sweet. No, it wouldn’t. I want to talk about the difference between plantains and bananas. What do you know about plantains, dad?

Chris: There’s a restaurant not too far from my house that sells fried plantains and they look a lot like short bananas and they’re delicious.

Hallie: Is that all you got?

Chris: That’s all I got.

Hallie: Okay. Pretty good. A lot of scientists, a lot of banana breeders, marketers argue about what a plantain versus what a banana is. They’re extremely closely related. For our purposes, plantains are much starchier. Plantains are usually cooked, whereas bananas are usually eaten raw. The term is also often bandied about the dessert banana. That’s what we’re talking about. The banana is sweet. It’s a treat. It’s not part of your meal whereas plantains can be.

Chris: It goes well in cereal and ice cream.

Hallie: For sure. In terms of nutritional value, the bananas are generally less healthier for you than a plantain, but they’re still okay. They have like one fifth of your daily nutritional value for vitamin B6. They have 17% of your daily nutritional value for vitamin C.

They have some potassium in them. They’re fine. They’re decent. They’re an okay little fruit, but plantains are much healthier. They have 54% of your daily nutritional value for vitamin C. They have 25% of your daily nutritional value for vitamin B6. They’ve got a whole bunch of good stuff in them and they are healthier, but less sweet. Less desserty.

Chris: Okay. But I mean, if you have some fried plantains, they taste pretty sweet people. I got to tell you.

Hallie: They’re a great food. If you can get your hands on them and you’ve never tried them before, would highly recommend.

Chris: I mean, if I had some right now, I would eat them and take a break.

Hallie: Shall we do that? Shall we go take a break?

Chris: Yes, there is some time between March which we recorded this particular episode in this particular mid roll. In that stretch of time, I had some fried plantains and they were so good. I love them. They’re the best Peruvian roast chicken side that I’ve ever had. That’s for sure.

Hallie: This episode we actually wanted to encourage all of our listeners, particularly those who are US citizens to register to vote. The deadline to register here in Texas is coming up in October, but you can go to youtube.com/howtovoteineverystate to learn more about how to register where you are.

Chris: We are lucky, even though it doesn’t always feel that way to live somewhere where we do have a voice in our representation and so please, let’s use it. Register to vote and then vote. You know who I’m sure votes?

Hallie: Who is that?

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

Hallie: You guys are so incredible. You keep our world spinning and we are so so grateful for you.

Chris: It’s true. But now, back to the episode.

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

Chris: I do. Like in many other cities, there’s a marathon in Barcelona and the fastest marathon ever run by a competitor dressed as a fruit was two hours, 58 minutes and 20 seconds recorded at the Barcelona marathon on March 6th, 2011. His name was Patrick Whiteman from the UK and he was dressed as a banana.

Hallie: God bless Patrick Whiteman.

Chris: Right.

Hallie: Doing some great work in Barcelona.

Chris: Yeah, I looked up a picture of him and it looks like one of those big felts banana costumes and I can’t imagine running 26 miles anyway, but 26 miles in a big old banana costume and you’re already hot and sweaty as it is. Man, that thing had to be rank.

Hallie: Yeah, that’s commitment to breaking a record, but I admire it.

Chris: It’s true. Yes.

Hallie: Great nature fact, dad.

Chris: Thank you. Oh, you got to do the jingle.

Hallie: I was about two. I was just giving you a compliment.

Chris: All right. Well, thank you. I appreciate that. It’s important to be supportive like that.

Hallie: Tara tarara. Nature fact. Okay. Let’s talk about the history of the banana. When I was researching this, I found a lot of conflicting origin stories.

The banana has been around for a really long time and it’s kind of unclear where it originated thousands of years ago.

Chris: Real quick, when we say originated, obviously it’s a plant that has existed, but the banana in its current form was bred by people to have these characteristics.

Hallie: Right. The broader banana plants, not specifically the Cavendish. The broader banana plant, how did that evolve?

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Where did that come from? Where’s that native to? I couldn’t find a lot. I couldn’t find like a specific origin story. I found a paper in the journal of Ethnobotany Research and Applications that said that the reason for this was because it is vegetatively propagated and they talked about like sweet potatoes as another example of this. The banana isn’t leaving a lot of pollen and they are also herbaceous, so they’re not leaving like wood or seeds or nuts for us to look back in the history of soil of a region. Maybe have a fossil record to really see where is this thing evolving. That might be one of the reasons why we don’t have a very specific origin story for the banana plant evolution.

Chris: The tissue is too soft to stick around for too long.


Hallie: That same paper estimated that 87% of banana production globally is for local food consumption, which was citing an article from Biodiversity International. I couldn’t find that article from Biodiversity International, but I think that the point is still totally valid, whether or not that 87% number is still accurate today. It’s a really key crop for subsistence farmers. I’m going to go on and talk about the history of large scale production of bananas, but bananas and plantains specifically these species is really important for subsistence farmers around the world in a lot of the global south. A really important thing to just remember as we go on to talk about the large scale production of banana plants.

Chris: Are you going to talk about why or is it just important to them because it’s such either A, an important cash crop or B, it’s an actual source of nutrition for them?

Hallie: Yeah, that’s a really good question. It’s mostly the latter. It’s quite common to have banana plants nearby a house, but not necessarily in a big field. Bananas are a really difficult crop to market, which we’re going to talk about. They’re quite fragile as opposed to something like yams or rice or a lot of other larger scale crops that you see subsistence farmers being able to market beyond just home consumption. Bananas are not easy in that same way. You need a lot of cold storage. You need a lot of packaging and you really need a developed supply chain, but they are quite nutritious, particularly like the heartier plantain plants are really nutritious and they’re pretty easy to grow most places in the global south. They have been in a lot of the global south for a really long time. They’ve been in South America and Latin America. They’ve been in Africa and they’ve been in Southern Asia for a long time, so it’s something that’s common in cultural recipes. It’s often just like nearby the house.

You’re able to mash it up or include it in some dish, but it’s mostly for home consumption.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Let’s talk about the history of bananas in not the global south, in Europe and the US. Up until we had wider spread refrigeration, it was just pretty much a luxury food in the US and Europe and this is true for a lot of these perishable crops. If you couldn’t get them on a ship across the ocean, then only the Richie Rich’s could really afford to get them.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Around the turn of the century, you had two companies, Standard Fruit and United Fruit that took over large swaths of land in Central and South America and very quickly ramped up production and built demand in the US. They were really building demand once that refrigeration technology existed really introducing this fruit that nobody had any idea what it was, how to eat it and really making that demand from basically nothing. This is where that story you were talking about the guy with the railroad track came in. There was this guy Minor C Keith, he ended up being the CEO of United Fruit, which is one of these two large companies and he was from Brooklyn, moved down to Costa Rica to help out with his uncle’s railroad project, ended up planting a lot of bananas or having his workers plant, I should say bananas while he was doing this railroad project and found out that the railroad he was building was not terribly profitable.

But was building this demand to be able to sell these bananas back in the US and now he had this newly built railroad for extremely cheap and was basically exploiting the Costa Rican government to control large areas of land around his railroad. It became really easy for him to continue to exploit the workers he was already employing to build that railroad. Once the railroad was built to produce a lot of bananas and then he had this really cheap railroad that was already built, getting them back up to the US. I got really down a rabbit hole with a lot of this history. It’s very intense and I don’t think I have time to go super in-depth with all of the stories and all of the histories on this. I’m going to put more info on the Patreon under the extra research. If you want to learn more, you can go there. But I do think it’s important to talk about this history. Bananas got very cheap in the US and to this day, they’re a pretty cheap fruit. That means that production costs are really, really cheap, right? If you have a cheap fruit, then you have to have cheaper production costs. The way that these companies Standard Fruit and United Fruit achieved this is they had a very tight control on these foreign governments and the land within them. It basically became what I saw described as like a neo feudal system where a handful of very powerful companies, exploited Central American countries and Central American laborers and also benefited from government grants and tax breaks while all the time denying their Central American workforce, a living wage or basic rights. This is where the term banana republic comes from. These companies were granted huge amounts of land in Central America. Some of it was “bought”, but a lot of it was not and these land grants were tax breaks or government grants in exchange for building privately owned infrastructure like roads that was meant to benefit the very communities that they were actually exploiting. Eventually, there became a lot of organized labor protests around these poor working conditions.

Companies used extreme force using either private militia forces that the national military of those countries or in some specific cases, actual US forces under the guise of combating communism to fight these labor protests and basically punish, kill, assault the labor forces that were striking and the people that were striking and protesting in solidarity with them. There’s a lot more information about the history of US involvement in Central America under the guise of anticommunist propaganda that looking with a historical view seems extremely, extremely linked to United Fruit and Standard Fruits interests. I saw this really good quote from Dan Koppel. It was an interview with Dan Koppel.

Chris: That’s the guy that wrote the book I’m reading.

Hallie: Exactly. Yeah, he wrote the book Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. In this interview he said, “The banana is an impossible export fruit. It’s fragile. It ripens quickly. It gets rotten fast and the way to do it is to make it so cheap that your money is made on volume.” They were trying to just produce as many bananas as possible at a cheaper cost as possible in order to get any return back and they got millions and millions of dollars in profits, but that was all made at the cost of these people’s lives and their dignity and their human rights.

Chris: I assume we’re going to get to sort of the current state of the banana. Okay. Then I’ll hold my questions until we get to that point.

Hallie: I know that was like a big dump. I told you I really went into research.

This took me like three times as long as it usually takes me to research an episode about this because I really wanted to do it justice while also trying to keep it within the scope of the episode and the time that we have here today.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: In the 1900s, the US ended up bringing multiple antitrust lawsuits against Standard Fruit and United Fruit company, so we did end up seeing changes both from those lawsuits, that litigation, as well as from the labor movement from Central America. Eventually, I think it was closer to the fifties and sixties. I might have my dates wrong there, but the companies ended up changing their names and Standard Fruit became Dole and United Fruit became Chiquita. Today in the 2010s, this is 2013 numbers. Five companies own 44% of the banana industry down from 70% in 2002. A lot of this was because of the movement that was started really in the eighties for multinational companies to divest landholdings in Central America for bananas and replace company production with independently produced bananas.

Chris: So larger companies are instead of producing the bananas themselves, they’re buying from local people who produce the bananas.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: Okay. That was kind of, I guess, leading into my questions as the banana is still, like you said, very, very cheap. Therefore, methods of production must still be very, very cheap.

Have labor conditions and such things improved?

Hallie: One of the tricky things about having more independent production, which don’t get me wrong is a good thing. You do also have a harder time having generalized statements, right? Because it’s not five companies that are producing all of the world’s bananas. Yes, largely speaking, there are improvements in labor conditions that is not universally true across the board. A lot of the changes we’ve seen are in like technological changes, particularly in post-harvest technology. It’s easier to transport bananas without them going bad as fast. Here’s the thing. We have talked about the Cavendish banana. The bananas that we were just talking about in the last segment about the 1900s was not the Cavendish banana.

Chris: Right.

Hallie: What?

Chris: I knew that, sorry.

Hallie: Oh, you did.

[Laughter].

Chris: I’m not shocked. Yeah, I think I got this from the book.

There’s sort of speculation on what are grandparents and great grandparents tasted when they tasted a banana at the turn of the century and in the early 1900s.

Hallie: Right. The banana that was grown in the first half of the 1900s was the Gros Michel. This was very similar to the Cavendish in a lot of ways. It was seedless. It grew via clones. However, in 1903, a strain of fusarium wilt called Panama disease first appeared and started taking out these Gros Michel plants like crazy.

Chris: That’s what? A fungus?

Hallie: It’s like a fungus. It is indeed like a fungus. It’s not just like a fungus. It is a fungus. By 1960, the Gros Michel was commercially extinct. Like you said, we don’t really know. There’s not a lot of people who tasted this plant because by the 1940s, it was very hard to find. It was much less common to see bananas and it wasn’t really until like onto the seventies, when we started to see bananas becoming more common. There was not really a lot of comparisons ever. You didn’t ever have the Gros Michel and the Cavendish in the same room at the same time where you could say, here are the differences between these two bananas. There’s a lot of speculation on what is different between these two bananas. The companies, particularly Dole, once it started to see Panama disease pop up and become an issue, started investing a lot of time in searching around for commercially viable bananas. The thing about bananas is that because for thousands of years, people have been selecting against seeds in bananas, right? Nobody wants seeds and bananas, even us and nobody has for thousands of years. It’s actually really difficult to get a seeded banana and that means it’s really difficult to breed bananas.

Basically, what these companies were doing was just traversing the globe and examining all the bananas and trying to categorize them and see if they were marketable, if they were tasty, if they were easy to ship, if they had that lovely, long yellow look of what we expect now from a banana, and if they were resistant to Panama disease. Eventually, they found the Cavendish.

Chris: Wow. I thought the sort of long, vague, skinny brown bits in the middle were banana seeds only just couldn’t really tell that they were seeds because they were squishy like the rest of the fruit, did someone lie to me? Were they wrong? Have all the bananas that I’ve been eating been seedless?

Hallie: Yeah, bananas are essentially seedless. None of those seeds that we actually eat in the bananas are viable ever.

Chris: I see.

Hallie: Those are basically the relics of what were once seeds and the great, great grandfather of a banana.

Chris: Okay. Wow.

Hallie: Once upon a time, the banana had a seed and now these itsy bitsy little tiny seeds are what we have. It’s the same thing like if you eat a seedless grape, and there’s like those little tiny guys in there, they’re not hard and crunchy and they’re really, really small.

You can’t plant a great plant with it, but it’s what the seeds once were.

Chris: You can’t plant a banana tree with the banana.

Hallie: Yeah, they’re all clones. They’re all vegetatively produced.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: That’s been the case for thousands of years, so it’s hard to breed bananas because how we breed plants is we cross-pollinate and cross-pollinate and cross-pollinate and eventually something new pops out. We can’t do that with bananas. Eventually, they found the Cavendish. It was more fragile than Gros Michel actually. There are videos of people having big bunches of Gros Michel bananas and just throwing them onto a ship. We can’t do that with the Cavendish. You got to put it in a box, you got to put the box on the ship. Otherwise, they get all bruised and brown and consumers are not so interested, but for a long time it was good. Life was good. We had a banana that we liked and everything was looking up for these banana companies.

Chris: For a long time you say.

Hallie: For a long time until the 1980s. So really for like 20-ish years.

Chris: I feel like there were so many good things that changed for the worse in the 1980s, but that’s a whole other podcast.

Hallie: [Laughs]. In the 1980s, Panama disease reappeared. It was very similar to the first Panama disease, but it was a different strand kind of like different strands of flu viruses.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: This second fungus strand, the second disease strand arrived and started to affect Cavendish bananas.

Chris: The bananas got their own pandemic.

Hallie: Pretty much. Not to be a downer. I told you guys we wouldn’t talk anymore about the P word or the C word.

Chris: Oh, sorry.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, basically. We saw a lot of bananas being wiped out in Southern Asia that were Cavendish bananas. We don’t have it yet in the Americas. It hasn’t gotten here yet. Just by luck of the draw.

Chris: I read the only place in the US that bananas were grown was Hawaii.

Hallie: No, I mean the Americas, not just the USA, Central America and Columbia.

Chris: There is my ethnocentrism coming out right there, but okay. The whole Western hemisphere basically.

Hallie: The fungus will arrive at some point. If the world has learned anything about epidemiology in the last six months, it’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when. One day the Panama disease will reach Central America and it will basically wipe out every last Cavendish banana, and it will happen very quickly.

Chris: Okay. What do we do then? We just don’t have any more banana splits.

Hallie: I saw this good quote in an interview with Alan Brown Ballana, I think is how you say his last name. He’s a biologist with the Institute of Tropical Agriculture. He said they dodged a bullet in the 1950s by identifying Cavendish. I think if there was something out there they would have found it by now. These companies didn’t stop looking. When they found Cavendish, they were like, just in case we better find something else. Or like, what if we find something else that’s easier to grow or like sweeter and easier to sell?

Chris: But they just haven’t found it yet.

Hallie: They haven’t found it yet. Which means it probably doesn’t exist. Also, if they did find something, the banana supply chain is built custom for the Cavendish. Every single banana is genetically identical, meaning it’s almost identical. They look almost exactly the same.

The only thing that changes between bananas is where they’re grown, how they’re grown, what the temperature is. Bananas are the same size. Bananas are the same shape. Bananas need exactly the same temperature, the exact same gas mixture. The whole supply chain is built specifically for the Cavendish. Even if they did find another banana, it would not be easy to just like whoop, okay, we’ll just add this banana into our whole process. We would have to completely restructure the supply chain, so that would be a huge lift. Like we talked about earlier, resistance can’t really be bred, right? Because we’ve got no seeds to breed. There is one hope and it is a GMO banana.

Chris: Oh boy.

Hallie: There are some GMO bananas. There is still work being done on a GMO banana because we are just waiting for the rest of the Cavendish bananas to go extinct. Not the banana plant to be clear. The banana as a species will on, but the Cavendish banana, which is marketable will die off at some point. It could happen tomorrow. We don’t know when it will happen. So there is work being done on a GMO banana, but at some point in the future, there will be no banana for you to buy at the grocery store other than a GMO banana.

Chris: The banana, as we know it is I guess basically doomed. It’s just a matter of time, so enjoy him while you can. If you want viable, healthy crops for a very long time, don’t base your entire economic structure on clones.

Hallie: Last quote. It’s a three quote episode. This quote from Randy Plots, who’s a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida.

I don’t know if he meant for it to be a little poem, but when he said it, it rhymed and I love it. His little poem quote was once the pathogen is established, that’s all she wrote for Cavendish.

Chris: Also, there’s a guy named Ballana that studies the banana.

Hallie: [Laughs].

[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].

43: USDA COVID-19 Relief Programs 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 focus on an area of agriculture or food production to discuss. This week we are discussing USDA COVID-19 relief programs.

[Background music].

Chris: Oh yeah. That was a mouthful.

Hallie: It is a bit of a mouthful. I wanted to take some time to discuss some of the United States Department of Agriculture programs that have come out to wrap up our last conversation in the previous episode about COVID-19 and the supply chains because in that we alluded to how expensive is it really to have a supply chain that’s so vulnerable. I really wanted to talk about some numbers and look at what the federal government has had to do and tried to implement in order to make up for the fact that the supply chains were just so fragile.

Chris: Last time, I made comments when you would talk about shorter supply lines and more localized food systems, my brain went to that sounds like my food getting more expensive and then you came back with, well, actually when we have to deal with large supply line failures, then we have these programs that you’re talking about and it can be much more expensive in the long run.

Hallie: Exactly. Yeah, let’s talk about it. I wanted to start off by saying, I am not really going to be talking about SNAP or any food assistance. There is a lot happening in terms of food assistance from the USDA. I am mostly just going to be focusing on farmer focused programs. We’re going to talk a little bit about some food bank stuff, but there is a lot going on with SNAP right now. If you want more info on that, I think that’s what the extra research on Patreon is going to be about. It’s wild you all.

Chris: Okay. Farms are eligible for the PPP. For me and the listener at home, will you please define what PPP stands for?

Hallie: Yeah, farms are eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program. They’re also mostly now eligible for EIDL, which is also called EIDL, both of these programs became available in March for all companies generally. Mostly it was focused on small businesses and it was focused on economic relief. However, they were first come first serve. When EIDL first came out, I’m pretty sure like farmers were not eligible for it and there was a big stink and then Congress had to move super-fast to change the statute so that farms were eligible for it. But this is just something that pretty much every small business in America is and was eligible for. I think at this point, PPP has been depleted and they’re looking at adding more PPP into the next federal aid package. But this is something that I have not factored into when we’re talking about total amounts of money, but is like a huge factor. A lot of farms did get this money.

Chris: If Old McDonald had a farm, he could get EIDL?

Hallie: Yeah, [laughs]. That’s a pretty funny joke dad.

Chris: Thank you. Thank you very much. What is EIDL?

Hallie: EIDL is the economic something disaster loan.

Chris: Okay. All right.

Hallie: I don’t know what the I stands for.

Chris: We’ve got the Paper Paycheck Protection service in a disaster loan.

Hallie: Yeah, then you didn’t have to repay the loan. Not much of a loan. More of a grant.

Chris: Nice.

Hallie: In late May, USDA’s farm service agency announced that they would now allow farmers with existing farm service agency loans to essentially defer their payments for up to a year and they’re talking about extending that period. Farm service agency, this is super huge because this is where the majority of lending comes from as farm service agency and farm service agency backed loans for farmers. A big deal, not specifically granted money or anything like that, but it is like a relief action.

Chris: Okay. The farm service agency loan, that’s a different kind of loan than the EIDL.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: The PPP program I don’t even think that is a loan, is it? The farm service agency loan, that’s like a normal loan that farmers would get in a normal year.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s like existing loans. If back in January you took some money out and you borrowed it against farm service agency, and then you don’t have to pay that back for up to a year if not longer.

Chris: My brain goes to the same place it does when I hear things about rent deferment and other such programs where, but you still have to pay it back.

Hallie: Right. Eventually they will be having to pay it back, but it’s good that they’re deferring payments. That’s super good. The CARES act, which passed in April had about $850 million for food bank costs and at least 600 million of that had to be explicitly for food purchasing. You had some money in there for food banks that needed administrative assistance or added labor or something like that. But $600 million was earmarked just for food purchasing for emergency food relief.

Chris: Oh, very cool. Okay.

Hallie: Next, I wanted to talk about late April a $300 billion program that was passed by Congress called the Farm to Families Food Box Program.

Chris: We’re just going program month by month at this point.

Hallie: I’m pretty much going chronologically. I mean, I started off with just generally, but now I’m kind of getting into month to month.

Chris: Yeah, in the world of COVID this is not something that would normally happen, right? We don’t usually have new programs each month that handle this sort of thing. This is a unique situation.

Hallie: [Laughs]. This Farm to Families Food Box Program was extremely unique. I actually sat in on I think on the first webinar announcing this program. Initially the idea for this program, they called it truck to trunk.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: The idea was that you were getting food from farms off of the truck and then getting it directly to nonprofits providing emergency crisis relief. In order to get this funding, mostly they were giving this money to like aggregators and distributors, middlemen. Some larger farmers got it.

42: COVID-19 and the Food Supply Transcript

Article Hallie wrote about this topic: COVID-19 and the US Food Supply Chain: What Happened?

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. This episode we’re focusing on how COVID-19 has affected the food supply chains and it’s a mess.

[Background music].

Hallie: This episode is going to be a little bit different. I wrote an article for work and I found it really interesting. It was about this same topic and I just had so much more that I wasn’t able to fit into the article that I wanted to say and talk about and cover and I just wanted to go a little bit more in-depth and I wanted to talk about it with you dad. If you want to see the article I wrote on this topic, we’re going to link it in the description of this episode. But it covers a lot of the same material. The episode is going to go a little bit more in-depth and cover some of the stuff that I wasn’t able to include in the actual article itself. But that’s where the inspiration for this episode came from.

Chris: Yeah, I’m looking over some of this stuff. It seems to really underscore the idea that we’ve touched on before. This disconnect between the agriculture world and the non-agriculture world and people just really having no idea where their food comes from.


Hallie: I think that because of the pandemic and because of a lot of the headlines that we saw in the news and images that came out of supply chains really breaking down in March through until about June. I think a lot of people are really thinking about supply chains in a way that they haven’t really before and what it means to have a food system and a food supply. I wanted to talk through three different case studies and really look at what went wrong, where the weak points are, and then talk through what some of the changes might be that we see in the future and how we can build from this point seeing the ways that the failures of the system have been laid bare by this pandemic.

Chris: Okay. Where do we start?

Hallie: I wanted to start with swine. Swine is by far the most intense of the three case studies that we’re going to be talking about, so I wanted to go ahead and jump right in.

Chris: Just to be sure, we’re talking about pigs, not unruly people.

Hallie: Yes, pork. The key weak points in both pork as well as poultry, we’re a meat processing plants. Meat processing in general is very consolidated. Within the pork industry, it’s dominated by three huge corporations, which is Tyson, Smithfield and JBS. These three corporations own almost all of the meat processing in the entire country. Within one of the facilities of these three companies, daily, you can have up to a thousand employees come through to work on this meat and to process it and pack it. In the last 30 years, the US agriculture industry and US food has undergone massive corporate consolidation across the board. Pork is not an exception to this. This happened during the Reagan administration when the executive branch rewrote the rules of antitrust enforcement that put the first focus on consumers and not hurting the consumer. This originally was not part of any antitrust regulation. Antitrust laws are to regulate the concentration of economic power and then the Reagan administration, these regulations were rewritten to say, okay, you can concentrate economic power as long as prices don’t go up, so the consumer’s not being hurt. That’s how we saw this huge corporate consolidation in the agriculture industry, but also in other industries.

Chris: It sounds like one of those things that’s supposed to be pragmatic, but has unintended consequences or maybe they were intended and it was just all a smokescreen for some lobbying groups. I don’t know.

Hallie: Yeah, maybe it was intended for the wealthy elite to take advantage of small businesses and monopolize industries, maybe. Who can say? Probably though.

Chris: Probably.

Hallie: Pork is extremely consolidated. It’s mostly owned by these three companies. Often these days, farmers don’t actually own their swine that they raise. Their incident is called vertically integrated. A lot of farms are in this vertically integrated model. That basically means that they own the farm, but they don’t own the actual product that they’re raising, whether it’s grain or swine. The corporation actually owns the swine and can dictate to the farmer what pigs they raise, how they raise them and then when, and how much they’re sold for.

Chris: This is bonkers to me. Basically, I guess a farm is like a contractor almost.

Hallie: Yeah, basically the farm is the contractor, so they are actually doing the work to raise the pigs. But because it’s so consolidated and these systems are so rigid. It really is like down to the day of how long you graze a pig for and then it goes to slaughter and then it goes out for sale in order to maximize profit. When that system breaks, then it becomes really, really difficult for it to function. It basically makes it impossible for it to continue to function. In March and April, processing facilities began to close as infections of employees spread, which left farmers with pigs that were not able to be sold and grocery stores had much less pork on the shelves because these processing plants were no longer able to process the pigs.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: What ended up happening was hundreds of thousands of hogs were depopulated.

Chris: That sounds like the worst euphemism I’ve ever heard.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, basically these farms had no more space, right?

Chris: Oh, man.

Hallie: Because they had piglets that they had to raise up as the next generation.

These full grown hogs were supposed to go off to processing, but the processing plants were closed because workers were getting infected and so the hogs were basically just slaughtered and then buried basically in a mass grave. On April 26th, Tyson Foods, which is one of these three mega giants actually took out a full page advertisement. I’ve never heard of anything like this. They took out a full page advertisement in the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and stated explicitly that the American food supply chain is breaking.

Chris: Are they trying to, as it were, save their own bacon or are they just sort of aware of? I don’t understand why they’re doing that since they’re the ones in control of the supply chain and it sounds like missing, hey guys, it’s broken.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: Aren’t they the ones who broke it kind of?

Hallie: They’re the ones who built it in a way that it was extremely fragile.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: State governments were forcing these processing plants to shut down because of COVID-19 as a risk for employees and a risk to spread.

Then in late April, the president with very significant input from the meat processing executives signed an executive order that basically removed liability from meat processors when they forced employees to continue working despite the risk of infection.

Chris: The food system is breaking, but our solution is just to have people come in and work anyway, regardless of the health conditions.

Hallie: Right. The solution is to ensure that corporations can still turn a profit regardless of whether or not that puts people’s lives at risk.

Chris: I’m shocked I say.

Hallie: Yeah, the pork supply system and the processing system was so consolidated into a few massive plants that when those facilities closed, it shut down the entire supply chain and it basically acted as a kink in a hose where it was just building up pressure on one end. But it is making it impossible for any of these resources to flow through and actually get to groceries, so you ended up with no pork at the grocery stores and you ended up with people having to put their lives at risk to alleviate this pressure of hogs being slaughtered and of corporations losing profits.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: That’s swine. That’s what happened with swine.

Chris: It sounds like capitalism is doing its job.

Hallie: What do you mean?

Chris: Capitalism is doing it’s job in keeping the corporation going.

Hallie: But part of the key thing with this is that it’s not about capitalism solely. It’s about the policies and the political interference that allow this system to manipulate its workers and take advantage of farmers.

Chris: Got it. Okay.

Hallie: Do you want to move on to milk?

Chris: Oh boy. Do I ever?

Hallie: One of the biggest images related to agriculture and supply chains failing that happened after the pandemic was this image of farmers dumping milk. Did you see any of these?

Chris: No, are there actual pictures of this? This isn’t actually something that I heard about.

Hallie: Yeah, there were pictures.

Actually, in a lot of newspapers that were just showing basically pipes of fresh milk that were just going out onto a field or into a ditch from a dairy facility.

Chris: Now I have all sorts of questions. Is this good for the soil? I don’t know.

Hallie: [Laughs]. It’s probably not great for the soil.

Chris: Probably not great for the soil, but it’s benefiting someone. I don’t know. I don’t understand. This is like the swine being depopulated, I assume.

Hallie: Yeah, the difference with milk is that the constricting force was markets, not the processing ability.

Chris: It’s just people not buying milk.

Hallie: People don’t buy milk anymore. People don’t buy dairy milk anymore. The largest consumer of fluid milk in the US is school cafeterias and when schools shut down, they weren’t able to buy milk. Also, we as Americans eat a lot more dairy, including like yogurt, milkshakes, cheese, whatever while we’re eating out versus when we’re eating at home.

Chris: I do like to get milkshake.

Hallie: Right. But it’s not like you’re going to make a milkshake at home.

Dairy cows usually have to be milked about twice a day and if they’re not milked that often, then they can get sick. We had this market that was based on leaving the house and leaving the home. If you can’t sell this milk, then you just have to dump it because otherwise your cows are going to get sick. The real question around dairy is who is going to be able to continue to dump milk and who will be able to stick around next year and what is the dairy landscape going to look like after this?

Chris: Wait, if cows don’t get milked, they get sick?

Hallie: Yeah, I mean, the same thing is true with people, with all mammals. If you have milk building up and it’s not coming out then it can lead to an infection. It can be painful. It’s not comfortable.

Chris: I mean, now I wonder what they did before milking machines.

Hallie: The cows were milked much less frequently.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Dairy cows these days are bread and conditioned to produce as much milk as possible. They’re fed a lot more. They drink a lot more water and you really have to strictly control the hormones of the cow in order to continue it making milk. If you stop milking a cow then it’s going to think that it doesn’t need to produce more milk and it can dry up, right?

Because cows, as well as all mammals produce milk for their offspring. You get a cow pregnant, it starts producing milk, and then you have to just continue milking it. Otherwise, those systems within the cow are going to dry up. It’s not going to want to produce milk anymore.

Chris: Dairy industry is so weird.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s intense.

Chris: Okay. It’s funny because since the cow isn’t killed to produce a gallon of milk where as it is to produce a hamburger maybe most people don’t think of milk production as some sort of exploitation and that’s a whole different conversation, I guess. Is it even exploitation? I don’t know. But the process just sounds like you said, intense.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s extremely intensive. I personally don’t know a lot about dairy. I studied horticulture which does not include dairies, but what’s clear between poultry, swine and dairy is that the systems are so rigid that when there is any force put upon them, then they break. There is no resilience. There’s no redundancy. There is nowhere that we can store milk or send milk if it’s not being purchased and there’s no safety net to ensure that farms can continue to operate and we’ll talk about this, hopefully in a future episode, other than federal interference, basically federal subsidies.

Chris: There’s no way to get gallons upon gallons of surplus milk to people who could probably use it.

Hallie: Right. Again, I think we’ll talk about this in the next episode, but the USDA did try a program that did that, but we just have a system that is so rigid. Our food system is so rigid. It is so difficult to move supply from one place to another. That program was really, really hard to implement and this actually happened in swine. There was a really large amount of swine in storage and frozen and prepared to go to restaurants that was basically impossible to actually get to grocery markets. We saw grocery stores with a swine shortage when we knew that we had this surplus of swine meat, but because it was prepared for restaurants and it was in the restaurant supply chain, not the grocery supply chain, it was not able to get moved over to the retail chain.

Chris: Yeah, that’s just so weird.

Hallie: It’s very weird. It’s kind of contradictory. It feels wrong that this is how it’s set up, but it’s set up this way to maximize corporate efficiency.

Chris: Next up is potatoes. Why you got to go hate down on little old potatoes?

Hallie: I wanted to include something that was related to horticulture that was a fruit or a vegetable. The LA Times had a really great article talking about potatoes and so that was my jumping off point and then I went and I did a lot more research based on that article. There’s no good time to have a global pandemic. Don’t get me wrong. But when the pandemic hit the US, the timing was really, really difficult because it was right after spring harvest, so harvesting the fall crops and right before spring planting, so planting summer crops.

That’s a really, really difficult time to have any kind of disruption or constriction in the economic market. Here’s how potatoes work. Usually, potatoes are planted in early spring and then they’re harvested in fall, but they are very starchy so they can be stored for months. Farmers or middlemen aggregators store huge amounts of potatoes in post-harvest storage facilities and they basically fill them up in the fall and sell them throughout the years. Potatoes last a super long time. This usually isn’t an issue and they basically just sell them throughout the year, so you don’t ever really have like a glut of potatoes and you’re able to stabilize the price which is great.

Chris: Can we do a whole episode on potatoes one day?

Hallie: Absolutely, we can.

Chris: Love it.

Hallie: With potatoes, you did not have a kink in processing. It wasn’t an issue with processing. You didn’t need to dump unsold product immediately.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: But what we saw in potatoes was a hugely deflated market. Prices plummeted and millions of pounds of potatoes weren’t sold when they were expected and they continue to go unsold. Where they’re currently in storage, they can’t stay there forever. We’re not going to see a potato shortage this year like we did with swine, but farmers are losing money every day.

They have unsold potatoes in a storage facility. The real question is who is going to be able to plant potatoes next year? According to industry journals, 2020 is going to be the second lowest planted acreage of potatoes in the last 20 years. This is not just unique to potatoes. We’re seeing this with many horticultural crops because the pandemic came at this really difficult time where people didn’t want to start planting because there was all this economic uncertainty. We’re going to see lower supply and higher prices next year as well.

Chris: The potatoes that we have in storage right now can’t necessarily last until next year.

Hallie: Right. Exactly. They can’t last until next year. Similar to what we were talking about with swine, most of these potatoes were destined for McDonald’s or other restaurants.

Chris: Why?

Hallie: They were going to be French fries. They were going to be baked potatoes. They were going to be waffle fries. We can’t just divert these into grocery markets the same way. Not just because people don’t eat potatoes at home the same way, but also because these supply chains, these funnels, these hoses can’t be moved easily. It’s really hard to get food that was supposed to go to a restaurant into a retail market.

Chris: That boggles my mind. You know what I do when my mind is boggled.

Hallie: What do you do?

Chris: I take a break.

Hallie: Here we go.

[Background music].

Hallie: I am so excited to welcome Stephen and Paul new patrons to our wonderful patron family.

Chris: Hey, you all. Thank you so much for joining and thank you to our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick, and Shianne.

Hallie: You guys are so fantastic and we couldn’t do without you. Thank you so much for your support.

Chris: Thank you all. Thank you Stephen and Paul.

Hallie: Listener, the other thing I wanted to tell you about today is a fundraiser that we are currently running as One to Grow On. We actually announced it over Instagram and then almost immediately met our goal. It was crazy fast. I’m so excited. But it’s a really, really good cause and even though we met our goal feel free to continue to donate. I want to encourage anyone who can to donate. I know it’s a crazy time, but it’s a good cause.

We are currently raising money for the Gullah Geechee Land & Legacy Trust. The Gullah Geechee are people. They descended from West African slaves and live over on the Eastern part of the US punted from the Carolinas down South towards Georgia and Florida. This land in legacy trust is really focused on black land ownership and preserving traditional knowledge ways from enslaved Africans on how to care for land and tending land and farming. It’s an amazing, amazing project. This trust is not only going to be going towards black land ownership efforts, but it’s working to ensure that the Gullah Geechee can continue to manage their land with sovereignty and to protect their own cultural heritage. If you want, please at least learn more about this amazing cause and the amazing work that these folks are doing to preserve this really, really important heritage and culture that is a huge part of what makes the South so special and so important to hold onto these cultural ties and this amazing work being done by black farmers and black folks in the South.

Chris: Thank you so much to everyone who already donated. It’s very much appreciated.

Hallie: Yes, we were able to match as a podcast up to a hundred dollars and we got $240 donated so far. I’m so, so eternally grateful to everyone who contributed. Please go learn more about the cause and what they’re working for and what they’re fighting for and if you can, donate. They are currently about $2,000 short of their final goal for this upcoming week I believe. Yeah, that’s all we wanted to talk to you about. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: Yeah, it’s actually pretty sort of straightforward and boring this week, but I thought it was really interesting, was it? The average cow produces an average of 6.3 gallons of milk per day.

Hallie: That’s a lot of milk.

Chris: It is a lot of milk and you think about all the people we have. It’s hard to imagine that that much actually gets consumed, but obviously there’s more uses for it than just drinking it. But also, do you ever wonder who the first human was that sort of sat and watched a calf nursing and just kind of went, hey, I want to do that?

Hallie: I could get in there.

[Laughter].

Chris: Maybe that’ll be good for me and my baby.

Hallie: No, I have not thought about that and now I am only thinking about that.

Chris: Sorry. I mean, harvesting breast milk from cows is one of humanity’s quirky or innovations in my opinion.

Hallie: It’s a weird thing we do.

Chris: It is. Although I have enjoyed it with cookies. I don’t feel I can comment too much on it, but you think about it and like, huh, that’s kind of weird.

Hallie: Those are the three supply chains that I wanted to talk about. I wanted to spend the last half of the episode to talk about the idea of fragility versus resiliency in food systems and in supply chains. It’s important to remember that with a changing climate and undoubtedly more global public health crises on the horizon, this is not going to be the last thing that puts stress on our food system. This pandemic COVID-19 has really laid bare the cracks of this food system and it’s also really shown what the stakes are. It’s important to discuss that. It’s important to talk about equity and justice in this context, because who is at risk now, who is greater at risk? It’s people who have already been marginalized. These poor black and brown folks are putting their lives on the line to bring us food. People’s lives have been lost because of these decisions and because of the system. Folks who have already been marginalized are put at risk by fragile systems including food insecurity. The World Bank estimated that 265 million people could face acute food insecurity by the end of 2020. The original prediction was 135 million before the crisis, so that’s a difference of 130 million folks that are being put at risk specifically because of this food system and because of this crisis. It’s not like there’s not going to be another crisis to push on this food system again if we don’t make changes.

Chris: Regardless of the difference. That’s a lot of people.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s a lot of people and it’s really clear to see what this pandemic has really laid bare is that it’s folks who are marginalized, who are put greater at risk when you have a system that is so fragile like this.

Chris: I feel like that’s another recurring theme is we’re always talking about marginalized people and how they are the most vulnerable.

Hallie: Yeah, you know why? Because it’s true and important and we need to continue to talk about it. What is the alternative? What does it look like to have a resilient supply chain? Within my sphere of agriculture, we talk about this idea a lot of resiliency, a resilient food system. This idea of resiliency actually comes from ecological theory and it’s been adapted for use in industries because the lack of resiliency can be really expensive, which we have seen both in the spring when the pandemic hit. Also, it has been proven by science that if you have a fragile system then it is more expensive in the long run. The ecological definition of resiliency is defined as one, the ability to resist disruption and two, the ability to recover from disruption. This definition has been kind of tweaked to apply specifically to food systems by the UK Global Food Security Program, where they had a three pronged approach instead of two. One, the robustness of the system, the ability of the food system to resist disruptions, to desired outcomes. Two, recovery of the food system, the ability of the food system to return to desired outcomes, following the disruption, and then three reorientation, the ability of food system actors to accept alternative outcomes following a disruption. The ability to innovate and change.

Chris: That sounds like a lot.

Hallie: It is a lot when you think about it abstractly. But when you think about it specifically, what does it really specifically mean to be able to resist disruptions of a system, then you start to get into really specific answers. One of the answers is shorter supply chains. The shorter your supply chain, the easier it is to resist a disruption and that’s because if you have a person coming to a person and delivering food, if there is something that happens, then there are many fewer people that are at risk, there are many fewer chains that are at risk of breaking. Does that make sense?

Chris: It does. I mean, it’s probably not impervious to every possible disaster, but I can see how it would be like you’re saying more resilient where if you have one link in the chain that breaks, then you don’t have anything that can fix it. Whereas if you have a lot of little links, then one of them breaks, you’ve got all of these other links that can sort of make up the difference.

Hallie: Right. Exactly. It’s kind of the idea of having one really, really long chain versus having 40 small chains. What’s going to be stronger? Also, what’s going to be more resilient? What’s going to be able to resist change better?

Chris: I almost feel another internet typology analogy coming on.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Within that point of shorter supply chains is the idea of localizing food systems. Being able to really build systems that are specific to a locality and that rely on the resources of a specific region.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: This is really important in understanding how to shorten supply chains because as you get more and more local, you’re able to shrink those amount of links in the chain.

Chris: All right. I don’t know if we’re there yet or not, but when I hear things like shorter supply chains and localizing food systems, I also hear, oh, my food could get more expensive.

Hallie: No, that’s super important to talk about because it’s true. The reason that food is so inexpensive now is because the deciding factor for how our system is built is price. How can corporations make the most money? The answer to that is being able to have the lowest price on the market. Yes, food is going to become more expensive if we choose to make these changes. However, having a disaster within our food system is more expensive than paying a few more dollars every time you go grocery shopping, right? When we think about the millions of dollars, almost till the billions of dollars at this point that have been going to fix the food system in the ways that it broke to bail out farmers and to bail out corporations and to provide emergency food assistance, that’s where we have to really think about what the actual price is.

Hallie: When we talk about having more expensive groceries, we need to talk more holistically about what it is to be food insecure and how to provide food assistance to ensure that it is a human right and that everyone has access to it. But we also have to think about if you have the means to, how can you build a more resilient system?

How can you get to that point where it doesn’t break again and we don’t have to put people at risk?

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: That’s the first one. It’s shorter supply chains. Another one is less consolidation. There are a lot of ways that people are working towards this. One that’s currently happening. If you want to call your senator about this. It’s the PRIME Act which is basically making it easier to have small meat processing companies. Right now it’s really, really hard to operate a small meat processing facility and so this act basically makes that easier. If you want call your senator, call your representative, because this is at the federal level currently about to be voted on.

Chris: Well, I’ll call my senators, see what happens. I doubt they’ll do anything about it, but yeah.

Hallie: Give him a ring.

Chris: It’s always worth calling. What is it? Do you know what it does specifically to make it easier?

Hallie: I do. Yeah, currently how meat processing works is you have to have a USDA inspector on the premises at all times for every meat processing facility.

Chris: That sounds expensive.

Hallie: I mean, it’s also hard. It’s also just very difficult to get logistically someone who works for the federal government to be on your premises at all times. It’s just really logistically hard. I’ve been to a meat processing facility that was smaller than my apartment and they had three rooms and one of them was the office for the USDA guy.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: He basically just sat in his office all day because there’s nothing that happens there, but that’s how the current regulations are and it’s just really, really hard to operate. It’s like how important is it to have this? You’re not really doing inspections every day. Do we need you to do inspections every day? If you’re moving 40 chickens in a week can you do inspection like once every other week or something like that instead of officing there on the premises? That’s basically what the act does.

Chris: Okay. To be sure I want these inspections to be done, but like you’re saying maybe they don’t have to live there at the plant.

Hallie: Right. No, this is not taking away food safety guidelines. This is not saying that you can just put food safety out the window. This is just trying to make it easier to have more meat processing facilities.

Chris: All righty.

Hallie: Another tick under less consolidation. We had shorter supply chains. We had less consolidation which included things like more meat processing facilities that also includes having more diversified supply lines. We talked about in our last COVID-19 episode that grocery stores have two or three suppliers for produce. Having more supply lines, working with more vendors, working with more folks makes that more resilient. Another point. Point number three is ecologically based practices. This doesn’t really tie in specifically with COVID, but it does tie in when we’re thinking more broadly about the crises that are looming that could put pressure on the food system. Specifically when we talk about climate change, we have to think about ecologically based practices in order to be resilient against climate disaster.

Chris: That makes sense.

Hallie: Then the last point is innovation. Shorter supply chains, less consolidation, ecologically based practices and then we have to have the ability to innovate, the ability to grow and move forward and really adapt. We really saw during COVID huge innovation from farmers in the terms of sanitation practices for workers in terms of e-commerce. Labor continues to get scarcer and scarcer, so we need innovation in terms of technology, in terms of our ability to do more work with fewer folks, with fewer people, greater breeding, better tools. This ability to innovate is going to be really, really crucial in the food system’s ability to continue to function during and after crises.

Chris: To sum up, I mean, we basically have an economy that encourages companies to sort of get as big and efficient as possible and having a food system that’s resilient and can survive these kinds of crises is just sort of more or less incompatible with that model it sounds like.

Hallie: It doesn’t have to be incompatible, but what we have to see is policymakers prioritizing resiliency and being able to continue without massive losses of companies, of jobs, of people’s lives before profit. It’s not like profit has to go out the window and I’m not the biggest fan of capitalism, but I understand that it functions for commodity products like agriculture, but we have to let profit take the second seat ahead of really policy decision making to create a more resilient system. Because if we don’t, then we’re going to see again what we saw this spring and what we’re going to continue to see as this crisis goes on, which is massive loss of life, massive economic loss, massive job loss etc.

Chris: You know what my prediction is?

Hallie: What?

Chris: Nothing’s going to change and we’re going to see it again.

Hallie: Oh my gosh. Dad, you’re such a pessimist and I don’t appreciate it. We are working very hard. I think that we’re going to get there. We all just have to show up and do the work and get educated and talk to our elected representatives and elect new representatives. Everyone registered to vote. We’re going to get there.

Chris: Call your senators.

Hallie: Please call your senators. PRIME Act.

[Background music].

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

Hallie: This hosted is made 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].


41: How Plants Communicate Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

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

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad and I don’t know anything about agriculture. Each episode, we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we’re focusing on fungal networks.

[Background music].

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

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

Hallie: Okay.

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

Hallie: What?

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

Hallie: That doesn’t make any sense.

Chris: [Laughs]. I agree.

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

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

Hallie: Because they rode the fungus.

Chris: Yeah, they rode the mycelial network.

Hallie: Mycelia is basically fungus.

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: Wait, you said five plant kingdoms.

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

Hallie: Yeah, right. Yes.

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

Hallie: Separate from plants.

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

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

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

Chris: Wait, are they a berry?

Hallie: No.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Oh my God. Absolutely not.

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

Hallie: Yeah, pretty much.

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

Hallie: It’s what produces the reproductive parts.

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

Hallie: [Laughs].

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

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

Chris: It’s not that kind of podcast.

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

Chris: Got it. Okay.

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

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

Hallie: Then the hyphae is a branch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: Under the ground in the soil.

Chris: There are fuzzy bits.

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

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

Hallie: Yes, fine.

[Laughter].

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

Hallie: Sometimes.

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

Hallie: Yeah.

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

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

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

Chris: Like a rhizome?

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

Chris: Mycorrhiza fungi.

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

Chris: Fungus and rhiza meaning root.

Hallie: Exactly.

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

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

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

Chris: Why is that?

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

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

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

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

Hallie: Well, yeah.

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

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

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

Chris: It’s fungi like the peanut butter.

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

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

Hallie: Oh my God.

[Laughter].

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

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

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

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

Chris: Ecto, does it mean outer?

Hallie: Exactly. Right.

Chris: Okay.

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

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

Chris: That sounds amazing.

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

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

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

Chris: Got it.

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

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

Chris: Because they’re socialists?

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

Chris: [Laughs]. Oh, mad respect.

Hallie: I think it’s good.

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

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

Chris: Dude.

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: Oh, boy.

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

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

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

Hallie: No, oh my God.

Chris: [Laughs].

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

Chris: Oh, okay.

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

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

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

Chris: What?

Hallie: Compost. You should compost, dad.

[Laughter].

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

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

Chris: Got it.

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

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

Hallie: Sure, dad?

Chris: Yeah.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Absolutely.

Chris: Site not found. I don’t know.

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

Chris: Internal server error.

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: True.

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

Chris: That is good.

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

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

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

Chris: [Laughs]. Into the break.

[Background music].

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

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

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

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

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

[Background music].

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

Chris: I do.

Hallie: Great.

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

Hallie: Yeah.

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

Hallie: No way.

Chris: Oh, yeah way.

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

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

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

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

Hallie: What?

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

Hallie: That doesn’t even make any sense.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Oh, my God.

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

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

Chris: [Laughs].

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

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

Hallie: No.

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

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

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

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

Chris: [Laughs]. Thank God.

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: It’s wild.

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

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

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

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

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

[Laughter].

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

Chris: That is true.

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

Chris: They’ve got mycelia privilege.

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

Chris: Oh, that makes sense.

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

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

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

Chris: It’s a metaphor for life.

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

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

Hallie: That’s the stuff of it.

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

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

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

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

Chris: That’s true. Okay.

[Background music].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].

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 Transcript with FamilyFarmed

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. I’m Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: My name is Chris Casey. I’m Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss. This week we are talking about, I don’t know, what are we talking about?

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: Local food and supply chains. Something that I don’t understand.

[Background music].

Hallie: Today on the show, we have two awesome folks from the Chicago Good Food non-profit FamilyFarmed. We have Anna Crofts who is a program manager and Bob Benenson the communications manager.

Anna: Hi. Great to be here.

Hallie: Welcome.

Anna: Thanks for having us.

Bob: Yes, thanks a lot. It’s good to be here.

Hallie: Anna, you and I have chatted before, but Bob, you and I actually have never met. Neither of you guys have met dad. I was wondering if you guys could give a little introduction about you and what you do for FamilyFarmed and maybe a little background on FamilyFarmed as an organization.

Chris: Okay. Just for the record, we met 10 minutes ago.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: I don’t know where you were or what you were doing, but we were chatting it up.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Well, then just for the listeners at home.

Bob: We are old friends by now.

Chris: That’s right.

[Laughter].

Anna: Well, I can start and then I can let Bob give the history of FamilyFarmed since he’s been around for quite a while. My name’s Anna. I work on our farmer training and market development programs mainly with the farmer training working with our farmer trainer Atina Diffley to carry out trainings all across the country. We’ve done trainings that are about 48 of the 50 states by now. A lot of those focus heavily on farm food safety and trying to make sure that we’re preparing beginner farmers or even farmers who just want to revamp their operations so that they can practice proper food safety, understand things like the Food Modernization Act and get them prepared for the GAP certification, which is good agricultural practices in case they want to become certified. Our trainings are a mixture of that. Then we also focus on helping them to get into new markets, whether that’s direct marketing, things like CSAs and farmers markets, or wholesale marketing if they want to sell to restaurants or to bigger distributors. On the market development side of things, what we do is we try and partner to get farmers products into stores whether it’s wholesale distributors or smaller retailers. It works across the organization with our other programs, like the Good Food Accelerator, which is a program that focuses on local beginning food entrepreneurs. What a lot of our market development does is it helps them to get opportunities with retailers so we get their products onto the shelf. My job is to just coordinate those programs, to make connections, to help with grant deliverables, make sure that we’re staying on track. That’s majority of my work.

Hallie: Awesome. That is so interesting. Bob, do you want to tell us a little bit about your piece and the rest of FamilyFarmed?

Bob: Okay, sure. I came to this as a second career. I’m a career journalist. I spent 30 years in Washington, DC covering politics, covering elections. My wife grew up in a farm about 45 miles South of Chicago. So I kind of literally inherited the farm after her dad passed away in 2008.

Hallie: Oof.

Bob: I’ve always had a passion for food. When I moved out here in 2011 we just loved Chicago, I decided that I really wanted to work with people who were working at the grassroots community level to affect positive change, and it could have gone a lot of different directions. Unfortunately, I met Jim Slama, our CEO about eight years ago and I was able to build a career in good food advocacy. FamilyFarmed evolved out of an organization. It started earlier in 1996 called Sustain, which was an environmental advocacy and marketing company. They would run up media campaigns and supportive environmental issues. He started working on some campaigns like in 1998 to enforce strong organic standards. This was when they were first creating the USDA organic standards and there were some ridiculous things that agribusiness was trying to push through like you could grow in sewage sludge and still get certified as organic. They played a big role of blocking that. Over the next few years, Jim recognized that there were a lot of major organizations doing environmental advocacy, but practically nobody was doing good food and nobody was working to connect local farmers with buyers. This was before anybody ever heard of the Good Food Movement. Really, it was very embryonic. Then in 2004, they launched the Good Food EXPO, which remained the flagship of FamilyFarmed until last year. Then we discontinued it because we were doing other programming. It was actually called the Local Organic Trade Show. That was its purpose.

It was to connect farmers with buyers. The name was changed to FamilyFarmed officially in 2006. Again, very farmer oriented. The farmer training program that Anna was describing became a reality in 2008. It has been based on a series of manuals that Anna will get into more detail. The first was Wholesale Success, which was aimed at helping farmers who are a little bit more advanced and mature to get into wholesale markets. Then Direct Market Success, which we published in 2016. I was already on board and I played a role in that. That was aimed at early stage farmers get their feet wet and build market by direct marketing, farmers markets and CSAs and direct restaurant, things like that. Then food safety has always been a premier issue and so the On-Farm Food Safety manual and website was created. FamilyFarmed has changed a little bit over the years because the market has changed. Now, there is the Good Food Movement. There’s a massive population that is concerned about health and wellness environmental sustainability. There are a lot of producers and investors involved in it. Other programs like our Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference, Good Food Accelerator, Naturally Chicago, which we started last year. I really engaged a lot in that. But I’ll turn it back over to Anna to tell you what we’re still doing for farmers.

Hallie: Bob, you mentioned the farmer success manuals. I got to say, I’ve used these manuals. They’re good manuals. The other day, like two days ago, I was talking to a farmer and he’s like, “Have you seen this manual? I saw it once. It looked like really good content and I just can’t seem to find it.” I was like, “Oh, do you mean this manual? It’s a great manual.” [Laughs].

Bob: Yeah, so many of the farmers who have used it have told us that it’s dog eared. [Laughs].

Anna: Yeah.

Bob: It’s in their workspace. They use it every day. It’s been a real mainstay.

Chris: I was going to say you talking about the Good Food Movement, I had never heard of the Good Food Movement. I think you described it pretty well, but I had never heard it called that.

Hallie: I was wondering if either of you guys could maybe give a more expanded definition of Good Food, because we’ve never actually talked about it on the show and I know it goes beyond just organic and local and those more commonly heard labels. I was wondering if either of you guys were able to give a more expanded definition of that.

Bob: I’ll jump in because I’ve actually done a lot of work on our mission and vision. We define it as accessible and delicious food that is produced as locally as possible using sustainable humane and fair practices. It covers a lot of ground, it covers environmental issues, it covers labor issues, it covers health and wellness issues and it covers food accessibility. The vision statement that FamilyFarmed has had for a long time is good food on every table. I would underline it all caps every because that’s the intention. Too many people are excluded from this. We’re expanding our programming to reach people in under resourced communities, lower income people to make sure that they have equitable access to the same good, healthy food, sustainable food for everybody and that people get a lot of financial means already have accessible to them. Anna.

Anna: Oh yeah. I agree with all of that.

I think that’s a pretty succinct definition of the Good Food Movement. It’s definitely like an intersectional approach to just providing from the environment to labor, to people, making sure everyone has access to good food and so I think you described it perfectly, Bob.

Bob: Thanks. [Laughs].

Hallie: This interview is going to be part of a larger series. We’re talking about local food. As a part of that, we talked to an urban farmer and we talked to a farmer’s market manager and I wanted to bring you guys on to get that more broader view of what it really looks like to incorporate local food into the food system and into the supply chain. I was wondering, Anna, if you could talk a little bit about your work, but also your views on what drew you to this work. One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed in these interviews is learning how people got to the Good Food Movement and the local food movement because I feel like people just often take the really interesting paths I guess to get here because it’s something that really draws you in.

Anna: After I graduated college, I went to school in New York and then I graduated and I moved down to Buenos Aires, Argentina and I was working for a software company. One thing that really struck me was one of my first grocery shopping experiences in the city. I went and my partner at the time wanted me to pick up some chicken and I went to the store and I realized they had run out of chicken. I asked them at the store. I was like, “Oh, do you have any more chicken left?” They were like, “No, you got to get in early for that.” It was like a big chain grocery store and I was just like, “How do you run out of chicken?” Coming from the United States, this is the land of abundance. There’s restocking the shelves all the time. It was really shocking to me.

After that realization, I met a woman who became a good friend of mine down there. She was really focused on intersectional veganism, and a lot of that had a huge food justice focus and so I just started to learn about all of this. It’s happening in Argentina, but it was definitely happening in the US just like food disparity, “food deserts.” These are things that I never had to think about growing up because I grew up in a privileged background and so we never had to struggle to find food. We had a grocery store less than a mile away from our house. I just started to think like, wow, food is such a fundamental human right. The fact that there are structures in place to prevent people from having access to something that is just so basic, and so really easy or should be easy to provide. It became something I care deeply about. I left the software marketing world and I moved back to the US and became an AmeriCorps VISTA for an organization called the Regional Environmental Council. The name is a bit misleading. They had more of a focus on urban farming and food justice practices. Working with them, I was able to learn a lot about the importance of local food. We did a lot of work around supplemental nutrition benefits, like SNAP, making sure that farmers markets are getting grants that would allow the local farmers markets to accept SNAP. Then doing a lot of advocacy for information outreach. People knew that if they shop at this farmers market their benefits would be doubled. You’re essentially getting $20 extra dollars in free produce. When we think about the importance of local food, it’s important for so many reasons. I think one thing that’s been really illuminating about COVID in this age that we’re living in is that it has really laid bare all of the structural flaws that big ag has caused, like having to ship to all these big grocery stores across the country. Not only is there like a lot of environmental degradation, but it’s just not sustainable. I think that’s what we’re really seeing right now.

There’s the environmental issue, but also like with what Bob said when thinking of labor, when you shop locally, if you go to a farmers market, you’re able to meet the farmer. Usually, the farmer or the people working on the farm are also the ones, I know this because I worked on a farm as well, and they’re the ones at the market selling you the products that they grow. There’s a transparency there. I think that where you spend your money it’s a lot of power and so you can make the choice like I’m going to give my money to this farm and to this farmer, because I know, or I can figure out if they’re using good labor practices whereas with big agriculture, you don’t know. A lot of the time it’s very predatory on migrant farmers and they’re making really low wages in very poor working conditions and our government allows that. There’s the human aspect. But then I think when we shop locally, we also realize like tomatoes aren’t in season in December. I think that seasonality and education around seasonality becomes really important because it can help people. It has all these residual benefits too. It’s like, okay, what’s in season? Like I have to learn how to cook it. I think it can help people to just really deepen their relationship with food. It’s all of these beautiful things coming together that makes shopping locally, so powerful and so important. I do want to add that it’s not always easy, right? I think that sometimes dropping at a farmers market you’re privileged enough if you live near one and sometimes prices are really high. That’s why I think it’s really important for benefits like SNAP and a lot of different farmers markets have double food boxes being able to get these grants so that people who are on supplemental nutrition benefits can get more bang for their buck because local food is great, but it can be expensive for a lot of people. I just think we all need to be mindful about never stopping to push for that fight for access. Sorry, that’s a tangent.

[Laughter].

Hallie: No, it’s so true though. I feel like accesses can be left out of the Good Food discussions. Edwin Marty, actually, I remember one time told me he’s the sustainability manager for the city of Austin. One time he told me, “Yeah, you can buy something organic, but technically something organic could be certified organic and it could still have been grown with slave labor.” That’s true, right? Having this more holistic view of what does it really mean for us as consumers to have these poor labor standards on the food that we’re consuming and how is it considered ethical to basically force poorer folks to have to buy food that can be grown with forced labor or slave labor or other manipulative or other terrible labor practices? How is that ethical? We need to be talking more holistically about how we can all vote with our dollars and eat food ethically and conscionably. Obviously, it’s a human need. Everyone has to eat, but also why do we think it’s okay that if you can’t go to the farmers market, then you just have to buy this food that is unethically produced?

Anna: Right. I think that obviously organic is super important and organic practices are fantastic, but certification is something that can be really complicated and the paperwork is hard. It takes a pretty long time, especially if you bought land that you then have to convert. That can take like three years. A lot of farms, especially if you’re just starting out and you don’t have a ton of capital or you don’t have a lot of money to put into it, the USDA organic certification process can be lengthy and costly and time consuming. What a lot of farms do is, in the farm that I worked on in Massachusetts did this, we followed organic practices. We did not use any pesticides. It was like totally old school, like organic farming, but we would go to the farmers market and people would come up to our table and be is this organic?

We would explain we don’t have the certification, but it’s organic. A lot of people would walk away because they wanted us to have that stamp. It was unfortunate. I’m empathetic because I understand you want to make sure that your food is coming from a place that is using organic pesticides. But I think that more people are becoming aware that USDA organic doesn’t necessarily mean all of these great, wonderful things. I think things like certified naturally grown, which is an alternative to certified organic is really great. It’s a lot less costly. It’s a lot less time consuming and it’s basically like a peer review. Like farmers in your area coming to your farm to ensure that you are in fact using organic practices and I think it’s a great alternative for a lot of farming folks.

Hallie: Right. For sure.

[Background music].

Chris: Wow. This is awesome.

Hallie: Wait, what’s awesome?

Chris: This episode that we’re recording right now with Bob and Anna.

Hallie: You know what else is awesome?

Chris: What is awesome?

Hallie: All of our patrons on this episode. [Laughs]. We just wanted to take a minute to go through and we’re going to be thanking all of our patrons by name. In this episode, we’ve really loved doing the series on local food and these patrons made it possible and they made all of our series possible and they make it possible for us to continue making the show. We wanted to go through and thank them all. If you’re interested in joining our Patreon family and supporting the show, you can find it at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod.

Chris: So thank you to.

Hallie: Lindsay.

Chris: LD.

Hallie: Andrew.

Chris: Vikram.

Hallie: Christopher.

Chris: Shianne.

Hallie: Leah, Nicole.

Chris: Dan.

Hallie: Megan.

Chris: Maggie.

Hallie: Carrie.

Chris: Kate.

Hallie: RC.

Chris: Hope.

Hallie: Tim.

Chris: Pat.

Hallie: Lux

Chris: And Andrew.

Hallie: You guys totally rock our worlds. You make all of this possible and we are so, so, so grateful for you every day and especially today.

Chris: Thank you so much. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: I guess it’s a pretty linear line to knowing where your food comes from and shopping at the farmers market. But I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what that looks like when you start to scale up and try to get into retail or institutional purchasing.

Anna: With wholesale, I think the reason that our farmer training program focuses so heavily on food safety is because when you start selling to institutions or selling into wholesale market streams, you need to be able to track everything you’re doing and have a record for everything you’re doing, because if say something like an outbreak happens that can shut your farm down forever. A lot of things that farmers aren’t thinking about when they’re just doing like direct to consumer marketing really becomes a liability and something they have to think about in a very serious way. I think another thing that we talk about when it comes to breaking into wholesale markets is your farm may not be in terms of like the produce that you’re growing or the products that you’re growing, it may not be as diversified as if you were doing direct to consumer marketing, because you might want to figure out what grows really well in your soil and focus on those crops. Because the thing about wholesale markets is that you need to be able to give them the product they want.

It needs to look really great because grocery stores don’t like to have what we call ugly produce. A lot of the focus is about food safety. It’s about figuring out what you grow really well, and then maybe growing more of that, and less of something else. I think the reason in the beginning that they’re resistant towards breaking into the wholesale market is because they have to lower their prices. If you’re selling a bundle of Swiss chard at the farmers market for $4 to $5 a bundle, at wholesale you’re not going to be able to sell it that high because you’re selling it at larger quantities, so you will get the return you want. But I think if you’ve been doing direct marketing for so long and you see those prices cut in half, or sometimes even sliced further, I think it scares a lot of farmers away from moving into wholesale streams because it’s like, oh, well, I’m not going to make any money on this. But the great thing about wholesale is that it usually is a bit more secure. That’s what we try and tell farmers in the long-term, if you can build these relationships and that’s sort of what these workshops will try and help them do and that’s definitely what the manual does. I think that’s why a lot of farmers refer back to it so often. We help them with figuring out a pricing structure. I don’t know if that answers your question.

Chris: My head has gone down a little bit of a path of doom because I’ve heard you all mention food safety several times. The first time you mentioned it I’m like, oh yeah, people need to wash their vegetables. But then you said outbreak and I’m like, oh, it sounds much more complicated and in depth than that.

Anna: Your farm, the operation needs to be laid out in a certain way, and you need to even be washing your vegetables in a certain way.

So that when someone from the health department shows up, because there is an E coli outbreak in romaine and you’re in California and you sell romaine, you need to be able to show them day by day how you were harvesting, how you were washing, they need to come see where your washing stations are, where your compost pile is. All of that matters so much because you want to make sure you want to have a very detailed log that ensures that the outbreak was not from your farm. That’s what these food safety logs really help you do is to avoid any liability. It’s like, look, here’s my log. Our farm is good for this. We are following all of these practices. It’s really, really important especially for folks who want to go and get further certifications.

Hallie: Food safety is an issue for all farms, not just farms that are local and starting to sell into wholesale, but it’s one of those carrying costs that like the bigger you are, the less percentage of the money you’re spending it’s going to cost. It’s just one of those overhead costs. If you’re switching from direct marketing out to a farmers market into something like a wholesale market to a grocery store, then it’s going to be a much larger part of your costs because you’re one, starting all of these practices from scratch. They don’t exist and so you’re having all of this startup labor and then two also, because you’re often coming in with smaller production. It’s a lot of work and it just can freak out farmers sometimes. But because food grows in the world, there is always a risk that there will be some kind of bacteria or something that will start to grow on food at some point.

Chris: Men, farming’s complicated.

[Laughter].

Bob: One of the interesting thing is that the [inaudible] series of studies over the year and they actually say that most food borne illnesses do not happen at the farm. It happens sometimes, and we’ve got all these regulations with our farmers have a really significant burden in making sure that the best practices are followed, but most of the problems that occur are because of food handling after it leaves the farm. The supply chain world, wholesalers, retailers, people at home not washing their vegetables correctly or not storing them correctly. It’s a conundrum that the farmers really face the heaviest regulatory load here and they may not be the people who are really very responsible for a lot of the food borne illnesses [inaudible] that occur.

Chris: What are some of the big challenges that you all face in your line of work?

Bob: Well, one is public awareness. Food has been so readily available and cheap in our society that a lot of people haven’t really given a second thought, especially people who are aware that food insecurity is never an issue. Getting people to understand the health and wellness consequences of what they eat, why they should eat better. The huge rise of food related illness in our society, it’s costing lives. It’s costing a lot of human suffering, it’s raising our healthcare costs enormously and getting that message through the people though is really hard. The high cost of cheap food. If your food is grown with pesticides that will poison the soil, and then the waters maybe get ingested into your system, or it’s grown by cheap labor practices that victimize lower income workers. Most people don’t realize that. They don’t realize that the long-term consequences what they are because they’re in separate buckets. You’ve got the healthcare bucket, you’ve got the labor bucket, you’ve got the equity bucket and all these things.

All they see is the price tag. This bag of apples is $0.99 and that one is $3. People still mostly buy food because they’re price conscious, so this is an educational effort that’s really challenging. The only thing is we’ve always seen a gradual rise in consumer awareness and then caveat it. I think this may be an inflection point. I hope I’m not being over-optimistic when I say that, but people are so much more focused on health and wellness because of the outbreaks, the hotspots that occurred in the factory production of meat, especially they’re are now more aware of factory farming and factory production practices. A lot of people are becoming uneasy about that. That’s a good thing because of the higher level of awareness that not everything is right about our food system and the seemingly infallible supply chain that gets you food to your table like that. There’s never been an issue before. Now, it’s got weaknesses. It’s got flaws. People may be are starting to recognize that buy from local farmers, know your farmer, know your food as the old Anthem is important. Then when you add in the multiplier effect for local anything, buy local. If your dollars stay at home, they actually have a bigger impact on economic health and economic by telling instead of sending your money away to Arkansas or someplace like that. Communication is a big challenge on this aspect, but I think we’re making progress.

Anna: For the farmer’s trainings, the thing that has always been difficult is sometimes just being able to get farmers to come to our trainings. Farmers are really busy. They don’t have vacations, they don’t take breaks, their farm is their life. So we try and structure the trainings in the off season, like in the winter time. January is a pretty good month, but it can be really hard to get folks to get them to come out and that’s just because they have like a ton of work on their plate. I think one thing that I’m excited about and have been talking to Atina Diffley, our farmer trainer is this new opportunity of doing virtual sessions.

Hopefully, a lot of our trainings are grant funded and so we would have to go to specific regions, but I think now this opportunity to host a training and then just have a more national audience attend virtually, I think it’s going to be a really major opportunity. I’m excited about that because I do think the outreach has been a difficult aspect in the past.

Chris: I would just like to take a moment to say thank you, because I have found nothing positive about this COVID-19 outbreak and finding some bright spots is great. Let me tell you.

Bob: Definitely, if we learn from the experience and move in the direction of a [inaudible] society, because one of the things about COVID-19 it’s establishing those people. We’ve said that people with underlying health conditions who are the most likely to contract the disease and most likely suffer severe or fatal consequences. If we can get people to eat better and provide better food for all people, then we’re going to reduce the rise, or maybe even reduce the rate of diarrhea related disease and reduce this degree of vulnerability. There’s one positive takeaway.

Hallie: I just wanted to thank you guys so much for coming on. It’s been such a joy talking with you guys. Do you guys have anything else that you want to leave our listeners with or any calls to action, anywhere to connect with FamilyFarmed or anything like that?

Anna: I think that I just want to make a plug for Illinois, but also it’s a national coalition, but Buy Fresh Buy Local is a really great resource. It’s definitely not in all 50 states, but you can look it up and you can see if your state is participating.

It’s basically an online resource where you can find farmers in your area, farmers markets in your area, retailers that stock their shelves with products from local farms. We are a part of the steering committee for Buy Fresh Buy Local Illinois, and then a lot of amazing folks and organizations have put a lot of work into it. If you’re someone who has moved to a new area, or you’re just not even sure where your local farmers market is and especially if you’re in Illinois, definitely look up, Buy Fresh Buy Local, because that will point you in the right direction to whatever you need in terms of local farms and food.

Bob: If any of your listeners want to reach out to Anna and connect with her on farmer training and market development, just send an email to [email protected] and put farmer training or market development in the subject line. If anybody just needs general information about FamilyFarmed, they can reach out to me on [email protected]

Chris: If you were to say one thing, people should eat local because?

[Laughter].

Bob: One word? Are you kidding me? [Inaudible].

[Laughter].

Chris: Not one word. Sort of the most important reason why you should really eat local because.

Anna: I would say, because it really strengthens your community. I think that building a really strong regional food system, it’s supporting your farmers. That will just provide access to better food and more farmers will be able to flourish. I just think, like getting to know your farmer, going to the farmers markets, it’s these moments that when you’re alone in the aisle at a grocery store, you’re not able to have that exchange and so I think it really does build community. There are a ton of other reasons that we talked about, but I feel like the community building aspect is a really great part of buying and eating local food.

Bob: It’s better in so many ways. That’s the reason we’ve all been discussing, but let’s face it. You’re not going to definitely eat anything if it doesn’t taste good. I’ve often described food for farmers markets or local food as the starter drug for the Good Food Movement.

Chris: [Laughs].

Bob: If all you’ve eaten at a supermarket through your whole life, it’s food that’s been shipped in, unless you’re living in the Southwest or the deep South it’s been shipped for thousands of miles. It’s probably been sitting in a warehouse for many years or even a couple of three weeks, it’s lost its freshness. It’s lost its vitality. When you go to a farmers market, you’re often eating food that was picked yesterday. When you taste that, you’re tasting that food the way it’s supposed to taste, maybe for the first time in your life and it’s a game changer. It really isn’t epiphany.

Chris: That’s awesome. Thank you so much.

Hallie: Thank you guys so much.

Anna: Yeah, of course.

Bob: Thanks. [Inaudible].

Anna: [Inaudible].

[Laughter].

[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].

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].

Black Lives Matter Transcript

Listen to the full audio.

Chris: Hi, listener. Chris here. No, this isn’t a bonus episode, but we did want to take some time to talk about some really important issues. Two weeks ago, George Floyd was murdered by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department and since then, protest and demonstrations have taken place across the country and internationally. We want to make it clear. We stand with the protestors. Black lives matter and white silence is violence. One to Grow On is going to continue making regular episodes that might not explicitly discuss current events, but this is something that none of us can turn away from right now. To our non-black listeners, please learn about what’s happening, donate to bail funds and use your voice to speak to your friends and family about white supremacy, police brutality, and systemic racism. We’ve included a link to act blue in the description of this episode, which splits your donation among bail funds around the country. To our black listeners, we are listening, learning, and figuring out how we can best be of service. Justice for George Floyd, justice for Breonna Taylor, justice for Mike Ramos and all the others who came before. Stay safe.

A small local farm

37: Urban Farming with Sophia Buggs Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Chris: Hey listener. Editing Chris here. We interviewed the wonderful Sophia Buggs of Lady Buggs Farm over a Zoom call and the Zoom audio is just all the audio that we had available. It sounds like a Zoom call, but it’s a really good interview, so sit back, relax, stick with it and enjoy.

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

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

[Background music].

Hallie: This week we have Miss Sophia Buggs.

Sophia: Hello everybody. Thank you for having me.

Hallie: Do you want to introduce yourself and tell the folks a little bit about what you do?

Sophia: My name is Sophia Buggs.

I’m the owner and operator of Lady Buggs Farm that’s located on the South side of Youngstown, Ohio.

Chris: Hang on. Can I just say that is an amazing name for your farm? I love that.

Sophia: [Laughs] thank you. It’s one of the nicknames that people called me in my past, Lady Buggs, because my last name is Buggs and so I figured that would be an awesome time for me to fully admit that this is my purpose and this is what I’m doing as far as how my name is connected to nature and how much I love nature. Currently, I’m revamping my urban ag program to something more around plant medicine and something more specific on healing and helping people to regenerate their lives. I’m really basing it all on my own personal experiences of how I use urban agriculture to help me through a lot of challenging moments and times, but the positive piece to that is there’s more green space to expand in Youngstown and I love the fact that my farm is really located in a really big park. So not only am I working with really amazing soil, I’m also working with high dense nutrient soil that I can pretty much grow, whatever I want. I’m probably considered a specialty crop farmer because I grow a variety of flowers and herbs and produce from a myriad of different ways. Specialty crop is also a way for us in Ohio to describe smaller growers and I used to go to market, but there are many challenges to go on a market beyond just your achy knees and hips. There are some social context that goes into when you want to be at a market that is specifically in your area and other people come and they have the ideas of what they feel markets are.

I’m absolutely a farmer who has the capacity of going to a farmer’s market and selling a lot of produce, but I’m choosing to scale back, figure out my own purpose more so the whole reason why I actually got started and to focus more on the medicinals and the perennials.

Hallie: Amazing. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you became a farmer? I don’t know that story.

Sophia: My story in short is that I basically was laid off of both of my amazing jobs in Orlando, Florida. Teaching and one was also as a breastfeeding peer counselor working for Wicked Nutrition. When I was laid off of both of those jobs, I returned back to the town which I was born, which is Youngstown, Ohio, and discovered along the process that I had heard at my grandma’s home, the house that I was raised in, and this was after I lost my grandmother. I talk about this in my TED talk about my threes. My threes, where I lost my grandmother and I lost two of my amazing jobs. Those were all the things that spiraled me into my higher purpose, where I had to finally decide, am I going to give my own intellect, my own skill sets to chance? I’ve done a lot of different types of jobs. I’ve always gotten a gold sticker. I felt like I’ve always been a great worker in other places, but I never put that kind of effort in my own stuff. I thought, while you have an opportunity let’s work on what you love. I worked on my master’s and discovered that I really want to go deeper into natural medicine. I know if people know me and they’re watching this, I know they’re like I’ve always loved plants and I’ve always loved nature. That has been a known fact throughout my life. I don’t know why I didn’t get it, but I absolutely believe that I actually manifested a farm right behind my grandmother’s home that I inherited. One Katie pool at a time.

I just got adventurous and invested in myself a little bit more and learned some more about agriculture and decided to just jump in there and be a grower. I didn’t know urban agriculture was a thing. I didn’t know about victory gardens. I just knew that I garden because my grandmother gardened, I love plants because nature experiences were supported in my family and nature was always a place to restore me no matter what. Even if it was a flower on a magazine, it always restored me. I just wanted more of it because I felt like I was in a space where that was the only thing that understood me and I completely fell in love with it and moved forward, had a chance to talk with some folk from the city who worked with the land. At the time it was Learning Forward Ohio, who is now our current County land bank and struck up a partnership to start growing on 9 to 10 lots that literally sit directly behind my home. I’m fortunate that it just all happened. Kind of happening spiraled me into growing. Of course, when I decided to do that, taking a specialty crop apprenticing through OSU, which was the first introduction of my experience in what urban agriculture was. For me, it wasn’t a social context in the beginning. It may have been because it was helping myself, but then when I realized like, oh, this is profitable, I really dug in, like I wanted to do it.

Hallie: Yeah, what would you say to someone who asked you, who didn’t know, what is urban agriculture?

Sophia: Well, interesting that you bring that up. I didn’t mention too, that I’m also a partner on a couple of different organizations here. One is Healthy Community Partnership. I’m also the food access coordinator here in Mahoney.

Urban agriculture is described in a myriad of ways for a lot of places and I know I can’t speak globally, but for some, market gardening is just a side a lot. For some is urban ag where there’s profit community gardening. Urban ag has a myriad of things, not just community gardens or pocket parks or green space where people are doing projects, but these are also spaces where people are making an income off of farming. I’m so grateful now that the USDA has an urban ag program where they can assist. I wanted to say real growers, but real growers. When I say that, I guess what I’m talking about is people in spite of what’s going on in the world, still wake up and grow to feed themselves because we don’t understand how food has been used as a weapon in the past to cut through all the red tape of what that looks like. Still today, it’s a bit daunting and challenging. Pushing forward to me explaining what urban agriculture and what it means like now for me, it is absolutely saving my whole life. Urban ag is saving lives right now, because was there a place where you’re not judged and it’s always fair and you’re only utilized for exactly what you’re good for is nature. I live amongst city dwellers who have maybe forgotten the connection, the deeper interweaving with nature. Therefore, nature can be used as a weapon against people in city dwellings because they’re interested in paying bills, not necessarily restoring their bodies to having high quality lives, high quality foods. There’s a distraction happening in the world and specifically with people who are already over pleased, people who are already at a disadvantage. I see now people are like, okay, now I see why you got involved I think I want to too, but it’s so much happening that you have to be very careful and very patient and very loving with people who choose something that they assume that is so easy. Then they get out there and it’s like, wow, I’ve cried in my soil. I thought for sure this was the thing that broke me.

Chris: Wow.

Sophia: Who wants to say a rock broke you? Who wants to say your compact soil made you cry all day?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: [Laughs].

Sophia: For a woman who is not open about showing her vulnerability and who’s open about their tears, that is a real challenge because not only are you trying to grow to feed yourself, you’re realizing that all the soil is the same. Urban agriculture is a myriad of green things, green space, community gardens, side luck projects, urban farms, market gardens, pocket park in city dwellings.

Chris: That sounds amazing. In your particular case, how urban is it? Are you just outside the city limits or are you in a suburban neighborhood or next to an office building?

Sophia: Good question. I’m in a neighborhood and I am also just a street over from a major park, Mill Creek Park where there are tons of glaciers and it’s a beautiful park.

Chris: Okay. Oh, wow. I didn’t know Ohio had glaciers.

Sophia: Really? [Laughs].

Chris: I had no idea.

Sophia: Yeah, we got some glaciers.

Chris: Oh, that’s awesome.

Sophia: Most of our natural parks do have them because over a period of time that’s pretty much how our parks are parks. Because of the glaciers, I have high pH too, but I’d also get deer and rabbit. I’m not really worried about those. It’s the two legged creatures that I’m always concerned that might walk away with something.

[Laughter].

Hallie: This episode is going to be the first in a series that we’re doing, talking about local food. One of the things I’m really trying to discuss in this series is the way that local food can be used as a tool of community development. You mentioned earlier that concept of food being used as a weapon and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about how you’ve seen those two concepts throughout your career in specifically urban farming?

Sophia: Well, I will be honest to say that I haven’t read all of it, but I’ve read a little bit on Michelle Obama’s, Becoming, her book.

I had a chance to view a little bit of the video that she has on Netflix. I’m only bringing that up because that’s the first thing that I think of when I relate to another person who is trying to express what it is or how they’re trying to define specifically the work that they are doing. She had mentioned several times how challenging it was to take on a charge that she felt like really important and to be believed to supported as a black woman or as someone doing the work that she was doing and she absolutely did that move campaign, which I thought was so amazing. I loved how in her book, I don’t want to say grown in America. It highlighted how she had to push to have the White House kitchen garden. I mean, really?

[Laughter].

Chris: It’s for her house, right?

Sophia: That’s what I thought, but apparently it’s a national park, the White House grounds I must say on that level, and therefore you have to have certain clearance. She made sense when it was like, listen, there was a time where this house was not here or was torn out or damaged and you had to feed people. There was a garden to feed people. Make sense to lead that charge, but food as being a weapon is very similar to that experience that here we are shaking our finger at the first lady of the United States, who is absolutely saying that we have a hunger issue and it is not going to be solved overnight. We need to incorporate it into our lifestyle. This is how we’ve used food as a weapon is standing in the way of things like land ownership or overpricing produce or using in my opinion, language in areas that clearly deflates people.

I get that a lot of people mean well to say, “I want to teach about organic and permaculture and hipster language,” but many of the people are so far removed with these languages that it comes so overwhelming they don’t do it. As food is absolutely evolving and making people healthier, it is also being used to marginalize people. In doing that, I say, I know that there was a whole campaign where they were returning funds to farmers that weren’t given fair treatment when it came to resources and grants and support. Food as a weapon could simply mean something like you are standing in a way of another person’s best life by using a very essential tool that is needed to nurture them to say, “Oh, you can’t do that, Sophia. However, you’re supposed to know how to grow tomatoes. You should go and buy hydroponic tomatoes at the grocery store all year round.” We have to be careful and there are these, I don’t want to seem petty, but it’s ridiculous now. It’s now infiltrated into a whole system. I’m grateful that there is a food assistance program, but I don’t know if you’ve ever applied for food stamps before. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the conversations that they have with poor people, but they do not make people feel that they are proud to live in a first world country with food assistance. You have to darn there big and be sad and become broke, and scraping through the door for them to give you the maximum that you and your family do, in spite of it only needing to really be according to your household income. We still live in those times and you will be surprised at how even people who are discriminated against how food is a weapon are the same people that do it to you too, because they don’t know. It’s a whole of the process, but basically, how to make better with that is stay out of the way of people who are trying to be self-sufficient and sustainable when it comes to land based activities. I know I went off talking about Michelle, but I wanted to put that there only because I was so grateful, honestly, for another black woman in the world who has stressed that healthy eating and lifestyle is a part, not the total package.

But as a piece and a part of her family lifestyle, which is a challenge and it’s food for crying out loud. For her to share her wisdom to other young brown faces, other children, other people in the world on this is the way it should be done, which is children gardening. So when you grow up, maybe you could keep doing this for yourself. Just standing in a way of people’s opportunities to do it affordably, healthier. It’s sort of like breastfeeding. How do we promote breastfeeding? By doing it. By showing other women that this is safe. This is healthy. This is good. This is a nurturing and it’s free from your body. But if you’re stressed, somebody, something is blocking for your baby to get this nourishment because you’re so stressed out and your milk ducks are dried up early. Then you quit early because there are a lot of challenges. I would also like to see that kind of change in the world. I know we talked about food being a weapon from agricultural base but because I’m absolutely a breastfeeding supporter, I think that’s another way we stand in the way of using food as a weapon. Social service agency spaces who have to ask these thousands of questions to how she’s using her body or how she’s using her breasts. That’s typically short lived in a lot of urban areas because it’s just hard to keep up with the social demands of the world and still offer your baby a healthy supply of breast milk. That’s a whole another subject.

Hallie: No, but it’s still tied in for sure. I’d like to know a little bit more about what the local food ecosystem of Youngstown looks like. You mentioned you don’t go to markets. Are there a lot of other urban farmers? Was that an easy way for you to plug in? Was there a lot of support?

Sophia: Weren’t you going to ask all the great questions?

[Laughter].

Sophia: Yeah, there are other growers. There are not a lot of urban farmers, but I consider it an urban farmers’ because at some point there was at least five growers locally that was growing for profit.

Hallie: Oh, wow.

Sophia: This was not in light of what’s happening with the pandemic. Just over course of time, I’ve been growing for about a decade and I’ve also sold produce on my table for other growers who just didn’t make it to the market. I consider those farmers. There is a lot of synergy around local foods here and Healthy Community Partnership is an organization that I’m the healthy food access coordinator of Mahoney. We’re often meeting about how to dismantle what’s going on when it comes to food insecurity. Our challenges, I think is first, we need to change the language. I am one of a few that sit on the board, that’s a person of color. I know we are trying to diversify that and make it more inclusive, but that’s the truth of where we are. I’ve tried to make a parent to say, “Hey, listen, we need to shift the language in the way we’re having a conversation, not just about poor people, but about people of color and about food access.” Food deserts is one of those things that just makes me cringe for a whole lot of reasons. I will, again, state that, I didn’t know that this was a thing in the world. I was just in my own bubble. I just wanted to grow some food and be healthy. I didn’t know urban ag was this hip movement, but people were pushing against the powers that be in resistance. I didn’t know that. I experienced it and then fell into, why is this happening to me? Then I met people and it was like, oh, it’s a thing.

Being able to sit on the steering committee, in the action team and be the coordinator, I feel like I am capable to giving them the intel of what growers black people prefer to use when it comes to talking about agriculture. Food insecurity or food apartheid is more appropriate than food desert. We don’t need another check mark. That’s a negative word against the people. We just don’t. It doesn’t even make sense, but because that’s a great coin to get funding, it’s used.

Hallie: I have a lot of faith in the desert. I hate that term.

Chris: [Laughs].

Sophia: Thank you.

Chris: For those of you who are just listening right now, Hallie and I are just mostly nodding our heads a whole lot.

[Laughter].

Sophia: Thank you so much. It’s so much fun in the desert. It’s great.

Hallie: It’s another negative connotation about who we are as Americans. I really do feel that and our ignorance of our own geographical landscape.

Sophia: Yes, you’re absolutely right. The issue that I’m having is the language.

Now that in light of the pandemic, we know we need these brands, right? All the hard work that we’ve done to work towards to be more inclusive in our focus, I find that out of all of the Zoom meetings of all kind of organizations that I’m sitting in Mahoney, we’ve gone back to settle to the ways. When you’re stressed, in my opinion, I feel that you should absolutely have a practice. Whatever your practice is, you will always resort to it when you feel fearful. That’s why meditation is important. That’s why spirituality is important. That’s why gardening is important because although you don’t think it’s a spiritual practice, it is a practice and it’s safe. It is gentle and it is loving and it doesn’t harm other people. I’m saying that to say in light of what’s going on, I’m hearing the language now about those people, you people. Food desert, is slowly sneaking in. A language sets the tone for a lot of how movements can be that or for us to actually do what we’re saying we’re going to stop doing. Let’s start with the language shift. We had a shift, but now it’s shifted back and to be on calls and meetings and hear it, I just want to get off the call because I feel like all that I’ve worked so hard to say, don’t do that. It’s not appropriate. There are so many better words and terms that could be used. Oh, by the way, did you know that this is a catchphrase word that really is working against the people? Or working with a partner or organization that has saw the slow crawling process that I’ve had in urban agriculture being on the scene, be a part of the movement, trying to do the work only for it to just not be quick enough for them to just say, “Well, I’ll take the ideas and do it myself.” There’s an article I posted on my Lady Buggs Farm page. It’s a whole blog with this girl who just lets it go. I was like, oh my gosh, she sounds like me, which was, she’s always worked at really good nonprofit organizations. Many of the people are very intentional, but a lot of the work was not the right way of doing it.

So because we have a way with communicating or as they would may think, the token black people are comfortable with us approaching or confronting, like this is how we should do this in dealing with people like this. They don’t have to, but it’ll be done just enough to get the resources then off to the next project. There was a project that actually was needed to build on this project or we needed these resources to actually start up that. My concerns is that I live in this city with all this green space and there are a handful of organizations that are taking up some of the different projects whether it’s grass cutting, supporting gardeners, small farms, pop up markets. There are a handful of us that are really pushing that charge, which is really good, but my concerns is we aren’t moving quick enough. My concerns is that the language puts us in such a vulnerable place that a bigger organization can come and take over the green space this year. I know that blight is a problem for many people, but I wish I could stand on the porches of many of the boomers. What did they call that group of people?

Hallie: Yeah, the boomers.

Sophia: Say to them that it’s okay. That the weeds are Northeastern Ohio’s varieties that are growing into Finland, it’s okay. The air is cleaner. The pollinators are going to come and maybe we can get some ordinances so that you could have some wild flowers, but nature is not working against you. She’s working with you and it’s a blessing that we are in an incredible shrinking cities. I don’t want people to lose jobs, but sort of like COVID and I worked so hard to not say that name. It has forced us to simply go within and figure out who you are and how much more sweat equity did you have to give to somebody else. We have a chance to reboot. The air is cleaner. We’ve discovered new species of animals and plants now.

Hallie: What?

Sophia: We got roadways cleared and stuff fixed. We got a lot of stuff done and this is a blink. This isn’t even a blink in the universe. But my point is, and again, I don’t want to leave somebody without, I’m talking to someone in their own pain body experiences and discover nature the way I did it, which is I reached out to say, I don’t have anywhere else to go. One thing I know for sure is to be somebody that is always looking for a safe place. Nature has always provided that for me and it’s something that I’m hoping that Youngstownians can embrace the fact that we are turning into a greener city, let us be the change. Let us lead the way. With California not having water, we’ve got the Great Lakes. Ohio is the Heartland, but I do feel because certain circles I’m in with OSU and extension and in corporations and nonprofits, I hear that language, which is green space is only for an elite group of people and not you all. If we kick back then like, we don’t appreciate it, then we may lose these beautiful, vacant, green plush, lots of all kind of medicinal plants.

Hallie: I’ve got so many thoughts right now. I’m trying to process that.

[Laughter].

Chris: Right. I’m curious about the languages that you keep referring to. If there’s like one or two things that you just, oh, I just heard that again or if there’s like a tone you hear, or something like that, I would love to hear something that needs to be changed.

Sophia: Yeah, what needs to be changed is the way that we continue to build this great nation. We must do it with the acknowledgement of the natives and the people who are here and with food being essential. I hadn’t thought that was a light bulb for people. We’re frontline responders, regardless if there is a pandemic or not. I think we take for granted about food and even in my own house, I see it. I have a teenager who just graduated with a high school diploma and an associates.

Chris: Congratulations.

Sophia: Thank you. She’s pursuing to finish a degree at OSU as well, but I see in our own first world problems where I’m always checking her about making sure she’s not wasting food, making sure that we’re being mindful of the things that we’re putting in our body, in spite of us having a smaller budget than others. But food has always been my bigger stint. I think that’s because I come from a people where food was everything. It was our conversation. It was the comfort, it was the collaboration, it was all of those things. My grandmother’s kitchen provided I can explain. In such a tiny place in the world, she did so much for us. It is not that my grandmother wasn’t magical, she was, but what made it even more magical were the things inside that kitchen, which was food. I know some people fell hippity about calling food medicine, but I think when we do that, it makes us sound more important to people. It gets your attention. Like when I say food is medicine, people are like, “Wow, you know what? That’s nice.” But we would need doctors to also support that. Doctors don’t say food is medicine.

We’re fortunate here we have RX program where the doctors do prescription writing for people who are in challenged areas on certain foods to nourish them. That’s great, but it will really be nice too if those doctors do exactly what the RX prescription program was to.

Chris: [Laughs].

Sophia: It’s just one of those things like, “Oh, we should do this for the people. It’s your work and you do it.” The doctor is like, “What am I prescribing? Here’s the paper, fill this out.” Are these questions really being asked? Does the doctor really feel that food is medicine and that is the missing element from this diabetic woman or it is hypertension then or a personal mental health fog?” The truth of the matter is how I end up farming I didn’t say it, all of that is because I got tired of going to the powers of b and then talking to me like I didn’t know my own body. You really want to know what that feels like to be a mother and be a poor mother and go into an office where they tell you, you don’t know what’s best for your own baby. You don’t know what allergies your daughter has or how they respond to it. Just take these little vouchers and be glad somebody’s giving you food. I knew then, I wouldn’t be that. I did accept I did have WIC when Passion was a baby and I absolutely in my own struggle and my own sacrifice, didn’t do it because don’t tell me what my daughter is supposed to have or not. If you don’t help me here, you’re not going to help me, but that issue I want to say absolutely is one of the reasons why I’m farming because my daughter has so many allergies and I couldn’t afford it then so the whole foods was mine, pharmacy, but I was spending like $25, $30 on a calendula bottle which is little. I thought, man, there has to be an affordable way and there was for me to do it myself.

So that’s why I grow marigolds every year so I could submerge them into oil and let them sit for six weeks in a dark bottle in a cool place for my daughter to have a year round Sal for her eczema breakout.

Chris: I think it was in the last episode, Hallie, occasionally says that growing your own food is a radical act. I think that’s a perfect example of it right there. I’ve got this problem. I need to have my own solution. I don’t need any of these other people involved. I’m just going to do it myself and that’s really cool. I love that. How do you think that growing and eating locally impacts individuals and the people in the communities and the people around the communities?

Sophia: Well, I would like to talk about mental health because I know we want to go to the direct root cause, which is, it is absolutely healthier to do that and it’s healthier because you share the same space with the pollinators and all that other good stuff. You name all of the health factors that happen, that boost when you garden from movement of the body first of all. It’s such an educational experience. Cognitively, you’re always reaching to learn more. On top of that, the food is I feel higher in quality than what you get from the grocery store, because I think those are the other aspects we don’t talk about. Nature, which is the spiritual part of it. It’s something about the mystery that has also in these foods that is akin to where you live, but this is why they tell you to eat local honey, because you and those bees have a relationship. That’s what it is. You’re building your immune system for this relationship, which is bigger than what you assume it to be, but it’s still flowery and clean and protective for us. Eating local not only strengthens the economy, but it also puts competence in the people who live there. It’s food that they’re growing, not t-shirts. It’s food that they’re growing. It puts beautification in spaces.

It gives you confidence. It makes you stronger. It boosts your immune system and it’s always accessible and you have to learn every season, I do not eat all of what I could eat in Northeast Ohio because my taste buds primarily dislike what it likes. However, it also allows you to say, “Well, since I can’t get strawberries, maybe I’ll eat my last little bit of cherry tomatoes in my salad or since we’re all out of Swiss chard, maybe I can figure out what collards are doing since it’s later in the season.” Having a variety of greens to choose from. I love the fact that we’re just strengthening even the relationship with Mother Nature. I feel like it’s almost a checking where nature is like, who’s here? Who’s still with me? Who still supports me? You’re like, how are you? I am a garbage. I am a bucket. How many birds I have honeybees?

Hallie: [Laughs].

Sophia: I feel like it’s our way of saying we’re having a communal relationship that keeps us stronger and healthier as a team, as a globe as opposed to not being connected with her. I absolutely feel that we are the midwives also of what’s happening. She’s heating up for a reason.

Chris: [Laughs].

Sophia: It is not because something’s wrong with her. If we don’t get it together, we aren’t going to make it. She’s going to make it.

Chris: That’s true.

Sophia: She has proven she has survived freezes and heat up and you name it. This is a drop in the bucket for her. She will let us go and create a whole new people. It’s almost like this dance that is, I want to say require. Give her the respect. When I saw people still throwing their stuff out of the windows, in light of the pandemic, I thought people don’t get it. You’re still throwing trash out of the window, still? Don’t you know that that the harms nature? That’s the whole point of what’s going on. It’s not because they did it or you got it or you touched me, it’s because she can’t keep up with so much of the processing, the overproduction that we do for her, she can’t keep up so much because she’s doing what she can. This little rest that we’re getting, this little break is supposed to be her springing forward for us to be better. But I really do feel that those who want to hold onto old systems and old ways, she just doesn’t make room for them. I don’t have to be upset anymore. I have to be concerned if I’m going against. I do feel the love and support that nature has offered me. I’ve been more deeply connected than I’ve ever been before. I spend more outdoor times in my life now than I did before. I asked myself what stopped me before. With all the stresses in the world, all the distractions, I still write hobby farm for magazines. I still will go to Barnes & Noble and just go through all the books and just dream. I wouldn’t doubt that that dream is the manifestation that is happening now, but that’s a different experience with nature from a page as opposed to actually doing the work and even now, it’s the next level. Can I farm enjoy now instead of demanding it? Can I just wake up and go on my fields, plant something and heal some people without needing to dodge bullets, harmful words, ignorance? When this happened, I felt that fear pissed the people who are peppers and who are trying to be sufficient, try to get away from that. We try to just get in our own bubble to just survive. When I went to the grocery stores, I had to just leave. The craziness that people were bringing to the stores and bringing their fears.

It’s just you get your supplies and go, but people have other agendas when they’re doing what they’re doing. I was shocked, but I felt like we had scaled back a couple decades. When I went to the grocery store, the way people were treating me. I’m not saying I’m over that, but I do feel I’m over that. I get treated that way, oh my goodness. I know the masses are. My patience allows me to come home alive and safe and my spiritual practice stops me from wishing harmful things on other people. I always tell people, “You should leave me alone in nature.” Nature protects you from me because if I was here for a real human being, not in love with nature, not being this loving, it would have already been some mess from my life. Nature completely has saved me. I’ve watched to save other people. I hope that this is good medicine for the city dwellers to take in a little bit of greenness in your life, like a little bit here and there. A smoothie here and there. A wild leaf here and there. Maybe a potted plant that can be all year round on your porch and in the house, brought some things. They slowed me down and they stopped me from being so fearful from others and they expanded my vulnerability. Although I said, I don’t like to be vulnerable when I did that TED talk that was absolutely my vulnerability. That was a whole process too, by the way, to do a TED talk.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Sophia: One day, I’m going to do a video on what it’s like to be a TED recipient. To talk exactly about what you know specifically, and then find some pushback, even in the process of doing TED. That’s all I was going to say.

Hallie: Wow, I can imagine.

Chris: I can’t wait to see that.

Hallie: I want to thank you so much for your time and your knowledge. It’s been so awesome to have you on the show. Do you want to plug any social media or anything? Is there anything else you want to leave our listeners with?

Sophia: Sure. I want to absolutely want to thank you for taking the time to allow me to share my story and including me in this process, by the way, it takes a lot. It takes a lot from somebody to say, you know what? I’m going to scale back and allow someone else to take this platform because that doesn’t come easy for you all either. I’m definitely identified as a brown woman and people might not know that that’s where you two are doing, but when people hear that you are possibly supporting something that might not be favorable to them, there is no pushback. I commend you for jumping in there to also allow us to tell the real story about the ups and downs and the challenges and the lifestyle of someone who is in urban agriculture. My plugs are I’m on Instagram as Lady, L-A-D-Y, my last name, Buggs, B as in boy, U-G-G-S, Farm, F-A-R-M. I’m also on there as Mama Sophia’s Wisdom. I’m also with both of those names on Facebook and I’m also on Twitter as Lady Buggs Farm.

Chris: Wow. Awesome. Yeah, thank you so much for being here. This has been wonderful.

Hallie: It has totally been either. You’re amazing. You’re fantastic.

Sophia: Thank you. I’m glad you made the connection. Please stay in touch.

[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].