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Empty Market Shelves in COVID19 Outbreak

#AskOnetoGrowOn 6: COVID19 Edition Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Chris: Hey, listener. Hallie and Chris here. At some point, Hallie’s track has a bunch of clicking noise. It comes and goes. There’s not a whole lot of it. I don’t know what caused it. I didn’t know how to get rid of it. I’m sorry, but there’s a lot of good stuff in this episode, so I hope you listen anyway and we’ll see you again in our Tuesday episode on persimmons.

[Background music].

Hallie: Hello and welcome to Ask One to Grow On our mini episode series where I answer your questions, queries, and concerns. Today, we actually have two guests on which we don’t usually do for Ask One to Grow On episodes, but it’s kind of a special topic and I really wanted to get their input and their feedback and then just include them in the process of kind of asking these questions and then answering them together. Today on Ask One to Grow On we have Chris Casey.

Chris: Hello. I’m Hallie’s dad.

Hallie: Our first ever normie guest, Joanna Casey, my very own sister.

Joanna: Hi.

Hallie: We actually have a lot of questions today. This was inspired by actually Joanna which is why she’s here because she has had a lot of questions and conversations with friends and people about how the COVID-19 virus is impacting the agricultural supply system and the food system more generally and so I thought maybe she could collate some questions for us and we could just go through and talk about it. If you don’t want to listen to more virus talk, no hard feelings, we have a new episode coming out on Tuesday that is not going to be virus related at all. But this was just something that’s really topical and so I wanted to kind of get two folks on the horn and chat through and just kind of talk through in process a little bit. Jo, do you want to kick us off with our first question?

Joanna: Sure. Okay. I think probably the most common thing that I’ve been asked in the past couple I don’t know week or two weeks or so is what’s going on with restaurants? One of my close friends just asked me there aren’t restaurants at the end of a really big agricultural supply chain that’s different and not connected to grocery stores. How are those farmers who usually supply to restaurants doing? What are they doing now?

Hallie: Yeah, that was a great question. I want to say first off, there’s not a lot of national or international data at all on how this is impacting specific sectors of the economy. Like we can see the stock market generally is not doing well, but looking more specifically at agriculture and how is this impacting farmers? I have info on how it’s working in Austin through my work that I’m doing at my job, but I don’t have information beyond that other than I’m on some listservs and I’ve been reading some white papers and some letters that different national organizations have been putting together. I’ve been trying to tune into the conversation, but there’s not any data at all. What I’ve been seeing is farmers that are selling and which are already set up to sell direct to consumer are doing really well right now. People aren’t eating out. People are purchasing more grocery goods and people are trying to continue to eat healthy and so those farmers that were selling at farmers’ markets or had CSA set up or were doing delivery options are doing really, really well. Farmers that were selling exclusively to restaurants have lost 100% of their client base and are having a really hard time pivoting to completely change their marketing operation. That’s what I’m seeing currently.

Joanna: Okay. I’m so confused. What’s a CSA and how do farmers sell directly to consumers when they’re not at a farmers’ market?

Hallie: Yeah, so the CSA stands for community supported agriculture and basically you can as a person or as a family or sometimes like friends will split it between multiple people. You just get a share of general veggies. It’s like a premade box that is whatever we’re harvesting we split it between 50 people or 100 people or whoever, however many shares we have in our CSA and you get a box and you don’t necessarily know what’s in it every week.

Joanna: Just like a random box of seasonal veggies.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s like what’s in season now. It can include eggs. It can include meat, but usually it’s just going to be veggies. Sometimes you get some fruit in there as well.

Chris: Unfortunately, it can also include okra.

Hallie: Yeah, there’re jokes among people who subscribed to CSA. Cabbage and okra and kale and some of these things where it’s just kind of dead of winter crops and when they come, they come in the hundreds and so then you’re just eating nothing but pounds and pounds of cabbage for two or three weeks.

Joanna: What are farmers who were completely sourced to restaurants doing? Are they being able to set up their own CSA systems? At least in Austin I know that’s the only site that you can speak to, but is there something that they’re being able to do to pivot and directly sell now to a consumer?

Hallie: One of the things that’s been really cool about working at my job during the pandemic is that personally I’m kind of in the front lines of seeing all of the amazing ways that people are trying to support their food system here in Austin. Like at my organization we have farmer’s markets, so we have a pretty large network of farmers and I am kind of the designated person to field other market inquiries, so I get emails almost daily of people being like, “Hey, I have this app that I’m trying to connect farmers to customers” or like, “Hey, I have this restaurant or I have this grocery store” or, “Hey, I’m trying this new thing and we’re trying to buy from local farmers because we know that people are hurting.”

Joanna: Oh, very cool.

Hallie: It’s amazing. Here in Austin there’re a lot of really cool options for farmers and part of what I’m doing at my job is trying to reach out and connect with those farmers that are selling directly to restaurants and helping them pivot their operation because it’s really like a weird thing to do. I mean, it would be weird for any business if you have a client base and you know exactly who they are and you’ve been working with them for years and then they just all disappear and you have to completely try and start a new strategy for selling your products.

Joanna: Yeah.

Hallie: It’s a really weird thing for a farmer to do and they’re also in the middle of planting season so there’s dealing with a lot right now and they’re also dealing with labor shortage because folks are having a hard time coming out if they are an at risk population or if they care for someone in their home that’s in an at risk population. There’s a lot of interesting options. Usually, farmers that are selling directly to restaurants are smaller as well. Usually, they’re a little bit bigger often than farms that are selling directly to consumer because restaurants often are buying in higher quantities but not necessarily. But you still are looking at pretty small farms that have a network of buyers and so they’re usually pretty vulnerable in dealing with a small margin.

Joanna: Okay. I mean, that’s to be expected. The smallest groups are the ones that are the most vulnerable to impact on this scale I suppose. My other question and I don’t even know if you’ll be able to answer this of one of my many other questions is how long does it take? Can they just go into grocery stores? Like a farmer who was going to only restaurants, can they just pivot and supply to a grocery store chain now? Is that something that’s doable?

Hallie: That is usually up to the farmer and the grocery store as a relationship. My job approached HEB and Central Market which are two larger grocery stores in our region and said, “Hey, would you be willing to buy locally?” They said, “Yeah, sure. But we can’t change our onboarding process for vendors.” Their onboarding process for vendors is really set up for larger farms and they have some requirements that are really onerous for smaller farmers where they just do not have the time, they don’t have the capacity, they don’t have the funds to set up this infrastructure to address the onboarding requirements for these larger grocery stores. I’m not trying to get on here and call out HEB and Central Market. There are really good reasons why grocery stores have to have certain requirements and we’re in a really weird time generally speaking. I’m not trying to get on here and blast them. They do amazing things for the local food scene here in Austin specifically. Again, I can’t talk more broadly, nationally because that’s not my expertise, but there are some smaller grocery stores in Austin that don’t have to stick with those really intense onboarding processes and so they are able to bring on more local producers. But it’s just about relationships and it’s just about does this company trust this other person to bring in quality product on time reliably? Because when you get down to it, the food system is just run by a lot of people. Sometimes that can be tricky just navigating those relationships.

Joanna: I don’t know. It’s kind of frustrating. It’s like one of those things that make so much sense when you’re in a normal functioning society where you know it’s not all going to pot like it is right now.

Hallie: Right.

Joanna: But right now I’m just like everybody go buy from the people who have extra supply. Everybody will sell it to you. One of my other things are technically, restaurants are still open, right? But only for carry out or delivery. Why are they essential? Why does that count as an essential business? I understand why restaurants. I mean, why grocery stores count as an essential business because they’re a direct access to food. But why can’t people just cook at home all the time?

Chris: I have a guess.

Hallie: Yeah.

Joanna: Why won’t you guess?

Chris: My guess is they’re not. We’re just trying to on a wing and a prayer. I hope they don’t all go out of business.

Hallie: Interesting. Yeah, restaurant dining rooms did close in a lot of cities including here in Austin. All bars closed here in Austin as well. I think that that’s also pretty common across the US but I haven’t been keeping super up to date. However, yes, people can cook at home, but if you are a student or if you’re someone who’s disabled or otherwise have problems accessing the kitchen or cooking implements, it can be really hard for a lot of folks to cook their own meals. If you’re a doctor who works 19 hours a day, you might not have time and so you need to purchase prepared foods that are just ready to eat. So having delivery and takeout in addition to helping economically support these small businesses through a hard time can also improve food access and improve all these other things within the economy.

Chris: That does shed a new light on it for me. Thank you.

Hallie: Yeah, for sure.

Joanna: You were talking about the CSA. No, I can’t even remember. Is that the correct acronym, CSA?

Hallie: Yeah, Community supported agriculture.

Joanna: Okay. You were talking about the CSAs. What are good resources for people to be able to access them? Is there like a website where they’re all compounded, people can find local ones? That seems to be the most sensible way for people to access direct local produce. Is that true?

Hallie: Yeah, there are a lot of different options for purchasing directly from a farmer. CSAs are usually available directly from farm, so you kind of have to know what farms are in your area. My organization is a nonprofit within the city and so we are kind of known as a food entity. We put together a food access list that includes a lot of info on CSAs. There might also be other organizations near you wherever you’re at that have to do with food access or have to do with farmers that have put together lists like that. You can also purchase. There are delivery options. I can put some links in the show notes. One of them is called Barn2Door. I think here in Austin we have one called Farmhouse Delivery and Farm To Table. There’s a whole list of other national ones and I can put some more info on that in the show notes. In terms of CSAs, it’s really specific to the farms, but there are some of these delivery organizations that are nonprofit, some of them are for profit and they operate more nationally. But usually they try and get local food to local people.

Joanna: Very cool. If either you don’t know how to access a CSA or you don’t have a direct CSA, but you do have a farmer’s market, can you still go to farmer’s markets? It’s like farmer’s markets are relatively small and if you’re trying to stay away from people, do you think that’s still a decent idea?

Chris: Stay home. Don’t go anywhere.

Hallie: I agree with dad. It is good to stay home. It’s also important to have food and purchase food.

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: Here in Austin. The farmer’s markets were classified similarly to the grocery stores and I think that from my opinion that was a really wise move made by Mayor Adler. Other cities might have closed their markets, they might also be open. You have to check with your local farmers’ market entity and your local public health organizations. If you do go to the farmer’s markets from what I have seen online of other markets, I know what we’re doing in our markets. But from what I’ve seen of other farmer’s markets, there’re a lot of really good guidelines out there that farmer’s markets are following. At our markets, specifically, farmers are doing a lot of pre-packaging where they pre bag all the foods, so when you get there you can just take it and go. You don’t have to handle the produce and neither does the farmer. The farmers are wearing gloves. There’s a lot of hand sanitizer. We have kind of bouncers that are very friendly that try and help people keep a safe distance between each other. You know it is important to buy food regardless of if you’re going to buy it at the grocery store or at the farmer’s market, you’re going to have to interact with other people and so if you can do that at the farmer’s market, if you can help support farmers, that’s amazing. But yeah, it is also important to take care of your health. If there are delivery options in your area, go ahead. Look into those. Keep yourself and other people safe as much as possible.

Joanna: If you can’t do a CSA delivery system, then it wouldn’t be there.

Hallie: Yeah, there are also apps. Like here in Austin we have an app called Vinder, V-I-N-D-E-R. There are other apps in other towns that basically it’s kind like DoorDash but for farmers like farm fresh food.

Joanna: What? That’s so cool.

Hallie: 2020 is a great year to be alive. There’re a lot of options for getting farm fresh food to you delivered. Yeah, you might have to do some digging for your area but there are options.

Chris: I bet you’re not going to hear a lot of people say 2020 is a great year to be alive. But to be fair, if we were alive at another time during a pandemic like this, we’d probably not be doing as well as we are.

Hallie: There’re a lot of resources out there, tools and a lot of people doing good work which is really cool. I will keep saying this. It keeps blowing my mind every day I show up to work. I mean, I’m working from home, but I show up on my work computer and it just blows my mind how many people are doing like really, really, really cool work that is helping support their community.

Joanna: If they do get a CSA or they go to the grocery store. Well, obviously they’re going to do something to acquire food. When they acquire that food, are there like best practices for washing produce?

Hallie: From what I know and this is not my area of expertise, I think that the CDC guidelines say that the virus cannot live on inanimate objects for more than three to four hours. Feel free to fact check me and add me on Twitter and say that I got that wrong. If I did, I might have.

Chris: Definitely your dad will check it.

Hallie: That’s not my area of expertise. Yeah, but I think to my knowledge those are the guidelines. Three to four hours the virus can’t live on inanimate objects. You should always be washing your produce. Please wash your produce. You guys wash your produce. It’s good to wash produce regardless of if we’re in a pandemic or not. It’s always good to wash your produce.

Joanna: How though? Do I just like take a scrubby brush to it? I dunk it in some bleach. What’s the system, Hallie?

Hallie: Just in some warm water.

Chris: Do not bleach your food.

Hallie: I was joking. Just some water is that good.

Joanna: Okay.

Hallie: Yeah, generally warm water is good. If it’s something that has more dirt on it, you can get some soap involved. I’ve had to do that with potatoes before that are a little bit crusty so I get some soap involved, but warm water will usually do the trick. Dad, did you tell me about this video of like a doctor that like had…

Chris: Yeah, it’s one of the highest viewed videos on YouTube right now. There’s this doctor that demonstrates bringing in his grocery bag and he divides up his kitchen table into two halves, the clean side and the unclean side. He puts his groceries down on the unclean side and then he’ll pick them out one by one and disinfect each piece and then put that down on the clean side. If it’s a piece of produce, then he’ll take it out and put it in the sink to wash.

Hallie: Yeah, you do small practices like that thinking about where things could have been contaminated. It’s great practice generally speaking and especially when we’re in a pandemic.

Joanna: Nice. Since we’re trying as hard as we can to not go outside and minimize our time at grocery stores or farmer’s markets or what have you, is now like the prime time to start your home garden?

Hallie: Everyone is gardening right now.

Chris: I thought everyone was making sourdough bread and watching Tiger King.

Hallie: Everyone is also making sourdough bread. My friend Emily tweeted about how to make bread. She has this amazing Twitter thread about how to make bread at the end of the world and it got picked up by like every single news outlet. It’s wild.

Joanna: That’s amazing.

Hallie: Yes, everyone’s making bread and also everyone’s gardening.

Chris: And watching Tiger King.

Hallie: Yes, apparently. I just found out about this show. I’m so behind. I just guessed it on a podcast called The Horticulturati and it’s hosted by two landscape designers and landscape architects.

Joanna: It’s called the what?

Hallie: Horticulturati. I’ll put a link in the show notes.

Joanna: Okay. That’s nice.

Hallie: Yeah, but they mentioned it they as landscapers have had a hard time getting potting soil because everyone is gardening right now.

Chris: Wow.

Joanna: That brings me to another question that somebody had. Is there something I can do like as a non-agricultural thing to help support or as a non-agriculture person to help support the agriculture industry. There was what’s it called? Victory Gardens in World War II. Is that something that you foresee or you think would be useful?

Hallie: Generally, I think gardening is a very radical act and we can do a whole podcast episode about that. Gardening is awesome.

Joanna: Wait, what do you mean by radical act? I feel like you just dig a hole and put stuff in it, right?

Hallie: No, it’s very radical to grow your own food. It’s amazing. You don’t have to be gardening though. That doesn’t have to be the thing you do. If you want to support the agricultural industry, I can put links in the show notes to some funds that are relief funds for farm workers and for hospitality workers. I would try and buy from local farmers, try and plug into what’s happening in your own city locally and just try to support your community and give back where you can. Here in Austin there are some two organizations that have started giving grants out to farmers in need after the virus and I think that that’s happening in other cities too, but you’re going to have to go and find that yourself. But yeah, I would try and support in whatever way you can, your local food system and your local food community.

Joanna: Doubling back to supporting your local community as well as gardening. If you are gardening, can we still go to nurseries? Is that cool? If so, should I go to home depot or should I go to a local smaller nursery? Are they going to be open? Like what?

Chris: Don’t go anywhere. Stay home.

Hallie: Pretty much. Most nurseries have closed for the time being at least. If your local nursery might not, I would still recommend staying home. There are a lot of delivery options. Some local nurseries have also switched to doing a drive through option where you can order online or you can order over the phone and you can just go drive through in the car.

Joanna: Amazing.

Hallie: Yeah, I would try and find an option. If you want to garden, try and support local businesses. Try and also minimize your contact with other people. If that is you driving through a nursery, maybe that’s it. If they haven’t switched to something like that, I would maybe still order online even if you’re not supporting a local business. There are small businesses that are still selling starter plants online so you can still be supporting a small business. Yeah, that’s what I would do.

Joanna: Okay, cool. Find a way to support a small business. They are the most likely to be hurting first, right?

Hallie: Yeah, to be clear, everyone will be hurting. I don’t want to minimize the plight of large companies but also well.

Chris: Everyone will be hurting. I want to double back to something as well because you said to your knowledge that the virus remained viable on inanimate objects for a few hours and I could have sworn there were a couple places where I had heard days and I think these are one of those things where I’ll definitely do some research for yourself and make sure because I bet we’re at the point where the dust hasn’t settled enough to have good information.

Hallie: Yeah, I think that’s definitely true. When you’re buying your food regardless, you should be practicing good food safety practices bagging your food. I usually use reusable bags. I’m using more of those like tiny little thin plastic bags for my produce now just because it’s more of a barrier than the reusable bags that I’ve been using which have holes in them. If you’re purchasing from a farmer or at a farmers’ market or something like that, trying to pick up stuff that’s already been pre-packaged. All of that stuff can really help. The nice thing about going to farmers’ markets is you can talk to the farmer and be like, “Hey, when you package this, what kind of food safety protocol did you have in place? Were you wearing gloves? Were you wearing a mask? Were you sanitizing? What does that look like?” You can really know more about where your food is coming from.

Chris: I never would have thought to ask someone that.

Joanna: Yeah, just talk to them from standing six feet away.

Hallie: Totally. Talk standing six feet away. You can get a ton of information about how your food was grown and handled by talking to the farmer.

Joanna: That’s very smart. Okay. Onto the chilly questions.

Hallie: Yay.

Joanna: Oh, sarcasm. Okay. How do you see this playing out in the long run for farmers and the agricultural supply chain? Not necessarily like we know that you don’t have the full data at your fingertips, but your gut reaction as somebody who’s worked in this industry and seeing how it works, how do you feel like it is going to go?

Chris: Come on Hallie, look into that crystal ball and tell the future.

Hallie: Oof. Okay. Unfortunately, I think that this is going to put a lot of small farmers out of business. It’s going to put all kinds of small businesses out of business and that includes farmers I think. There are a lot of tools that are being put together and resources that are being put together at the federal level to try and support farmers to minimize that loss as much as possible, but I still think that it will happen. The thing that I’m really hoping will happen and that personally in my work day to day, I’m hoping to be able to use this as a moment to grow from is I think that this pandemic is really underscoring what it means to have a robust and resilient and decentralized food system in a way that was really hard to explain to policy makers and to members of the public and to anyone who was intimately involved with the idea of local food and what that really means. For the grocery stores that I’m working with, their suppliers are like maybe two to three companies for produce and so if one person at that packaging plant gets sick then everyone else at the packaging plant gets sick.

Joanna: Oh my gosh.

Hallie: That labor is shut down and there’s no produce, right?

Joanna: For the grocery store is that you work with?

Hallie: Yeah, for the grocery stores I’m talking to.

Joanna: Can you find one to two places?

Hallie: Yeah.

Joanna: That is insane.

Hallie: In terms of aggregators and distributors, it’s usually like one to two companies. I think I said two to three. I think two to three is probably pretty accurate. That’s extremely fragile.

Joanna: That’s really stressing me out.

Hallie: I think seeing what it looks like to live in a world with this amount of pressure being put on it it’s becoming a lot clearer what of value it is to have local food and to have local food producers and to have like a decentralized food supply system. We don’t really know what the different points of contamination could be if you’re having food that’s handled by six different companies, but if you’re going to the farmer’s market and you’re talking to your farmer and you’re picking food up from your farmer that your farmer picked or your farmer’s farm worker picked having an option for decentralized local food supply, I think is making a much clearer why it’s important to be supporting agriculture in all of the different ways and all of the different shapes they can take. Because I also wouldn’t advocate for a 100% local food system because if we had a tornado in Austin and all of our food was local, then we would be S-O-L, but having a food system that is resilient and robust and decentralized in a way where it can be flexible and it can still support people even in a time of crisis, I think is a really important conversation to have during and after this crisis.

Joanna: Oof.

Chris: Hey, Jo. Is that all of the questions?

Hallie: Yeah, you’ve got more questions?

Joanna: I genuinely don’t know if you’ll be able to answer this last one, so I was not sure if I was going to ask it.

Chris: Bring it.

Joanna: It was how are farmers and farm workers staying safe or going to stay safe during and after this pandemic?

Hallie: What a great question!

Chris: You know given how our episode on farm worker’s rights went, I don’t know that much has changed for farm workers quite frankly. Maybe some of them, I don’t know.

Hallie: Yeah, farm workers particularly in larger agricultural systems usually live extremely remotely and they have little access to healthcare, so that is extremely dangerous especially during this time of crisis. A lot of farmers are older as well. The average age of the American farmer right now I think is 58 and that’s an average, so a lot of them are much older than that. They’re definitely an at risk population. Farmers also tend to have more respiratory issues than the average American, so they are also at risk in that way. This is definitely something that’s going to be impacting the individual people that grow your food and that move your food and get it to you to your market. Support where you can. I’m going to be posting resources in the show notes and also think about how your choices in buying are impacting how your local food system can function and not just in the time of crisis, in all times because it’s helpful for once we get to that time of crisis to have a really robust food system. It is going to be a really dangerous time for a lot of farmers and for a lot of farm workers and for a lot of just consumers, people who are eating. We’re all being impacted by this and hopefully we can all be kind and support each other and do our best to get through this together.

Joanna: Dang.

Chris: Dang indeed. Well, thank you everyone for your questions. Thank you listener for listening. Thank you for Joanna for proxying and for joining us for a great conversation.

Hallie: Yeah, thanks dad and Jo and I really quickly want to thank Maggie and Steven and Amy and Edo and Kathleen for all of your questions that made this possible.

Joanna: I did want to circle back to one thing. You were talking about how an upside of going to a farmer’s market is that you can directly talk to your supplier and ask how your food is being handled, but would that not be the same case if you had some CSA type of direct delivery system?

Hallie: Yeah, if you’re doing CSA you could email them.

Joanna: I could email them or call them or whatever.

Hallie: Delivery totally. Yeah, you can follow your farmers on Instagram. They have great Instagram usually. They’re a lot of ways to connect with your local food system and your local farmers and usually there’s a lot of good chicken pictures on there. Some lovely sunset pictures. That’s like a good staple of the farmer Instagram. Hit him up, give him some likes.

Joanna: Awesome. All right. Thank you so much Hallie for answering all of our questions and thank you to you all. I’m so excited I’m finally on this episode.

Hallie: Yeah, you’ve been on the Patreon content, but not an actual episode.

Joanna: Here I am.

Chris: Glad you’re here.

Joanna: Long time listener. First time participant. Hello.

Hallie: Thanks for listening to this mini episode of Ask One to Grow On. If you have your own questions that you’d like answered, they can be about COVID-19 or they can be more generally about agriculture, you can email us at [email protected] or post with the hashtag AskOnetoGrowOn.

[Background music].

32: Plant Propagation Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

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

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

[Background music].

Chris: All right. How do you propagate a plant?

Hallie: So many ways.

Chris: You plant it in the ground or you cut part of it off and splice it into another plant and that’s why speciation is all just made up nonsense because you can splice all the plants with each other and create new plants.

Hallie: No.

Chris: No? You can cross breed them.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Okay. But the splicing, isn’t why speciation is nonsense.

Hallie: We don’t really call it splicing. We call it grafting. You basically build a plant, but it’s still two separate sides of the plant. Like you can graft a potato and a tomato together and what you have is a topato or however you like.

[Laughter].

Hallie: The bottom part grows potatoes and the top part grows tomatoes. Right.

Chris: But it’s not a hybrid.

Hallie: Yes, it grows and then it dies and that’s it. It’s not going to produce a new plant because it’s not in the genes. Basically, what just happens is the tubes connect and so they can transport water and nutrients up and down the plant.

Chris: Okay. Cool. But that’s not propagation.

Hallie: It can be part of propagation, but that’s not mostly what we’re going to be talking about. A peek behind the curtain, I taught this as a class. Big shout out to one of my previous students who took our listener’s survey.

Chris: There you go. Hey, Melissa.

Hallie: Yeah, she’ll know all of this information hopefully. I taught a class called plant propagation and I thought it would be fun to try and fit an entire semester into 35 minutes of podcast.

Chris: If you don’t know all the information by now, Melissa, you should have paid more attention in class.

Hallie:
Okay. We don’t need to drag Melissa on the podcast.

Chris: I never paid attention in class.

Hallie: Melissa was an excellent student.

Chris: I believe it.

Hallie: We have sexual propagation and asexual propagation.

Chris: It’s like hot or not.

Hallie: What?

Chris: [Laughs]. Plants that are hot for each other. Plants that just don’t care and do their own thing.

Hallie: No, we propagate plants to serve our own purposes not necessarily to serve the plant’s purposes. Most plants that we asexually propagate can propagate sexually, but there are reasons why we choose to asexually propagate it instead.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: Because plants are living beings that have sexual cycles and reproduce via pollen and ovaries and they create seeds.

Chris: There is still some [inaudible].

Hallie: It’s just like how many, many living things operate, including plants.

Chris: When you say we choose to propagate them, asexually I feel like we’re subjugating them to our will against their preferences, even though they are plants and they don’t necessarily have preferences. I’m like, oh, we are bending these plants to our will.

Hallie: Yeah, we do that with most things. [Laughs].

Chris: That is true. We are humans. That is what we do.

Hallie: It sucks to suck.

Chris: [Laughs]. I don’t think we need to drag all of humanity in the show.

Hallie: No, I’m not dragging all of humanity. I’m like sucks to suck to like all the other living plants. Maybe you should have thought about that and then become the dominant predator, apex species or whatever.

Chris: So because they didn’t work hard enough at evolution, they just have to deal.

Hallie: Yeah, I’m just saying. It seems like we got here and we’re crushing it.

Chris: I feel like that’s a little heartless.

Hallie: Nothing’s going wrong. We’re doing a great job. We have sexual propagation. We have asexual propagation. Sexual propagation meaning seeds. That’s how we further that plant. That can include things like seed breeding, which is where we grow plants for the purpose of trying to make a seed that will grow a better plant.

Chris: Seed breeding, which we grow a seed for the purposes of trying to make a better plant.

Hallie: We grow a plant for the seed in hopes that that seed makes a better plant.

Chris: We grow a plant for the seed. Oh, so we select for a particular plant that produces the best seeds.

Hallie: Basically, sometimes we have plants that are crossbreeds or hybrids and so in that, we can be growing tomatoes, but if we’re growing like seed tomatoes, then we’re never growing those tomatoes really for the tomatoes, we’re growing them to cross pollinate them and create tomato seed.

Chris: Kind of like when your mom and I got together because we knew we would make the best children.

Hallie: Gross.

Chris: It’s not gross. It’s romantic and sweet.

Hallie: No, it’s not at all.

[Laughter].

Chris: All right. Fine whatever. We’re selecting plants to have better or more resilient seeds or we’re selecting them for some particular characteristic to qualify as whatever good is for what we need it.

Hallie: Right. We breed plants. Oftentimes when we do that, it’s seed breeding that we do it for. There are different components of a seed. You have the seed coat, you have the endosperm, the cotyledon and the embryo. I feel like we’ve talked about this on the podcast before.

Chris: Those are all words that I remember. Cotyledon is the weirdest one. I do remember you talking about it.

Hallie: Inside of the seed, there’s a little embryo, which is what the plant becomes, but there’s also these cotyledons that become what you first see, when the little embryo pops up. It’s like two or one leaves. They’re not really leaves because they’re inside of the seed. They’re like a starchy reserve so that when the embryo starts to grow, it’s able to like pull starches out so it has energy. This is helpful to understand the different parts of a seed because sometimes we have to treat seed in order for it to grow.

Chris: Are these what microgreens are?

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: I remembered another thing. I’m so happy for me.

Hallie: That must have been when we talked about it. If you want to go back, we talked about microgreens on the last superfood episode.

Superfood four I think we talked about microgreens and that involves talking about cotyledons, but around the seed is a seed coat. Sometimes when we are planting seeds, in order to propagate a new plant, we have to treat the seeds because there is something that makes it impossible for the embryo to actually grow. We do things like imbibing the seed, which is where you soak them in water.

Chris: It’s not about just getting them drunk.

Hallie: We don’t get them drunk. We can soak them in water by imbibing them. We can also stratify them, which is when we put them in the freezer for a couple of days and that will break a seed’s dormancy or we can also what we call scarify the seeds, which is where you basically file them down with like a nail file or something.

Chris: I’m so confused right now.

Hallie: Why?

Chris: I’m accepting what you’re telling me, right? We’re talking about getting the seed to start growing, one of the ways is soaking them in water.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: They don’t drown obviously.

They just like the water and the other way you said it’s freezing them, which I associate freezing with going dormant, not with triggering production.

Hallie: Right. Basically, what you’re mimicking there is if you’re a plant and you produce fruit in the spring time and it’s lovely and it’s warm outside and the seeds go in the ground, you don’t really want those seeds to start growing until the next spring usually. So you’re basically mimicking a winter time period so they have a freezing. Then when that freeze ends, they’re like, okay, great. It’s warm now I will start to grow. Because if it was still cold or if it was still warm and there hadn’t been cold, these seeds are like, wait, it’s going to get cold and it’s going to get rough for me. I got to wait it out.

Chris: The freezer mimics the weather.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Dang!

Hallie: The seeds are not that smart. They can’t notice that it’s inside of a freezer.

Chris: Fair enough. Then taking a nail file to them.

Hallie: Yeah, scarification. Sometimes we just put them in a big tumbler and we tumble them around so that the seed coats get scratched.

Chris: Like a rock polisher.

Hallie: Yeah, but basically this is mimicking being eaten and then pooped.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: Sometimes you actually have to ferment seeds to make them grow, which is wild. But usually, if you have some kind of seed with a really hard seed coat, it’s either meant to be a mammal, grabs it and then chews it and then spits it back out or it goes through the digestive system and there are a lot of acids in there that can break that seed coat down and then it’s ready to be.

Chris: Got it. The nail file mimics the process by which the seed coat gets broken down. There are seeds which in the wild go through a fermentation process before they start growing. Is that correct or is that scaring as well?

Hallie: Yeah, fermentation is kind of similar. That’s basically mimicking going through a digestive track where you are exposed to a lot of high acids.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: That is most of what I have for sexual propagation.

We can talk about asexual next, which is the wild stuff. Sexual is the most common and the cheapest, but there’s tons more to talk about, but that’s the basics. If you’re gardening, always check your seed packet in case you need to imbibe, scarify, or stratify your seeds.

Chris: It’s like the opposite of the human world where the sexual reproduction is the wild stuff.

Hallie: No, dad. If we asexually propagate humans, that’s the wild stuff.

Chris: Oh, that’s fair. That’s a good point. I never thought about that. How would that look? I don’t think that this podcast is the forum for that kind of speculation, but now I’m curious. I mean, cloning, I guess.

Hallie: That’s exactly cloning. Precisely, exactly. Yes.

Chris: Wait, is asexual propagation in plants cloning?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Oh.

[Laughter].

Chris: All right. Well, you know where things get really wild?

Hallie: Where?

Chris: In the break.

Hallie: Hey, let’s go.

[Background music].

Hallie: I have some excellent news. I would like to very much thank a very new brand new starfruit patron, Patrick.

Chris: Hello, Patrick.

Hallie: Welcome to our wonderful podcast family.

Chris: Welcome. We are so happy to have you along with starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey and Shianne.

Hallie: Thank you guys so much for all of your support. If you would like to talk with us, our amazing starfruit patrons, all of the rest of the One to Grow On community, you can jump in our Discord group or our Facebook group where we are posting lots of memes and jokes and plant facts and plant questions. So many plant questions.

Lots of houseplant support, gardening support, plant ID, all these wonderful things you can find. You can either go to onetogrowonpod.com/discord for the Discord group or onetogrowonpod.com/group for the Facebook group.

Chris: Facts, fun, memes like dandelions.

Hallie: Yes, come join us. We would love to talk with you.

Chris: Also in March, we’re going to do things a little differently.

Hallie: March is national agriculture month here in the US and we are partnering up with three amazing food and farming podcasts to bring you a little bit of different content. We’re going to be airing some of their episodes so you can learn more about their shows and how amazing they are. We’re going to be talking about this a lot on social media, so you can connect to other very cool people online who are talking about agriculture and food in very fun and interesting ways and doing amazing stuff. We’re focusing on indie producers, so it’s going to be a lot of people who this is their passion, just like me and dad. They really are trying to bring the very best stuff. You can look forward to that. The next episode is technically just at the end of February, but that is when we will start and then the two episodes in March will also be part of this. Until April though, if you want to connect with us, we’re going to be on social media and we’re going to be on our Discord and Facebook, so come join us at onetogrowonpod.com/discord or slash group for the Discord and Facebook group, respectively.

Chris: In April, we’ll be back on the air. But now it’s back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: I do. All right. The past few weeks I’ve been obsessed with this new video, which is not plant related, but it is nature related. It’s about the sun.

Hallie: Oh, I love the sun.

Chris: I love the sun too. I guess it is plant related because we can’t have plants without the sun.

Hallie: It’s everything related. We couldn’t have anything without the sun.

Chris: That’s true. But the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope from the national observatory produced the highest resolution video and photos of the sun ever. The video is mesmerizing and you’ve got to check it out. We’ll have a link in the show notes, if you haven’t seen it already. It’s just about a 15 second video of what looks sort of like this hot boiling gas and each of these little boiling blobs on the video is about the size of Texas. They’re massive. Well, the sun is massive and each of these little cells is massive. We see this big white dot in the sky.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: This is just sort of this close up, detailed movement of this plasma gas and fire out here on this giant ball of fire in space. It’s amazing.

Hallie: That sounds so cool.

Chris: It’s really cool. We’ll have a link in the show notes if you haven’t checked it out. We’re glad that you’re here and excited about agriculture. Be excited about space too. Space is cool.

Hallie: Spaces is so cool.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: Tara tarata ta! Nature fact!

Chris: Asexual reproduction. Production without sex.

Hallie: Oh, yes. Exactly or as you put it earlier cloning. This happens naturally in nature, which is where we got the idea to do it.

Chris: Real quick, the banana is a clone. All bananas are clones of one another. Is that something we did or is that something that the banana did itself?

Hallie: Bananas do do that. We basically selected for the banana we wanted and then propagated that a lot.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: But bananas also do do that.

Chris: Sorry, still reading my book. I got to know.

Hallie: Examples of natural occurrences of asexual propagation includes things like tubers, rhizomes, bulbs, corms, tuberous roots, keikis.

Chris: That’s a lot of words. I feel like I know what a tuber is.

Hallie: Example?

Chris: That’s a potato.

Hallie: Exactly, that is a potato.

Chris: I feel like I know what a root is, a part of a plant. I don’t know why it’s in this example, but you also said corm, which is not corn.

Hallie: No, corms.

Chris: Keikis.

Hallie: Rhizomes and bulbs.

Chris: I have a friend named Keiki.

Hallie:  [Laughs].

Chris: I don’t know what it is here. We talked about rhizomes once.

Hallie: Which is?

Chris: It’s a kind of root sort of.

Hallie: Modified stem tissue.

Chris: I almost said modified group, modified stem tissue, but it’s usually underground, right? It shoots out and new things sprout out of it.

Hallie: It’s either right below or right on top of the ground. It’s like what grass has. That’s rhizomes. Bulbs example is like onions, irises, garlic. Those are bulbs.

Chris: Your grandmother used to get bulbs all the time and grow them, tulips.

Hallie: Corms are very similar to bulbs. We’ll just say that basically they’re the same as bulbs. Tubers roots, tubers, meaning akin to a tuber. They’re slightly different because technically they’re root tissue, whereas tubers are stem tissue. But other than that, they’re very similar.

Chris: Like bubotubers. I don’t know. Harry Potter reference, anyway.

Hallie: Do you know how we propagate potatoes?

Chris: We put them under the sink until they sprout little leaves on them.

Hallie: Basically, yeah.

Chris: Wait, really?

Hallie: Well, kind of, but not really. On potatoes, you have the little eyes, which is where if you leave them out for too long, they’ll start to grow. You can just take like a sharp knife and cut those eyes out and you leave them for a bit of time. Sometimes you put some sulfur powder on them and then you plant them and they grow.

Chris: That sounds so violent.

Hallie: Why?

Chris: You cut their eyes out.

Hallie: You cut their eyes out.

Chris: You cut their eyes out then you put some sulfur on them and then they grow. Is it pure sulfur or is it a mineral like a salt?

Hallie: It’s like a mineral salt yeah. You don’t always put it on there depending on how wet it is. The sulfur can help prevent bacterial infections if it gets really wet, but it’s not always necessary. You also do have things like keikis. Keiki is specifically a term for orchids, but it’s basically what we call an adventitious root. We have it on other things too. Have you ever seen like a spider plant? Do you know what a spider plant is?

Chris: You have said so many things that I just don’t know about. I’ve seen an orchid. I did not know they were clones of each other.

Hallie: Well, they’re not always. They do have flowers and so they can grow seeds.

Chris: I know you said something that sounded like advantageous.

Hallie: Adventitious roots. Have you seen a spider plant before? Do you know a spider plant?

Chris: I don’t remember.

Hallie: Spider plants have these long thin leaves, but they also shoot out little babies. They’re very common.

[Laughter].

Chris: They’ve got little leaves. A little baby is flying out.

Hallie: Pretty much. They’re a very common houseplant. If you Google a picture of them, you’ve got to have seen them somewhere, but they are a very common plant that is very obvious. They have adventitious root tissue. Basically, you have above ground plant stuff and they start to grow roots in hopes that they will take root somewhere.

Chris: The tissue that’s above the ground grows the roots and hopes that the roots will find the ground again. That is adventitious.

Hallie: For the spider plants, how they do this is you have a one big, main plant and sometimes they will flower and grow seed, but they prefer to grow colonially so they’ll shoot out these little babies and these little stands that go like, boom! It’s still attached to the plant, but on the top part of the babies are leaves. Then on the bottom there’s a little bit of root tissue.

If you shoot the baby out and it lands on the ground, it starts to grow on its own.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: That’s what adventitious root tissue is. When we are propagating plants for our uses, oftentimes we will take cuttings. A good example of this is the potatoes, like we were talking about. You just cut them up and you’re basically separating them and creating a new plant from a smaller part of a plant. But we can also create plants from cuttings by inducing root growth. The same way that it happens naturally with these keikis and these spider plants. We can take a cutting of something like a pothus ivy and then induce root growth. You did that remember with Jerry?

Chris: Yes, I took the leaf. I believe you said it was above the nodule.

Hallie: Node. You took I think it was two nodes of pothus plant.

Chris: I put that in water. How did that induce because I didn’t do anything?

Hallie: Right.

Chris: When you say induce root growth that makes me think that I should be doing something.

Hallie: Oftentimes, that is how it works. Pothus ivy is just very happy to just do whatever.

They just kind of do their own thing. With many plants, you have to add some kind of hormone. There are five major hormones that plants have. One of them is called oxygen and oxygen controls root growth. If you take a piece of a plant and you put a little oxygen on there, then it’s more likely to grow some roots for you because you’re kind of signaling with these hormones like, hey, here’s the place for the roots.

Chris: Does the oxygen have yolks?

Hallie: Oh my God!

[Laughter].

Hallie:
That was the worst joke you’ve ever made.

Chris: You said oxen. I thought about, babe, the blue ox out, plowing the field because you also said induce root growth and it made me think of Pitocin for inducing labor. But I guess in the broadest sense, the concept is not dissimilar.

Hallie: I guess in the very broadest of senses.

Chris: You’re giving some sort of hope hormone to get things going.

Hallie: That’s very true.

If you would like to do cutting at home of any plants, we advise that you use a sharp knife. We meaning like the larger plant community I guess. You want to use a sharp knife because one, it’s safer for you. Two, you’re less likely to have any issues with bacterial infection or fungal infection or something like that if your plant is less wounded if you get a nice sharp cut. It’s very similar to people. If you use a rusty old knife to do a surgery, it’s not going to be as good as if you have a clean sharp knife so you want a clean, sharp knife. You want to cut the base of your cutting at 45 degrees. This maximizes the area of exposed stem tissue on the inside gooey bits that touch rooting hormone. If you cut at 45 degrees, you have more surface area than if you cut it straight across so you get more rooting hormone contact. You also give it more room to build up starches and build up what we call callus tissue, which is the most dramatic. Meaning able to differentiate into other plant organs.

Chris: Got to maximize the gooey parts.

Hallie: Maximize gooey parts by cutting it 45 degrees for many reasons.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: You can cut many different things. You can also layer.

Chris: What do you mean?

Hallie: Layering is also kind of like the spider plant. Here’s what you do. Imagine this.

Imagine you have a bush. You can picture it?

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: You have a bush. You take one of the stems. About midway up the stem, you take all the leaves off for like a two inch section. You take the stem, you pull it down to the ground and you bury that part that you took the leaves off of under the ground.

Chris: You don’t break the stem off. You just kind of bend it down.

Hallie: Bury it and then you let it grow for like two months. Then you cut it off and it’s got the roots on it.

Chris: The parts where the leaves come out turn into parts where the roots come out, I guess.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: You can put oxygen on that part when you bend it down and put it under the ground to tell them this is the roots area now.

Chris: Yolk docksin.

Hallie: Oh my God.

Chris: Then you cut the top of the stem off and then that sticks up and becomes a new bush.

Hallie: It’s like a whole separate plant.

Chris: Wow! That’s amazing.

Hallie: It’s very cool. You can also do air layering, which is where if you have a tree you cut into the tree to wound it and then you put a little oxygen on there and then you put some potting soil that is damp on it and then just wrap it in saran wrap and wait a couple of weeks. Then you can just cut the whole branch off.

Chris: Just to be clear, this only works with plants.

Hallie: It would not work with people.

Chris: Right. Can’t. Never mind.

Hallie: No.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: That’s layering. It’s very similar to cutting except for the plant stays attached until the end of the process. The last step is cutting it off. We used to do have micropropagation.

Chris: Oh boys. Like microgreens only with propagation not greens?

Hallie: It’s wild. Basically, this is in a very controlled, clean room situation. You’re in like a lab.

Chris: Not the wild kind of wild, but the crazy kind of wild.

Hallie: Like the crazy kind of wild where it’s just like wild. It’s like buck wild. You take a very, very small part of a plant. It can be leaf tissue. It can be stem tissue. It’s not usually root tissue because it’s harder to get leaves to grow from roots than it is to get roots to grow from leaves and you have to have both parts to get a whole plant. Basically, you take a very small amount of it. Probably, if you were to imagine if you did a hole puncher on a leaf, like that amount.

Chris: Wow. Just a tiny bit of plant tissue.

Hallie: A small bit of plant tissue and you basically put it in a grow room and it grows a whole new plant.

Chris: You don’t have to do anything to it?

Hallie: You do. You put it in algae and the algae usually has some oxygen. It’s basically like in a little Petri dish. Then once it’s grown up a little bit where it’s big enough where you’re able to pull it out, then you can pull it out and put it in some potting soil. Then you put that in a grow room with lights and water.

Chris: I feel like the oxygen would have to be really tiny to fit in the Petri dish.

Hallie: No, this is not a good joke.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I’m not engaging with this.

Chris: All right. You take a hole punch, punch a hole in a leaf. You put the little piece of plant confetti in the Petri dish and you make a new plant from it. That is pretty wild.

Hallie: It’s buck wild. It’s very cool. We do it a lot for science. Sometimes we do it for woody plants where you have a very high market value because it’s expensive to have grow rooms and stuff like that. You also need much more specialized labor. You could probably layer a bush. You understand the process. You could go out berry part of a branch and get any plant. But to work in a lab and to really handle those chemicals, it’s a lot of infrastructure. You need specialized labor. It’s very expensive. We do it for science. We do it for things that are more expensive so that you can afford to spend more, to get like really clean, good plants.

Chris: I have two thoughts. One is this means in that tiny bit of plant, there’s enough information for an entire new plant.

Hallie: Yes, there’s a concept for that actually it’s called total potency. It’s the idea that from one cell you could grow a whole plant.

Chris: That’s an amazing term. That plant has got total potency. That’s awesome. From one cell.

Hallie: That’s the concept.

Chris: My other thought is I assume it has, but has this not worked for the American chestnut?

Hallie: No, the problem with the American chestnut is not that we can’t grow more chestnut trees. It’s that if we do grow more Chestnut trees, then there is fungus that will then still get to them. It’s more an issue of breeding with the chestnuts than just growing more of them. This fungal blight is just so ubiquitous. We’re having a hard time getting resistance into the actual species.

Chris: Got it. Real cool. Now we know how to make new plants.

Hallie: Do you feel educated?

Chris: I do feel educated.

Hallie: Do you feel like you should have taken a whole semester to learn all of this?

Chris: I don’t know. Melissa, let us know what you think. I bet you knew all of this stuff already and I bet everyone in plant propagation this semester can listen to this episode and get A’s.

Hallie: Maybe so.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: Knock, knock.

Chris: Who’s there?

Hallie: Petri dish.

Chris: Petri dish who?

Hallie: There’s oxygen in your Petri dish.

Chris: You said mine was a bad joke?

Hallie: I’ll leave the jokes to you. Fine.

[Laughter].

Hallie: It was off the cuff, okay?

Chris: So were mine.

[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].

aerial view of agricultural fields

31: Water – Modern Challenges Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

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

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production that confuses a lot of people and try to get Hallie to explain it to us and this week we are talking about water again.

[Background music].


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

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

Hallie: Two weeks ago.

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

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

Chris: Which sounds amazing.

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

Chris: Question.

Hallie: Yes.

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

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

Chris: Okay.

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

Chris: All right.

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

Chris: We import a lot of our stuff.

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

Chris: Okay.

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

Chris: That’s mind blowing.

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

Chris: Right.

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

Chris: Yes.

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

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

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

Chris: Wow. It’s mind blowing.

Hallie: We use a lot of water.

Chris: That’s true.

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

Chris: Okay. Because?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: That’s presumably because of less precipitation.

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

Chris: Regardless, it doesn’t sound good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: For sure. It’s not great.

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

Chris: How is soil health related to irrigation?

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

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

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

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

Chris: Okay. That makes sense.

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

Chris: It does.

Hallie: Cool.

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

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: For that, we need a break.

Hallie: Let’s go.

[Background music].

Chris: Hallie, do you feel healthy?

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

Chris: We are in the break.

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

Chris: You do and you light up the podcast.

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

Chris: It’s true.

Hallie: You keep the lights of the podcast on.

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: We got some great stickers.

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

Chris: Back to the episode.

[Background music].


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

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

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, kind of.

Chris: All right.

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

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

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

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

Chris: Turf grass.

Hallie: No, hay.

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

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

Chris: I thought hay was for horses.

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

[Laughter].

Chris: Oh, okay. I didn’t go there.

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

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

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

Chris: Why is it not an option?

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

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

Chris: Okay.

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

Chris: Hold the phone.

Hallie: Yeah, by 25%

Chris: Wait, eliminating those crops completely.

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

Chris: You’re not talking about eliminating hay.

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

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

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

Chris: Got it.

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

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

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

Hallie: No, I don’t.

[Laughter].

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

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

Chris: It’s a terrible idea.

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

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

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

Chris: Okay.

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

Chris: When did you do the agricultural water policy?

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

Chris: Cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: Got it.

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: I don’t remember.

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

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

Chris: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: [Laughs].

[Background music].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

Chris: Bye everybody.

[Background music].