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47: Superfoods VI – Wild Rice, Spirulina, Kombucha, and Acerola 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 episode we are focusing on superfoods for the sixth time.

[Background music].

Hallie: It is superfoods time again. It’s been a little while and we are back at it again.

Chris: We are. Hey, you know what I had for dessert last night?

Hallie: What?

Chris: Or actually no, I made it yesterday and I had it for breakfast this morning.

Hallie: Okay.

Chris: Chocolate chia pudding.

Hallie: Yum, right?

Chris: It was really good. I made chocolate milk out of oat milk using my hot chocolate recipe and then I put it some chia full. You got to mix the chia seeds up at some point because otherwise they get all gloopy at the bottom.

Hallie: True.

Chris: That’s takings I’m getting used to, but it was delicious.

Hallie: So good.

Chris: Yeah, oat milk is good stuff people.

Hallie: Oat milk is the best of the milks.

Chris: It is.

Hallie: Should we dive into it? Oh, first I wanted to tell everyone that these superfood ideas came from polls that we held on Twitter and Instagram.

Chris: That’s right.

Hallie: If you want to get involved in choosing the next superfoods for the next episode, then you should make sure you’re following on Twitter and Instagram because that is how we are now deciding which foods we’re going to be talking about.

Chris: You have questions, we’ve got answers.

Hallie: We’ve got answers, you all. First crop is wild rice.

Chris: Wild rice, the kind of rice that I never liked to eat as a kid.

Hallie: Why did you not like to eat it?

Chris: I liked white rice. That was enough rice for me.

Hallie: What do you mean that was enough rice for you? You didn’t like wild rice?

Chris: That was the best rice. That was the only rice that I thought was good.

Hallie: Because it’s plain and starchy and boring and not delicious?

Chris: Yes, just like me.

Hallie: Yeah, exactly. You’re plain, white, starchy and boring.

Chris: That’s right. Born and bred. No, but I don’t know.

Wild rice and brown rice, they just all tasted weird and different.

Hallie: I mean, they are different. That’s part of the thing that people don’t know about wild rice. Brown rice and white rice are very similar. Wild rice and white rice are actually quite different.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: They’re fully different species.

Chris: Because it looks like plain rice but it’s a bunch of different colors.

Hallie: Yeah, when you get the wild rice that’s mixed up and it is different colors, oftentimes it’s different kinds of rice that they have taken and mixed together. Like if you get wild rice off of one rice plant, they’re all the same color usually.

Chris: Are you saying they’re lying to me?

Hallie: I mean, it is wild that they do mix multiple kinds of rice and pack them.

Chris: [Laughs]. That is so wild.

Hallie: Because oftentimes the rice in those bags has different cooking times from each other because it’s different plants. It’s different kinds of rice.

Chris: Oh, that’s outright annoying.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s kind of annoying, but it usually ends up tasting good, but you can actually buy straight up one species wild rice if you want and we’re going to talk about that.

Chris: Okay. Talk about that.

Hallie: Wild rice is also called Canada rice. It’s also called Indian rice. It’s also called water oats. The ojibwe word for it is manoomin.

Chris: Is it called Canada rice because it grows in Canada or because Canadians are particularly wild?

Hallie: Because it grows in Canada.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: [Laughs]. I think we all know Canadians are not particularly wild.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: The species is Zizania. It’s related to as I mentioned Oryzeae, which is the white rice, but it is a different genus within a similar area of the family and it’s all within the same grass family, which Poaceae, which is the grass family has tons and tons of plants in it. It is native to North America and to Asia. Mostly, it’s found in small lakes and streams. There are four different species. You have Zizania palustris, which is Northern wild rice. It’s native to the Great Lakes region of North America and then a little bit further west up into the plains and forests of what is present day Canada and parts of the US. You have Zizania aquatica, which is wild rice. The common name is just wild rice. It is native to the Saint Lawrence River, which feeds into Lake Ontario and it’s also native to parts of Florida and the Atlantic and Gulf Coast. Then you have Zizania texana, which common name is Texas wild rice. Do you know about this rice?

Chris: I feel like I’ve seen it in the grocery store maybe.

Hallie: You have absolutely not.

Chris: Really? Okay. I know nothing about Texas wild rice then.

Hallie: So I think you probably should know some things about Texas wild rice.

Chris: As in, I need to know this for my survival?

Hallie: No.

Chris: Or is this something I should have picked up along the way?

Hallie: Yes, the second one.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Texas wild rice is endemic. It’s extremely endangered and it’s pretty much endemic to one river in Texas.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: Which is the San Marcos River.

Chris: Oh, no kidding.

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Were we around it when we went swimming?

Hallie: All the time.

Chris: Oh wow. [Laughs].

Hallie: Yes, constantly. The San Marcos River is a spring fed river.

Chris: Yeah, it’s cold.

Hallie: There used to be a place right at the spring called Aquarena Springs known for dressing ladies in mermaid costumes amongst other things.

Chris: Yes, and swimming pigs.

Hallie: But yeah, Aquarena Springs was home to the Texas wild rice for the decades it was open.

Chris: What?

Hallie: Yeah, Texas State has a research station there and they study wild rice. It’s very endangered. It’s kind of weird because part of the main park in San Marcos, I went to school in San Marcos. We didn’t mention that. I went to school in San Marcos, Texas and the main park where all of the college students swim every single day and they jump in and they do challenges and they throw Frisbees, that is where that rice is native to. If you jump in and you swim, there’s all this rice around you and people are always complaining about getting tangled up in the rice and all that.

Chris: It’s so wild to me that it could be endangered because rice is something that I think of as so common, but we just have this little rice plant in Texas that you say I’ve never eaten it. Has anyone eaten it? Is it edible?

Hallie: It’s totally edible, but generally, no. You definitely don’t want to eat it because it’s so endangered. It’s just really, really hard for the flowers themselves to get pollinated because the pollen moves very slowly and it doesn’t move very far, so it’s hard for the pollen to get into the flower and it’s hard for the flower to make fruits. When the fruits are made, we really want those to turn into rice plants because it is hard to get those little rice fruits.

Chris: Then with fewer bees around, that’s probably just making things even more difficult.

Hallie: Well, rice is actually not pollinator pollinated. It’s wind and water pollinated.

Chris: Oh, kill the bees. Rice don’t care.

Hallie: Not relevant.

Chris: Don’t kill the bees. Is there like a black market restaurant where I can pay a thousand bucks a plate to eat Texas wild rice?

Hallie: You didn’t hear this from me, but not no. The answer is not no to that question.

[Laughter].

Hallie: But don’t go looking for it at all. Do not go looking for this.

Chris: Oh, wow. Okay. Alright. That might be in the outtakes. We’ll see.

[Laughter].

Hallie: The fourth species of Zizania is Zizania latifolia, which is native to China. Manchurian wild rice is the common name. It’s native to that part of China, which used to be called Manchuria. It’s also really hard to find it in China in the wild, so it’s also kind of endangered in China, but it’s actually invasive species in New Zealand.

Chris: That’s where their candidate is from.

Hallie: Yeah, is that the one thing you know about Manchuria?

Chris: It’s the Manchurian candidate.

Hallie: Great, dad.

Chris: That’s it. That’s all I got.

Hallie: The first two species that we talked about Zizania palustris and Zizania aquatica are the species that are most commonly eaten. They’re not endangered. You can find them in the grocery store. They are eaten both today and also have been eaten for centuries by indigenous people that are native to Turtle Island or what we call North America.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: I mentioned earlier the Ojibwe word for this plant because that’s the one that I was able to find online, but I want to make it clear. This plant was and is very important to many first nations’ people including the Menominee, the Odawa, the Chippawa. If this is a food crop that you personally really like eating, I really highly recommend that you learn more about the people that cultivated it. You can find really great resources and info at nativewildricecoalition.com, including sources on where to buy native grown wild rice.

Chris: Oh, very cool.

Hallie: Extremely cool.

Chris: Thank you.

Hallie: The largest market producers today, unfortunately, are not really first nation’s people. It’s folks in Minnesota and California because everything is grown in California and parts of Canada. Usually, it’s grown on wetland. As I mentioned, it’s native to streams and small lakes. That is usually where it’s grown. Oftentimes, it’s grown on Peats.

Chris: How does Pete feel about that?

Hallie: Oh my goodness gracious.

[Laughter].

Hallie: P-E-A-T, as in like a bog.

Chris: Alright. A peat bog is like a marshy grassy puddle thing. Cool.

Hallie: Yeah, marshy grassy puddle thing. Otherwise, it has to grow in these wet conditions otherwise the rice would just be less productive or it would be all the way unproductive. It’s grown somewhat because there’s a market for it, but it does take a lot of water, which is problematic if it’s not growing in its native places where there is already a lot of water.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: I couldn’t find any specific numbers on how big the market for wild rice specifically is, but as you and I both know it is widely available and very popular. The claims around it. Let’s get into that. Claims are it boosts your energy. It helps with your weight loss. It helps with your immune system. Lots of questions around those claims. No proof around any of those claims.

Chris: Okay. Is it healthier than white rice?

Hallie: It is. It is healthier than white rice. White rice is a whole grain, but it is not terribly healthy. Wild rice does have a good amount of protein.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: It’s a whole grain. Whole grains are pretty much universally good for the hearts. They’re good for all kinds of stuff. It is gluten-free as you know rice is, but also wild rice because it’s really grown differently it’s not usually processed in the same processing facilities as white rice, which can sometimes have gluten contamination. Sometimes with certain wild rice brands, you can get like a more gluten-free brand if you are really, really sensitive to gluten and even if it’s processed in the same bagging system or something like that.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Sometimes that can cause issues for folks. Wild rice, not usually a lot of crossover with gluten, which is helpful. It has got good nutrition. It has got good antioxidants. There’ve been several studies that have showed that wild rice compared to other whole grains particularly is very heart healthy, but you know all whole grains are heart healthy, but there have been some studies that show wild rice might have a little bit of an edge over other whole grains.

Chris: I’m going to go get me some wild rice.

Hallie: Pretty cool stuff, right?

Chris: Good stuff. I’m not going to put a cape on it, but I’m going to eat it.

Hallie: It’s a great grain. It’s a great rice. Very important to a lot of native peoples. You can go to nativewildricecoalition.com to learn more about tribal producers. It’s a great grain.

Chris: When I hear the phrase great grain, I just imagine this sort of images of fields of wheat and this majestic music and maybe David Attenborough’s voice narrating something.

Hallie: The great grain god.

Chris: There you go.

Hallie: Probably not cape worthy, but a great grain.

Chris: Go wild rice.

Hallie: Shall we move on?

Chris: We shall move on.

Hallie: Spirulina. What do you know?

Chris: It’s algae, is it not?

Hallie: No, actually. It is not.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: You know anything else?

Chris: I know it’s in some smoothies that I used to buy.

Hallie: Back in the before times in the smoothie times.

Chris: [Laughs]. Very much in the before you times actually.

Hallie: What?

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: I didn’t know there were smoothies invented before I was alive.

Chris: It’s true. They existed.

Hallie: Wow.

Chris: We had blenders and everything.

Hallie: Blenders and everything. Spirulina is a cyanobacteria, which is called generally a blue-green algae, but is not an algae.

Chris: Okay. I was about to say. Did I not just say it was an algae?

Hallie: It’s not an algae. It’s a blue-green algae. It’s microscopic. It’s a bacteria. It grows like algae, so we say blue-green algae. That blue-green is quite important because if you cut it off, it would just be algae. But a blue-green algae is an algae like thing that is blue-green and not an algae. Very confusing I know.

Chris: That was very confusing. If I take a giant antibiotic and kill the microscopic bacteria, will this fix my gut?

Hallie: What?

Chris: If it’s bacteria I don’t know, can it fix my gut bio?

Hallie: Oh, I see. Well, we will get to that.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: These things photosynthesize much like plants and algae.

Chris: Really? That’s pretty cool.

Hallie: It’s quite cool. Love an autotroph.

Chris: What’s an autotroph?

Hallie: An autotroph is something that creates its own food as opposed to us heterotrophs meaning other and then troph meaning like food energy, so we have to source something else for our food as opposed to like a plant creates an onset.

Chris: Man, if I could create my own food, I would have to leave the couch even less.

Hallie: Wouldn’t that be great?

Chris: [Laughs]. That would be so great. Autotroph made some ice cream.

Hallie: Cyanobacteria is very important on our planet. There is a theory that it is responsible and it seems very likely that it’s responsible for what is known as the Great Oxidation Event, which was a geo historical time period where oxygen levels of the ocean and the atmosphere rose.

Chris: Okay. I was actually going to ask that as this blue-green algae that’s not algae, is it the thing that lives in the ocean along the surface or whatever and you can see little spots of it?

Hallie: Well, it is microscopic.

Chris: But if there’s like a lot of things.

Hallie: Exactly. If there are many microscopic things, it becomes macroscopic.

Chris: There you go and it very possibly raised the oxygen level of the whole earth.

Hallie: Very possibly, but also it just creates a lot of oxygen, like way to go cyanobacteria.

Chris: I was going to say that sounds pretty important.

Hallie: Extremely great. There are species of cyanobacteria that are also responsible for fixing nitrogen in soils, which like way to go.

Chris: Oh, that’s nice. Got to have the nitrogen for the plants to grow.

Hallie: Right. Spirulina specifically is made from three cyanobacteria species, Arthrospira maxima, Arthrospira fusiformis and Arthrospira platensis.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: It’s confusing because there is actually a species of cyanobacteria called Spirulina where that’s the genus, but that’s not what this is. It used to be called Spirulina and then they changed the genus and I would think that you would just change the other animals gene or the other bacterial genus because this one you had a common name that people were using, but I digress.

Chris: Okay. I’m confused more now, but that’s okay. There’s multiple genuses of this bacteria. Do they all live together or do you find them separated out?

Hallie: That’s a great question. I do not know the answer to it, but great question, dad.

Chris: Thank you.

Hallie: Absolutely.

Chris: I try to pay attention.

Hallie: How do you grow Spirulina?

Chris: Well, I mean, it just sort of exists in the ocean, does it not?

Hallie: It does grow in water, but if you’re going to create a product of it, then you have to have some method of producing it.

Chris: Okay, so I presume you start with some water.

Hallie: You do start with some water. Naturally, it occurs in lakes. We talked about the ocean. These species specifically occur more often in lakes, particularly lakes with a higher pH. For production, they’re usually grown in a controlled environment. You got like a tank of some kind, tanks have to be oxygenated with water movement and then when it’s time for the Spirulina cyanobacteria blue-green algae to be harvested, the water is pumped up. I saw that you also have this, so it’s pumped up through a faucet and you place a really fine mesh screen over the tank. They have a little fountain that comes up with the water and then it just goes back down onto the screen that’s placed over the tank and then the water just goes back into the tank and the blue green algae is caught on that net. Then they have like a little, have you ever made like dough and you have like a dough scrapper. Do you know what I’m talking about like a little pastry dough scraper?

Chris: Yes.

Hallie: They have one of those. They just scrape all the algae together and then they just gloop it into a five gallon Home Depot bucket.

Chris: Okay. You can look at that mix of spirulina and water with a slightly higher pH and say, yeah, basic.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Then the spirulina gloop in the Home Depot bucket is taken away and it’s dried and then processed. What is it processed into? Most commonly, it is a powder and this powder can be put in things like smoothies or tablets, which has become much more common.

Chris: That sounds weird.

Hallie: Like a little spirulina pill to take with all your supplements and vitamins.

Chris: Everything’s got to be a pill.

Hallie: Exactly. There are other specialty products, obviously with spirulina, but pills is what I saw a lot of.

Chris: I guess gloop is not efficient enough for transport.

Hallie: Definitely not.

Chris: [Laughter].

Hallie: I found a couple of different numbers estimating how big the market was, but on average it was between like $5 and $8 million, so it isn’t nothing. It’s definitely a niche, but it’s like, certainly there is some money there. A lot of claims that it’s helpful for high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes. That it will cure malnutrition, all this stuff, improve your kidney function, improve liver function. Lots of these claims.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: It is a good source of beta carotene. It is a good source of minerals, a good source of gamma linoleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid.

Chris: That sounds good.

Hallie: It’s about and I don’t know how, 60% protein.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: I don’t know how at all, but also to be fair, you would have to eat a lot of spirulina to get your daily protein content.

Chris: Oh, yeah.

Hallie: Like a lot. You had it in just like in a powder in your smoothie. How many smoothies would you have to have? A lot.

Chris: You could still eat a spoonful of powder.

Hallie: But like compared to a steak. If a chicken breast is like your daily protein and that’s like 100% and this is 60% and you had like a tablespoon, how many tablespoons? It’s probably not the most efficient way to get your protein, but for an algae or a cyanobacteria blue-green algae, I should, say it seems like a lot of protein.

Chris: Way to go spirulina.

Hallie: Way to go. It does not seem bad for you at all, but probably will not cure your liver malfunction.

Chris: Is that a claim?

Hallie: It’s a claim. I mentioned that earlier.

Chris: Okay. Sorry, I missed that. That’s out there. I almost want to put a cape on it for being a bacteria with that much protein. Way to go.

Hallie: It is impressive. It is not regulated by the FDA. We are talking about superfoods. I would not necessarily call this a superfood as it is not really regulated by the FDA in the same way. There are technically nutrition labels, but there’s not a lot of science around how accurate those nutrition labels are. I would say if this was like more in the mainstream, if there was better regulation around it, if it was more clear what it was and what was going into all of the things that were on all the shelves, perhaps we could put a cape on it, but I don’t want to tell people to go out and buy spirulina and they’re buying like 50% sawdust, 50% spirulina. Not saying that that’s what’s happening.

Chris: But it’s possible.

Hallie: But what I’m saying is there’s very little regulation and it’s unclear.

Chris: Well, when someone’s trying to sell me something that’s not regulated by the FDA for efficacy or safety, I need a break.

Hallie: A break. Here we go.

[Background music].

Hallie: Dad, do you know what time it is?

Chris: It’s 7:43.

Hallie: It’s time to vote.

Chris: Get out there. Vote your votiness. Use your voting right.

Hallie: Do all the voting.

Chris: I did it today. It took me about 15 minutes and it’s the first week of early voting still. Just because the lines were super long on the first day, doesn’t mean you can’t find a place to go on a quick vote and there’s a lot of resources like VOTE411 that you can go and get sample ballots and see how candidates stand on certain issues. Get out there. Do your thing.

Hallie: Absolutely, I personally am using Ballotpedia as well as the League of Women Voters and my local newspaper who compiled a bunch of statements from local candidates I would never have been able to access this much information on the people running for school board in my area without their amazing work. If you are able to vote in the US we have this election coming up, please, please, please go out there and vote.

Chris: You know who I would vote for?

Hallie: Who’s that?

Chris: Our patrons.

Hallie: Oh, you mean like Paul, who recently upgraded his patronage and our starfruit patrons, Lindsay, Vikram, Patrick, Mama Casey and Shianne.

Chris: Exactly like them.

Hallie: We are so grateful for every single one of our patrons, new, old, medium. You guys are all amazing. We love you so much and we hope you’re having a wonderful day wherever you are and I think that it’s now time to get back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: I do.

Hallie: Terrific.

Chris: Listener, you’re going to have to bear with us for a little bit because this is an audio medium and the nature fact that I found is visual in nature. But part of the joy of this will be Hallie’s reaction to it I’m sure. We will put a link in the show notes where you will be able to go see this amazing feat of nature factness.

Hallie: Now, I’m really confused.

Chris: The next item that we’re going to talk about is kombucha. Alright. Wonder Woman is coming out. The next Wonder Woman movie is coming out.

Hallie: Is it?

Chris: I don’t know. In the next few months or so.

Hallie: How nice?

Chris: It gets delayed for a year from COVID. I don’t know. Check your local listings.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: But apparently with kombucha, you can shape it.

Hallie: What?

Chris: As you grow it, you shape it.

Hallie: Oh, like the SCOBY? We will talk about what a SCOBY is.

Chris: I don’t know what a SCOBY is. I just found this cost player who made a wonder woman costume out of kombucha.

Hallie: No.

Chris: Listener, we’re currently looking at a three piece set. There’s a pair of boots on a pedestal. There is the wonder woman. I don’t know. What is that? The dress thingy?

Hallie: The little corset with the skirt.

Chris: There you go on a stand and a tiara and then her cufflinks, her bracelets.

Hallie: Listener, first of all is if it’s safe for you to look, you should pause this episode and go look at this. To be fair, where are you going? You shouldn’t be going anywhere. You should be at home. Go take a look at this. Second of all this, if I’m picturing a costume made out of a SCOBY, I’m picturing something pretty disgusting, right? If you know what a SCOBY is, that’s gross. This is very much extremely cool and not gross.

Chris: It is. It’s all a different color. It’s got all the colors right. Got all the structure right and it’s got a picture of her wearing the pieces.

Hallie: Is that shield made of a kombucha SCOBY?

Chris: I don’t know if the shield and the sword are made of the kombucha or not.

Hallie: This is wild. This is an excellent nature fact, dad.

Chris: Thank you. Thank you very much. I apologize for the visual nature, but once you see it, you will be blown away.

Hallie: What is the artist’s name?

Chris: Christine Knobel. Knobel, K-N-O-B-E-L.

Hallie: Great work, Christine. Absolutely amazing.

Chris: Good job, Christine.

Hallie: So kombucha, what do you know, dad?

Chris: I know that you can make it in the kitchen and it doesn’t taste that great.

Hallie: What? You don’t like kombucha?

Chris: I think it’s one of those things I’ve tried I don’t remember. I’ve tried Yerba Mate once. It definitely did not taste good. It tasted like grass or dirt or something. It tasted like the ground.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: I may be conflicting Yerba Mate and kombucha, but I’m pretty sure I’ve tasted kombucha and I was just like, no. That’s not for me.

Hallie: I’m quite surprised that you have not had kombucha. I feel like it’s very popular these days like you can get it everywhere.

Chris: In fact, I think I got in a jar. I forget what flavor it was supposed to be or whatever and I just remember being no.

Hallie: That is very surprising to me. I like kombucha, but when I was in grad school, two of my three roommates were growing kombucha in the kitchen so we had a lot of kombucha on hand all the time.

Chris: Well, the kids like it. What can I say?

Hallie: It’s good. You should try. It’s like a drink.

Chris: It’s not good.

Hallie: It’s good. It is fermented black or green tea.

Chris: Which just seems like a bad idea. It seems like you’re going to leave the liquid out it’s going to grow mould on it. You’re going to get sick when you drink it.

Hallie: But the thing is you don’t get sick because it’s supposed to have microbes on it. How you make kombucha, you have the tea.

Chris: You know what’s a microbe?

Hallie: What?

Chris: COVID-19. That’s a microbe.

Hallie: Oh, my God. Cut that out and put it in the outtake.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: We’re not making COVID content anymore.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: How you make kombucha? As I mentioned, it’s fermented tea, so you got to have the tea and then you add in a lot of sugar and then you add in the SCOBY, which is an acronym for a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

Chris: So wait. Are you making a SCOBY treat, SCOBY snacks?

Hallie: Yeah, you make SCOBY snacks. Exactly and the SCOBY eats it all up and then it all gets fermented.

Chris: I can’t possibly be the first person to think of that joke.

Hallie: [Laughs]. If you’ve never seen a SCOBY, I want to describe it for you. Dad, have you ever seen a SCOBY?

Chris: No, I don’t know what a SCOBY is. You said it was an acronym.

Hallie: It is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

Chris: Symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, SCOBY.

Hallie: So I want to paint you a picture. You have like one of those glass containers with the little spouts you would put lemonade in or something on a cold day.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: Instead on the inside, there is some black tea with a lot of sugar and on the top, there is approximately half a centimeters worth of slimy organism symbiosis and it’s very slimy and it takes up the whole width of the jar. When it is big enough, you lift it out of the water and you peel away the layers.

Chris: You peel it?

Hallie: You peel away the layers and you create a wonder woman suit or you throw it down the garbage disposal or you send it away with your friends to start their own kombucha at their own house.

Chris: You peel it.

Hallie: You kind of peel it away in a way that’s very weird and I did not believe until I saw it with my eyes, but it just peels away. It’s like little sheets of paper, but it’s a SCOBY. It’s wild. It’s very slimy. It’s very delicious though.

Chris: It sounds disgusting.

Hallie: But it’s very delicious.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Kombucha possibly originated in China. There’s a lot of theories though. It’s kind of hard to tell because you can peel the SCOBY away and give it away, so it was widely circulated. It is alcoholic as it is fermented, but it’s less than 5%, so it is not regulated.

Chris: Also the fact that it’s made with green or black tea is probably another reason that I don’t drink it because I don’t drink caffeine in general.

Hallie: I don’t know what the final caffeine level is. If like the fermentation breaks down any caffeine molecules I don’t actually know.

Chris: If Texans turned sweet tea into kombucha, is that a [inaudible]?

Hallie: Absolutely. The market for kombucha now is huge. I looked it up. It is billions of dollars.

Chris: Oh, boy.

Hallie: Billions and billions of dollars. It gained popularity in the nineties as a health food and now it has just exploded and you can find it in most grocery stores.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: There is also a new product called Kombrewcha or hard kombucha.

Chris: Kombrewcha or hard kombucha, so it’s kombucha with more alcohol.

Hallie: It’s like a Mike’s Hard kind of thing, but for kombucha. Claims, it rids your bodies off toxins. It can treat hair loss, it can treat arthritis, cancer, constipation. It can treat diabetes and prevent aging. Lots of claims. It was widely and still is widely promoted as a health food.

Chris: Listener, if you were putting alcohol into your body, you are not riding your body off toxins. You are putting toxins into your body.

Hallie: Probably the same with caffeine, not untrue. Nutritionally in actuality, in reality, it has whatever nutrition was in the teas. Green tea has antioxidants in it. Black tea has some antioxidants in it. That’s pretty much how nutritious the kombucha is. However, there have not been any human trials on kombucha to look at any benefits or risks.

Chris: I thought part of the supposed benefit of kombucha came from the fact that it was an active bacterial culture or something like that.

Hallie: Right. That is something that’s widely spread around. Again, there have not been any trials and there’s not really any reason to believe that the bacteria in the kombucha is going to bolster the bacteria in your gut. They are very different and we don’t have any science showing that kombucha is good for your microbiome. There are some risks with kombucha because a lot of people grow it at home and because there is fermentation involved, there are risks of pathogenic microorganisms getting introduced, so you do have a risk of something bad being in there. Also because kombucha has a very low pH, you do also have the risk of, if you put it in a metal container, it can actually leach metals out of the container. It’s very, very acidic. There are serious health consequences to drinking super acidic things. There are some people who drink kombucha like every single day and it’s not always good to be drinking something that’s as acidic. But again, there are no human studies on the risks or benefits of kombucha.

However, it does not seem to be the best thing for you to be drinking all the time.

Chris: Not only will I not put a cape on this, but unlike wild rice and spirulina, I’m going to say hard pass.

Hallie: I would not say hard pass.

Chris: I would say hard pass.

Hallie: It’s delicious and there’s not a lot of risks. Don’t put it in a metal container. Be aware that as with anything fermented, there are risks to pathogens, but no, I wouldn’t say hard pass. I would say once in a while, if it’s a lovely drink, it’s nice cold drink you’re looking for something, kombucha is a good option. There’s lots of flavors. It’s very delicious. I would not say it should be a habit of yours to drink kombucha all the every time and don’t put it in metal containers, but it’s not going to cure anything. But it’s an okay drink.

Chris: Maybe sit down to dinner my steak potatoes made with some asparagus and I swirl a glass of kombucha.

Hallie: Exactly.

Chris: [Laughs]. Oh, men.

Hallie: Sniff it. Look at the legs or whatever.

Chris: The legs?

Hallie: It’s a wine thing.

Chris: Whatever. Hard pass.

Hallie: Should we do our last thing?

Chris: Let’s do the last thing.

Hallie: It’s acerola.

Chris: Hey, Hallie. What the flat Jack is acerola? I have never heard of that.

Hallie: Acerola. The scientific name is Malpighia emarginata.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: The family is Malpighiaceae. One of the common names for acerola is Barbados cherry. Acerola is a malpighiales. It is not a rosid. Cherries are rosid, not a malpighiales. They’re not actually that related.

Chris: It sounds like it’s a bad big.

Hallie: As I mentioned, common name for acerola Barbados cherry, Acerola cherry, West Indian cherry and the wild crepe myrtle.

Chris: Wow. Is that what dumps those stupid flowers all over my car once a year?

Hallie: There is a plant that we grow here in Texas that is native to Southeast Asia called the crepe myrtle. However, and I tried to find this and I could not, they are definitely not at all related. The one that grows in your yard is [inaudible] indigo. It is in the [inaudible] family. This is in the Malpighiaceae family. So different families I don’t know. I don’t know why they’re called the same thing. I couldn’t find it.

Chris: Someone probably saw the flowers and said, “Hey. That looks about right.”

Hallie: Quite possibly. The acerola is from Central America, South America and parts of North America. Generally, it is mostly available in capsules or an extract form. It’s not often eaten fresh except for in the areas where it grows native to. In the Gulf coast areas of what we call North America and in parts of Central America down to South America and the Caribbean, it is consumed in those areas.

Chris: In those areas, what form does it take?

Hallie: Well, it’s a fruit. In those areas where it’s native to it is eaten fresh and other places it’s eaten as an extract or a capsule.

Chris: It looks sort of like a cherry likish.

Hallie: It looks like a cherry, but it’s very different from a cherry.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: The extract, I found some numbers between $8.6 and $5.8 million for the extract is the market in 2017. Again, similar to spirulina, it’s quite niche, but there is definitely money involved. As an extract, it’s put into supplements. It’s used as a food preservative in packaged foods, snacks, beverages, stuff like that. It’s also used for meat preservation, but most commonly you’ll see it as a supplement. There was a lot of interest back in the sixties after some cool science found some cool things about acerola, which I’ll get to in one second, but no one’s ever been able to make it marketable either fresh or juiced or canned, so all we really have is like the dried extra.

Chris: Was it the same science where they did LSD research on prisoners or whatever?

Hallie: Definitely not, dad. What a weird thing to say? What an energy to bring to the end of the episode?

Chris: You said back in the sixties. I just figured that’s all they did.

Hallie: [Laughs]. That’s I will tell you not what agronomists were doing. The claims, it improves your athletic performance, can fight infections, provide health benefits to smokers, can act as a natural cancer treatment. It can boost your eye health, yada yada yada. There’s a long list of claims as it is marketed generally as a health food supplement. Widely, those are disproven.

Chris: That’s too bad because that sounds great.

Hallie: Right. Almost too good to be true. It does in fact actuality have good levels of Vitamin A, good amounts of iron, good amounts of carotene.

Chris: Excellent.

Hallie: It has good amounts of Vitamin C. Now, I want to play a little game with you. Some of the other food crops that we eat that have good amounts of Vitamin C are oranges, broccoli and kiwi. I’m going to read you the amounts of Vitamin C that those three crops have and then I want you to guess how much acerola has because this is the thing in the 1960s that they were researching and this was the thing that led people to try to propagate it as a food crop, so it does have high Vitamin C.

Chris: I feel like I already know the answer.

Hallie: [Laughs. Hang on. Oranges have 53 milligrams of Vitamin C per 100 grams, broccoli it’s 89 and kiwi it’s 93. What do you think acerola has?

Chris: 200.

Hallie: 200 is your guess?

Chris: 200 is my guess.

Hallie: The answer is 1,676.

Chris: Holy snapdragons.

Hallie: It’s a lot milligrams per 100 grams of acerola.

Chris: It is a lot. Wow.

Hallie: It’s like a whole lot. It’s like, wow! It’s a whole, whole lot.

Chris: Do you know what I remember from biochemistry?

Hallie: What?

Chris: Is if you consume an excess of Vitamin C, it all comes out. It just makes you pee faster and you just slough it all out.

Hallie: Exactly. It is water soluble, so it just all goes out. That’s one of the cool things about this is there are a lot of vitamins where if you eat too many, bad things can happen to you.

Chris: It’s true.

Hallie: This one, not the case. Imagine if you’re sailing the seas and you get scurvy and then you stumble upon an island in the Caribbean and you find an acerola tree, how lucky are you?

Chris: Oh man, I’m getting me some.

Hallie: Cure that right up. Vitamin C is great. It’s great for scurvy. It’s very crucial to immune system function. It’s important for tissue repair. It’s a good antioxidant. As you mentioned, it’s water soluble. If you’re going to be a food and you’re going to have a lot of all nutrient, I feel like Vitamin C is the one to have because there’s no downsides to having a lot of Vitamin C. You can just max people out immediately. It’s like a chip code.

Chris: If I’m ever lost at sea and I get stranded on the island and I find some acerola in that case, I will put a cape on it.

Hallie: Absolutely.

Chris: [Laughs]. But I still don’t feel like we can play the song.

Hallie: What? No, let’s play the song.

Chris: You think deserves the song?

Hallie: Absolutely. Why not?

Chris: I mean, I love the song.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Here comes the song.

[Background music].

Chris: Alright. If you have a smoothie, maybe have a little spirulina in it. If you want some extra protein any morning, maybe put a giant scoop on your cereal or just take a big spoonful and crunch it away. Eat some wild rice. Wild rice sounds great. I’m going to try it again. It doesn’t cook as quickly as white rice. Doesn’t taste as good as white rice. Maybe you just have to get used to the flavor. I don’t know, but it sounds like pretty great stuff. If it’s native to Texas, it’s endangered. Don’t eat it. Stay the heck away from kombucha.

Hallie: No.

Chris: It’s bad stuff.

Hallie: Disagree.

Chris: Hard pass and give acerola a try.

Hallie: If you can find it.

Chris: If you can find it, especially in cherry like form.

Hallie: Cherry like form seems 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’s sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].


47: Superfoods VI – Wild Rice, Spirulina, Kombucha, and Acerola

More superfoods! Will wild rice, spirulina, kombucha, or acerola be caped? Will you please vote? Will you wear kombucha scoby?

Read the transcript for this episode.

Wonder Woman kombucha: https://hackspace.raspberrypi.org/articles/wonder-woman-cosplay-made-from-kombucha
Native Wild Rice Coalition: http://www.nativewildricecoalition.com/

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

[Background music].

Hallie: Thank you so much for joining us today.

Marcus: Absolutely. I’m glad to be here. It’s an awesome opportunity.

Chris: Yeah, thanks. It’s great to meet you.

Marcus: Oh, good. You guys are over in Texas, correct?

Chris: Yes, sir.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Marcus: I think it was supposed to be last week LSU was supposed to be playing University of Texas. I wish we had that lead and go into that.

It would have been even a greater conversation, maybe a little trash talking if you pull a longboard advance, but we’ll keep it rolling with the ag, right?

Chris: Yeah, I have a feeling it would have gotten a lot better for you than it would have for us, but I see where you’re coming from.

Marcus: It’s all like a smart man.

Chris: [Laughs].

Marcus: Go tigers, right? [Laughs]. No, it’s great. Here in LSU, I work in the ag center. I run a beginning farmer training program. I’m wrapping up my PhD. I’m a football fan. Did I mentioned that I was a football fan but the saints played Unites all right here in South Louisiana?

Hallie: [Laughs].

Marcus: I’m looking forward to the rest of the day.

Chris: But are you a football fan?

Marcus: A little bit.

[Laughter].

Marcus: I think I watch it may be like once a day, whether it’s like a game or ESPN or whatever the case is. I try to get just a little bit to keep my day rolling.

Chris: Let me ask you real quick. How do you feel about them being back really? Is it like, I’m so glad I get to watch football or, okay, well, here they are. I guess I’ll go ahead and watch it.

Marcus: It depends on what hat I put on. My college football fan hat, I’m excited about it particularly for SSC football, the greatest football in the country. For a while, I did some work with the football team here. I’ve helped to run a couple of morning study halls, so I’m excited to see the young men that I’ve worked with get back on the field and run through the rest of the SSC and anybody else that gets in their way. But at a certain point it’s like, it was just so much talking about it. Well, maybe they’ll play it, maybe they won’t. It’s kind of like you know what? I guess I’ll watch, but I’m a little bit more excitement about that little everything.

Chris: Fair enough.

Hallie: As I interrupt the football talk, but I did actually invite Marcus here to talk about agriculture.

Chris: [Laughs].

Marcus: Well, certainly. Ag is my passion.

I grew up in rural Northeast Louisiana Tensas Parish in the Mississippi Delta. Tensas, Madison and East Carroll parishes here in Louisiana are probably recognized as the three port parishes in the state, but those three parishes are dominated by agriculture production of commodity crops. We grow a lot of corn and soybeans in Hatton in that corner of the state and so agriculture is what I saw growing up. In fact, I was up in that corner of the state. This weekend, they’re getting ready to [inaudible] prevention and I was joking with some friends that there’s no greatest smell in the air than the foliation chemicals being sprayed on [inaudible] for production. I still had it sitting in my nose from the weekend trip, but that kind of reminded me of my childhood. The other part of it why I’m interested in doing farmer access and food access work was because growing up in that environment of the state, I saw big [inaudible]. I saw large commodities production and added it with my background of who I was. I didn’t have access to land. I didn’t have access to those capital resource to engage in agriculture at that level of production. Throughout my career, I’ve looked for ways to provide opportunities for everybody to be engaged in agriculture, so agriculture and the admin system. Whether it’s somebody growing on an eighth of an acre to somebody growing a hundred acres to sell directly to farmer’s market or CSA or sell directly to a grocery store, those are the things that I’m interested in and those are things that I saw a hole in my community growing up, so it’s exciting to be able to do this work now.

Hallie: How did you get to do this work? It sounds like you grew up in a rural area, but did you grow up on a farm?

Marcus: No, it all started at a football stadium. No, I’m joking.

Hallie: Really?

[Laughter].

Marcus: I grew up in a small rural town. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but there was a cotton field 50 yards down the street from our house and anybody familiar with rural towns and rural communities know that you either live in town or out in the country, right? I lived in the town and so agriculture was just something that I was around between old enough before we became totally mechanized in agriculture where in this case I grew up when we still had summer jobs, chopping and cutting and making $200 a week and use that money throughout the summer. I get money throughout the summer before the school opens. I had an introduction to production in agriculture ever since I was a small child, but seeing that level of hard work, sweating in the hot sun, it let me know that production in agriculture may not have been a thing for me, so that’s why I decided to get into the educational side of it.

Hallie: You run the Grow Louisiana program, right?

Marcus: Yes, I am the program director, correct.

Hallie: Can you tell me a little bit about that program?

Marcus: The Grow Louisiana Beginning Farmer Training Program is an extension program.

It’s funded by the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. We’re coming up on the third year of this project, but we focus on four crops and specialty crops and so growing fruits and vegetables or micro greens, or other products that primarily offer market farmers or market gardens that people can sell at farmer’s market has been our clientele that we work with, but the program we focus on is from technical aspects of production all the way to business development and business training. My key thing that I’m interested in is when we’re working with farmers and we’re working with farmers that are interested in selling more direct to consumer is making sure that you’re treating your farming operation like a business. When folks come through our program, we try to measure if they have a business plan, a marketing plan. Be able to think through those processes just like they were developing any other business. Put that same amount of effort or two in your thought process into developing your farm business. We’ve had a cohort down in New Orleans. Our first cohort was in New Orleans in 2019. This year we moved over to Lafayette, Louisiana and we’re getting ready to kick off a cohort here in Baton Rouge. Folks we work with are people that have no farming experience to folks that come in with some experience working on a farm somewhere and so our message to them is very simple. Whether you have a 0.1 or an eighth of an acre, or 250 acres, we can transform you into a productive farmer in this food system.

Chris: Earlier you were talking about working with students in some capacity with your job at the university, but this sounds like you work with farmers in the community. You just do a little bit of everything it sounds like?

Marcus: Man, you know what? I’m a jack of all trades.

Chris: Here you go.

Marcus: [Laughs]. This particular program is an institution program. It focuses on folks out in the community. In our first two cohorts, we had 18 people in each one of those cohorts. The only requirement is that you be a new and beginning farmer, meaning that you have no experience or you have less than 10 experience in farming and you can put together a compelling enough story to convince us why you’re going to be a successful farmer. All of those folks come from or out in the community, but also I’m also on the faculty at Southern university, which is an 1890 land grant here where I teach agricultural market. I wear several different hats.

Chris: Got it. You also said something about 0.1 acres, which doesn’t sound like a whole lot of land. What do you tell someone with 0.1 acres to do?

Marcus: When you’re growing that small is typically a high turnover, high labor intensive crops. For example, I’ll use an eighth of an acre as an example. We have some folks that have grown on an eighth of an acre down in New Orleans and have a significant revenue potential of what they’re doing, but they grow specialty crops and its high turnover. They grow micro greens and things like that. Whether it’s a two or three week turn around when they pull one crop out of the field, they’d be putting another crop back in the field, so it’s highly labor intensive. But it’s all about understanding what you can do, but also understand what your market demands. Using that small of an acreage to be successful is using some profits of high turnover consistent rotation and the things growing in the field and folks have been good.

With that type of scale, you’re not going to grow that your local grocery chain likely, but you can set up a shop at the local farmer’s market and folks have been very successful at doing that.

Hallie: I’m curious, what kind of folks you have come through your program? Is there any common denominator that you see usually they’re this kind of person with this kind of background or anything like that?

Marcus: The number one thing that I get from our participants is they are interested in providing healthy and sustainable food to their local communities whether that’s somebody that has experience or have not had experience. That is usually the common denominator. With our Baton Rouge cohort, the majority of the people I’d say 75% of the people that applied to be in the program, had zero farming experience. They come from zero farming background. They don’t have a degree in agriculture, but they understand the food system and they want to be involved in the food system and they want to grow food to service their community. That’s the level of demand right now that I’m seeing here in particular in the Southeast region of Louisiana, but in that other 25% that’s represented over, some have been farm workers and worked on small scale operations whether it’s through vegetables or other different types of crops, so they have some experience. We have some folks that have access to land and want to figure out what to do with their land, but need some better direction as to what to do with the 10 acres of land that grandma left them and so we try to help those put together a plan of action to do something productive with that land.

We also try to partner folks, so if there are people in the program that have zero experience and say that they live in an apartment and they don’t have access to land, how about we partner you with someone else in the cohort so you can get the experience that you need, but also that person that has the land can get the help that they need to develop the land. Farmer networking is big. The cohort model that we use of bringing everybody together as one is what worked really well for us and they end up training each other and providing opportunities for one another, so that’s been really exciting.

Chris: That’s fantastic. Yeah, one of the things I’ve definitely learned in the past, I don’t know, even just a year or two, is that networking is one of your most important assets. You also mentioned sustainability and I think one of the things that really amuses Hallie is when I actually remember things that we talked about in the past and one of the things that we’ve talked about is sustainability is one of those words that can mean a lot of things to different people. When someone says they want to farm sustainably, what does that mean to you or what do you try to teach them to do that?

Marcus: We use a three modeling approach if you will. First, developing a sustainable business and when I say sustainable business practice, I mean something that’s going to be around for the long term, which means developing goals and objectives about where you want to be in one to three to five to 10 years as a business. We try to spend time talking about that. From a sole management perspective, how are you being a good steward of the land that you’ve managed, a land that you own? Good soil management practices can help with the overall efficiency of your crop, so talking about that.

That can be no till to minimal till to proper cover cropping to proper fertilization. All of those things go into play when you’re talking about good soil management and then when we talk about production management, making sure that they understand that if you can take it from production standpoint, are you being a good steward of the environment? If you’re producing crops, are you using things like pesticides? If you are, are they organic pesticides? If you’re using synthetic pesticides, how do you properly apply those things to be a good steward of the environment with your production management practices? It’s something that for me has been evolving over time as I’ve talked to different people and I’ve learned more from a community perspective of what they need or what they want as sustainable agricultural practices. We try to be very broad-based in what we talk to folks, but what I tell our participants and what I tell the folks in the community when we talk to them is that sustainability is something that, like you say, it has different meanings for different people, but if I’m a producer, what matters to me, what my end crop is, is what my consumer needs to be sustainable. We try to use business sort of production manage, but also understanding the consumer has a mean of defining sustainability for each one of our participants individually because that sustainability thing defines purpose.

Chris: Do you find that once people get started, they tend to stick around for a while?

Marcus: Some. In our first cohort, we’ve had some people that realized that agriculture and farming is hard work.

Chris: Oh, boy.

Marcus: I guess they thought that they could just go hang out at a tree and sip lemonade and live their life, right?

[Laughter].

Marcus: But you got to get a little sweaty that’s involved. Seeing that allowed us to change how we taught in our program to talk more about the realities of farming and what farming and agriculture really looked like and the amount of work and labor that goes into being productive. We’ve talked more about that upfront with folks. Since COVID has happened, we’ve seen an increase. There was a Gallup poll that came out a few weeks ago that talked about how interest in agriculture and food system has increased over the past several months. But inherent in that increase is full lack of understanding of what actually goes into agriculture, so we make a point of effort to talk about what the realities are in farming and that’s actually led us to put together free webinars talking about the realities of farming. Folks say that they’re interested, but if you’re interested, I don’t necessarily want to chop your interest per se, but I want you to understand what it is that you’re interested in. That’s been the one I think barrier for folks is leaving or not being successful once they leave the program like this because they get a full understanding of what’s required of them.

Hallie: What are the other barriers you see to people who want to start farming to people who don’t have much farming experience and how do you get started? What are the things standing in your way?

Marcus: From a business standpoint, two things are worth here. One, access to land and two, access to capital resources, whether that’s loans and the things to buy. The equipment that’s necessary that’s often a barrier. The good starting point for people I tell you, if you have access to land, whether that’s a small backyard where you can start off with a small backyard garden, just get started. I’ve spent probably the last year and a half traveling around to different meetings and conferences around the country where I’ve been able to engage with farmers and that’s oftentimes the thing that they say just get started. If you have a small backyard to start off and find let’s say where you’re just starting the process of growing, start there. I mean, just get your fingers in the soil. As you begin to perfect your trade, that’s when you can begin to look at how to go into other areas. Do I need to get more land? Is this even for me? Understanding what programs are available. Do I need to build a relationship with the land bank? Do I need to build a relationship with a local bank or try and figure out what programs the USDA has offered? But just get started. If you had asked me say 15 years ago, if somebody growing on an eighth of an acre or even a half an acre, can bring in $100,000 of revenue in a year from growing on that half an acre, I would’ve looked at you and laugh because I come from a community background where if you weren’t growing several hundred acres, that’s not a farm, right? But by engagement with farmers, I’m learning that you start with what you have. There was a story that I got of a farmer that I met in North Carolina who started out with half an acre and eventually rented it and acquired to I think it was like 10 acres and I think he grew to having 80 acres finally within North Carolina, but that was a 10 to 15 year process of growing in it. He was in construction, so his background was construction. He was construction full-time and farming part-time.

As he became better at the farming side of it, he eventually walked away from the construction side of it and went into farming full time, but it was a process of learning the craft and the trade and the skill of farming in order to perfect what he was doing. Then he scaled up as he could manage it more. He eventually as recent as last year was buying a plot of land in Dominican Republic. He was going to grow avocados or something like that in the Dominican and import them back to the United States himself. That brother had a plan to do that and his background was no different than anybody else who may be interested in agriculture. He just had the will to get started with what he had.

Chris: I’m sorry and keep in mind that I really know nothing about the economics of agriculture, but did you say $100,000 on half an acre?

Marcus: On half an acre.

Chris: Wow.

Marcus: Rotational vegetables and specialty crops. Now, as a revenue and I’m talking about profitability.

Chris: Got it.

Marcus: We move different balls but just the amount of money coming in.

Chris: Sure.

Marcus: You also have to think about it too. When a farmer is selling directly at a farmer’s market, you can often charge a higher price than you would selling at a retail setting, like a grocery store. Also depending on the farmer’s market that you have, you may have a higher income clientele who are willing to pay a higher price point for that more locally produced goods and so it just depends on the market setting, but there’s one farm that I worked with here locally that makes about $100,000 in revenue from the operations a year and that was like in their first or second year starting up.

Chris: Nice.

Marcus: When you think about it, they’re there day in and day out farming. If we get a hailstorm that comes in and damages their crop, they immediately have to flip their crop, put another crop in the ground so they can consistently have their revenue underneath. The closest thing that you can associate farming and agriculture to is gambling.

Chris: Wow.

Marcus: Because you put yourself in the ground and you don’t know what you’re going to get back, right?

Chris: Well, that’s for sure.

Marcus: No, it’s been an interesting process. I’m teaching some of these things, but I’m also learning from these things because since I’ve been engaged in this area for let’s say the past two and a half years, it’s changed how I’ve taught even my undergraduate level college courses. We’ve talked more about the directness. That’s been pretty cool. I’m the student here, right?

Chris: Well, are the people you’re working with, are they all coming to you or are you also trying to recruit people?

Marcus: The first cohort, we put a call out for applications and they came to us. With this last cohort we put a call out, but we were more specific in recruiting people. Working with our local extension agents to say, “Hey, do you have any person who is interested in farming who may need training?” Or just looking at our community partners and our community organizations that are doing local food system work and providing them some technical assistance to assist in training the farmers in small scale and the new and beginning farmers that they may be working with. It’s about building those relationships in the community. For me, that’s the fun part.

[Background music].

Chris: Welcome to the break.

Hallie: Hello.

Chris: Hello.

Hallie: I would like to encourage all of our listeners today or tomorrow, I guess if you’re listening to this tomorrow, but as soon as possible to go online and double-check your voter registration. There are a lot of reasons why you might have become unregistered or perhaps you’ve moved and you’ve got to update your voter registration.

Chris: Or maybe somehow you just mysteriously fell off the voter rolls.

Hallie: There are a lot of things that happen by mistake or on purpose, where people get removed from voter rolls, so I highly recommend that you go online and you double check because most voter registration deadlines are coming up soon. In some places early voting is going to be opening soon and so I highly, highly recommend everyone to vote as early as you can, but with a friend, create a voting plan, let’s vote.

Chris: V-O-T-E. Make life good for bumblebees. Vote [claps]. Vote [claps].

Hallie: That was amazing. Yeah, that was so good.

Chris: I don’t know if voting actually improves the lives of bumblebees, but I mean, you can’t improve the lives of bumblebees without voting that’s for sure.

Hallie: Absolutely.

Other than by planting native flowers for pollinators, which you should also do as well as voting, but let’s do both.

Chris: Do you know who I bet will vote for sure?

Hallie: Who will plant flowers for pollinators?

Chris: We hope is our patrons, especially our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick, and Shianne. Thank you so much for supporting us. We couldn’t do this without you and thank you for voting. Back to the episode.

Hallie: Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: I’m curious if you go to a party and you talk to folks who don’t know anything about agriculture, how do you explain the importance of your work with new and beginning farmers?

Marcus: At the end of the day, the most important thing is you got to eat, right? What you eat, how you eat and how much you eat comes from different shapes, sizes and forms of farming, but from an economic development standpoint, farming can be just as lucrative as anything else that anybody wants to get involved with.

If I’m talking to people about farming and people are looking for an opportunity to run a successful business, that’s how I’m just looking at it from a farming standpoint because at the end of the day, farming is one of the only businesses or industries in the world where you have a consistent denominator and at the top is that people got to eat and that’s not going to change. As long as there’s miles to be fair, there’s opportunity for people to engage in farming.

Hallie: I love that.

Marcus: I like to eat too. They can grow and farm and grow stuff and I’ll come buy it from them. There’s always a consumer base and I’ll be the first consumer, right?

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: It’s one of life’s great pleasures that’s for sure.

Marcus: Farming can also be like an art, right? If let’s say you’re small scale farming, so you’re growing tomatoes and the various varieties of tomatoes, some peppers, some different varieties of micro greens and lettuces and things like that, so you take those very small seeds and you put them in a transplant, you put the transplant in the ground and grow those transplants or those seedlings out to a product that a person can eat. When you take that product to the marketplace, you’re selling direct say at a farmer’s market and you’ve established this relationship with your consumer, you now get to tell the consumer or the customer the story about that lettuce and tomato that they bought from you that they’re going to put in a salad on their table later today. You get to tell that customer the story about the food they were eating. That’s an opportunity that you don’t get when you go to the grocery store and so that’s one area of benefit from small scale farming is that if you’re selling direct and your dirt hands on with your production process, you get to meet and talk to your customer and tell them the story of the food that they eat. That’s an art in itself.

Chris: You know, this is the same thing I’ve heard. We did a series on local food and we heard that as a benefit for the customer and Hallie, you’ve talked about this before, where you go to a farmer’s market and you can just ask the farmer what their growing practices are and this is the first time I’ve heard it as a benefit from the farmer’s side as well about how you get to do this and you get to tell your story of how you created this thing.

Marcus: If you pay attention to say Apple, when Apple puts out a new iPhone and the guy gets on the stage and tells this whole story about how nice and all the features in this new iPhone or an Apple watch or whatever product they have coming up, they get on the stage and they tell the story to entice the consumer to buy the product. But they feel good about the story they’re telling. There’s no difference and problem here. When you tell the story, it’s gratifying to know that someone cares about what it is that you do and that’s a level of satisfaction that most farmers at a farmer’s market get that and they enjoy that engagement with their customers.

Chris: I do in fact watch those videos. [Laughs].

Marcus: See. You know what I’m talking about.

When you probably get the iPhone 15, it’s like written on death to order, right?

Chris: That’s true too. Yeah. [Laughs].

Hallie: We’ve been talking a lot about specialty crops and I mean, I’m from Texas. I don’t know that much about Louisiana, but is that something that has historically been grown in your area or is that changing now?

Marcus: I would say there’s an opportunity here. Depending on what corner of the state you’re from, we’ve been a commodities heavy state local thing. We do have some folks that are growing fruits and vegetables here in the state, but we’re probably behind the eight ball on other states and there’re various reasons for that. If you grew up in the Northeast corner of the state like me, you knew cotton corn, soy beans and a few other things. If you’re growing south central, you’re looking at sugar cane. If you’re southwest, you’re looking at rice production, crawfish production, but there’s opportunity here to grow other things and there’s a market potential and market demand for a lot of these crops. If you look at a lot of your traditional farmers in the state, they’re very set on the crops they want to grow and they’re not interested in growing a lot of these other crops, like the various kinds of specialty crops. That provides an opportunity for your beginning folks to engage because there’s a marketplace. Not only is there a marketplace at farmer’s markets in the development of CSA models to sell direct to consumers, but a lot more localized grocery chains are looking for food that is grown wholesale to the consumers because it’s a marketing tool for that. They can put this locally grown, say cucumber in their store with the picture of the farmer that came from 20 miles down the road.

That’s perfect marketing programs and so there are just many opportunities within the state in Louisiana for specialty crops. The marketplace in New Orleans has caught on a lot quicker than other areas of the state. New Orleans, as a city, as a salad in itself, I wouldn’t say a melting pot. It’s a salad because there’re many different people that are mixed into the city and they each bring their own value individually to make the city great. They’ve called into their local foods movement more quickly than other areas of the state and so now we’re seeing some level of demand for local food expand to other areas of the state. The problem is we got to have people to supply that demand for those products and so that’s why programs like this are important and that’s why a lot of the work now that I’m doing as a complement to our training program is to show that there is one demand for more locally grown foods and two, that there’s opportunities, economic development opportunities in agriculture for the production of specialty crops.

Chris: What are you excited about right now in food systems and agriculture?

Marcus: I’m just excited to be able to provide people an opportunity to engage in something that I’m passionate about. If somebody provided me an opportunity to do what it is that I love to do and so if there are people passionate about getting engaged in farming in the food system, I’m excited to be able to provide them an opportunity. From an extension standpoint and from a traditional agriculture standpoint, a lot of these folks don’t look like are traditional folks. They come from rural towns and grew up on a farm. They’re just everyday folks that are just looking to make their communities better. If we can provide them an opportunity to do those things and to be successful in those things, let’s do it. I’m just excited to be right there in the game alongside of them including helping to push them along to make them successful.

Chris: Of any of our episodes, this is the most where I’ve heard in a lot of ways, agriculture is just so much about the people that are involved and that are in there doing it.

Marcus: It is and that’s something that I’ve had to learn over time because from a production standpoint, but also from a retailer standpoint, you’re just so used to large scale farms and you’re used to just being able to go to the grocery store and just get whatever you need and not really have that connection. But when you think about agriculture at this core and in most things that we do, whether it’s our families, whether it’s our friends or whoever, when we come together, we come together around food. Food is like there’s a great come together thing. It’s like this great food that brings people together. Here in South Louisiana from about March to July, we’re big on crawfish. We have crawfish balls pre COVID. We have these big crawfish balls in our backyard and invite 20, 30 of our family and friends over who just come together, eat crawfish, bring some cold wars and have a good time in the backyard. Food has always served as the come together role for people. Now everything that is happening with local foods. The expansion of farmer’s markets in different areas, it’s bringing people together again and it’s allowing people to have conversations that they wouldn’t have had before, but typically around the food that they’re eating and where it came from. That level of people wanting to know about their food, we haven’t had that in decades. You talk to kids now and you ask them where eggs come from, they tell you Walmart.

Chris: Says Walmart chickens. [Laughs].

Marcus: There’s all of that in that warehouse of the store. You just can’t see them.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Marcus: Definitely those Walmart chickens.

Chris: I don’t think those are cage-free.

Marcus: No, they’re more like a 22 a box kind of [inaudible].

[Laughter].

Hallie: Marcus, thank you so much for taking the time today and joining us on the show. Is there anything that you want to leave listeners with or anywhere that you’d like to point anyone who’s interested in learning more about you and your work?

Marcus: For anybody that’s interested in farming in agriculture and getting engaged in the food system, I’d say just get started. You don’t need a degree to grow things. If you have a balcony, if you have a backyard, just start off with a pack and try and grow some. Go to a local Walmart or a local C-store or a local nursery in your community and see what the seeds they have available and just start growing stuff. Just start getting your fingers in the soil and becoming more of the soil and seeing if that is truly something you enjoy. You can’t win a football game unless you kick off and kick it off at the beginning of the football game.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Marcus: The kickoff into agriculture and the food system is just to start growing stuff. Once you do that, you can figure out the rest. The USDA has a number of resources for new and beginning farmers that you can check out. There are also many non-profit organizations in different areas that support new and farmers beginning agriculture and the food system. Just get started. Don’t waste time. Just do it like Nike, just do it and see if it’s definitely for you.

Hallie: Amazing. Thank you so much.

Marcus: No, this has been great and thank you for having me for this conversation.

Chris: Thank you Marcus and hook them horns.

Marcus: Hey, go tigers.

[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].


46: New Farmers with Marcus Coleman

This week we discuss issues facing people who want to start out in the farming industry with Marcus Coleman, Program Director for the Grow Louisiana Beginning Farmer Training Program at the Louisiana State University AgCenter. Also, VOTE FOR BEES!!!

Read this transcript for this episode.

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

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].


42: COVID-19 and the Food Supply

Chris and Hallie discuss how COVID-19 has caused disruptions to the US food supply. We learn about swine, milk, and potato supply chains and how the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted them. Also, who originally decided that it was a good idea to drink cow’s milk, anyway?

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

Read the transcript.

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

41: How Plants Communicate Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

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

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

[Background music].

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

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

Hallie: Okay.

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

Hallie: What?

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

Hallie: That doesn’t make any sense.

Chris: [Laughs]. I agree.

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

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

Hallie: Because they rode the fungus.

Chris: Yeah, they rode the mycelial network.

Hallie: Mycelia is basically fungus.

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: Wait, you said five plant kingdoms.

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

Hallie: Yeah, right. Yes.

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

Hallie: Separate from plants.

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

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

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

Chris: Wait, are they a berry?

Hallie: No.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Oh my God. Absolutely not.

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

Hallie: Yeah, pretty much.

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

Hallie: It’s what produces the reproductive parts.

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

Hallie: [Laughs].

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

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

Chris: It’s not that kind of podcast.

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

Chris: Got it. Okay.

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

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

Hallie: Then the hyphae is a branch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: Under the ground in the soil.

Chris: There are fuzzy bits.

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

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

Hallie: Yes, fine.

[Laughter].

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

Hallie: Sometimes.

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

Hallie: Yeah.

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

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

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

Chris: Like a rhizome?

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

Chris: Mycorrhiza fungi.

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

Chris: Fungus and rhiza meaning root.

Hallie: Exactly.

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

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

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

Chris: Why is that?

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

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

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

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

Hallie: Well, yeah.

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

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

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

Chris: It’s fungi like the peanut butter.

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

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

Hallie: Oh my God.

[Laughter].

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

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

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

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

Chris: Ecto, does it mean outer?

Hallie: Exactly. Right.

Chris: Okay.

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

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

Chris: That sounds amazing.

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

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

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

Chris: Got it.

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

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

Chris: Because they’re socialists?

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

Chris: [Laughs]. Oh, mad respect.

Hallie: I think it’s good.

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

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

Chris: Dude.

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: Oh, boy.

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

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

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

Hallie: No, oh my God.

Chris: [Laughs].

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

Chris: Oh, okay.

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

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

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

Chris: What?

Hallie: Compost. You should compost, dad.

[Laughter].

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

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

Chris: Got it.

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

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

Hallie: Sure, dad?

Chris: Yeah.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Absolutely.

Chris: Site not found. I don’t know.

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

Chris: Internal server error.

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: True.

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

Chris: That is good.

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

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

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

Chris: [Laughs]. Into the break.

[Background music].

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

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

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

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

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

[Background music].

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

Chris: I do.

Hallie: Great.

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

Hallie: Yeah.

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

Hallie: No way.

Chris: Oh, yeah way.

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

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

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

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

Hallie: What?

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

Hallie: That doesn’t even make any sense.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Oh, my God.

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

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

Chris: [Laughs].

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

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

Hallie: No.

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

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

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

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

Chris: [Laughs]. Thank God.

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: It’s wild.

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

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

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

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

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

[Laughter].

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

Chris: That is true.

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

Chris: They’ve got mycelia privilege.

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

Chris: Oh, that makes sense.

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

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

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

Chris: It’s a metaphor for life.

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

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

Hallie: That’s the stuff of it.

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

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

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

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

Chris: That’s true. Okay.

[Background music].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].

41: How Plants Communicate

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

Read the full episode transcript here.

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

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.

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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.

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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

In this episode, Hallie and Chris discuss houseplants. They discuss a brief history of houseplants, as well as some of Hallie’s favorite varieties and tips for keeping them! Also, Hallie clearly knows much more about Girls Scout cookies than Chris does.

Read the full episode transcript.

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