Tag Archives: Agriculture industry

All episodes that discuss, relate to, or center around the industry of agriculture.

53: Harriet Tubman Freedom Farm with Dallas Robinson

This week we talk with farmer Dallas Robinson on her project, the Harriet Tubman Freedom Farm. She talks about what it means to grow food on her own and reconnect with the land and her ancestry as a person of color in the United States. Also, the South does have beauty, y’all.

Visit: https://www.harriettubmanfreedomfarm.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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51: Christmas Trees Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

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

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

[Background music].

Hallie: Today we’re going to talk about the agronomic information around Christmas trees, a little bit about the history. This is an episode for all people of all faiths, even if you do not celebrate Christmas. Welcome to the Christmas tree episode, everyone.

Chris: Welcome. It’s more about trees than about Christmas, right?

Hallie: Yes, absolutely. Except for, I hope you are wearing warm, cozy socks, wherever you are.

Chris: I am wearing no socks, but I am wearing my Baby Yoda PJ pants.

Hallie: Totally counts. Dad, what do you know about Christmas trees?

Chris: I know they’re trees.

Hallie: Yeah, great.

Chris: I know they’re often made of fir.

Hallie: Made of fir. What do you mean made of fir?

Chris: There’s Douglas fir and noble fir and what other kind of fir treating.

Hallie: Right. Not like cat fur.

Chris: I mean, I just assumed it’s all the same fir, right?

Hallie: It is not the same fir. [Laughs].

Chris: Definitely not. Okay. I mean, and they are trees.

Hallie: Yeah, you said that.

Chris: I guess that’s all I really know. Usually, I guess we have some sort of pine tree as our Christmas tree when we’ve had Christmas trees. I feel like my grandparents once went out into the field and cut down some sort of Christmasy shaped Cedar tree.

Hallie: Oh, that’s so cool.

Chris: Or what we call Cedar trees here in Central Texas, which are actually what Ashe juniper or whatever.

Hallie: Correct. Great work.

Chris: Go me and they usually have lovely decorations and some sort of ridiculous, massive thing on top.

Hallie: Yeah, botanically speaking, Christmas trees are not very specific. They’re kind of just generally a conifer. A conifer could be like you mentioned fir trees, it could also be pines, spruces, et cetera. What the term conifer means is it’s within this category of seed plants so that is all plants that make seeds. We have within seed plants, angiosperms that’s plants that flower like an apple tree or a sunflower, anything with a flower on it is an angiosperm and then you have gymnosperms and gymno.

Chris: Means they’re doing gymnastics.

Hallie: It does not mean they’re doing gymnastics. Gymnosperm means naked seed. So sperm meaning seed and gymno meaning naked.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Within gymnosperms, you have a couple of different categories, ginkgo trees, which we’ve talked about before are gymnosperm, cycads are gymnosperm, which are like a kind of palm and then conifers are also a type of gymnosperms. That’s what conifer means. It is a cone bearing plant. It does not have flowers and it makes cones.

Chris: I think cone bearing was the thing that I had learned in I don’t know elementary or high school or somewhere along the way, but there’s a little more to it than that and they bear these lovely cones and the cones are what contain the seeds.

Hallie: Exactly. Yes, these trees that we use as Christmas trees don’t make flowers. They make instead cones with seeds in them. If you’ve ever seen like there’s really cool videos on YouTube with a pine cone exploding outwards.

Chris: What?

Hallie: Which is when a pine cone gets ripe when it’s not ripe, when it’s ready. Then when it’s not ready, all of those little edge guys are like uptight so it kind of looks just like an egg. Then when it’s ready, it kind of just like pops open and all of the seeds kind of shoot-out, which is a great seed dispersal method and then that’s when you get kind of that classic pine cone shape because it kind of just hoots open.

Chris: Okay. We’re putting the link to one of those videos in the show notes because I got to see this.

Hallie: Let’s talk about the history of Christmas trees. There is a very long tradition of people putting green things in their houses. The Egyptians did it, the Romans did it, the pagans did it. When it’s winter time, it’s dark and gross and there’s some green stuff outside. Let’s bring it inside and make it nicer inside. We’ve been doing that for a long time, but the practice of bringing a whole entire tree into your house started in Germany. The church was putting on plays to educate people about the Bible because people couldn’t read very well. So they would put on place showing stories from the Bible and the 24th of December was celebrated as like the feast day for Adam and Eve. Not really sure what that means, but they would put on an Adam and Eve play. Within the story of Adam and Eve, there is a tree famously and so they would bring a tree and from outside as kind of a prop in a play and they would put like red balls on it if they couldn’t source any apples.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: Yeah, so that was like the first time we started putting trees inside of our houses around Christmas time. Eventually, they started adding candles to these trees and other things and it started looking lovely and people started thinking, hey, that’s nice. I’ll just put that in my house so eventually, it became a German tradition to actually have a tree around the 25th of December. That was around like the 1500, 1600. Eventually, people started immigrating from Germany over West to the Americas and they kind of took that tradition with them, but it didn’t really take off until Queen Victoria in 1848. There was an engraving made of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who is German. What?

Chris: He’s the guy in the can.

Hallie: What can?

Chris: Prince Albert in a can.

Hallie: I don’t know what you’re talking about, dad.

Chris: You’ve never heard of Prince Albert in a can?

Hallie: Prince Albert in a can? What?

Chris: It’s a joke. You call up a grocery store. You say, do you have Prince Albert in a can? They say yes and you say, you better let him out.

Hallie: Why would they say yes though? I don’t understand.

Chris: That’s a great question. Oh, it’s tobacco.

Hallie: Okay. Well, probably makes sense as to why I’ve never heard this weird joke because nobody chews tobacco anymore.

[Laughter].

Chris: It’s true. I mean, I’m sure some people do, but yeah.

Hallie: I will say I went to school for agriculture and we did have signs around the school saying this is a tobacco free campus so you can’t chew your tobacco or smoke it because that’s what I went to school with.

Chris: Good for them.

Hallie: Farm folks and that is not uncommon for some people in some areas of the country, but anyways. Great, weird old joke, dad.

Chris: Thank you.

Hallie: So in 1848, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their kids, there was an engraving made. It got put in a couple of magazines and everyone was like, oh my God, how cool and fashionable a tree inside the house with candles on it and stuff so it became kind of a thing and then in the 19th century, the electric lobby here in the US pushed for an electrically lit tree in the white house, which kind of brought the tradition here to the US.

Chris: Naturally.

Hallie: Eventually in the late fifties and early sixties, plastic trees and otherwise non-natural trees came into fashion, which we will talk about later, but that’s kind of the brief history of the Christmas tree.

Chris: Okay. Super brief.

Hallie: Really quickly before we went into the mid-role, I wanted to kind of talk to you about your favorite part of a Christmas tree.

Chris: Oh, wow. I used to help my mom decorate the Christmas tree and it was a lot of fun and for some reason, there were these two little wooden pan hand painted bird ornaments that I always put on the Christmas tree and I’d always sort of dig through the ornament box and look for those specific ornaments so I could put them on the tree. I’d try to give find little places where they could have nest in the branches.

Hallie: Oh, well. That’s so cool.

Chris: Yeah, and then I really pushed hard for blinking Christmas lights.

Hallie: Oh yes.

Chris: Because I thought blinking Christmas lights were the coolest. My mom of course wanted static white lights. The blinking drove her nuts but I just for some reason really loved blinking Christmas lights and then at some point, we had this giant star on the top of the tree that was basically one big series of concentric circles of blinking lights and I loved it.

Hallie: I love that. That’s awesome. I don’t know when you got this, but had like a little X wing that plugged into a Christmas light and so it would like light up different colors if I remember correctly.

Chris: That’s true. The engines would light up.

Hallie: Very cool.

Chris: Yeah, I still got that [inaudible].

Hallie: I also used to decorate the Christmas trees with your mom and my sister and I think my favorite part was always at the very end. Our Christmas trees over the years got more and more elaborate. At one point, we were buying like 18 foot Christmas trees and doing the entire tree and it was like really intense, but my favorite part was always at the very end we would do tinsel and I know it’s not very environmentally sound to be putting strings of plastic on to your Christmas tree, but we would save it from year to year. We would like pull it out of this baggie and it would like always have little pine needles from last year in there and we would like sprinkle the tinsel on and it would just look so incredible this giant monstrous tree that was just covered in a bunch of handmade ornaments and lights and shiny, shiny tinsel. It was my favorite.

Chris: Okay. I want to make sure the listener understands here because my first memory of tinsel was this sort of shiny plastic stuff that was fixed to a string and then you’d sort of draped the string around the tree and there’d be the shiny plastic stuff attached to the string and so you’d have tinsel all around the tree. Now, this tinsel to which Hallie is referring was just the shiny plastic stuff. It was just a bunch of loose tinsel in the bag that they would get up and they would sort of drape all over the tree and then to clean it up, we’d have to pick up the individual pieces and I’m sure we would lose a little bit each year to sweeping or vacuuming or whatever and then stuff it back in the bag. Yeah, it was a mess, but it did look pretty cool.

Hallie: To be fair, we also had this string kind of tinsel. We really went for a maximalist look with our Christmas trees.

Chris: That was like, I think we hit peak tinsel in one year. I don’t know.

[Background music].

Hallie: Dad?

Chris: Yo.

Hallie: You know what people wear every day?

Chris: What do people wear every day?

Hallie: Underwear.

Chris: I mean, we’ll say most people. I don’t want to speak for everyone.

Hallie: That’s fair. Most people, most days. We are in Zoom life so live your bliss. There are very few societal norms that we all have to follow anymore.

Chris: It’s true. If you like go commando, but if you don’t.

Hallie: If you don’t, then you should absolutely check out Knickey. Knickey is an underwear brand that makes underwears from organic fair trade cotton and it ships in 100% plastic free packaging. I cannot tell you how happy I am that I don’t have to take little baggies to the grocery store and have them recycled there or just worse, put them in landfill into the garbage. That’s the worst, so you get totally plastic free packaging. They are committed to earth friendly practices across the entire supply chain, as well as beyond the customer’s use because they have a first of its kind recycling program for old undies. This is an amazing sustainable underwear brand. It is so hard to find comfortable sustainable underwear in my opinion and these ones really knock it out of the park. I am such a fan and you can become a fan too today. If you go to knickey.com and use the code GROWON at checkout, you can get 10% off. That’s K-N-I-C-K-E-Y and use the code GROWON at checkout.

Chris: You know who I bet loves comfortable underwear.

Hallie: Who’s that?

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

Hallie: We are so grateful for you guys. You do the mostess, the absolute mostess and we are so, so grateful and we hope that you guys are having a wonderful day wherever you are.

Chris: Thank you to each and every one of you.

Hallie: Shall we get back to the episode?

Chris: Back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: A figure very often associated with Christmas is of course, Santa Claus.

Hallie: Sure.

Chris: But did you know that in the Marvel Universe, Santa Claus is the most powerful mutant according to Cerebro.

Hallie: What?

Chris: Yeah, in 1991, they declared that he was an Omega level mutant with abilities that included immortality, weather manipulation, molecular manipulation, immunity to cold and heat and gravity manipulation, which if you think about it, he’s going to have to be able to do all that stuff to get around the world and deliver those presents.

Hallie: Honestly, I love that. There’s this very, very powerful person and all he wants to do with his big, strong powers is just go deliver presents to children. When you think about the traditional Santa Claus mythos that’s just his job but the idea of thinking of him as like a mutant, that’s not just his job. He just has all these strong powers and then he made the decision to I could do literally anything, but what I will be doing is becoming Santa Claus and taking all these presents to these kids. That’s adorable.

Chris: Does it justify the surveillance though?

Hallie: Oh sure. It does.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Absolutely, dad.

Chris: Also in 1927, the US government issued him a pilot’s license.

Hallie: Oh my God. I love that. I love how the United States military is so dedicated to truly collaborating with Santa Claus throughout the years. It’s wonderful.

Chris: It really is, but also the Canadians do it too. Both he and Mrs. Claus have Canadian e-passports.

Hallie: Amazing. Wait, what’s an e-passport?

Chris: I don’t know. I assume it’s some sort of Canadian electronic passport thing.

Hallie: Well, love it. Great work. Terrific. Do you want to hear about the farming involved with Christmas trees?

Chris: I can’t wait.

Hallie: In 2012, which was the most recent numbers I could find, there were 295,000 acres in production for Christmas trees.

Chris: Is that a lot?

Hallie: I mean, it’s not none acres. That’s a considerable amount of acres that equated to about 17 million trees being cut in 2012.

Chris: That sounds like a lot.

Hallie: It’s yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of Christmas trees around the world. There are a lot. The biggest States here in the US for it are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Oregon and North Carolina are really like the two big, heavy hitters. Although the interesting thing about Christmas trees that is not really the same for any other crops, including flowers is that Christmas trees are very often procured close to your region just because one, they’re alive so they need to be taken care of well so that you can have a long Christmas tree life and two, they’re also really big and hard to move. Flowers are alive and you want to have as long shelf life as possible, but we get a lot of our flowers from South America and Europe, but they’re really, really small so it’s not that hard to move a giant Christmas tree, very hard to move around the world. So Christmas trees are very often procured within your region. You do have like Oregon supplies a lot of the Christmas trees on the West coast. North Carolina does a lot of the East coast, but like here in Texas, a lot of the Christmas trees that we see are just grown here in Texas.

Chris: Oh, cool. I had no idea.

Hallie: Yeah, pretty cool.

I mentioned like Oregon does a lot of the West coast Christmas trees, there is like one farm that is exceptionally large. I think it is the largest Christmas tree farm in the US. It’s called Holiday Tree Farms and they do about 1 million trees per year. But still, if you think about like more than 17 million trees, that’s not even a 10th of the market.

Chris: So are we going to get into this later? How long does it take to grow a Christmas tree?

Hallie: Christmas trees take like 6 to 10 years usually.

Chris: There’s this giant farm in the Pacific Northwest that sort of every 6 to 10 years, they cut down a giant swath of trees and then plant new ones and then rotate out I guess the rest of their acreage over time.

Hallie: I think what’s more common with Christmas tree farming and I’m sure it depends on the farm is you have what’s called like nurserying, where you have some older growth trees next to smaller trees so that once those older trees are cut down, the smaller trees have room to grow. It’s kind of interplanted and staggered based on age.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: The most common Christmas tree types are Fraser fir, Douglas fir, Colorado blue spruce. I think the last year I had a pine tree, which is not represented on the most common, but it was adorable and I loved it.

Chris: It was a cute little Christmas tree.

Hallie: About three quarters of Christmas tree farms sell retail. As I mentioned, a lot of Christmas tree procurement is very localized. This is a huge amount. I mean, you have about half of Christmas tree farms that do at least some wholesaling, but the majority like 75% do a good amount of retail so that is a lot of local sales.

Chris: The pop-up tents, they sell the Christmas trees. Those are basically the people that grew them. Is that what you’re saying?

Hallie: Sometimes those pop-up tents are wholesale, but sometimes they are just run by farms. Like last year I got my Christmas tree from a non-profit here in town where it’s like a fundraiser for the boys and girls club and they buy wholesale trees and then sell them here in Austin.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: But a lot of Christmas tree farms do at least some local retail where you can come out and you can pick your own tree, you can cut your own tree down, you can pick it out of a pile or they take it into town and they set up in a parking lot or something like that. There are some like Christmas tree sales cooperatives where some farmers all come together and they rent out a parking lot together. There’s a lot of different models, but yeah, it is quite localized. Most of those smaller farms are often retirement projects for folks who maybe are from that area and their family has been doing Christmas tree farming or they were a farmer and they want something that’s a little bit more hands-off, not that Christmas tree farming is easy. There are definitely difficulties with it, particularly like the weather. It’s real cold when you have to go out there and cut all the trees down.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: But generally, you’re doing less year round maintenance because so many of your crops are just perennial. A lot of the larger ones are full-time operations, but those smaller ones can be retirement options.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: How much money is in Christmas trees? Wholesale, it’s around like between 250 and 500 million. I found a couple of different sources from different extension documents as well as industry publications and that’s about the range I saw and then for retail, it can be upwards of 2 billion so that includes wholesalers who bought Christmas trees from farmers and then sold them retail as well as farmers selling directly to retail.

Chris: Christmas is big business.

Hallie: It’s big, big, big business. I promised earlier that we would talk about this. Let’s talk about fake Christmas trees.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Most fake Christmas trees are made of what’s called poly vinyl chloride, also known as PVC. You can also get fake Christmas trees made of aluminum, made of fiber optic cable, feathers, et cetera, et cetera, kind of whatever. Most of the fake Christmas trees, like most, most of them are all made in China.

Chris: How would you like to be a bird and see a fake Christmas tree made of feathers?

Hallie: Oh my God.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: That would be so hurtful I feel like.

Chris: It would be horrifying.

Hallie: That’s your home. The fundamental question I feel like everyone has when it comes to Christmas trees is which is more environmentally friendly, a natural tree or a fake tree so that’s what I wanted to get into here. Here’s like a little bit of the pro con breakdown or first actually, dad, I wanted to know, do you guys do a fake tree or a real tree? I don’t know.

Chris: When we do trees, we’ve done real trees. We haven’t done trees in the last couple of years just because I don’t know effort, I guess and we need to clear out the space where we would put the tree. I know historically growing up, we always had real trees although later in life, my parents or maybe just my dad got a fake tree. His parents had a fake tree. I believe that they would get out every year and they used it for 20, 30 years or something like that. It’s been a mix for me. My mom’s parents always had real trees so I was most familiar with real trees.

Hallie: Same. Like you said, we always did real trees growing up. I’ve only had like a Christmas tree once. I have like put Christmas tree ornaments on my houseplants before, which is how I did it all throughout college and grad school.

Chris: There you go.

Hallie: Then last year was my first year getting like a real actual tree, which was really fun. Here’s kind of the pro con breakdown.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: Fake trees are made of plastic. That requires a lot of oil, right? Because it’s what? It’s an oil byproduct so that’s like a lot of energy, a lot of non-renewable resources. They are also made in China so it’s a lot of transportation. Real trees require agricultural inputs. Typically, this is like a lot of pesticides to keep the trees looking nice. They do also require pruning and maintenance as they live for between 6 and 10 years.

That’s like a lot of work and can be a lot of petroleum if that is what is driving the trucks around the Christmas tree farms.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: The other big consideration with real trees is where they go at the end of their life. If they go to the dump, then they just decompose and produce a lot of methane versus if they are taken away and chipped and made into mulch and recycled or if they go and do something else where they’re not just decomposing in the dump.

Chris: Turn it into Dillo Dirt.

Hallie: Yeah, they can totally be composted for sure. That’s kind of the pro con. Here is the breakdown. There’s not a lot of science, unfortunately about like truly what is the best option. I found two life cycle analysis and one of them said, in order to balance out what you would be spending in terms of carbon on real tree versus a fake tree, you would have to keep your fake tree for more than nine years and the other study, I found said more than 20 years. One of the studies was paid for by the Christmas Tree Association of America and the other one was I found it linked on the US department of energy’s office of scientific and technical information website, but it was done by a French Canadian research firm who apparently does life cycle analysis, but this is the only study I could find from them and it was done in 2016 I think and I also couldn’t find anything under the names of the researchers other than this life cycle analysis so these are very different numbers.

I cannot say for sure that either of these life cycle analysis are really better than one or the other of them, neither of them have been cited that much. One of them obviously was paid for by the industry. The other one, I don’t know who it was paid for by, so it’s unclear which one. I can’t just go out and tell you, here’s the answer. Here’s my thoughts. When you do buy a new fake Christmas tree, unless it’s like a wooden balsa wood Christmas tree, it’s going to stay on the planet for ever, for ever and ever. It’s not going to go anywhere. If you buy a real tree, it can be decomposed. It can be turned into wood chip mulch, which we can always use more mulch. Believe me I know. That’s kind of like my take on it. My gut is if you have a fake Christmas tree already, no point in getting rid of it. But if you don’t have one and if you can’t find a used one that already exists, then maybe we don’t need to be creating more that will just stay on the planet.

Chris: Well, that sounds reasonable. Although real trees are certainly getting more and more expensive over the years, but to review, Christmas trees are generally conifers, which means they are cone bearing and we’re linking a cool video. They were like so many things popularized by a queen and thank goodness Santa Claus is benevolent with all those powers.

Hallie: No kidding.

Chris: Buy yourself a tree if you like. If not, that’s cool.

Hallie: Have a wonderful and warm winter season, everyone. Take care.

Chris: Bye.

[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].

52: Insect Agriculture

This week we talk to Robert Nathan Allen (known by most as RNA) of Little Herds! We talk about what’s exciting in the world of edible insects, as well as break down a few misconceptions. Also, would a grouping of insects even be called a herd?

https://twitter.com/rnaeatsbugs, https://www.instagram.com/rnaeatsbugs/, https://twitter.com/littleherds, https://www.instagram.com/littleherds/

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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

51: Christmas Trees

This week we’re talking about Chistmas trees! What is a conifer? Should you buy real or plastic? How many super powers does Santa Claus have?

Pine cone opening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUhubDdGRuo

Sponsors

Knickey makes undies from organic, fair trade cotton and ships in 100% plastic-free packaging. Use code GROWON at checkout to save 10%!

Read the transcript.

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instagram.com/onetogrowonpod
facebook.com/onetogrowonpod
onetogrowonpod@gmail.com

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Support us on Patreon!
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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

50: Food Rescue with Jess Palmer Transcript

Listen to the full podcast.

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

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we’re talking about food rescue with Jess Palmer.

[Background music].

Hallie: This week we have Jess Palmer who is a programs coordinator with Keep Austin Fed here in our hometown and I’m so excited to have her on. Welcome to the show, Jess.

Jess: Thank you, guys. I’m really happy to be here.

Chris: I mean, I think the first thing that everyone is wondering, the obvious question is why does food need to be rescued?

Jess: [Laughs]. Well, food needs to be rescued because actually, there’s a lot of food going to waste. I think people may not realize it, but in this country, we waste 40% of the food that is grown and processed and that can be kind of hard to visualize. But if you think about going out and buying a pizza and you come home and you immediately throw away three slices, that’s perfectly good food, but it’s getting tossed and a lot of that food that is getting wasted is happening at home. But there’s still a significant amount that’s wasted at larger distribution points like grocery stores and restaurants and so that’s where Keep Austin Fed comes in. We are based here in Austin, Texas and we’re just a local food recovery nonprofit with the mission of diverting that edible surplus food from the landfill and redistributing it to people who are food insecure in our communities.

Chris: Now, see. That’s the kind of guest you want to have on a podcast is when you ask a dumb question, it’s supposed to sound funny and they give you a real answer that’s perfect.

[Laughter].

Jess: I may have given away all my answers for the whole interview now.

Chris: Yeah, we’re done. The show is sort of over.

Jess: There we go.

Hallie: Yes, that’s it. That’s the show.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I’m really curious, like what a day in your work looks like? How does that function?

Jess: Well, it’s interesting because my title is programs coordinator with an S and that’s because there’s a lot of logistics and coordination that goes into the programming of food rescue. We are a heavily volunteer oriented organization. We have around 200 active volunteers and they all donate their time, their cars and the gas to go pick up the surplus food and drive it to the recipient organizations to drop off. I mean, yeah, there’s no middlemen. Food is getting picked up and directly taken to a recipient organization. There’s a lot that goes into coordinating that kind of stuff. We have a schedule of food pickups that volunteers can register for and those runs happen on a weekly basis. I think right now we have about 75 food runs every week that we have filled by our volunteers. There’s a lot of volunteer coordination both sort of corresponding with current volunteers and then also familiarizing new volunteers with how we work. There’s managing the food run schedule. We use a platform called GiftPulse that was actually developed here in Austin too, but we use them as our volunteer database and our scheduling platform. There’s always some data management to be done and also we have to have places who are contributing food and places to bring that food. So we’re always reaching out to new places to see if they are interested in donating food, if they’re interested in receiving food. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that goes into onboarding those new partners. That’s sort of the basic of our scheduled runs. There’s more on top of that too because we can go into unscheduled food runs.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Peek behind the curtain for listeners, that’s actually how Jess and I met. I was running a program that involves food and she sent me a very polite email asking if we had any surplus that we’d like to donate.

Jess: That’s right.

Hallie: I’d known a little bit about Keep Austin Fed, but I didn’t know that much about it and actually I did not realize until I was preparing for this interview, that one of my sister’s best friend’s moms apparently helped start Keep Austin Fed.

Jess: Oh, really?

Hallie: Yeah.

Jess: Wow.

Hallie: I mean, Austin is such a small town. People always talk about how big and growing it is, but also it’s very small.

Jess: Yes, it is. I’m from Central Texas. I grew up in the very rural Hill Country, but I went to college outside of Austin and lived here for a little while and then left in 2005 and then just came back last year. It’s interesting the city has totally changed, but there’s still pockets. When we first moved back, I was running into college acquaintances in the grocery store. [Laughs].

Hallie: Yeah, that happens to me all the time and it’s so weird because it’s like this massive town of like millions of people and it feels like a tiny town.

Jess: It does.

Chris: How did you end up getting into this stuff?

Jess: Honestly, I kind of fell into food systems work and I haven’t done food access work for a long time. This is actually the first time I have worked in food insecurity and food access. My background is actually more in natural resources management. I have a bachelor’s in environmental studies and then I went to the University of Michigan for a masters in natural resources really focusing on land restoration, but food and agriculture has really always had a role in my life. Like I mentioned, I grew up in rural Texas and that was 45 minutes from the nearest ATB. Many of our neighbors, we grew up with a really big garden that helped feed us in the summers and I carried that with me too. Every place that I’ve lived, I’ve always found a way to put in a backyard garden somewhere and throughout school, I was working for student groups that ran community gardens on campuses and things like that and also I just really love to cook. I eventually landed a position at a land trust in Central Virginia about 10 years ago and I started out there coordinating their local food branding and marketing program and eventually turned it into a farm and food program that focused on things like strengthening farmer access to land and capital and training and market access. I was there for about nine years and then we moved to Austin for a change of scenery and work and I started working for Keep Austin Fed and it’s been really exciting to work on sort of the opposite end of the food system spectrum. There’s a lot in food access and food insecurity for me to learn.

Hallie: That is so cool. Can you tell me some of the organizations that you’ve been working with since you started working in food access?

Jess: Yeah, we work with a wide range of organizations actually on the food contributors’ side. Like I mentioned, food waste happens at every point of food distribution, but we’re really focused on the larger scale not necessarily individuals. So we’re working with places like grocery stores Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, AGV. We also work with a lot of restaurants occasionally with caterers. That’s a little bit different now because of the pandemic and then smaller cafes and bakeries and really we’ll talk to anybody who has surplus food that they want to donate rather than toss. Actually, I wanted to mention that when we talk about surplus food, I want to be really clear that we are not out there dumpster diving. [Laughs]. We are picking up perfectly edible food. Food that may be close to an expiration date or it’s just leftover and anybody would be happily willing to eat it. I just wanted to make sure that everybody understood that this is perfectly good food that we’re picking up and redistributing. Tangent, but important. That’s really who we’re working with on the contributor side and then on the recipient side, we don’t distribute directly to individuals. We work with nonprofits who provide services to their clients. We will work with places like foundation communities. They provide affordable housing and we donate food to them and they distribute it to their clients. Other places like family elder care facilities that work with seniors, support organizations for folks facing homelessness, domestic abuse shelters, refugee service organizations, addiction recovery homes. I mean, we will work really with a bunch of food pantries. We’ll work with them. As long as if you’re a nonprofit and you’re serving food to clients for free, then we’re able to try to find a way to work you into our schedules. Right now, we work with about 30 to 40 food contributors and about 50 recipient organizations and that’s on a weekly basis.

Chris: I agree. Wow. That sounds like a lot of people you’re working with. Now I’m wondering, how much food is it that you’re sending through this supply chain that you have set up?

Jess: Last year in 2019, we distributed just over 800,000 pounds of surplus food.

Chris: Wow!

Hallie: That’s amazing.

Jess: It’s like 13,000 meals per week that our volunteers are redistributing to folks in need in the Austin area.

Hallie: How many volunteers do you guys have that run this every day or every week?

Jess: We have probably around 200 active volunteers. You know people take breaks or people come back on and offline, so it just really depends, but I mean, our volunteers are why we can do what we do. They are the heart and soul of this organization. Last year, they made 3,500 food runs to distribute all those 800,000 pounds of food. They are the reason we do what we do and they’re so dedicated. They really are. We have folks who adopt food runs and they are there every week at the same time, same day to pick up food from one place and take it to another.

Hallie: That is so cool. Has Keep Austin Fed always had this many volunteers?

Jess: No, it hasn’t. We actually started in 2004 and our founder is a man named Randy Rosens and I think he was at a fundraising event and noticed that the food that was being catered for the event was going to get tossed and he was like, no, thank you. That’s not going to happen. So he rescued the food right there from the event and delivered it to a woman’s shelter in South Austin and that’s sort of how Keep Austin Fed was born. It’s just a small group of folks who felt that this was really important and they wanted to make sure that people could get involved in doing food rescue and redistribution. Over the last 16 years, we’ve gone from that small group of folks to a nonprofit with two paid staff and this really giant group of volunteers.

Hallie: That’s amazing.

Jess: Yes.

Hallie: I have so many questions that I’m trying to figure out which one to ask.

Jess: [Laughs].

Hallie: I think my first question and I think I know some of the answers to this, but I would love to hear the actual answer. I guess it makes sense if it’s a catering event, but most of the organizations you’re talking about, this rescue from is for profit companies who are trying to make a profit. How does it make sense for a company to throw food out?

Jess: Well, I mean, I think part of it is some folks just want to give back to the community and if they know that they’re going to be tossing food, but there’s another outlet for it through us. A lot of the places that we work with are smaller caterers and food places that just want to give back and also I think too in Austin you have to pay to have composting material picked up, so it’s a way for them to cut down on the amount of food that is getting thrown out.

Hallie: Yeah, that totally makes sense, but I wonder if the food is edible and it’s perfectly fine, then why is it getting tossed out in the first place, whether it’s being composted or given to KAF?

Chris: I was going to say, I used to work at a bakery and they’d make pastries every morning and they wouldn’t necessarily sell them all and so at the end of the day, we’d have to throw them all out, all the ones that we didn’t sell and sometimes people would call us for donations and then they could come pick up what was left in the event that we had any left, but that wasn’t every day. Sometimes we take a couple home, but most of the time we just tossed everything out.

Jess: Like I mentioned, the food is perfectly edible. It just may be close to expiration date. I think with the grocery stores, it’s more about nearing expiration date and just when they’re getting new shipments of food and having to make space.

Hallie:
No, that totally makes sense.

[Background music].

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Chris: K-N-I-C-K-E-Y. Oh man, that is amazing spelling. I love that.

Hallie: Thank you. I worked very hard on learning to spell when I was a child.

Chris: [Laughs]. Well, no, I mean, I love the way they spell their name. That’s very clever.

Hallie: No, that’s also great. It’s great.

Chris: You know who else is great is our patrons, especially our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick, and Shianne.

Hallie: Also our newest patron, Jessica. Thank you guys so much for your support of the show. You absolutely make our world go round. If you listener are interested in learning more about Patreon and the tiers that we have, you can go to patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. We do lots of cool and fun stuff over there and we just have a blast. You can listen to outtakes. You can get extra research and bonus content. All of it at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod.

Chris: Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: You mentioned that you have this massive fleet. I think you said 200 volunteers. I mean, that’s a huge amount of volunteers for a nonprofit with only two employees. I’m just wondering what your perspective is on why people are so excited and compelled by KAF’s work and mission.

Jess: I mean, from conversations that I’ve had with volunteers being able to do something like this, you can do a food run in easily less than an hour. We have it set up to where our pickup locations and our delivery locations are pretty close to each other and we’ve gone through not necessarily trainings, but we’ve gone through an overview with both the contributors and the recipient organizations about how everything’s going to work. So everyone’s pretty well-versed on what a food pickup and drop off is going to entail and so I think that a lot of it is because that in a really short period of a time, a volunteer can pick up. Especially if you’re at a grocery store, you can pick up hundreds of pounds of surplus food and take it to a group of people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. I think it’s really about understanding how food connects us and that by their actions, they’re able to help provide nourishment to our neighbors and really, it just comes down to it. It feels good to be able to give back to our community like that.

Hallie: I love that.

Chris: In such an impactful way as well.

Jess: Right. Because a lot of times this food it’s not going to be going somewhere and sitting. It’s going to be eaten that day or the next morning when you drop it off. It’s not going to sit around and you’re not going to have to wonder where it went or if it got eaten. It will be eaten.

Hallie: We’ve talked about food waste and food loss on the show before and I feel like that is one of the things I don’t know what it is, but it just aches at this inner part of people when they think about the food system. That is one thing that, especially people who are really conscious of the climate and conscious of how we’re going to be feeding people in the future. It tugs at you. You’re like, how are we waiting this food? I don’t know what it is, but it’s just like, there’s something internal. It just drives you crazy about it and I think your mission is so cool.

Jess: I mean, I think too. That’s something that I feel is really important right now that we’re having and it’s largely because of this pandemic that we’re just having a larger national conversation about food access and food insecurity.

Hallie: Totally.

Jess: We’re hearing more and more about individuals and families falling into food insecurity. I mean, we’ve all seen the photos of thousands of cars lined up for a food pantry distribution and there’s multitudes of articles about families struggling to put food on the table and it’s really distressing to see that kind of suffering, right? I think having this kind of topic move into the spotlight, it makes me hopeful that this conversation continues because food insecurity was here before the pandemic and it will be here after the pandemic. It’s a complex problem and it’s tied to a lot of other things. It doesn’t work in a silo. It’s tied to things like affordable housing and income and transportation and it’s so big, but maybe with a larger conversation happening now and being in the forefront, it’s hopefully an opportunity to really tackle the issue.

Chris: Despite the fact that Hallie has said we’re not doing anymore COVID content, how have you seen your operation changed or impacted in any new ways this year?

Jess: This year has definitely been different. Like I said, I actually started at Keep Austin Fed a year ago, next week or two weeks from now.

Chris: Okay.

Jess: So I had about four months under my belt before the pandemic hit. [Laughs]. But I mean, I’ve seen a lot of change just in this amount of time that I’ve been at Keep Austin Fed. We’ve really had to pivot in terms of what kind of foods we’re able to provide our recipients mainly because things like large group dining or buffets or the general congregation of people has really stopped. We would work with catering companies and just pick up large catering size trays of food from them and we could just go take it and drop it off. We had a dozen different recipient organizations who we could go drop it off to and we’re not really able to do that anymore. There’s a huge need for food that is grab and go, individually packaged and very easy to distribute, so we’re not creating groups of people hanging around together and eating. That’s been a really big change and it’s interesting too because at the beginning of the year, we were starting a pilot project, the repack it project where we were going to be bringing together high school college students with senior populations and having them work together to take those large catered trays and repackage it into this individual serving size meals. One, it’s a volunteer opportunity, it’s intergenerational and then also the individual meals are generally easier for us to distribute to our recipient organizations, but obviously, that project got put on hold because of COVID. We’ve seen some changes in the food that we’re able to distribute in some of our programming. We’ve also seen differences in how we can bring on volunteers. Traditionally, we would have an in-person volunteer orientation where we go through a quick training session taught by one of our volunteer trainers and then they would do a shadow food run. So this is basically actually doing a food run together, going through the boxes at Trader Joe’s and divvying it out and then taking it to a recipient organization. But now, we’re having to do trainings online and forego that shadow food run. That’s definitely different. We’re not getting as much contact right now I guess with the recipients and the contributing organizations and even with the volunteers. Those things have definitely changed.

Chris: With all the change that’s been going on, is there anything you see that you’re hopeful about or excited about?

Jess: Yes, I’m excited. Even though we have had to move our volunteer orientations and all this stuff to a virtual setting, I have been so excited to see the number of people who want to join us and start volunteering for Keep Austin Fed. Probably, at the end of the summer, we started bringing on the virtual orientations and every single orientation, there’s 9, 10, 11 volunteers signed up to learn more about Keep Austin Fed and really excited to get involved in the work that we’re doing. I also think too and it’s not necessarily food rescue work, but I am also very excited to see this renewed interest in backyard or victory gardens because I think any opportunity for people to get their hands in the dirt is a good one. Even if it’s just a few container gardens and just connecting people to how their food is grown is always a step in the right direction plus it’s really great therapy right now.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Yes, I totally agree.

Jess: That’s how I got out my initial pandemic anx. I had tackled a plot of my backyard and I was like, well, you get a little bit of sun, you’re going to turn into a garden.

[Laughter].

Hallie: That’s amazing. How’s it been doing?

Jess: It’s doing great actually. It’s been really fun. We had lots of tomatoes and green beans over the summer and now have my little spinach and kale and things are popping up, so it’s great. I love it and it’s really fun to introduce my kids to it as well.

Hallie: Oh my gosh. I love it.

Chris: That’s great.

Hallie: I love it so much. I’ve got my kale out-front. I live in Lincoln, small duplex with no backyard and so my kale is out front for all the world to see.

Jess: There you go. That’s awesome.

Hallie: Stand it up straight.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I love it. Jess, I’m curious. Do you have any words of advice or wisdom for our listeners who might be wanting to take this idea of food rescue into their daily lives?

Jess: Sure. Definitely because like I mentioned before too, like a lot of food waste happens in our kitchens. So how do we help combat all that food waste? I think the number one thing folks can do is meal plan and that’s just a really great way to help you buy only what you know you’re going to use and it cuts down on waste in your kitchen and you can also make sure that you’re storing your food correctly because not all fruits and vegetables should be refrigerated. If they are, where you put them in the fridge matters and knowing those kinds of things can help maximize the freshness. Then also reduce spoilage of that food. If you do have more food that you can eat, try finding ways to preserve it. You could freeze it. You could dry it. You don’t necessarily need to toss an over ripe banana, you could cut it up and freeze it for a smoothie or banana bread later. You can chop up herbs and freeze them in ice cubes so you can use them later. Little things like that. You can also purchase ugly produce. Those imperfect fruits and vegetables so that they’re not getting thrown out. It’s maybe a little bit easier if you shop at a farmer’s market and vendors there will sometimes have those kinds of seconds, fruits and vegetables that they’ll sell for a lower cost and it’s still fresh, healthy edible food and it won’t get thrown out and you can always compost. Either set one up at your home or if your city has a composting program like Austin does, make sure you have a bin.

Chris: I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in my life suggest that I should compost before.

Hallie: Oh my God. Jess, we talk about composting here on the show. Almost every episode, I’m constantly trying to talk my dad into starting a home compost.

Jess: [Laughs]. Wait, you have all different kinds of options too.

Hallie: I know.

Chris: It’s true.

Jess: You just have compost [inaudible], Burma composting. One gets some worms.

Hallie: It’s so fun. It’s like a pet, but less work.

Jess: Exactly.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: It doesn’t love you back.

Chris: That is pretty good spam.

Jess: You still have to feed it though.

Hallie: Yes, you do. Definitely, you have to feed it. Well, Jess, thank you so much for your time today. How can people support Keep Austin Fed and where can they find you?

Jess: You can find us on Instagram, on Facebook. You can go to our website, keepaustinfed.org and there, you can learn more about us and you can learn how to become a volunteer and you can also find our donate button on our website, which helps support our daily food pickups in our programming.

Hallie: Fabulous. Thank you so much. This was amazing.

Jess: I know. Thank you guys so much for having me on.

Chris: Loved it.

[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].

50: Food Rescue with Jess Palmer

This week we’re talking to Jess Palmer of Keep Austin Fed about food rescue. Why is food rescue something we need to worry about, and what can we do to help?

Image courtesy of Keep Austin Fed.

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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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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.
onetogrowonpod.com

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.

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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.

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.
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