Tag Archives: Crops

All episodes that profile a specific crop, including crop science, agronomic history, postharvest practices, and other fascinating facts that tell the story of a crop.

49: Apples 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 apples.

[Background music].


Hallie: Okay, dad. What do you know about apples?

Chris: I know that some of them are delicious. Some of them are not. Some of them taste way too sour or like cardboard.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: I know that they can be stored for up to a year, which still blows my mind.

Hallie: That’s true. [Laughs].

Chris: I know they got little seeds in them and worms like to use them for houses at least in cartoons or something. I don’t know.

Hallie: Yeah, good stuff.

Chris: You can stick a crabapple on the end of a stick and fling it really far.

Hallie: We used to play like, I don’t know. I can’t remember if we had a name for it, but we had a crabapple tree up at the farm and we would take crabapples and throw them and the other person would hit them with a tennis racket and they would just explode. It was so much fun.

Chris: Oh boy.

Hallie: Probably not good for the tennis racket, but that tennis racket was probably like 45 years old.

Chris: Or crabapples. Sure.

Hallie: I mean, it was really not good for the crabapple. [Laughs].

Chris: Alright. So apples, what do you got? What’s so great about the apple?

Hallie: The apple also known as Malus domestica is in the Rosaceae family. We have talked about lots of things in the Rosaceae family, so I thought it would actually be interesting to talk about where in the Rosaceae family apples are compared to other things in the Rosaceae family. Listeners, I will put this on the Instagram and probably on the Twitter.

If you want to see what it is that dad and I are going to be talking about, you can find it there, but dad, this is basically a hypothesis of the evolutionary structure of the Rosaceae family that you can see here. Can you describe what it is for the listeners?

Chris: Well, I see Johnny and Maura up top and there’s also some David.

Hallie: What? No. [Laughs].

Chris: Okay. Now, what I’m looking at is this sort of ridiculous graph. On the left-hand side, it starts out as I guess, three lines sort of splitting out from each other at not quite, but almost a right angle and branching into a whole bunch of other little lines, which branch into even more little lines. It just sort of makes this little kind of tree like structure I guess and towards the lines become different colors I guess to represent different species of apple.

Hallie: It’s to represent different types of fruits within the Rosaceae family.

Chris: Oh, got it.

Hallie: Like if you see on the left, there’s like achene, druplet, follicles, capsules, dry drupe pome, et cetera. We’ve talked about some of these different types. We’ve talked about drupes on the show, we’re going to be talking about pomes today but basically, this is just like different structures of fruit within the family. You can see up here at the top, we have Fragaria and Rosaceae.

Rosaceae is roses like you have in your garden, Fragaria is strawberries and then you have rubrics, so those are all up at the top. Then down at the very bottom there’s Prunus, which is things like peaches and apricots and plums and then in the middle, you have Malus and Pyrus. Can you guess what Pyrus is if we know Malus is Apple?

Chris: Are Pyrus cherries?

Hallie: No, that’s Prunus.

Chris: Okay. Pyrus, I don’t know. Does it have to do with papyrus? Is it like little paper reeds?

Hallie: No, it’s pears. [Laughs].

Chris: Oh, that makes sense sort of.

Hallie: Yeah, apples and pears are quite similar. They’re both pomes.

Chris: Alright. Do they rhyme?

Hallie: No, not a poem. A pome, so P-O-M-E. A pome is a fruit consisting of a fleshy enlarged receptacle and then a tuft central core containing the seeds. A receptacle is basically the thing that holds the flower and it’s right below the ovary and this is actually what strawberries are as well as they’re mostly a receptacle. Then on the outside is where the actual fruit is.

Pomes are a little bit different where the enlarged receptacle is on the outside and then the seeds from the ovaries are on the inside. Basically, the inside bit is what comes from the ovaries and on the outside this technically vegetative part of the flower structure grows up and around it to protect those seeds.

Chris: Okay. When you say receptacle, basically, you mean the delicious part?

Hallie: Yeah, well, so the receptacle strictly speaking is like the stock that holds the flower and it’s the part on the stock that’s right below the ovary, but with like pears, apples, strawberries, when the ovaries are fertilized, then that part also grows as well as the ovary itself.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: The fleshy part is the receptacle, the enlarged receptacle. The part we eat is the enlarged receptacle. We have talked about Amygdalin once on the show before. We talked about it actually in our Halloween episode last year when we were talking about apricot pits, but Amygdalin is also present in apple seeds, although in a smaller amount.

Chris: I do not remember what Amygdalin is.

Hallie: It is the thing that makes cyanide.

Chris: Maybe don’t eat those seeds in large quantities.

Hallie: I mean, you would have to eat a lot of them and honestly, it would be very hard because you would also have to like break them open. Usually, if people eat apple seeds, sometimes they just chew on them. Sometimes they swallow them whole accidentally. You’d have to basically make a smoothie of like 500 apple seeds and then eat all of it, which would be horrible and disgusting, so it’s not that big of a deal.

Chris: It definitely sounds unpleasant. Actually, now I do remember this. We talked about apricot seeds in foods that kill if you’d like to re-examine that episode, but yes, that’s where I’m remembering this knowledge from. Apple seeds have the same potential, but probably not a thing.

Hallie: Apricot pits have dramatically more Amygdalin. Definitely do not chew on an apricot pit.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: But apple seeds are not that big of a deal. Like I have heard that as a fun fact, like, oh, apple seeds can kill you. They can’t really kill you unless you eat an immense amount, which is true for most foods.

Chris: Fair enough.

Hallie: Originally, it is thought that apples originated in Central Asia, but modern apples actually share more genetic material with European apples just because of hybridization along the Silk Road. We started domesticating apples a very, very, very long time ago and Malus domestica is just such a distinct species and has genetic material from many, many different kinds of apples that is really like its own thing now, which is why it’s its own species, even though it was just hybrids from all these wild species. But that’s super cool.

Chris: This sounds like the kind of question that would get you thrown off a bridge on Monty Python.

Hallie: [Laughs]. One of the interesting things about apples is that they are self-incompatible. We’ll talk about this later on in the show when we talk about breeding. But that basically means that one apple tree cannot fertilize itself. It needs a second other apple tree to make apples. This plus the long lifespan of apples plus it being involved in cultural practices and being eaten by a lot of people made for hybridization and a lot of genetic variation during domestication. It’s very different from corn that we have now where like we have a lot of different varieties of corn, but they’re very genetically similar because apples cannot self-fertilize, you have so many, so many, so many different kinds of apples and they’re very, very genetically distinct.

Chris: I know we’ve got a lot to talk about and I don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent, but how common are self-compatible plants versus self-incompatible plants? That’s not something that I ever would have really thought of.

Hallie: With herbaceous plants, things like tomatoes, they have a year to live and then they’re done, so it’s much more common for them to be self-compatible and self-fertilizing just because it makes much more sense. If you have a year and then you’re done, then you really want to be cranking out those seeds as quickly and as easily as possible. If you have a tree crop, that’s really their goal is to live as long as possible, it makes sense to want to have a lot of genetic diversity because that will make you more resistant to disease.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: That’s really your goal. If a disease gets to a tree, that tree might be done. If there are a lot of other trees that are very similar genetically, then they also might be done. Having like self-incompatibilities just makes a lot more sense evolutionarily as an advantage to trees versus if you’re talking about more short-lived species.

Chris: So every apple tree is unique and special just like people.

Hallie: It’s true except for it’s not which we will be talking about. [Laughs].

Chris: Alright.

Hallie:
I want to talk about Johnny Appleseed. Dad, for any non-Americans that we have listening to the show, can you give a very brief summary of who Johnny Appleseed is?

Chris: Actually, I’m not sure that I can.

Hallie: What do you know about him?

Chris: Johnny Appleseed is one of those names that you hear here in American, even if you don’t know a lot about him. He’s like a guy that planted a lot of apple trees and had this philosophy of life that I’ve got everything I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed and I’m thankful to God for all of these things.

Hallie: Yeah, that was a great summary.

Chris: Thanks. That’s all I know.

Hallie: Johnny Appleseed is based on a real man called John Chapman who was born in 1774 right before the American Revolution in Massachusetts. As he was growing up, where he was living was going through like a lot. Capital, A capital L, A Lot. Eventually, he moved west to Ohio and he was in Pennsylvania for a bit as well. Basically, he moved to Ohio during a land deal. The rules of it basically were the settlers could take land from indigenous people “settle it” up to 100 acres of land in what we now call Ohio if they planted 80 trees. You had to plant 80 trees to be able to claim your 100 acres. So Johnny Appleseed moved to Ohio and he would go up to the cider presses in the winter and load up on apple seeds that were a leftover a by-product and then come spring, he’d go and plant them all by a river with a little fence of brush around them to keep the deer out.

Then five years later, he’d come back, get all the saplings out of the ground and sell them to new settlers.

Chris: Sounds like a lot of work.

Hallie: Well, but the thing is it’s not a lot of work. You plant seeds and then five years later you have something to sell. It’s not like he was tending these apple trees. He was basically setting up little nurseries that he would just leave by themselves to function. Sometimes he would come back in once or twice to check on them and make sure everything was going well, but he wasn’t doing much.

Chris: So he made money off the land rush, basically.

Hallie: He made money off a land rush. It was like a very capitalist opportunity facilitating settler colonialism, but he was a weird guy. He took this money and it’s not like he went and bought a bunch of land or bought a bunch of people or resources or tried to make himself rich. He started to run a horse rescue with the money he was making. He would take in horses that he thought were being abused. He really couldn’t stand to see animals or plants abused or hurt, which is why he didn’t graft apple trees. We will talk more later about grafting apple trees, but that is something that was really, really common for hundreds of years. By the time Johnny Appleseed rolled around, it was very common to graft apples and he wouldn’t do it because he thought it was hurting the trees. He didn’t really live any particular places. He was a wanderer. He was very religious, so he would kind of wander around and spread the gospel.

He was a vegetarian later in life. There was this account that I found that Anthony Banning Norton, who was a journalist and historian he called Chapman the oddest character in all of our history in his 1862 History of Ohio. I copy and pasted a little account because I just thought it was really interesting. He said, “One cool autumn night while lying by his campfire in the woods, he observed that the mosquitoes flew in the blaze and were burned. Johnny who wore on his head a tin utensil, which answered both as a cap and as a mush pot, filled it with water and quenched the fire and afterwards remarked, God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort. That should be the means of destroying any of his creatures,” meaning God’s creatures. Then in that same account, they talk about him sleeping in the woods, him walking around barefoot in the snow. I don’t know how truthful these accounts are just because it’s history and this guy wasn’t there. He was a journalist and he was talking to people who said that they were there, but boy, what a picture they draw.

Chris: Indeed.

Hallie: This really reminds me of if you’ve seen the Good Place you remember Doug Fawcett.

Chris: Yes.

[Laughter].

Hallie: This is what this reminds me of.

Chris: Right. Living on his own trying to make no impact whatsoever and just to backtrack super quick, as you said it very casually. He said he didn’t buy anything. He didn’t buy any land or people or whatever. Just to be clear, he did live in a time when buying people was possible.

Hallie: Exactly. I did want to be clear at the front, he did facilitate settler colonialism. He was taking advantage of these capitalist structures in this late time of oppression and he was able to benefit from that, but he was a weirdo amongst those systems. For sure.

Chris: [Laughs]. That’s awesome. Now, I’m curious. I wish we had more firsthand historical accounts of him. I’m sort of interested to learn more about the individual.

Hallie: Yeah, there’s a lot of interesting history, but the really interesting thing about Johnny Appleseed is really the impact he had because he wasn’t grafting plants and basically making clones, he was planting from seed and making genetically distinct individual trees. He dramatically increased the genetic diversity of apple trees in North America and made it really possible for genetic apple breeders today to have a lot of material to work with.

Chris: Okay. If apples are so genetically diverse, then how do apple growers predict how an apple is going to come out?

Hallie: We’re going to talk about that after the break.

[Background music].

Chris: Welcome to the break.

Hallie: Welcome everyone to the break. Dad, did you know we have a Patreon.

Chris: I did.

Hallie: We have a Patreon. It has several tiers on it. They are all super fun and I would encourage anyone who is listening and interested in supporting the show to just mosey your way on over there to patreon.com/onetogrowonpod.

Chris: We have several tiers. One of which includes our starfruit patrons, who should have just gotten a shipment of salt, which is amazing.

Hallie: It’s not just salt though. I want people to understand it’s not just salt. We worked very closely with this extremely cool shop that is based out of San Diego and they got like six specialty salts all of which I tried with you and oh my God, were they amazing?

Chris: Let me tell you a piece of sourdough bread with some butter and a little dash of the truffle oil salt is amazing. Also, the other night I had some corn on the cob with some butter and the Havana spice salt. Wow. That was incredible.

Hallie: That’s one of our tiers over on Patreon.

Starfruit patrons get a shipment every six months of very cool goodies that we love and we think they’ll love, but mostly we are just extraordinarily grateful for everyone on Patreon and all of your support of the show. You make it possible for us to do this and make it as wonderful as we are able to make it and thank you, especially to our wonderful starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick and Shianne.

Chris: Thank you so much. We could not do the show without you.

Hallie: Back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: I do have a nature fact.

Hallie: What is it?

Chris: One of the things that apples are used for is apple pie and I love me a good apple pie and there’s the expression American is apple pie, but did you know that apple pie actually originated in the UK and the first known recipe that was recorded that we have written down was by Geoffrey Chaucer?

Hallie: What? No way.

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: Really?

Chris: Author of the Canterbury Tales often referred to as the father of modern English literature.

Hallie: Wow. That’s an incredible nature fact.

Chris: It included apples, figs, raisins, and pears in a pastry shell. But no sugar, which I’m guessing was probably much more expensive at the time.

Hallie: Honestly, that sounds pretty good. I feel like the raisins would bring that sweetness. It sounds like it would not be too sweet, but just right.

Chris: I was saying at the time I would probably be really happy to eat that pie.

Hallie: I feel like I would be happy to eat that now. Apples and pears and raisins, I could totally go with that and figs. I love figs. Figs are my favorite.

Chris: Figs are great.

Hallie: Tara tarara! Nature fact. Okay. You want to know about apple breeding.

Chris: You have no idea how much I want to know about apple breeding.

Hallie: A lot of the crops we eat as mentioned before can be pollinated by other flowers on the same tree or plant. Some flowers can even be pollinated by itself, like tomato flowers can just be pollinated by themselves. Apple pollen cannot fertilize flowers from the same plant. Their system to reject their own pollen actually also reduces the likelihood that parent or sibling plants can breed with them. As I mentioned, this makes for healthier plants more resistant to pathogens and pests, but it also makes it impossible to breed. The apples that Johnny Appleseed spread around North America, which were created by seed were mostly cider apples because for cider, you really just need the sugar content. They don’t have to taste good. They don’t have to look good. It’s very rare for an apple planted by seed to taste good and look good. It’s not common. The spread of apples across North America precipitated by Johnny Appleseed, but of course, not exclusively to John Appleseed, did lead to things called chance seedlings. Some of which led to varieties. We now know like the Golden Delicious, which is where you just have a random seed and eventually, wow. Something great comes of it, but almost never does that happen. We now have genetic sequencing, which does take some of the guesswork out of it. But honestly, if you think about it, if you’re trying to create a new apple, you can’t crossbreed between two apple trees necessarily that are related and you’re trying to isolate specific like genes, specific traits. Really, it’s just roll a dice. You have to plant a seed and then you have to wait 15 years to get an apple to see if it is good.

Chris: 15 years?

Hallie: That’s how long apple trees take. It’s like 10 to 15 years until the apples are ready to be harvested. It takes a long time. Sometimes it can be earlier if you have ideal conditions, but generally, that’s about how long it takes. It’s very hard. It’s very, very hard to breed apples. It’s very hard to breed apples. I cannot stress this enough.

Chris: Okay. Let me try to sort of clarify this in my mind. Let’s take Golden Delicious as an example because it’s like one of my favorite apples. Love me a Golden Delicious. If I want an orchard of Golden Delicious, then I get Golden Delicious apple seeds or do I start with saplings or whatever and plant them and then wait for years for them to become trees and then they keep producing apples forever or how does that all work?

Hallie: If you want a Golden Delicious apple orchard and you start with Golden Delicious apple seeds, you will not get Golden Delicious apples.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: Because the flowers on the Golden Delicious apple tree were pollinated by some other random tree, right?

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: The seeds are half Golden Delicious, half something else. How we breed plants is we do a lot of back crossing, so you cross with something else and then you cross back with the original plant. You cross with something else and you cross back with the original plant. That’s almost impossible to do on apples because of the self in compatibility and because they take so long to get to maturity. We don’t have these specific genes isolated. We don’t have the traits isolated. So Golden Delicious is really just totally random. How we get Golden Delicious apples, we take a root stock and we graft onto the top of it. Meaning we take part of a Golden Delicious apple tree and we cut off the top part of an apple tree and we stick on the top part of a Golden Delicious apple tree and they grow together and it’s basically cloning. This is how apples have been grown for a very long time. The oldest apple variety might be the Annurcha Apple, which some people think is the one mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his naturalist historia as maaleh or celer before the year 79.

Chris: Oh, that’s a while ago.

Hallie: We have been doing this for a very long time. We have been grafting apples because it’s very hard to breed apples, so we just clone them. We just clone them because that’s how you get good apples.

Chris: Okay. What’s the difference then between breeding and cloning? In this case, cloning, you’re taking an existing plant and you’re taking a piece of it and you’re growing that or you’re grafting something else on to it to grow it.

Whereas when you say breeding, you mean growing from seed and hoping that they’re pollinated by plants close enough to it to produce something predictable, except it sounds like that won’t happen. It’s just going to get pollinated however it gets pollinated and have fun with whatever you get that could be really interesting or it could be awful.

Hallie: Right. For example, say we’re breeding like sunflowers. You want a bigger sunflower seeds so that you can put them in the Piggly Wiggly’s and you also want something that is resistant to sunflower blight or whatever diseases affect sunflowers. So you take a sunflower that might be really affected by whatever disease is affecting the sunflowers but it has big seeds. Then you take another sunflower that has small seeds and is really resistant to this disease and you cross pollinate them like 200 times. Then you look at all of the babies that came out of those and see, do any of these have both of the traits that I want. You just keep doing that over and over again until you’re able to breed the specific traits that you want. That’s a really simplified version. Plant breeding is a lot more complicated than that, but you can’t really do that with apples just because of that self-incompatibility. You can’t keep breeding back and forth because of this mechanism to reject pollen that is related to the original tree. We just have to clone it. We roll the dice. We go out into the woods. Literally, this is how they found the Golden Delicious apple. They were just talking to farmers, going out into the woods, being oh, I heard so-and-so has an apple that’s good. They went and they found it in the woods and they took it and they said, this is a good apple. We will now take part of these branches and go clone them and now you can eat them in the grocery store.

Chris: Thank you to those people.

Hallie: Yeah, absolutely. But also, it’s roll the dice. They didn’t really do anything other than facilitate the growth of the apple tree.

Chris: Fair enough.

Hallie: We graft all the apples. They’re all clones. All the Red Delicious apples are exactly the same. All the Golden Delicious apples are exactly the same. All the Granny Smith apples are exactly genetically the same. Of course, this creates issues with genetic diversity and disease. But because we just have so much apple genetics, apples as a whole are not really at risk of a disease wiping out a monoculture, but like specific apple varieties might be.

Chris: Okay. As long as Golden Delicious are safe, I’m fine.

Hallie: Well, as of 2008, 90% of the apples produced in the US were just 15 varieties.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: So Golden Delicious is probably one of those 15. That’s a lot of Golden Delicious apples. They’re probably okay, but compared to every other apple out there, they are definitely at a higher risk in terms of risk to diseases.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: That’s how we make apples. In terms of who eats apples, China eats 40 million tons of apples. The US eats 4 million tons of apples, which is second place. So China eats the most apples.

Chris: I mean, they got a lot more people, so I guess it makes sense.

Hallie: The highest per capita, I was actually really surprised by this is Poland, Turkey and then Iran.

Chris: Interesting.

Hallie: Very interesting. China also grows the most apples. They grow 41 million tons. The US grows 4.7 million tons and then Turkey comes in third with 3 million tons.

Chris: The little good Turkey.

Hallie: I know. Apparently, very big apple people over in Turkey, had no idea. Post-harvest, this is the thing that you really wanted to talk about when I brought up talking about apples, you wanted to know how we get the apples off the trees and into storage and then to the grocery store.

Chris: Indeed.

At some point, we have to blame Hollywood for the need for them to be red, but we will come to that.

Hallie: No, that’s the first thing I have.

Chris: Oh really?

Hallie: Yeah, red color is normally just cosmetic. Like Gala apples, it’s an indicator of maturation, but that is pretty much the only apple that we eat commercially where that’s really an indicator. Normally, it just is consumers won’t eat an apple unless it has some red on it or it’s specifically not a red apple.

Chris: I remember in the nineties, there were a bunch of farmers that tried to breed some really great bright shiny red apples, but they all tasted like cardboard.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: They ended up going out of business and there was this whole thing about farmer relief for these people who were losing a bunch of money because they grew really not good apples and some of them were like, you know we’re in business. We tried and we failed. That’s it. That’s what happened.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I mean, it is very hard to breed apples to be fair. As you mentioned at the top of the show, apples can be in storage for up to 12 months. Their storage period is 1 to 12 months in storage. Usually, that has to be in the right conditions though, so like the temperature is usually between 30°F and 40°F. The humidity has to be like 90% to 95% just so that they can stay good and edible and delicious.

Chris: You can’t just put it in the cupboard for a year.

Hallie: Can’t just put it in a cupboard for a year.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: The next thing I wanted to talk about was browning. Do you know why apples go brown, dad?

Chris: I assume it’s some sort of oxidation.

Hallie: It is. Great work.

Chris: Thank you.

Hallie: Yes, I found a really helpful article in the Scientific American, which is called, “Why do Apple Slices Turn Brown After Being Cut?” When apples are cut or bruised, oxygen is introduced into that injured plant tissue and then when the oxygen is present in the cells an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase also known as PPO, which is in the chloroplasts will rapidly oxidize phenolic compounds. Then that oxidation creates a brown colored secondary like product. You can use lemon or pineapple juice to coat apple slices, which will slow enzymatic browning both because they have antioxidants in them and because they have a lower pH so all in all that causes the enzyme to be less active.

Chris: If you want lemon juice on your apple, it’ll stay better longer.

Hallie: It’s true, but in 2017 there was an apple approved. There was a GMO apple called the Arctic Apple and there’s actually several different varieties of Arctic apples.

Chris: Interesting.

Hallie: They basically just took out that PPO, that polyphenol oxidase enzyme out and so now, there’s no oxidation process happening. Other than that, the apples are the same, so they don’t brown. There was a lot of talk when these were first released about like kid’s snacks, pre-cut apple snacks, the apples that you can buy from McDonald’s and stuff like that when you are on the go, you have small kids that need the apples already cut up and you don’t have time to cut them up. There was a lot of talk about those consumer packaged goods, ready to go apples. But of course, apple trees take a long time to grow and they weren’t approved until 2017. So we still have a ways to go until we know really what the market’s going to be.

This year was their highest harvest to date, according to Growing Produce, which is like an industry publication. This article was published on October 28th, so pretty recently. We’re recording this on Halloween. This is pretty up to date. They had almost 8 million pounds and of course, fall is usually when apples are ready, like early fall. 8 million pounds of Arctic Apples this year. Probably will be more next year.

Chris: I wonder how they taste.

Hallie: I mean, they taste the same. They took like existing apple varieties and then just took out that enzyme, so they probably taste exactly the same.

Chris: Also kids, you don’t need time to cut up an apple. You can just take an apple and bite it directly.

Hallie: What if you’re like a tiny baby with the little tiny baby teeth or a small little baby mouth?

Chris: Your parents can cut it up for you. But I mean, let’s face it. That’s not who these things are marketed to. They’re marketed to kids that are 8, 9, 10 years old, who don’t want to be bothered with whole apples or parents that don’t want their kids to be bothered with whole apples and would rather just get them pre-cut apples. I don’t know.

Hallie: Maybe probably. I don’t really mind a pre-cut apple. I mean, we’ve talked on the show before about the question ability of pre-cut fruits, whether that’s apples whether that’s pineapples whether it’s watermelon, when you go into the store and there is like a precut section, one creates plastic, but two, also makes it possible for people to eat fruit that that it might’ve been challenging otherwise maybe because they have a disability maybe because they just don’t have enough time in the day to really take time to prepare fruits like that. There’s a lot of reasons why pre-cut fruit is complicated in terms of creating plastic, but beneficial. It’s complicated.

Chris: Well, pre-cut fruit is fine. Sure. I’ll keep an open mind.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: That’s really cool apples. Love an apple. I’m not going to try to breed an apple, but I will definitely eat an apple and I might try some medieval apple pie.

Hallie: Absolutely. That sounds great. Got to go get me some figs.

Chris: Also Mama Casey, if you’re listening, we haven’t had apple pie in a while. Just saying it.

Hallie: You can make an apple pie. It’s not hard. No, dad come on. You can make an apple pie. You don’t need mom to make an apple pie.

Chris: I mean, she really makes good pie. Just saying it.

Hallie: Oh my God.[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].

49: Apples

This week we’re talking about apples! We discuss varieties, methods of propagation, and how apples were first domesticated. Also, how well do you know Chaucer?

The Johnny Appleseed song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_IrdS-zu48

Read the transcript of this episode.

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

Listen to the full episode.

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

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week it’s bananas.

[Background music].

Hallie: Bananas, that is what we are discussing.

Chris: Bananas, the fruit.

Hallie: What do you know about bananas, dad?

Chris: I know that bananas are a berry.

Hallie: Do you know that? How?

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

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

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

Hallie: Yeah, banana is berry.

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

Hallie: Yeah, we’ll get to that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: Nice.

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

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

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

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

Chris: I see. Okay. Got it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: Or maybe some tapioca.

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: Well, most plants are, dad.

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

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

Chris: Got it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: Okay.

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

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

Hallie: Why would you go that far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: Jeez Louise.

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

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

Hallie: Is that all you got?

Chris: That’s all I got.

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

Chris: It goes well in cereal and ice cream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: Who is that?

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: God bless Patrick Whiteman.

Chris: Right.

Hallie: Doing some great work in Barcelona.

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

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

Chris: It’s true. Yes.

Hallie: Great nature fact, dad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: Got it.

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

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


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

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

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

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

Chris: Got it.

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

Chris: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: Sure.

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

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

Hallie: Right.

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

Have labor conditions and such things improved?

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

Chris: Right.

Hallie: What?

Chris: I knew that, sorry.

Hallie: Oh, you did.

[Laughter].

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

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

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

Chris: That’s what? A fungus?

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

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

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

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

Chris: I see.

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

Chris: Okay. Wow.

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

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

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

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

Chris: Got it.

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

Chris: For a long time you say.

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

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

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

Chris: Okay.

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

Chris: The bananas got their own pandemic.

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

Chris: Oh, sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris: Oh boy.

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: [Laughs].

[Background music].

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

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

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

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

Chris: Help us take root and grow organically by recommending the show to your friends or consider donating to our Patreon at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod.

There you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, exclusive bonus content and boxes of our favorite goodies.

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

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

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].

44: Bananas

This week we talk about bananas! The banana has quite a turbulent history. And while there are multiple varieties, the one we most commonly eat are all clones! Also, how far would YOU run in a banana costume?

Read the transcript for this episode.

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

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

Support us on Patreon!
patreon.com/onetogrowonpod

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

Persimmons

33: Persimmons Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie Casey  0:00 

Hello and welcome to One To Grow On the 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 Casey  0:12 

And 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 focusing on persimmons.

Hallie Casey  0:26 

I am so excited to talk about this fruit!

Chris Casey  0:28 

Persimmons. You used to say parsimmons.

Hallie Casey  0:34 

I still say parsimmons sometimes.

Chris Casey  0:36 

Yeah, you do.

Hallie Casey  0:37 

What do you know about the persimmon, Dad?

Chris Casey  0:40 

I know there’s this guy on YouTube that’s trying to eat them and they are a fruit, judging by some pictures that I saw. Maybe they’re a berry. And that’s all I really know.

Hallie Casey  0:55 

Yes. So I posted in our One To Grow On Discord. Quick plug if you’re interested, you can go to OneToGrowOnPod.com/discord about yeah, there’s this guy who has a YouTube channel. I was subscribed to him from back in the day, a million years ago. And he kind of revitalized his channel recently to try and like persimmons, which is not as easy of a task as one may think it is.

Chris Casey  1:23 

So persimmons aren’t very likable, I’m guessing.

Hallie Casey  1:26 

So they can be likable, and we’re gonna get to that they can also be distinctively unlikable.

Chris Casey  1:31 

Alright.

Hallie Casey  1:32 

So you’re right persimmons are berries. Good job. They’re in the genus Diospyros in the family Ebenaceae which is the ebony family, which is known for the dark wood that is used in carving.

Chris Casey  1:48 

Oh, so does it have the same kind of wood?

Hallie Casey  1:50 

No.

Chris Casey  1:51 

Oh, it’s just related to a tree that has that kind of wood.

Hallie Casey  1:54 

Exactly. Yeah. There are lots of different kinds of persimmons, the most common one is Diospyros kaki or kackai? I don’t know which one it is. That’s the most commonly produced one commercially. It’s native to mainland China and parts of Japan and you can buy it most places here in the US depending on seasonality. So that’s the one that usually see you in grocery stores.

Chris Casey  2:18 

Cool.

Hallie Casey  2:19 

There’s also Diospyros Nigra, which is native to Mexico and parts of Texas. That’s the common name is the chocolate pudding fruit.

Chris Casey  2:26 

Wait, is it called that because it tastes like chocolate pudding? I feel like it would have heard of this fruit.

Hallie Casey  2:33 

It’s called that because the flesh is very dark like chocolate pudding.

Chris Casey  2:38 

Oooooh.

Hallie Casey  2:38 

It’s also called the Sapote in Spanish.

Chris Casey  2:40 

Sapote? I still haven’t heard of it.

Unknown Speaker  2:42 

Well, it’s native to our region. There’s another one that’s native to our region called Diospyros Texana.

Chris Casey  2:47 

Okay.

Hallie Casey  2:48 

Do you know anything about Diospyros Texana?

Chris Casey  2:50 

Is it from Texas?

Hallie Casey  2:51 

It is yeah, it is from Texas. You have eaten this persimmon.

Chris Casey  2:56 

What?!

Hallie Casey  2:57 

Yes, you have eaten Diospyros Texana.

Chris Casey  2:59 

No. Really?

Hallie Casey  3:01 

Yes they grow in the Central Texas Hill Country.

Chris Casey  3:03 

Are they agaritas?

Hallie Casey  3:04 

No they’re not.

Chris Casey  3:07 

So what is it? When have I eaten this thing?

Hallie Casey  3:10 

Probably when you were traipsing around the central Texas Hill Country. I think I ate some with you I ate some with Katherine this last summer. When we were down towards Big Ben. I made her stop and eat them because they were fruiting at the end of the summer. They don’t really look like the commercial ones. The commercial ones are big, kind of like a like a large beefsteak tomato size. These Diospyros Texana, the Texas persimmons are maybe like the size of like a large marble or like a little bit bigger than a grape. And they have like some big seeds on the inside and they are dark purple in color and they stay in your teeth and they’re pretty delicious.

Chris Casey  3:50 

Okay, but I wasn’t with you when you went to Big Bend.

Hallie Casey  3:54 

I know but I’m pretty sure that either me or Mom would have forced you to foriage some Mexican persimmons or Texas persimmons at some point.

Chris Casey  4:06 

Hmmmm… I don’t remember this but maybe.

Hallie Casey  4:08 

I bet it! I bet so.

Chris Casey  4:10 

Did Producer Katherine like the persimmon when she ate it?

Hallie Casey  4:16 

I think she did. Yeah, I mean it’s a lot of seed it’s not bread. So it’s, it’s a lot of seed. There’s not a lot else in there unfortunately. But they are often harvested to make things like puddings or breads, or you know different stuff like that.

Chris Casey  4:33 

I’ve never had persimmon pudding or persimmon bread now I’m very curious.

Hallie Casey  4:37 

I had it once in college we had a professor who likes to celebrate our final, I think like baked us some persimmon bread, and I think she made something else with like a native plant. It was really cute. Everyone should become an ag major because your professors always bring you food.

Chris Casey  4:52 

Okay, you say it was really cute, but was it delicious?

Hallie Casey  4:56 

I thought it was delicious. Yeah, it’s like it’s kind of like a like a prune and nut bread like something that’s like kind of like sticky and you put nuts on it so it’s got a little crunch to it but the persimmons themselves, the Texas ones are really kind of thick and putting a similar to the sapote.

Chris Casey  5:12 

Did everyone else think it was delicious?

Hallie Casey  5:14 

I don’t remember I was very self centered teenager.

Chris Casey  5:18 

Okay, I’m just trying to get a bead on how this thing tastes.

Hallie Casey  5:21 

Yeah, so well that’s the Texas one. You can’t usually buy those ones you have to know when they’re fruiting and then go out and forage for them. They’re actually starting to flower right now, which is a little early for them because everything in here in Texas has been flowering a little bit early because it’s been a warm winter. So they’ll probably be coming in in like June or July where they usually come in around July or August. But that’s pretty much all we’re going to be talking about Diospyros Texana, because most of the episode we’re going to be talking about Diospyros Kaki which is like the commercial one.

Chris Casey  5:53 

The ones from Japan.

Hallie Casey  5:54 

Yeah, and Mainland China. So I first learned about the Japanese persimmon when I was in my post harvest class when I was in grad school, do you know what post harvest means?

Chris Casey  6:06 

Does it mean how to pick plants? No- how to store plants?

Hallie Casey  6:12 

Yes, exactly how to store plants. And the reason we talked about this for persimmons is because persimmons are very hard to store in a way that makes them delicious.

Chris Casey  6:25 

Okay, so I remember, you could store the apple up to like a year, right in giant silos, and I was shocked. So is the persimmon not similar?

Hallie Casey  6:36 

It’s not similar in that when you store an apple, you kind of pick it and then you chuck it in a bin, whereas with the persimmon, you have very different kinds of persimmons based on the cultivars and then how you store them has to be really really intricate, so it really quickly, persimmons. We don’t grab a lot of them a lot because of these issues with storing them. We’ve grew 7.9 million tons in 2018.

Chris Casey  7:04 

That’s sounds like a lot.

Hallie Casey  7:05 

it sounds like a lot. Yeah, it’s like 17.4 billion pounds. Most of that was grown in China, a lot of that was sold in eastern Asia because it’s more common to eat it there. It’s kind of more in the cuisine, people are more, you know, experienced with eating it. Here in North America, it’s not as common. To be put in the cuisine, partly because it has had some issues being grown here in the US. Pretty much all of the persimmon growth in the US comes out of California. And there’s a lot of competition for California real estate. There’s a lot of other crops that are jockeying for those fields. So if you haven’t quite cracked the persimmon, like a recipe on how to grow it perfect and then market it, then it’s hard to do it in a way that’s economical because that land is just so valuable.

Chris Casey  8:01 

And so many things we eat come from there.

Hallie Casey  8:03 

It’s true.

Chris Casey  8:04 

Okay, so like you said 17.4 billion pounds. How do people consume these billions of pounds of persimmons? I’m wondering.

Hallie Casey  8:15 

A lot of them are eaten fresh, just like fresh produce. You can also put them in things like jams or in desserts or in other things like that, that you would put a sweet fruit in. But for the most part, they are known as a fresh fruit that you would eat kind of like how you would just eat an apple or something like that where you just chomp it.

Chris Casey  8:34 

Does it have to be peeled or anything like that?

Hallie Casey  8:37 

No, no, you just chomp it. You just get in there and chomp it and Japanese persimmons have seedless fruits. So that’s nice because generally, the persimmon seeds can be pretty hefty. So that’s quite nice if you’re just going to chomp something if there’s no there’s no seeds in the side of it.

Chris Casey  8:57 

All right. Well, you know when I’m editing the episode, it feels like I have to chomp a cut. When we go into a break, chomp chomp chomp chomp chomp. 😉

Hallie Casey  9:11 

Dad, did you know that we have a discord channel?

Chris Casey  9:15 

I did know that! It’s a lot of fun.

Hallie Casey  9:20 

We also have a Facebook group, both on the discord channel and on the Facebook group Dad and I post all the time. Lots of other folks who listen to the podcast come in and we talk about plants and all the plants that we’re hoping to grow and there’s right now actually in the discord, there’s a whole channel just dedicated to wildflower pictures. And it’s amazing. It’s like my favorite place on the internet right now. If you just want to come and discuss how beautiful the blooms are. That’s the place to do it.

Chris Casey  9:49 

It’s true. There’s some great pictures. People get advice on the plants that they have. If they’re not doing well. Maybe they need water or maybe they need sun or something and people talk about that. And I make hilarious jokes all the time and it’s great!

Hallie Casey  10:08 

if you want to join either the Facebook group or the discord you can go to onetogrowownpod.com/discord or / group and find us there. That’s onetogrowonpod.com/discord for the discord and onetogrowonpod.com/group for the Facebook group.

Chris Casey  10:25 

And a big thank you to all of our patrons especially our star fruit patrons. Patrick, Vikram, Lindsey, Mama Casey and Cheyenne.

Hallie Casey  10:35 

Thank you guys so much. Should we get back to the episode?

Chris Casey  10:39 

Back to the episode!

Ad Music Outro  10:44 

Ad Music Outro

Hallie Casey  10:46 

Okay, dad, do you have any Nature Facts for us?

Chris Casey  10:48 

I do! This one I came across just randomly. A friend of mine named Kevin post the Austin improv schedule every day and in that schedule, he posts a random fact and  one day, his random fact was about the Rocky Mountain locust. Which was one of the dominant pests of the 19th century. And he said that once form in April of 1875 covered 200,000 square miles.

Hallie Casey  11:14 

Wow!

Chris Casey  11:15 

Yep. But over a period, I’m not sure when they started but over a period of about 30 years, agricultural development in the Rocky Mountains accidentally destroyed the locust nesting grounds and made the species completely extinct. And now North America is the only inhabited continent without a locust species.

Hallie Casey  11:37 

Wait, I thought locusts were the same as grasshoppers. I was pretty sure that a locust was the same as a grasshopper and so now I’m really- wait! Was the locus a cicada?

Chris Casey  11:45 

Locusts are neither grasshoppers nor cicadas. I think some people call cicadas locusts but they’re not the same.

Hallie Casey  11:55 

I am very surprised by this news!

Chris Casey  11:58 

Right? If you look up a picture of them they do look a lot like a grasshopper. It’s a species of short horn grasshoppers.

Hallie Casey  12:09 

Okay, so it’s like a specific kind of grasshopper. So we have other grasshoppers…

Chris Casey  12:13 

Yes.

Hallie Casey  12:14 

So a locust is a grasshopper but a grasshopper is not a locust. Right? Okay. Okay. That’s very interesting. Do you know there’s also trees called locust trees?

Chris Casey  12:23 

No, I had no idea.

Hallie Casey  12:24 

Yeah, they’re in the lagoon family. We have a lot of them here in Texas.

Chris Casey  12:28 

Do they make beans?

Hallie Casey  12:28 

They do make beans.

Chris Casey  12:30 

Nice.

Hallie Casey  12:32 

Ta da da ta da! Nature fact!

Chris Casey  12:34 

Nature fact! Alright, so, in the first half of the episode, you used a word that I didn’t ask you about, which was cultavar. What is that?

Hallie Casey  12:47 

So a VAR variety is a specific -What do we call it? We call it a… we don’t call it bloodlines because plants don’t have bloodlines.

Chris Casey  13:00 

Do the half chlorophyll lines?

Hallie Casey  13:04 

HAAA! That has to go in the outtakes cuz I was not on my mic when I said bloodline.

Chris Casey  13:10 

Does it have a genetic lineage?

Hallie Casey  13:12 

Yeah. So VARities is basically a specific kind of like a breed of plant kind of like you would have a breed of dogs. But the thing that’s different is that varieties are naturally occurring. So you just have some plants that cross a bunch and maybe they’re a little bit geographically isolated, and they start kind of doing their own thing in a way where it’s not like they can’t get with other plants that are still in the species, but they keep doing something that just makes them a little bit different. Sometimes this has to do with flower color, or like shape or size. But the word culturivar was invented to describe basically breeds of plants that were actually bred. So it’s short for cultivated variety.

Chris Casey  14:00 

Okay kind of like selecting for a seed for some plant. Basically it’s like that you’re just you’re just breeding the ones you want.

Hallie Casey  14:09 

Yeah, yeah, seed breeding. There’s all kinds of crossbreeding and stuff like that.

Chris Casey  14:16 

They’re not clones.

Hallie Casey  14:18 

No, they are not clones. But a clone is a plant. Usually if you have a clone, then it has some kind of plant trademark, which is different than a cultivar, but similar in a lot of ways, but-

Chris Casey  14:30 

Just taking our favorite plants and breeding them!

Hallie Casey  14:32 

Exactly. Most of these Japanese persimmons are producing seedless fruit, which is great, but some of these Japanese persimmons with seedless fruit produce astringent fruit. Do you know the word astringent? It’s kind of a weird word. I remember when I learned it, I had no idea what it meant.

Chris Casey  14:49 

I do I used to make beer. If I did something wrong or left something in the mash or the boil or something too long or something while to get in there that shouldn’t be then yeah, it would have an astringent flavor and it was not good at all.

Hallie Casey  15:06 

Yeah, astringency can mean like acidity or bitterness, generally just kind of a gross flavor that can’t really be described any other way because it’s a flavor. It’s like trying to describe colors. It just is what that is.

Chris Casey  15:21 

That’s true.

Hallie Casey  15:21 

So, the persimmons that are astringent that do become astringent have to be eaten superduper soft, whereas if you have persimmons that have been bred to be non astringent, then you can eat them super crisp like an apple.

Chris Casey  15:36 

And I guess different people just have different preferences as to which persimmon they like and presumably they’re marketed as such like if I go to a persimmon grocery store, then you have the astringent persimmons and the non astringent persimmon, sort of like you’d have Golden Delicious apples and what’s the one that goes in pies, Granny Smith?

Hallie Casey  15:58 

Yeah, yeah. Very similar to that, the most common astringent persimmon is a hot chia. The most common non astringent one is a Fuyu. That’s true that like different people have different tastes, but also whether or not it can be sold crisp has a really big impact on how long you can store it because if you have to keep it around until it’s real squishy, then that can be an issue for getting it out to market because then you usually have a pretty short shelf life.

Chris Casey  16:26 

Do these ripen as they sit on the shelf or in storage?

Hallie Casey  16:31 

Yeah, so the astringent ones can the non astringent ones can as well but you’re not as concerned with ripening because they’re already tasting good. Whereas if you have one that tastes bad, you really have to make sure it’s ripe.

Chris Casey  16:44 

Got it.

Hallie Casey  16:44 

So  one of the wild things that scientists have found is that if you take persimmons that have astringency you can what’s called cure them before they go to market.

Chris Casey  16:57 

You mean like jerky?

Hallie Casey  16:58 

Kind of. What happens is that you usually have these persimmons that are put into a big room or like a just some somewhere that’s that’s airtight, and they are brought up to 80% co2 for 24 hours at 20 degrees Celsius, and then after that they are not astringent anymore, but they can still be firm.

Chris Casey  17:22 

Weird

Hallie Casey  17:23 

Isn’t that wild?

Chris Casey  17:24 

I’m trying to picture that just a bunch of persimmons in a room with high concentration of co2 and it changes the flavor.

Hallie Casey  17:32 

Yeah, it changes the flavor without changing the firmness so you can also cure these astringent persimmons. If you put them in 10 parts per million ethylene at 20 degrees Celsius, but then you they usually go soft really quickly. So unlike any other fruit really we use high concentrations of co2 to cure the persimmons while maintaining firmness. There’s not really any other produce as far as I’m aware that you do this with most other things when you’re doing post harvest, you have to use ethylene or some other hormone. co2 is not a hormone. It’s wild.

Chris Casey  18:10 

So, to answer my earlier question, no, that’s nothing like curing beef jerky.

Hallie Casey  18:16 

I don’t know that much about beef jerky.

Chris Casey  18:18 

Which you just cover in salts and spices and stick it in the fridge for a day.

Hallie Casey  18:25 

I mean, it is also stuck in somewhere for a day. So in that sense, that’s true. And a cold place for a day!

Chris Casey  18:32 

And it does presumably change the chemical composition since it comes out with a different flavor. So scientists discovered that this happens do they discover the mechanism for this happening?

Hallie Casey  18:42 

They might have I have not discovered it however. So I have one more fun persimmon fact. So unripend persimmons, these astringent ones have shibiall which is asoluble tannins. Aannins create astringency. It’s why we don’t eat things like acorns because they have a lot of these tannins in them.

Chris Casey  19:00 

Boy, do they ever!

Hallie Casey  19:01 

So shibiall polymerizes when it comes in contact with a weak acid such as stomach acid, and so if you eat a lot of unripe persimmons, it can polymerize in your stomach and form what is medically known as a a bezoar.

Chris Casey  19:15 

Hold the phone.  So when you say polymerize you mean like turn solid?

Hallie Casey  19:24 

Yeah, turn solid into a gross little stomach rock.

Chris Casey  19:26 

Wow, that’s amazing.

Hallie Casey  19:29 

Is that not amazing? It’s super weird and kind of gross because if you look on the Wikipedia page, they have a lot of photos of like jewelry that was made with bezoars.

Chris Casey  19:40 

I mean, once a bezoar forms inside of you I feel like there’s only one way to get it out.

Hallie Casey  19:46 

Yep, pretty much.

Chris Casey  19:48 

And people want to wear that as jewelry.

Hallie Casey  19:51 

Yeah, a lot of them aren’t human bezoars as well. They are bezoars from things like goats.

Chris Casey  19:56 

Okay, well, which is what it is in the Harry Potter books. I mean, is that really more gross than coffee that’s been pooped out by beetles or whatever?

Hallie Casey  20:08 

I think it is. I know a lot about that coffee that has gone through a digestive process. I don’t think it’s that gross. We can do a whole episode on coffee and I can get all into the poop coffee.

Chris Casey  20:20 

All right, well, I’m looking forward to some poop coffee! I want to see what a bezoar looks like. Oh, there’s one with hair sticking out of it.

Hallie Casey  20:28 

Yeah, that’s coming from your stomach.

Chris Casey  20:32 

Dude! There’s not hair your stomach, you know, whatever.

Hallie Casey  20:36 

I mean, if you’re an animal that eats animals, there probably is.

Chris Casey  20:40 

Thanks for listening to this episode of One To Grow On!

Hallie Casey  20:43 

This show is hosted by me Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. It is produced by Katherine RJ

Chris Casey  20:47 

and Holly Casey.

Hallie Casey  20:48 

Our music is Something Elated by Broke For Free.

Chris Casey  20:51 

Connect with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at One To Grow On Pod.

Chris Casey  20:55 

You can find all of our episodes as well as more information about the show and the team on our website, onetogrowonpod.com. Join our community and learn more about each episode at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There you can get access to audio extras fascinating follow ups, and even custom art created just for you.

Hallie Casey  21:15 

If you like the show, pleaseshare it with your friends. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris Casey  21:21 

Be sure to check out the next episode in two weeks!

Hallie Casey  21:23 

But until then keep on growin’!

Chris Casey  21:24 

Bye, everybody.

Persimmons

33: Persimmons

We’re back to our regularly scheduled programming! This week, Hallie and Chris discuss persimmons and what makes them so great. We learn exactly what type of plant they are, what they’re used for and how to get them to taste as good as possible. We also learn what happened to the last of the North American locusts.

Read the transcript.

Join our discord our facebook group!

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

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

Support us on Patreon!
patreon.com/onetogrowonpod

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

Chestnuts and Chestnut leaf

28: The American Chestnut Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

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

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode, we pick an area of agriculture or food production that confuses a lot of people and try to get Hallie to explain it to us. And this week we are focusing on chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but just the chestnut part.

Hallie: That was so cute.

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks.

Hallie: Yeah, but we are just talking about the American chestnut today.

Chris: Wait, there’s international chestnuts?

Hallie: Well, yes.

Chris: Oh, like from Europe and Asia and stuff.

Hallie: Exactly. From those two places. Yes, correct.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Wow. So what makes them different?

Hallie: I mean, that they’re from somewhere else.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: There are some morphological differences as well, but like basically the Asian chestnuts are from Asia. The most common one and the ones that we see here in US stores are Chinese chestnuts.

Chris: So wait. I thought you said we were talking about American chestnuts though.

Hallie: I know, but I was just sharing a fact.

Chris: But then you said that the ones we see here most of the time are Chinese.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: But we’re going to talk about the American ones because we’re American.

Hallie: What do you know about chestnuts?

Chris: That roasting on an open fire is a Christmas thing and I guess you can eat them maybe after you’ve roasted them. That’s all I got. I mean, they’re nuts. I assume they’re nuts.

Hallie: They are nuts.

Chris: Okay. But yeah, I guess now that I think about it, I don’t really know about a chestnut. I think it comes off a tree. It’s a nut that comes off a tree. Do you make chests out of the wood?

Hallie: No.

Chris: Just called the chestnut.

Hallie: Well, you know I did not actually look into the etymological root. I mean, you probably could make a chest from the tree. You probably would not make a chest from the nut. I don’t know where the term chestnut came. I’m just now thinking about how that’s the word chest right up front. I don’t know on that one. Sorry.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: The other thing I was brainstorming. I was like, what do people know about chestnuts? The other thing I thought it was the term that old chestnut.

Chris: What is that term? I’ve never heard that.

Hallie: That like if someone tells a joke, you go, oh, that old chestnut or if someone says, oh. You know what I am saying?

Chris: Are you making this up?

Hallie: You’ve never heard this?

Chris: I’ve never heard this. I’m pretty sure it’s not a thing.

Hallie: No, it’s 100% a thing. I’ve definitely said it before.

Chris: Okay. It’s a thing that Hallie Casey has said and no one else has said.

Hallie: [Laughs]. No, there was a Wikipedia page. I Googled it to find out where the term where that old chestnut came from. There was a Wikipedia page.

Chris: Hang on. Let me look this.

Hallie: Oh my God. Well, it’s a British slang term that means like an old joke according to Wikipedia.

Chris: Oh, now that you say it’s British, it makes sense.

Hallie: That’s a thing people say that old chestnut. Oh, that old chestnut. I can’t believe you’ve never heard of oh that old chestnut.

Chris: No, it’s on urban dictionary. It must be a thing.

Hallie: It’s a thing regardless of whether or not it’s on urban dictionary, it’s a thing.

Chris: Okay. But this is talking about people. It’s a thing. I believe you.

Hallie: Those are the two I guess things people know about chestnuts. Oh three, I guess. One, they are nuts. Two, you can roast them on an open fire and at some point in British slang, they are referred to an old joke.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: The chestnut tree is in the Fagaceae family, so it’s related to beaches and oak trees. They’re in the genus Castanea and physiologically on a chestnut tree, you have these beautiful, lovely, big leaves. Right.

You have flowers that are called catechins and they’re self-incompatible. Basically, you have to have two different trees in order for the two flowers to pollinate. You have some plants where the flowers can pollinate themselves, but in chestnuts, you have to have two separate trees in order to get a chest nut from the flowers.

Chris: Is that having a male plant and a female plant?

Hallie: No, you have the same sex organs on both plants, but they can’t fertilize themselves. If they fertilize themselves, it’s not compatible. I think we call that self-infertile if I remember correctly. The actual nut itself, it is a nut. It is like a proper nut. Some of the nuts that we talk about are not technically nuts, but this is a proper actual nut. It has like an outer burr that is actually still removed by hand, but if you look at it, do you know what a sweet gum looks like?

Chris: I do not. Okay.

Hallie: If you live in North America, you might know what a sweet gum fruit looks like. They’re kind of round and pointy and they hurt really bad when you step on them. That’s kind of what a chestnut looks like with the burr on the outside.

Chris: Oh, like the thing that almost looks like a flower that is dropped from a tree, except it’s a piece of prickly wood.

Hallie: It’s like a big round ball of prickliness.

Chris: It’s like a round ball of spiky death in a stem.

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: I’ve never heard it called a sweet fruit.

Hallie: No, sweet gum.

Chris: Never heard it called that either.

Hallie: It’s not related to chestnuts, but the fruits look similar when the chestnut has the burr on the outside. There are these spiky burrs that all chestnuts have and those are still actually removed by hand and then on the inside, you actually have the fruit itself, which is the nut.

Chris: Between this and the cashew with the apple with the poison death skin. People like their danger nuts.

Hallie: Yes, you got to get in there. You got to really want it. The American chestnut was a really significant food source for first nation’s folks in Eastern US. The trees grew up to 100 feet tall and they were called the redwoods of the East and before the turn of the century in the 1900s, they made up about 25% of the forest from Mississippi up to Maine.

Chris: That sounds like a lot of trees.

Hallie: Those are a lot of trees. Post-contact after colonialization of North America, settlers used chestnuts for building materials. It was really, really straight and very sturdy and it was just a generally celebrated tree. It was one that people ate. People made a lot of houses out of chestnut. It was also quite pest resistant in terms of things that can eat wood and kind of get in wood, so it was just a very popular tree. Because of that, it was something that was really a big part of the American identity. Like how here in Central Texas, live oaks are a real part of the identity of the area. If you have something that’s so ingrained into your view of the landscape and your eating habits and the buildings and the things that you use are made of this wood, it was a really big part of American culture.

Chris: They ate it. They made houses out of it. I’m guessing they probably made chess out of it.

Hallie: Oh my God. Probably. I guess so. [Laughs]. You don’t know much about the American chestnut though.

Chris: I mean, I had no idea it was such a common tree and so commonly used.

Hallie: Yeah, well it was. In the early 1900s, around the turn of the century on Long Island, there was an Asian chestnut tree that was planted. There was actually a group of them and it was discovered in 1904 that they had a fungal blight.

Chris: In the early 1900s.

Hallie: In 1904, it was discovered that these Asian chestnut trees had a fungal blight called cryphonectria parasitica.

Chris: That does not sound good.

Hallie: No, so at the beginning of the 1900s, it was estimated that in North America, there were 4 billion with a b American chestnut trees.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: By the 1940s, there were virtually none.

Chris: Oh, wow. That’s horrible. That’s massive repeated decimation, like very rapid. Jeez.

Hallie: There are still like pockets of American chestnut strands. There’s a list on Wikipedia that you can find of the dozen or so American chestnut strands. It still exists. There’s one that’s in Wisconsin. I was actually near there this last summer and I tried to go, but the University of Wisconsin keeps it very hidden, not hidden. You know where it is, but they just don’t let anyone go for obvious reasons. They don’t want any contamination.

Chris: They want to keep it protected.

Hallie: Yeah, but this tree was such a huge part of American culture and American iconography I guess that since the 1930s, since it was really clear that this was a major problem threatening the American chestnut and then basically, it successfully threatened it and now is virtually non-existent. Since the 1930s, American scientists have been trying to find different methods to repopulate the chestnut species.

Chris: How’s that going for them?

Hallie: Well, do you want to talk about that after the break?

Chris: I would love to talk about that after the break.

[Background music].

Chris: You know what species is not going extinct?

Hallie: What species is that?

Chris: The species of our patrons.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: Thank you so much to Lindsay and Vikram and Mama Casey.

Hallie: Our newest starfruit patrons, Shianne.

Chris: Oh, hello, Shianne.

Hallie: Also, a huge thank you to our other new patron, RC and Hope. Welcome. Thank you so much.

Chris: Hello, RC. Hello, Hope. Thank you for joining.

Hallie: If you are enjoying the content that we’re producing and you’re interested in supporting us, you can head over to our Patreon, that’s patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. We have very great news. We’re halfway to our goal of 30 patrons and once we hit that goal, we are going to be making some videos of us reacting to the superfoods that we talk about on the show.

Chris: Do you think we can actually find some mangosteen?

Hallie: I feel like I could find us a mangosteen.

Chris: I mean, that was the one that Queen Victoria with knight people can bring it back, right? It sounds like a lot of work.

Hallie: I feel like I could find this one.

Chris: Alright. Well, I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to that.

Hallie: You will knight me when we make that video.

Chris: I will not knight you, although I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on a sword.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: We can make it happen. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: I do.

Hallie: Will you please tell it to me?

Chris: Sure and I bet you actually already know this one, but the lyric that I sang at the beginning of the show, chestnuts roasting on an open fire is from a Christmas song, which I knew you knew, but I didn’t know who wrote a Christmas song. I assumed it was Nat King Cole.

Hallie: I don’t think he wrote a lot of songs, dad.

Chris: That could be. Maybe people just wrote songs for him or he just found songs to sing, which is great. I’m glad he did, but it was written by Mel Torme.

Hallie: Who is that?

Chris: You’ve never heard of Mel Torme?

Hallie: No, I don’t know Mel Torme.

Chris: He was a jazz singer. Did a lot of scat. In the 1980s, one of the big sitcoms was called Night Court.

Hallie: Night Court?

Chris: Yes, Night Court. It was about a court that took place at night.

Hallie: Why?

Chris: I don’t know. It was funny.

Hallie: Is it a real thing? Is it a real night court?

Chris: Yes, I don’t know. Watch the show sometime, you’ll like it.

Hallie: Okay. [Laughs].

Chris: Except one of the characters he is a real sexist, but he gets put down a lot, so it’s cool. I mean, it’s good that he gets put down. It’s not a character that people are meant to like.

Hallie: Mel Torme.

Chris: No, the main character judge Harry, his favorite singer was Mel Torme.

Hallie: Oh, I thought you were going to say Mel Torme was in this show.

Chris: No, he made several guest appearances. Like they got them on the show and the judge idolized, Mel Torme and said I’m going to marry the first woman that is impressed by the fact that I own all of Mel Torme’s records and stuff like that and so that’s the only reason of course I growing up that I knew who Mel Torme was and it was pretty great.

Hallie: Cool. Great facts, dad.

Chris: Thanks.

Hallie: Absolutely.

Chris: A Christmas song by Mel Torme.

Hallie: There you go. American chestnut, there have been a couple of different efforts at blight resistance in the American chestnut.

Chris: Hang on.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Before we get into blight resistance, the fact that they’re having to create trees that are blight resistant, I guess suggests the fact that the blight is here to stay and if you just go try to plant some chestnut trees, they’re going to die.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s pretty much ubiquitous at this point.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Okay. Are Asian Chestnut trees all over America now?

Hallie: No, not really. We have some Asian chestnut orchards in California and a couple of other places, but they’re not really planted ornamentals. They’re only in a couple of places for production and most of the Asian chestnuts that we get come out of Asia. The US is not a very large producer of chestnuts for production.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Yeah, so there’s really not a ton of Asian chestnuts, but the blight is just super ubiquitous. There’s really no successful way to plant American chestnuts here in the US that have not been either hybridized or it’s a specific cultivar or we’ll talk about this in a minute or have been like breed some other way. Part of this is just that it was so fast that we did lose a lot of germplasm, so we don’t have a lot of the original DNA.

Chris: We lost a lot of what?

Hallie: Germplasm. That’s like seeds. We just don’t have a lot of chestnut DNA because there’s just so few chestnuts here in America now.

Chris: Got it. So they’re trying to make them blight resistant.

Hallie: Yes, there’s three ways that we’re trying to do this. One of them is called back crossing. This began in the 1970s.

This is basically crossing the few remaining American chestnuts that we have back with Asian chestnuts to try and get something that’s blight resistant that resembles close enough the American chestnut. Some people don’t love this. There currently is an American Asian chestnut, I guess is how you would say it. One of these back crosses. There’s one planted at the White House. I think there’s a couple planted at the USDA in DC. There isn’t anything successful that’s able to go out on the market yet. Another way that we’re trying to do this is inter crossing, so that’s basically taking geographically dispersed specimens that still exist. There is one cluster of American chestnut say in like La Crosse, Wisconsin and say, there’s another one in like South Carolina somewhere and they take these two plants and then in the lab cross the catechins, so they pollinate the flowers. Well, I don’t really know how they do it. Somehow they cross these two flowers or these two plants and they create a hybrid between these two in hopes that those two will because they were both from blight resistant stands, create a healthier tree. If that makes sense. Does that make sense?

Chris: Okay. Yeah.

Hallie: There’s a lot of issues with the current blight resistant stands. They’re kind of scraggly. They’re not super strong and they still have issues with the blight. They’re just able to kind of fight through it. So through this inter crossing, they’re trying to create a tree that’s really healthy. However, this started in the 1970s. It takes at least seven years for American chestnut trees to produce nuts. New trees have to be at least five years old before their resistance can be tested for the inoculation to the blight itself and then the test itself requires two years for evaluation.

It takes a really long time to actually test whether or not it’s working and so we haven’t had any success with that yet.

Chris: Even if there is success, would they still be considered American chestnut trees?

Hallie: Well, with the inter crossing, they would, right? Because we’re just inter crossing between different American chestnut strands. There is some debate with the back crossing, whether they would still be considered American chestnuts, but scientists have been working on this for so long that they’re just like trying to find anything that will work, which brings us to our third thing that is on the table, which is transgenic chestnuts.

Chris: Transgenic chestnuts.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: That sounds like a loaded term.

Hallie: Yeah, do you know the term transgenic?

Chris: Does it have frog DNA in it?

Hallie: [Laughs]. It actually has wheat DNA.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: Yes, so there are some scientists at the State University of New York that inserted a wheat gene into the chestnut genome and it was passed down to its offspring. Basically, they grew a chestnut tree with a wheat DNA in the genome and then when that tree produced fruit, that baby then had that wheat gene in it, so it was blight resistant.

Chris: Okay. I was going to ask you why on earth did they put the wheat gene in it to begin with and that makes it blight resistant?

Hallie: Yeah. I mean, I’m sure they tried a lot of different genes, but this one worked. There is a lot of debate around this. Currently, both the FDA and the USDA are trying to figure out regulatory what this means. There are a lot of people that are promoting that this tree be planted in wild stands to repopulate chestnut forests.

Chris: I have so many thoughts right now.

Hallie: Tell me what they are.

Chris: My first thought is, would it be called chest wheat? Are they wheat nuts?

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: My second thought is I’m being reminded of the plant taxonomy episode in which you said, we’re all just sort of making this up. We can intercross the DNA and the speciation lines are very blurred and hardly matter and that sort of is interesting for me to think about with some of these breeding techniques that are being used to bring back this tree. The other thing I’m being reminded of is Star Trek IV when you talked about, what was it? The one where they take the trees from the different geographic regions and cross them in a desperate attempt to breed them.

Hallie: That was inter crossing.

Chris: Inter crossing in a desperate attempt to breed them. I think of Star Trek IV and when they go back in time in a desperate attempt to save humpback whales from distinction.

Hallie: No, that’s very similar to like what scientists have been trying to do since the 1970s. We talked in a previous episode about ginkgo trees and I feel like the American chestnut tree is similar to the ginkgo tree. Then it’s just like a very poetical tree that a lot of people just love the idea of the American chestnut and I feel like for that reason and that reason only it feels like the only tree where we could even have the discussion of having a wild GMO that just grew wild. Right? That’s what we’re discussing with this transgenic breed is just having a basically newly introduced native chestnut tree that is a GMO and because scientists have been trying so desperately and the American government has been putting so much money behind saving the American chestnut for so long and for so many and because it is such a part of the American story and American iconography, even before colonization, I feel like this is the only way that that door gets opened. You know what I mean?

Chris: If someone invented time travel, do you think they’d go back and try to burn down the Asian chestnuts?

[Laughter].

Hallie: I mean, I would.

Chris: That doesn’t surprise me, but then I bet the American chestnut wouldn’t be nearly as poetical.

Hallie: No, that’s probably true. It’s only probably true.

Chris: Are the nuts from the transgenic trees edible?

Hallie: Yeah, they are.

Chris: Do they taste just like Asian chestnuts? Are they different? Do you know?

Hallie: I don’t know. I haven’t read anything about how they’re different. Everything I’ve read makes it seem like it’s very similar to the original American chestnut, but there’s not really anyone alive today who can really speak to what the original American chestnut was really like. There’s probably a handful of people, but it’s not a lot. Right?

Most people don’t remember at this point, it’s been so long. You can see one of these GMO chestnuts at the New York Botanical Gardens.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: Yeah, if our New York listeners want to go take a selfie with the GMO tree, please send it. I’m so jealous.

Chris: I’d love to see that. I’ve never seen a chestnut tree that I know of.

Hallie: I have not either. I never have and I love the idea of a chest. I’m fully bought into like the poem of this tree.

Chris: You stand chestnut trees.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yes, I stand chestnut trees. I actually did one time. I cooked chestnuts in my oven one time. It was such a pain. It was so hard. They were Chinese chestnuts because I got them from the store. But yeah, it was a real pain.

Chris: It wasn’t an open fire.

Hallie: No, it was my oven. I didn’t have a fireplace where I was living.

I used the Martha Stewart method where she says you take a paring knife and for each chestnut you have to carve an X and score the chestnut so that they pop open. It was not worth it.

Chris: Martha Stewart makes so many things that are not worth it look totally easy, so I’m with you on that one.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, but there is all of this work going into saving this species. Honestly, I don’t know where I land on the transgenic chestnut. I hope that the inter crossing comes up with a truly American chestnut that is able to fully resist this blight and produce amazing and beautiful chestnuts and grow a hundred feet tall again and all of that’s true, but there was a great quote from Gary Lovett, who is an ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. He said that creating resistant varieties is a good thing, but doesn’t do us any good if we keep introducing new pests.

Chris: Moral of the story, be careful when you bring home plants, kids.

Hallie: Yes, clean your shoes before you get on the plane, please.

[Background music].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

Chris: Bye everybody.

Chestnuts and Chestnut leaf

28: The American Chestnut

This week we’re focusing on just one plant: the American chestnut. Hallie and Chris discuss the cultural and ecological history and death of the American chestnut. We learn why they’re so important, where they went, and how we can get them back. We also learn about the classic 1980’s sitcom Night Court.

Read the transcript for this episode.

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

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

onetogrowonpod.com

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.

23: Turfgrass with Vikram Baliga

This week Vikram Baliga of Texas Tech university joins Hallie and Chris to talk about turf grass. We learn where it comes from, what it does, and just how high some grasses can grow.

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

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

onetogrowonpod.com

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.

9: Floral Design

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Hallie and Chris bring us the history and intricacies of floral design and the floral industry. We learn about how the internet has affected florists, the crazy auction process for flowers and just how much Hallie loves her local florist. Plus, this episode contains maximal flower fun facts to wow your friends with.

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

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

onetogrowonpod.com

About us
One to Grow On is an agriculture podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. Show art is by Mariah Coley.