Ep 125: What makes Angus Beef so Special?

Our guest today is meant scientist, Diana Clark from Certified Angus Beef. Diana knows all things Angus Beef, why the brand was started, what makes Angus beef so good, and how our meat supply chain was impacted due to Covid. This was a super fun interview and if you’d like to learn more, be sure to check out the Meat Speak podcast by Certified Angus Beef! It features Diana and a few others from the brand as they educate people more about the amazing qualities of Angus.

Check them out at the links below:

Diana on Instagram

Certified Angus Beef Website

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Show Notes

  • Diana’s background
  • History of Angus breed
  • History of Certified Angus brand
  • Lesser known cuts of beef
  • difference with angus beef
  • Covid’s impact on supply chain
  • What drives the beef supply chain
  • How does the beef supply chain work
  • Meat Speak podcast

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Transcript


Trevor: All right. Well, Diana Clark, welcome to the farm traveler podcast.

Diana: Excellent. How about yourself?
Trevor: doing well. So I’m excited to chat with you. I love learning more and more about meat science and butchery. So before we dive into that, kind of tell us a little bit about yourself and kind of how you got to what you’re doing

Diana: Yeah, so, um, I actually grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. Uh, didn’t really have much background in meat or animal science or anything like that. Um, I wanted to become a vet, so I went to the university of Illinois. Animal science there and slowly get immersed into agriculture, uh, while I was there and, uh, I started working at the meat lab when I was a sophomore, just to make money and help pay for school.
And then I won’t be whole found this career in meat science. Um, I got hooked on pretty quick. We actually have a meat judging program. Not many people probably really know about it, but a lot of universities, especially your land grant universities, [00:01:00] um, we’ll have meat judging teams that will go around and compete.
And essentially you place value on carcasses from most valuable to least valuable. You have to write reasons. But the greatest part about it is really get introduced to the whole meat industry, um, from just people within it. And then also peers that will be in it later. I just developed some great friends through that, uh, through that process and everything.
Um, so that really got me hooked into meat science, and then. Became more and more interested and went on. And I got my masters in meat science as well. I had did a few internships with Sarah Lilly, um, under the Hillshire farm brand, which is now known by Tyson. Um, and then my husband and I moved out to Ohio.
He also has a PhD in meat science. I have my masters, he has a PhD. But we talk a lot about me as

Trevor: soon as I can imagine. Yeah.


Diana: And, uh, so I started off working at a veal packing plant in Creston, Ohio. I was there for [00:02:00] probably about four months before a position opened up at a certified Angus beef. And then I started working there in 2015.
So I’ve been there since, and I love it. And each and every day, uh, it’s a lot of fun. Essentially what we get to do here is we do a lot of hands-on education. So we’ll. Distributors chefs, um, even some just consumers come in and show them where different cuts are on the carcass and how to break things down.
And then we also have six chefs on staff and they’ll go ahead and cook up all those cuts. So that way they can get experiences of different muscles textures. And just seeing those light bulb moments is phenomenal. One when people walk in. So it’s just really neat to have. See the whole industry through and

Trevor:No, I can imagine. So I taught high school ag in two years in Daytona and the first competition we covered was meet ID actually. And it was so fun the first time it was the first competition and we did. [00:03:00] And so it was really cool actually teaching them, showing them the different cuts of meat and stuff like that.
And we actually went to Gainesville and did the state competition and it was super fun. And of course they were in the meat locker the whole time and they were super cold, but, uh, they had a blast. We didn’t place very high, but we learned a lot and it was so.


Diana: That’s all that matters. It is. So like, it’s just so neat that experience.
We, I coached a, uh, a four H meat judging team here in Ohio. And then I also coached one in Illinois. Um, and coming up with the little ways for people to remember that cuts of meat, you’re like, oh yeah, that one looks like Pac-Man that one, you just have those things engraved in your head then for the rest of your life.
The store at the grocery and you’re just like, oh, oh look, look, there’s a Pac-Man steak right there. Tick. Okay. I got that.


Trevor: Yeah, that’s awesome. So now anytime my wife goes to get meat from Publix or wherever, um, she’s always making sure that we get something that’s well marbled and it’s got some good quality to it.
So that’s pretty cool. [00:04:00] Um, and, uh, yeah, you’ve been doing something on your Instagram, which has really neat where you showcase different cuts of. Um, and usually they’re like some lesser known cuts and I think I’m like, oh, for 10 on guessing all of them, which hopefully I get better at that. But, um, what kind of inspired you to do that?
Because it’s been really, that’s been really fun to kind of follow
Diana: just all, uh, COVID inspiration. Um, I was sitting there thinking about. What, what did people ask most of when we have people in the back and I’m breaking down sides of beef, what do they ask the most of? And 90% of the time they’re back there.
Can you show me this cut or, Hey, have you heard of this? Cut. They want to know more about the cuts. So I thought. I think it’d be fun for people just to guess what cut it is. Um, and just put something up there and then the next day, just give them a little bit of education behind it. So that way they can kind of play a game and keep challenging themselves.
And it is it’s fun just to see people’s answers. Cause sometimes like, oh, I totally can see why you think that. [00:05:00] And that gives you some culinary inspiration at the same time when you’re looking at it like, oh, we probably could use utilize that in a different way. Um, but then also to me, one of the neatest parts.
That this is the beauty of Instagram is being able to connect with everyone through the world. So it’s not just that small niche. So I put something up and you get responses of, well, this is what we call it in Argentina. Well, this is what we call it in Japan. This is what we call. So. Cool for me to learn and see all these different names of cuts throughout the world, and then how they utilize it in their cuisine.
And you’re instantly connected. Uh, and that’s, that’s always the fun part of, of having that, that education. But. Goes both ways. It’s just not on, on my end, preaching out. I receive a lot from people. And so that’s the fun part when people plug into it too.


Trevor: Pretty cool perspective. So are there any other types of meat, like maybe a T-bone steak where we treat it really well here, but in other countries, maybe they don’t care.[00:06:00]


Diana: Well, it’s more than that. So they’ll, it’s more that they won’t have it. It’s not as utilized. Um, because if you think about just even from how fortunate we are in terms of refrigeration and everything like that. Well, a lot of times it’s, well, we don’t have that capability in this country. So we’re going to have these large hunks of meat that rockabilly going to cover in salt to try to preserve them.
And we have to slice it really thin. So they still will use like kind of your middle meats. I feel like our go-to they’re great. But then it’s all of those other cuts, like you think about, and, uh, Japan like a shabu, shabu, just the thinly sliced, because I want to make sure that the meat’s cooked all the way in thoroughly, even down in south America, you have a lot of things that are cut really thin on the bias because they want to make sure it’s well done just from a food safety standpoint.
Well, we really don’t have to worry about that. So we try to use these in different ways. We usually cook them way under them, what they would. And, um, but I think just getting that culinary inspiration and you see some of the acidity that [00:07:00] they add into their dishes too, just to help with that is, is really neat to see.
And also I’ve noticed there’s a ton of. Meet education going on, someone just reached out to me from Argentina. That’s doing a butcher school within Argentina, and they’re trying to train up, get people more involved and engaged in this career because they’re realizing it’s that dying art, but they still have.
Uh, there was someone in the middle east that was just talking to me about that too, that she’s doing the same thing, trying to educate and get people more involved in cutting because there, so few of those people out there, uh, so just seeing the need globally is really awesome. And knowing that you have that trade, that can be really useful.
And I think there’s a lot of people out there that can cut meat. They just don’t know that there’s very few of them that can, so it’s, it’s fun just seeing that kind of.


Trevor: Oh, that’s awesome. So, man, I can’t remember his name, but we had on somebody a few months ago or I think last year and he does butchery, which I think specifically for hogs.
And so [00:08:00] he goes to those locations and he butchers them on site and kind of holds a class to kind of show the cuts and all that stuff. Uh, which is really neat because there really aren’t that many butchers as are. Whereas there were in years past. I mean, it’s kind of like, um, a career field that nobody’s really interested in anymore.
Yeah.


Diana: It’s funny that you say that too. So we have neighbors down the road, um, being that we’re transplants from Illinois to Ohio, we don’t have family around here. Uh, but our neighbors were fortunate enough to invite us over. They do this every year where they’ll, they’ll bring in a few hogs that kind of the surrounding families want and they’ll butcher them all.
And. They’ll cut them apart. And they’ve set up this whole system where they have basically this small room that you could pretty much fit a table and they put air conditioners in to cool it down. They’ll have about like eight people in there. Cutting. And then you transfer the meat down to the basement and they have a group of people making sausages, and then people packaging steaks.
It’s like this whole process and there’s usually [00:09:00] five or six families that are. But then afterwards you distribute out the meat and you guys are pretty much set on pork for the year. So it’s, it’s really neat because that’s how it used to be done. Like they used to go around and help each other out, but it’s a great way just to get people involved with each other, um, and just help them want each other out.
So that’s, I always, I love seeing. Those things go on. And as long as it’s done, like in a, in a safe way, of course, that’s always the concern when you see that happening. But seeing that they’ve taken the time to, to know the ins and outs behind it is a lot of fun.


Trevor: So we’ve got some friends of friends that went in, um, with some other friends and bought a cow and processed it.
And they got so much meat that they basically had to buy a separate freezer because they had so much, which is so cool. And I want to do that one day because it’s such a great way. I mean, you know exactly where that meats coming from, you know, exactly how that cow processed. And, um, I mean, it’s such a, win-win, you’re getting so much me too at a lower cost than you might get at a grocery store for [00:10:00] buying


Diana: that much.
The, the one neat thing. I think seeing the processes kind of understanding that too, because so my, my husband is from a small town and oblong, Illinois, not there’s I think 1600 people there I’m from Chicago suburbs. So my family doesn’t really understand. Process at all. Um, but my dad, at one point he did want to buy a steer from my, my husband’s family.
So he did, and I told them like, okay, you’re gonna need to make sure you have freezer space. And so he said, okay. And then I’m like, you’re gonna know you’re going to have a lot of ground beef. Like a lot of ground beef is going to come off this animal. And so we, we go through the process and I was telling him like, okay, so this, this animal was like 1200 pounds.
Like. But then once you get to the hot carcass weighed. So once the head hoes hide and viscera or guts have all been removed, now we’re down to like 800 pounds, and now we’re going to process that. And now we’re going to be down to like 350 to 400 pounds. And out [00:11:00] of that, you’re going to have about 10 to 12 revise.
You’ll have about 10 strip steaks. And then depending on who’s cutting it, how many sirloin steaks you might have 10 to 15, and then you’re going to have a lot of rows. And you’ll have some, you’ll have about four Tenderloin steaks, and then you’re going to have a lot of ground beef. Like it, you need to realize this is, this is one of it.
That’s true. And cause I think it’s understanding a lot. Like you’ll see cars are priced sexual. We get insides of beef here at the culinary center. We pay two, $2 and 50 cents per pound for a whole side. So it’s usually for a side of me is around a thousand to $1,200. Okay. But then from there we process it and you only get so few steaks until you go to the grocery store and you think, man, that’s a sticker shock, especially now.
I mean, prices are extremely high, but yeah, they still are trying to utilize though the rest of that entire carcass. [00:12:00] For us, we don’t save w we don’t have the stomach or anything like that, but even at the packing plants, they’re utilizing every single piece of that. So you think about how many restaurants have ribeye on the menu?
Great. But how many restaurants have your, uh, lifter meat on the menu? Or how many restaurants have your tri tip on the menu? It’s okay. There’s not as many there too. That’s that’s the beauty of, of the beef system in general is that we find homes for everything. I think it’s fun that to be able to go through that experience, to see the process, because you learn so much in it, I think everyone should be able to do that.
That’s why we have that here breaking the animal apart. So you could see where everything is, but by being able to have beef at the grocery store available to us, 24 7 is just phenomenal to be able to have that quality and you get what you want, what you know, you’re going to eat. Right. All right. We’re going to try to take down this round roast again tonight because that’s all we have left in the [00:13:00] freezer and it’s kind of going through all that.
And it it’s comical because even here we utilize all of our, our meat and we usually usually we’ll send it to like our chefs. We’ll use it for, for groups coming in for lunches or dinners or what’s. But then the rest of it, we have internally, we can give it to staff for a suggested donation price. Cause since we’re not inspected, we can’t actually sell the meat.
But then we utilize that to go back to some of our, um, kind of our, uh, helping other farmers and ranchers. We have a few things that we do that just able to give aid out when needed. Um, so we use that internally, but the middle meats, those steaks will sell first before. And then usually we have some of your round cuts or your Chuck cuts that are left.
But to me, those are the hidden gems like that. No one really truly knows about. And I think it’s that the confusion from a consumer of, I really don’t know what to do with it. It’s like, it’s, it’s easy. I mean, [00:14:00] and people will ask me like salt and pepper and grill it 90% of the time. That’s all you need to do or throw it in a Crock-Pot low and slow, depending on how big it is.
Though that to me is where more education can be driven to get people, to get some of these lower end cuts to utilize because there’s still phenomenal eating experiences. I mean, especially here at certified Angus beef, we have a lot of high quality meat coming through. You don’t have to pay as much for them.
And regardless of you’re buying them here, if you’re buying them at a grocery store where you’re getting them, and that’s even some of the conversations that we have with chefs too, we want you to really utilize the whole animal, not just these middle meats, because, and if you do utilize a Hawaiian. That is going to drive the value of certified Angus beef.
That’s going to drive the value of the Angus animal. And then it’s going to go back to that farmer and rancher, the Angus cattleman, because that’s who we are at certified Angus beef. We are actually owned by the American Angus association. Um, and that that’s made up of just farmers and ranchers that pay their [00:15:00] dues every, every year.
And so that way it’s going to drive the demand back to them. And they’re going to have a more profitable animal to keep trying to make that certified Angus beef marking it, continue to drive the quality of animal in general, which is, I think that’s one of the neatest parts about this company. That we’re working for that, that local person.
Um, even though it’s still just, it’s big beef system, it’s still goes through the whole beef system, but we’re really driving it back to whoever has Angus cattle, because even, I mean, to be quite honest, to any, anyone who has black hided animals, because it’s driving the value behind it because people are looking for that higher quality.


Trevor: Yeah. So people hear that term, um, a hundred percent certified Angus beef and know that it’s got better marbling, better flavor and stuff like that. So really, I mean, what kind of sets those Angus cows apart to where, you know, there’s so much prestige behind the.


Diana: Yeah. So it’s really neat the way, the way the company started.
So we actually had, um, there’s an Angus [00:16:00] farmer that, uh, went out to dinner in Chicago. He had a terrible steak, but on the menu it said it was Angus. And he was really upset because he’s like, I raised these Angus animals and this is what people are eating. And I think that it’s Angus beef. This is not. So he wrote into the American Angus association and said, this is what we need to do in order to make sure that the Angus name is known for known and well liked.
Um, and so the American Angus association said, okay, let’s try this. Um, and so they actually got Mick Colvin, um, who lived in west Salem, Ohio. And that’s why we are in Wooster, Ohio right now is because of where. To Mick, you’re going to have this up and try to start a branded beef program, which never existed before that.
So Cisco, like, all right, good luck. Bye. See you later. Um, but he, he actually got to go in and the main reason why was he was able to work with a meat scientist, Dr. Bob van Saburn from Ohio state. I actually should say V. Ohio state since I’m in the state of Ohio. Gosh. Yeah. [00:17:00] Um, they play the Ohio state fight song.
At the Cleveland Indians baseball game. I don’t, I never understand that. Yeah, I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I’m still trying to understand that. But anyways, um, so he contacted Dr. Bob Vince Tavern to say, Hey, we need to do something to make sure that the meat that people are getting is high. And so the beauty with Angus animals is that they’re already high quality animals in general.
I mean, they’re just known to be one they’re genetically they’re good mothers. So they’re, they’re very good at producing other cattle. And then also just being able to feed and grow and everything. So from a producer standpoint, Angus cattle, or. Then from you look from a carcass trait standpoint, they really typically have more marbling in them.
I mean, they just always have, and you we’ve tried to select for this over years. So now we’re getting these higher genetics or better genetics, I should say, within the cattle that are producing more marbling within them as well. [00:18:00] So then that’s like the live side of things, but then we look at the carcass.
Okay. Now we can say that. Angus cattle. And that’s great because then it does drive the demand for Angus cattle. However, within that group of Angus, I mean, even if you look at, at, I, I think about English massive, so I have an English massive dog. You have a wide array of English. Massive. Usually English masters are really big animals.
Um, they’re kind of bold and, and rough. Well, my English math massive is only 110 pounds. So. Uh, although it sounds big to some people that’s very light for a Mastiff. Um, she has long hair doesn’t look like your typical Mastiff would, uh, but she is technically pure bread. I mean, she is a hundred percent massive English master, so it’s kind of the same concept with Angus cattle.
You can have these Angus cattle that yeah, they are angry. But they might’ve not gotten the best nutrition or they [00:19:00] might not have the best genetics. So from an eating quality standpoint, they’re still not back. And so that’s where they want it to say, okay, now we need to make sure the dots are connected all the way through the system.
So they focus on from the live standpoint, predominantly black hided. And essentially that means the entire body is black. If it has a little white on its face or on its, uh, hubs, then it’s okay. Um, but everything else has to be. So you can have some heterogeneity in there. You can have some mixed breeds because we know commercial herds exist.
And that’s really the number one thing. That’s driving that beef industry. So we need to make sure that we play into that, but now let’s look at the carcass itself because that’s where the true quality is going to lie in that carcass. And so we’ll look at the marbling. We want to make sure that it has enough marbling, that a consumer is going to notice a difference.
And then we also want to make sure the animals younger so less than 30 months. Because the older an animal gets the tougher that meat’s going to be. So we [00:20:00] try to look at those, those things essentially to give that tenderness, juiciness, and flavor, everything that a consumer wants to have in order to have a great tasting steak.
So that’s kind of our goal. But then we have seven other specifications that we’ll look at some other parameters. So some of them, we call the chef specs because they look at sizing having consistent revise, sizing, little back fat, having a consistent, hot carcass weight, just to keep the animals more consistent because then they’re easier to work with.
But then also you don’t get excessive and fat. There’s not a lot of waste in terms of the production standpoint. So it keeps them the more cost-effective as. You don’t have to worry about all that trim work. And then you’ll have some things that can happen in animals, like a capillary rupture or dark cutter, or the shape of the revisers simply is kind of narrow and long.
It just doesn’t look good. We want to get those out. So kind of there the oddballs in the industry, but they still exist. [00:21:00] And we just don’t want those to be in that certified Angus beef box. So once we go through that process and actually USDA greater is going to evaluate the animal to make sure that it falls into that category.
Um, it could then be labeled certified Angus beef. So you being a person that would go to a grocery store. And they could go and see that logo, that certified Angus beef logo and say, that’s what I’m going to get, because all of that guesswork at the end of does it have enough marbling? Is it going to be tender?
How that’s all done for you already? So it’s making sure that that consumer is going to get the best product that they can find at the store at that time. So that’s kind of our goal behind that. And doing so it’s going to drive back since we are certified Angus beef, it drives back, oh, that consumer sees Angus and they perceive it as high quality.
So it’s going to drive that back, that demand for the Angus animal, which is going to help our farmers and ranchers get more profit for their animal to,


Trevor: yeah. And there’s [00:22:00] only really two breeds that kind of have that prestige it’s Angus and Wagyu, which is totally like a different, um, yeah, exactly. So have y’all tested any.


Diana: We’ve uh, looked at different stuff and it’s, it’s, it’s definitely it’s its own breed for sure. Um, Um, beauty’s in it, the marbling, and it is phenomenal without a doubt, definitely a heavy marble the animals. The hard part is to, from an efficiency standpoint, they take a lot longer to reach that end point.
So that’s going to be more days on feed, longer production. Which is going to be hard for that producer, but that’s, I mean, that’s what you pay for with the wagon. I mean, you’re paying for the extra days on feed, the more food for the animals. You’re paying a little bit more for that trim work that they have to do at the processing level.
So there’s all those things that are going to, and that’s why you have those drastic price, price differences between your certified Angus beef and your Wagyu. Not saying that why it wouldn’t be a phenomenal experience because it would be from an [00:23:00] eating quality standpoint. But to be honest, I can only have.
A couple of bites of the steak, and then I’m, I’m pretty much out because just usually fat overload. Um, but it’s still, it’s one of those things. It’s like, well, I tried it like, it was it’s, it’s neat to have that experience and those deaf, those animals have been bred to be that heavy marbles, uh, types. You just see again, going into those genetics that playing through for sure.
And you’re starting to see more of your. Wagyu cross, um, out there in the market. And there’s still a little debate on how profitable that is, but the beauty of it, those animals would be black hided. So they still can fall into that certified Angus beef brand and still drive the demand for those Angus genetics that are within the animal as
Trevor: well.
Gotcha. And before I forget about it, there’s black Angus and red Angus, right? So is there really any difference there between kind of.

Diana: No, that’s the hard part. So we are the only country that Inc that makes certified Angus beef black [00:24:00] and the red Angus association. So we have American Angus association and the red Angus association where we’re two separate entities, although they’re the same come from the same breed and everything.
I mean, really they’re very similar of everything. Simply their hide color, um, where you could actually have two black animals that, um, actually have a red calf that is very possible. Uh, Because we are the American Angus association and we live in the United States. We really do focus only on our black Angus cattle.
Um, and to be honest, there’s fewer of the red Angus too. Um, they can still fall into other programs like you have your certified Herford, um, that would actually capture those as well. Um, but it’s just, just a smaller pool of cattle, but they still do have very, uh, similar genetics. Gotcha.
Trevor: Yeah, I’ve always wondered if there’s like a difference between the taste of the two.
I mean, black and red.

Diana: Now I will say the beauty, um, beauty about the American Angus association. So they’ve been at this for years, [00:25:00] um, and they are definitely a group. I’d say that’s, uh, pretty, pretty dominant for their breed. Like they, they will do anything to make sure that the breed is going to stand out and be better, uh, to the point where I remember when I was in graduate school.
There was a genetic disease that was found within the Angus genetic. So essentially to be, to be registered, you send in a blood sample that makes sure that you are in fact Angus type. Um, so they found that this disease and they said, okay, um, this is okay. Like you can keep it going in the Angus herd, however it’s going to cause some defects download.
And so the American Angus association, they really could have just said, all right, whatever, we’re just going to leave it as is. It’s going to cause a little few bumps in the road, but it’s not going to be, it’s not going to be a major deal. Just be a minor deal. But them being who they are, they said, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
We want to make sure that this breed is the best. So we’re going to go ahead and we’re getting, [00:26:00] remove anyone that basically had that genetic defect in their line. They no longer could be considered registered Angus. Which takes an animal. Like if you think a bowl that originally was registered in his bowl had so much value to them and now just drops it to hardly anything because he no longer is registered Angus animal.
And so it had a lot of their people that are within the association, very upset that they did. But they did it to better the Angus genetics. They did it to improve the herd moving forward. And those are decisions that they continue to make each and every day and know that they’re not going to be favorable decisions by the association or by all of the farmers and ranchers, but they know that it’s going to improve the herd quality.
And that’s their goal. And that’s one thing that the Angus association has been doing before any other breed association out there. So they’re definitely further along, I’d say on that genetic pool probably than any other breed. Um, and it’s awesome to see that [00:27:00] quality. On the meat side, because you’re seeing these extremely high quality animals continue to come through.
And it’s because they’ve been so diligent at making sure they have the best genetics within. And

Trevor: so from your perspective, I’ve always heard a lot of things about grain finished beef and grass-finished beef, and I’ve heard. Like grain finished results in a butter, your flavor, and grass-finished is kind of like a healthier, I guess, less fattier flavor.
And so have you seen any real differences there between grass-finished or grain finished beef? Like, um, does one have more marbling or is one going to be a little bit better tasting than the other? Uh, what have you, what have you.

Diana: Yeah. So the biggest thing is usually your grain finished cattle are going to have higher quality.
They’re going to have more marbling just simply from the nutrition that the animal is getting. Now, the biggest thing to remember is all animals will eat grass. Pretty much their entire life. Um, they have to, to help develop their rumen. Even when those grain finished animals are in the feed yard, they’re still eating some type of [00:28:00] forage, just mixed into their diet.
Um, it’s not going to be just pure court and they have a nutritionist that will balance all that out your grass-finished animals since they don’t have as much starch or those carbohydrates in their diet. Uh, they’re going to tend to be. Uh, so that’s going to give you, uh, it’s almost to me a game year type tastes that some people will notice, um, that, and that’s really going to be your major differences between the two, uh, That’s why the grain finished animal is more favorable to the consumer one, because they’re used to that, that palette, but also it’s simply just tastes better.
Now. I definitely have seen some grass-finished animals that do have marbling. It is, is possible. I’m not saying that it’s not, but it takes longer for those animals to reach that end point in order to get that marbling. Um, so again, you’re going to have more days on. Um, it’s not going to be as sustainable as you would have your, your grain finished beef, which is kind of contradictory to what a lot of [00:29:00] people think.
Um, but it it’s the truth, uh, but just kind of, that’s why you have some of those differences. Overall is many are going to have more marbling or higher quality within your grain finished animal, um, versus your grass.

Trevor: Yeah, that’s something I need to do. I want to do like a taste test between them and kind of figure out what are the differences between grain fed and grass-finished

Diana: we did them here a lot of really.
Yeah. And it, most, it’s actually pretty great. Cause most chefs will say that they have it on their. Pretty much just for the consumer that they don’t like grain they’re grass-finished beef. They’re like, I really don’t want to have that. I I’d prefer not to like, because honestly we go and buy some grass-finished beef from there’s a butcher shop up the road that has it.
And we just cook them side by side to our certified Angus beef. And they’re like, yeah, I know it’s on the menu. We really just do it for the consumer. I don’t like grass-finished beef. I’m like, oh, well, okay.
Trevor: That’s crazy. I mean, consumer demand basically drives everything, whatever the chefs want or [00:30:00] whatever the consumer wants.
I mean, that’s, what’s going to be in the grocery store. I mean, the consumer is super powerful
Diana: and that’s what always kills me. Cause, uh, the consumer will think like, All of the food industry is out to get them. Like we’re trying to hurt them. We’re going to poison them with whatever we’re giving them.
It’s like, no, you’re driving the demand for like our process. So we don’t want to hurt you because if you died, like you wouldn’t have anyone consuming our products. So no, that doesn’t make any sense. And really, we just want to make sure that you’re having the best experience and that’s with the entire, like when I worked at Sara Lee with Hillshire farm, Uh, I, so many consumers will think that the processed meats are so bad for you.
They’re not, they’re not bad for you at all. I mean, they have salt in them, but it’s, I mean, as long as you’re not consuming an entire thing of lunch meat every single day, then you really should be okay. Uh, it’s, it’s healthy for you. This is good stuff. We’re not going to try to hurt you, but we want to make sure that you enjoy the products, even though there’s some things that are on the back that are chemicals, that you [00:31:00] might not fully understand.
It’s really just to make sure that the product tastes. And it’s safe for you to eat. I mean, that’s, that’s really the goal behind producing anything. Um, but it’s, it’s always just kind of comes back to, oh, they’re trying to get me. I’m like, no, no, no, no, no. This is like the safest food system in the world that we have here.
You need to be confident in that.


Trevor: Oh yeah. And I mean, here in the U S we have the safest, most abundant food supply that we’ve ever seen in. If consumers don’t want something, then farmers aren’t going to grow it. I mean, that’s why. Um, consumers wanted organic produce and then farmers started growing more and more organic stuff to kind of fit those needs because that’s how powerful the consumer

Diana: is.
And you even look at it. I remember this was way back when, but there was a kind of a big push against no caffeine and people didn’t want coffee anymore. Coffee. All of a sudden it was really bad for you. And it actually caused countries in south America to really plummet because we stopped buying coffee beans in, and it’s amazing of how many.[00:32:00]
I mean power. We truly have just by personal preferences like that. And then it, but again, like you said, I mean, people will switch our practices to make sure that we provide for that consumer without a doubt.
Trevor: Yeah. I feel like the biggest problem is that people are forgetting about moderation. Just like with, with coffee.
I mean, if you had 20, 30 cups of coffee a day, like you’re going to have some caffeine problems there. I mean, for sure. But, um, I mean the same thing. If you ate beef with every meal, you probably have some health issues. And just like, if you ate apples, like nothing but apples, you’d probably have those same problems or different problems.
I mean, it’s all about moderation and having like some. Um, I don’t know, personal responsibility with, um, with your diet and kind of making sure you’re having a healthy diet and you’re eating what you’re
Diana: supposed to. I completely agree. And it’s so funny that you even said apples. We actually had a, um, a friend of ours in graduate school, like one day he came in and we’re sitting down and he literally had an entire bag of apples.[00:33:00]
And we look at him, we’re like, what are you doing? And he’s like, well, you know, the apple peel, it’s got the. Enzyme in it. That’s really good. It helps speed up your metabolism and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and all this stuff. And he’s going on and on like, okay, but how much sugar is in the rest of that apple?
Like you consume just those, I guarantee you going out of your sugar range that you need to have for the day. That’s probably not the greatest thing from a calorie standpoint, maybe you eat an apple to get that enzyme, and then maybe it has some vegetables and some. To balance the whole meal. It was just, it is people just get so stuck in the groove of, this is what we’re going to do.
It’s like now you gotta think of the big picture. And that even goes back to. When we talk about grain, finished beef, you, same thing with the nutritionist, balancing that diet for the animal. They’re not just going to give them all corn because they know that it’s not healthy. They need to make sure that it’s balanced all the way through so that they get all of the nutritional requirements that they need in order to grow [00:34:00] efficiently.
So that’s the kind of that big myth that they’re just kind of pumping them full of grain. It’s like, no, no, no. That’s not how this works. If, if we only all had nutrition, Working on our meals. I can only imagine what they would tell me about my diet.
Trevor: Yeah, same, same. They probably tell me to leave it all the Cheetos.
Yeah. I feel like that’s something, a lot of people don’t realize is that, um, I mean, there are nutritionists on a farm that are making sure the cows are eating what they’re supposed to, chickens, whatever livestock. I mean, if the livestock isn’t within a certain weight range, like if they’re too big or too small, I mean, they’re not going to.
Nearly as profitable. So you’ve got to kind of reign in what they’re eating and make sure that they are kind of between the goalposts in terms of weight,
Diana: without a doubt. Yeah.


Trevor: So I feel like we could keep talking about this for a while, but, um, I know COVID is still a thing, right? Uh, or early 20, 20, we had a whole issue with the F with the food supply chain.
And so, I mean, what really happened there with, um, kind of the meat processing? Like, [00:35:00] did we lose workers? Why did they shut down so much? Because I know that was a huge issue, um, about, I don’t know, over a year ago when all that.
Diana: Yeah. So again, that was all consumer demand, consumer scare that kind of drove that.
So if you even look at some of the pricing that happened or the market, right, right. When COVID started. So people, I mean, toilet paper and everything, people started buying stuff like crazy. Well, they did that in the meat department. I mean, they just bought and bought and bought, tore out everything. So that way really our demand SkyRide.
And so now we’re trying to get cattle processed faster, uh, to get the, those meats net. And then it started to die down a little bit, but at the same time, so that set consumer demand and consumers actually remained elevated in buying meat in general, especially beef. They just wanted more meat because I think they give us kind of that mentality.
Well, we need to have some in the freezer, so we’re always just going to buy a little bit of extra. Um, so it’s [00:36:00] remained elevated. So because it remained elevated in the grocery stores. To keep that supply going. Fortunately slash unfortunately at the beginning, our food service, all of our restaurants and everything they were closed.
So we were able to kind of switch over that supply from food service over into retail. The only issue is sometimes we have some more of those food service cuts versus retail cuts. So we had to balance that out a little bit, but ground beef was a big seller. So a lot of things probably got ground up and thrown into.
Um, so now we have food service come back on and they’re wanting some of this meat that now the retail sector was taking in. So now we have more demand on both sides. And so it’s trying to make sure that we get that demand. But at the same time, your packing plants are still battling with COVID. So they’re still traveling to have people wear a face mask.
They have to stand further apart than what they did before. Meaning they’re going to have to decrease [00:37:00] your, your line. So slow down that line to make the process happen still efficiently, but it’s not going to be as fast as what it was so that we have those things moving through slowly. And now you’re having people that are getting sick or maybe not coming to work or I’ve found different jobs.
And so they’re starting to battle. I mean, still labor for them is the number one issue. They don’t have enough people coming in consistently in order to get things processed. So if you put kind of a hold on all that up front, that of course that trickle-down is going to be a lot harder. And so we’re still seeing extremely high meat prices, uh, compared to any other time.
And it’s not just meat is the sad part. I mean, it’s, it’s everything. Everything is really high. Just from transportation standpoint. We don’t have enough of that going on right now in the United States and in the world to be, should be exact. I mean, the, in terms of freight, um, and just flight and everything is just completely slowed down.
And so that’s jumping prices up. [00:38:00] Um, so, but you’re still continuing to see those effects from COVID. Uh, we did have a little bit of a low, but now as we go back into the holiday season, you see certain prices start to go up again, especially your ribbon, your Tenderloin, but that being said, there’s still plenty of other cuts that are going to remain low on that.
Um, one great value cut to buy right now would be a strip loin or to even buy closer to the holidays. So a lot of people will go to your classic bros for Christmas. Um, but really that strip is the exact same muscle as your rib that longest Mr. Sy and can handle just as well prepared as kind of your quote unquote prime rib.
You could still do the same cooking techniques to it. And it’s going to be a fraction of the cost of what that ribeye or Tenderloin would be. So it’s kind of driving the demand to some of those other cuts to make sure that people are still satisfied and can utilize them pretty easily.


Trevor: Crazy. Yeah. I remember hearing, um, some people saying like, oh, we have a beef.
[00:39:00] And I was like, no, we don’t really have a beef shortage. It’s that we’re having like problems, um, processing it all. And I mean, that’s just huge, a huge problem there. And then even whatever that all was going on. I remember seeing pictures of like Publix Walmart, different supermarkets, and, um, when people were actually, when they were buying their meat, they were buying all sorts of stuff like beef, chicken, and pork.
But they weren’t buying that, um, alternative meats, like beyond meat and all that stuff, which I thought was pretty interesting. Yes,

Diana: I actually did. I love seeing that. It’s like, oh yeah, wait, no, there they’re still fully stocked. It’s like, okay, now we know where the true protein lies right here.
Trevor: Yeah, that’s true.
So, uh, yeah, I’ve tried the beyond meat burger a few months. And it was okay. Like, it wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but you could tell it definitely wasn’t there yet, like in terms of flavor and texture and all that good stuff. And it’s really fascinating that people just kind of think it, it just kind of appears there, but there’s so many [00:40:00] random ingredients in there, like soybean oil and stuff like that.
I mean, like it’s like beets kind of give it, um, kinda make it bleed, quote unquote. And so it’s interesting that some people think it’s not super
Diana: processed. Yeah. And it always blows my mind. It’s like the sector of the people. It’s like the people that are reading the beyond burger are so like, oh, I want minimal processed and everything like that.
I’m like, okay, that’s probably the most processed thing that you can have, like disco cut a cauliflower steak or something. If you want to have vegetables in your diet. I, I don’t understand it. I have had it before plain. Like I never have had it actually as a burger. And it just it’s. Yeah, like you said, the texture’s really different.
I hate, I hate that they try to look like a burger. I’m like, okay, if you really don’t want to eat meat, Why are you trying to imitate the way meat looks like, just make it a different shape or something like that? I just, yeah, it, it blows my mind,

Trevor: but yeah, like a broccoli leaf or

Diana: something. Yeah. Right. [00:41:00] If I am not going to judge anyone, I mean, if you, if you like to eat them, that’s totally fine.
And that’s, that’s kind of. Fortunate enough to have those choices, but I just don’t like them. I’m not a fan. Yeah.

Trevor: We’ve got a lot of choices. Yeah. So I, I saw one, it was like an imitation imitation chicken sausage, and I was like, nothing of that sounds appetizing. So I’m good.
I’ve had, um, a cauliflower steak before and it was actually really good. Like it was crunchy.
Diana: It was really, really good. I really am a fan. I mean, you get a good char on that, on the grill, a lot of salt and pepper. I, I, I mean, I’m, I’m a vegetable. I really am a meat and vegetable person, so I could eat any vegetable without a problem.
I’m not going to hate it, but that’s why I’m like, I don’t understand why we have to process it to seed it the way it is. It’s delicious how it comes. Out of the ground and everything. So just have it that way. That’s the way it’s supposed to

Trevor: Oh yeah, the simpler the better. So, um, we’ve actually kind of befriended a company here in Florida called Boyd farms fresh, [00:42:00] and they are a ranch that sells direct to consumers.
So they started going to farmer’s markets and starting selling direct and we’ve bought a bunch of stuff from them. Like we bought a hanger steak. That was super good. I mean, you can’t find that at Publix. Uh, so what do you think about those smaller scale operations? Kind of like that, that are starting to.
Deliver direct to consumers and that can even provide like better cuts or high quality, less available cuts straight to consumers. Like, do you think that’s kind of a win-win there?

Diana: I mean, there’s definitely there’s benefits in it too. Like regardless, I, I think you need everything in the beef system. I think you need to have the.
Overall arching the, I call it the big beef businesses, um, just, just to get the demand out, to get it to grocery stores, to be able to provide, but there are some smaller places. I mean, even we, we will work with, uh, bullying ads packing here in Ashland, Ohio. I mean, they only harvest about a hundred to 150 head of cattle a week.
Um, so they’re not going to be able to get it, to get their meat out [00:43:00] too far, but they also can’t fabricate it down to. Like a bunch of small retail cuts and get it all tray ready and have your stakes. Perfect. And everything like that. It’s we take bigger hunks of meat and break it down and utilize it that way.
So you have some benefits on both ends, but that, that connection to be able to utilize the whole animal, I will have to say that the probably their larger scale packing plants are much better. Utilizing the entire thing, because they have customers that they can find homes for the stomach, for the tongue, for the checkmate and all that, all those kind of off-cuts.
But you still have kind of that smaller processor that he has the ability to get you some of those kind of off the, off the chart cuts like your hanger steak. Well, there’s only one of those per animal. So those are pretty much utilized by the food service industry really quickly in big industry, because there’s not many of them out there or even the terrorist major.
I mean, I know that’s a really [00:44:00] heavy food service. So, if you could get that from kind of your, your smaller butcher, that’s, that’s awesome to be able to connect with them too on that. Um, it’s, there’s places for everyone in the world, for sure. And I, I, the main reason why I do like it is I feel like people are connecting or trying to connect back to agriculture.
And there’s this huge disconnect from there right now. Uh, and I think we need to have more of that bridge gap. So people just understand why certain practices are in place and that it is good and okay. And you’re starting to see more and more acceptance of that. Um, I just hope that people don’t think that that’s only in your small local person that’s everywhere.
I mean, it’s, it’s within the system. It’s being able to see how that small person can fit into the bigger picture. Um, cause they will, regardless of, of where they are producing that they’re all kind of in it together doing similar practices.

Trevor: Oh yeah. I like that. That’s a good point. So, um, I learned in college that it’s kind of the four main categories of beef for [00:45:00] like prime choice, select standard in terms of like quality.
But, uh, didn’t that change like a few months ago or like a few

Diana: years ago? Uh, not really. You still have prime choice, select standard, and then you have more that are on kind of your lower quality. Um, so you have commercial utility cutter and canner. Uh, but those are animals that are older than 42 months of age.
Um, so just to kind of your poor quality, but in terms of kind of your, your mainstream, your. That people would know PR prime choice and select that standard. Not many people even know that. So the fact that, you know, standard is pretty amazing.
Trevor: Yeah. I had an animal science class in college and we learned all about the different cuts and stuff.

Diana: Awesome. And that’s going to be your lowest quality of your younger animals. Not a lot of marbling essentially is what it comes down to. Um, but yeah, there’s, they’re still all utilized in some way, shape or form. So even if like, if you’re a beef person and you’ve had this old cow, that’s kind of [00:46:00] just isn’t producing calves anymore and you’re going to end up putting her into the beef system.
Well, then all of a sudden you have this eight year old animal that’s going through. And what are you going to do with all our cuts of meat? So she still has a Tenderloin. She still has a ribeye. And I tell you, those still will get processed and they still will get sold. Probably your Tenderloin, your ribeye, and your strip loin are going to be used in some further process type way.
Um, but then your other mates, if you think about Campbell soup, like they, those have chunks of beef in them, where do they come from? You get some of those cattle that fall into your. Kenner and cutter, uh, categories. There’s basically a really old and really low marbling. Um, that’s going to go more into your pet food system, but they all have homes and that’s the beauty of the big beef industry is that they can take it and see where do these places need to go, because we still need to utilize all the meat in some ways of form somehow.
So how are we going to put them back to the people? Um, so it’s, it’s cool to just kind of [00:47:00] watch how that works and there’s actually even a. And national renders associated. So it’s the NRA, which is always funny, cause it’s like the other, other NRA. Um, but they, they have this really neat infograph, um, that shows where all of those rendered parts kind of go into.
Um, but basically just show. Every single part of the animal is literally utilized. And some people see that and they get scared to go. It’s in my hot dog was like, no, it’s not in your hot dog. There’s, there’s literally meat in your hot dog, but it’s all of the other stuff. If you think about just like glues or, uh, cosmetics, uh, things like that, even other pet food and stuff, it’s all going to go in to be used because we don’t want to waste anything that this animal lived a long life for a reason and a purpose.
So we want to make sure that we use it to that specimen. Yeah. I

Trevor: mean, people don’t realize that. I mean, there are animal byproducts in almost everything because I mean, we try to be super sustainable and use most of the parts of the [00:48:00] animal. I mean, I was reading a few years ago that, um, fireworks for example, have animal byproducts in them and things like tires, cosmetics, um, and of course, leather, obviously.
I mean, there’s so much stuff that is made because of animal byproducts and because we want. Sustainable and use all of it. Uh, well, Diana, this has been super awesome. Chatting with you about all things, beef, all things, meat. Um, I feel like we could just keep talking about this stuff. Uh, but if people want to learn more about you or if they want to learn more about the whole certified Angus beef brand, um, where can they go?
Where can they go to kind of see the content and learn more about it?

Diana: So, um, if you want to follow me, my Instagram handle is beef. Um, and then certified Angus beef. You can just search certified Angus beef. We have our website, there’s a ton of great recipes on there for pretty much every single cut of beef that you can imagine.
Um, where I think we’re on all the major channels to take talk, Instagram, Facebook, and anything like that. [00:49:00] So, yeah, just Google it and I’m sure you will be able to find us pretty quickly. Uh, but yeah, if you guys have ever have questions or comments, we also have a podcast, the meat speak podcast, uh, just of talk all things, culinary and beef as much as we can.
Uh, so please feel free to jump on and listen. And if you have questions, comments, write in, we will be sure to answer you. Um, even if you write into the website, I promise you, we do look at all of those questions and we will get back to you, uh, probably within a week, honestly. Pretty good about doing that.

Trevor: Yeah, that’s awesome. I can’t wait to check out your podcast. More meat speak. I mean, I think it’s super cool to have those. Really focused podcast in ag, like meet speed, where you can learn more about like beef and meat and all that good stuff. And I’m also super impressed that you guys use Tik TOK. I have not ventured into that, but it looks super terrifying, but I mean, it’s also been super valuable for some people.
That’s

Diana: been a very new venture for, uh, for a certified Angus beef. We’re we’re starting to see some, some trends and things. It’s [00:50:00] yes, I have never, I, I don’t own, I don’t have a Tik TOK account or anything like that. I feel like I would. Sucked in way too quick and waste a lot of time. So my gift I’m just going to stay away, but it’s kind of neat.
Some of the videos that they’ve come up with, uh, that, uh, yeah, there are a fascinating to

Trevor: watch. I might have to download tick-tock now just to, just to see, I mean, I’ll do it for Angus beef, so, so there we go. Well, Dana, this has been awesome chatting with you. I can’t wait to follow you more on Instagram and hopefully I can guess more of those cuts of meat correctly, but we’ll see you better.
All right. Well, thanks so much for being on. We appreciate it. Yeah, no problem.

Ep 124: Day in the life of a Canadian Chicken Farmer

Peter Dyck is a self-described Chicken farmer, tractor driver, Ag fanboy. Not a bad background. Peter, also known as Pete, married into the chicken business and raises pullets, which are young female chickens destined for egg-laying. In our interview, Pete and I chat about that Canadian chicken farming looks like, what makes “free-range chickens” actually free-range, and how he got into drone filming, which has resulted in some awesome videos.

Check them out at the links below:

Peter on Instagram

Alberta on a plate interview featuring Peter

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Show Notes

  • Peter’s Background
  • Basics of chicken farming
  • Life of a chicken
  • Egg laying birds and meat birds (broilers)
  • What are pullet chickens?
  • How are chicken vaccines given
  • Are chickens given anti-biotics and growth hormones?
  • Health benefits of eggs
  • What are free range chickens?
  • Canada agriculture
  • How Pete got into drone filming
  • Thoughts on farmer/consumer relationship

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https://www.instagram.com/farm_traveler/

https://www.facebook.com/TheFarmTraveler

https://www.youtube.com/farmtraveler

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https://podkite.link/FarmTraveler

Call to Action

Want to stay up to date on the show, consider following our newsletter.  As a thank you for signing up, you’ll receive a FREE guide on 5 simple steps you can do to support farmers.  Sign Up HERE!

Transcript

coming soon!

Ep 123: Can Regenerative Farming Feed the World? – The Ecology Center

Can agriculture and the environment FINALLY live in harmony? I believe they can and so do many experts. One such way is by agroecology which is combining the knowledge of ecology with the science of agriculture. Our guest today is Evan Marks from The Ecology Center in California. Evan has an expansive background in agroecology and permaculture and he has spent time working in California, Hawaii, Mexico, and Nigeria in learning and developing agroecology practices. In our interview, Evan explains the background of agroecology, how regenerative agriculture is the future, and how farming can build better relationships with farmers, consumers, chefs, and communities.

Check them out at the links below:

The Ecology Center Website

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Show Notes

  • Mark’s background
  • Taking classes on marine biology in high school
  • Studying agroecology
  • Working extensively in permaculture and agroecology in California, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Ghana, and Nigeria
  • What are Permaculture and Agroecology?
  • Ecological experiences: berry picking classes, farm stand and CSA program (which also donates 100 CSA boxes per week to food-insecure folks in the area), as well as a new six-month Apprentice Program for young adults to learn about regenerative agriculture.
  • Current food systems and policy, and his vision for
  • How to expand regenerative farming on a mass scale
  • How do we minimize our industrialization and harm to the planet, and therefore take better care of each other, either as farmers or as consumers?
  • How to implement regenerative agriculture practices
  • What about your biggest win?
  • Thoughts on farmer/consumer relationship.

Be sure to follow us on social media!

https://www.instagram.com/farm_traveler/

https://www.facebook.com/TheFarmTraveler

https://www.youtube.com/farmtraveler

Subscribe here:

https://podkite.link/FarmTraveler

Call to Action

Want to stay up to date on the show, consider following our newsletter.  As a thank you for signing up, you’ll receive a FREE guide on 5 simple steps you can do to support farmers.  Sign Up HERE!

Transcript

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Is procrastination good for productivity? Maybe?

Who here procrastinates?

Everyone? Ok. Good, glad I’m not alone.

I used to think that procrastination was a bad thing. And well, when left unchecked it kind of is. But, when done right, procrastination can be a good thing.

Take the below video. It’s one of my favorite Ted Talks ever. Also, it seems to be a favorite of over 43 million other people, that all maybe procrastinate from time to time as well.

Unlike the procrastination monkeys, as described in the video, I view my procrastination demons more as penguins. They are pretty slow but somehow still alive.

Plus, penguins are way cute.

So whatever your procrastination penguins are, use them wisely. Sometimes they are helpful. Other times, not so much.

When it comes to beating your procrastination, I’ve heard experts say to put big items first so you can knock them out and then have some inspiration to finish other tasks.

This week I’ve taken on the big task of planning out my week and it’s the first time in ages I’ve done so.

Will I actually follow it…..well…maybe.

But I can tell you that just writing everything down and scheduling it all out is already making me feel better.

Procrastination Penguins: 0. Trevor: 1.

Not a bad start to the week.

Thanks for reading!

-T

Ep 122: Killing Weeds with Lasers!? – Carbon Robotics

There is really nothing more futuristic than lasers, right? My first thought goes to the Death Star when I think about it. Now, imagine a Death Star…but for weeds. That is the subject today as we chat with John Mey from Carbon Robotics. John and the team from Carbon Robotics are developing an autonomous weeder that uses lasers to zap weeds into oblivion. How awesome is that?!?! John and I also chat about his background, deep learning, the future of ag tech, and much more.

Check them out at the links below:

Carbon Robotics

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Show Notes

  • John’s background – Aerospace to AgTech
  • The next-generation Autonomous Weeder, a 10,000-pound autonomous robot that utilizes high-power lasers to eradicate weeds
  • Deep learning
  • CO2 lasers
  • How accurate is the tech?
  • Can it work during all growth stages of plants?
  • Will this replace jobs or help reduce inputs and create more opportunities for workers?
  • How can this help fight climate change?
  • What has the response been like?
  • Are tech like this and driverless tractors the future?
  • What has been your biggest struggle designing this?
  • What about your biggest win?
  • Thoughts on farmer/consumer relationship?

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Transcript

May or may not be 100% accurate. Transcripts are close!

Trevor:
All right, well, john may Welcome to farm traveler podcast. How are you doing?

John:
Very good. Thank you.

Trevor:
Thanks. So you’re, you’re with a super cool company. It sounds like carbon robotics. And we’ll talk about that in a second. But kind of tell us a little bit about yourself and kind of how you got started working with carbon robotics.

John:
So my education is in mechanical engineering. And then I’ve been doing robotics for a super long time. Most recently, I was working at a company up in Muckle to that provided robots for Boeing and Lockheed Martin and all those guys to build their airplanes to basically fasten the skins to their substructure. And when Paul reached out, he, you know, his background is software. This is our founder and CEO. He was looking for somebody to do the hardware. So when I found out about its mission, it matched with what I’m, I’ve always been wanting to do, you know, something better for the world. And better for, like humans, basically. So I jumped, like, right at the first chance.

Trevor:
That’s cool. Yeah. So I looked at the website, and basically the whole thing with carbon robotics, it’s a 10,000 pound autonomous robot and basically eradicates weeds using lasers, which, I mean, is super neat. So you’re talking about it’s better for the world. So kind of, what was the inspiration behind it behind this weed here? And what was the whole process of kind of developing it toward is now where you guys have actually got, like the full system going. So what was that whole production process? Like?

John: 4:39
I guess so. You want to start from like, Where did the idea come from? Sure. So our CEO, Paul, he wanted to start a company, you know, he’s started a bunch of tech companies that did really, really great. And then he went over and worked at Uber for quite some time on their AI and deep learning. But he wanted to get into robotics, it was just like this realm, he hadn’t been wanting to do it. So he was gonna sell his airplane, and basically focus on that. And he ended up selling it to a farmer. And that farmer and him started talking about, you know, if they were to do something in farming, like what would be the most helpful thing. And they looked at a whole bunch of different aspects to farming, and found that weeding is like the number one pain point, you know, it’s a huge cost for their, their operation, both in conventional and organic. And so they kind of looked at what’s out there, you know, they saw other, basically cultivating robots, and said, Well, we don’t want to do the same thing as everybody else. So let’s figure out a way to do this, like, using deep learning and using whatever crazy new technologies are out there. And I think they just maybe stumbled upon the idea of laser reading, and then it just took off from there. So it was pretty cool. And they basically had a laser on a on a wood cart. And then they’re like, Can you make this, you know, shoot the ground. And so we got some mirrors, started practicing aiming. And it was like, pretty clear right away that you can kill weeds with places.

Trevor:
That’s so cool. Yeah, I mean, right now it’s so it’s so pricy to spray pesticides on the course, I mean, it’s not the best for the environment depends on what you’re spraying. I mean, depending on your crop, you might have to spray over and over and over again. And so what I mean, what kind of like lasers is using, I mean, I’m imagining it’s not, you know, like your death star laser, where it will blow up everything in this path. But so how powerful are these lasers that are kind of destroying those weeds.

John: 6:47
So these are the same, this type of lasers, a co2 laser, so the glass tube, that’s basically co2 gas, but some other gases like helium. And you run electricity through it, and it excites photons to exit out one side, they bounce around inside this thing, and there’s only one way out, so you can aim it. And that is 150 watts. And so this, this laser could be used with some different focusing elements to you know, cut steel, or aluminum or wood. But we d focus it to help with our accuracy killing the weeds. And it takes, you know, 250 milliseconds, up to 2000 milliseconds. So two seconds to kill a week. Oh, wow, that science. Okay,

Trevor:
so what, what exact part of the weed is targeting like the leaves or the root structure? What exactly is the target?

John: 7:42
Yeah, we originally started by basically doing this, like, you know, quote, unquote, eraser mode, where we would basically burn the entire weed. And we just found that to take way too long. We talked with some biologists that University of Washington and learn that you really just need to kill the Mary stem. So there’s, you know, the undifferentiated meristematic cells, basically at the center, like if you look at a generic weed, like pig weed, you can see it, it’s directly in the middle. That’s where new leads are coming up and out.

Trevor:
Okay, gotcha. And so what’s kind of the average? Do you guys have like an average per acre on how quick it can destroy weeds and an acre of area?

John: 8:25
Yeah, so roughly, you know, you could say, like, half an acre an hour, up to like, two, depending on the weed density. You know, if it’s a, if it’s a field, that’s crazy weedy, like, they didn’t control the season before, and it just got out of control, you’re going to be on the lower end, like half an acre now. But if you’ve done a good job, but you just tidying up the field, you can go, you know, two acres an hour or so.

Trevor:
Okay, that’s pretty good. So how exactly does? How exactly does deep learning kind of play a role into this, because when I’m imagining the whole system is learning what a weed looks like, because of course, it’ll be bad if it targets the actual plants and destroys your whole crop. And so how exactly is deep learning playing a role into that?

John: 9:09
So the kind of like, go to analogy for me, it’s, you know, like Facebook, if you look at your pictures on Facebook, it can identify your face, or maybe it identifies like your brother, and it’s like, is this you know, Ashton. So, it does that by getting just a ton of examples. And so that’s what we do when we get to a new region or new, you know, new crop, we get examples of it. He really only takes about 100 images, which is actually pretty amazing because there’s, that’s, that’s solely due to like our CTO, Alex, Sergei, who’s just one of the country’s best deep learning guys. He also came from Uber. But you know, we get 100 pictures, like day one, and then we label this is, you know, pigweed. This is pursuing those types of weeds, and then we’ll look We’ll label this is spent, you know what click actually where those things are for about 100 images. And then we do a thing called training, basically, you’re just reinforcing the algorithm to make choices along the way that ended up in the result of this is a weed, this is the crop. And then as we go, you know, continue going on that farm will keep getting images and keep pushing those to get labeled. Just so we can keep learning. But really, it takes like two days for us to go into new crop, which is really incredible.

Trevor:
Yeah, that’s really quick. So it sounds like I mean, it’s still learning. I mean, it’s not like you just upload those first 100 images. And it’s done. I mean, it’s still collecting images and still learning.

John: 10:48
Yeah, and like when we’re in production, we’re sampling the field, you know, to get an even distribution. So, you know, in case there’s some specific weed at the northwest corner.

Trevor:
Okay, so how exactly does this whole autonomous wieder work? Like? How often does it get sent out? Is it completely autonomous, like you set a time for it to go? And then how does it get its power? And kind of all that good stuff?

John: 11:12
Yeah. So above the lasers, if you look at pictures, like there’s basically white cabin inside there, there’s a 74 horsepower, Cummins diesel engine, that’s how you feed a diesel, it’s got enough for 24 hours of operation a little more, just so that, you know, the idea was you touch it one time a day. And then that drives a generator for all the power for the computers, lasers, all that. And then has a another PTO shaft that runs a hydraulic stack. And so all of our motors, we have four wheel drive, they’re all hydraulic. And then we have some steering actuators that are also hydraulic. And then, so you’re asking about, you know, how does the How does daily operation look where they’re most of the time, somebody from carbon, because we’re honestly just moving so fast, and going into new crops and new regions that were there to check its performance, make sure it’s killing all the weeds that are out there, and not shooting any the crop. But as far as the autonomy, it’s, it’s going up and down the rows by itself turns around at the end of the rows. sets, it’s it’s more of a supervisory function. In some places like California, actually require you to have somebody in the field, they don’t actually allow fully autonomous things yet. Oh, really? Was that? I mean, it’s, you know, kind of, like, why you don’t have for self driving cars yet? Yeah, that’s, there’s some risk associated. And so they, you know, they’re not comfortable with that on public land, you know, because the robot could easily, you know, in theory, go past the farm, you know, up the field and into a road or something. So they just, they want eyes on it.

Trevor:
Okay. No, that makes sense. So, I know, I’ve seen pictures of it, it looks like right now it’s kind of, for smaller crops. So how can this work for I would say, maybe like a corn or something that’s super tall. So Well, I mean, what’s the plans there? I mean, can it work for taller crops like that? Or is this just kind of for something kind of a little bit lower to the ground?

John: 13:27
Well, we’re primarily focused on, you know, specialty crops like onions, lettuce, carrots, broccoli, all that kind of stuff. But in theory, there’s no reason that can’t work in corn or soy, or, you know, wheat, especially in the early stage where it’s most important to do the weeding. Because that’s, you know, like, that’s the time when the crop is really competing with the weed for nutrients. And once it gets to a certain size, it’s shading out the ground. And so that’s where we kind of don’t need to continue bleeding. We may learn something as we break into those different crops that could encourage us to, you know, come up with a different model that was specialty made for tall crops. Okay.

Trevor:
Yeah, that makes sense. That’s pretty cool. And yeah, I mean, that’s such a good point. Because especially like right after these plants are either planted or transplanted. I mean, that’s when they’re really going to be in danger of like weeds overtaking them. But once you’ve got like a crop like corn, you’re usually going to be good from weeds. I mean, usually. So I know when a lot of people see technology like this, they instantly get scared that’s going to replace jobs. So I mean, how do you guys view is this here to replace jobs or to reduce inputs? I mean, and also with this, you’re creating more jobs for like you and everybody a carbon. And so what’s your whole viewpoint on that?

John: 14:48
Well, to begin with, it’s not replacing jobs necessarily because there’s a labor shortage in farming, you know, so we’re actually supplementing and giving the farmer Some sustainability, you know, and reliable, like, just the reliability in their operation. As far as some of the jobs like the hand laborers that are in the fields, we’d like them to transition to more operating machinery type jobs, like the supervisory function of watching the robot. body and also creates a whole bunch of tech jobs since in Seattle, and which is nice, because it’s good to see. Tech going into something like farming, not just, you know, making like a new Snapchat app or something. Oh,

Trevor:
yeah, absolutely. I’ve seen a bunch of videos on like, super, super small scale organic farms where they have like this. It looks like a hospital bed, kinda. And the person will lay flat on it, and they’ll crawl around. Oh, yeah. Have you seen that? Oh,

John: 15:50
yeah, totally. It’s actually a really great idea. Yeah,

Trevor:
no, it’s a good idea. But I mean, of course, that would be like, nearly impossible to do for like 1000 acre farm. And so this, I mean, this technology is basically that on a larger, larger scale,

John: 16:03
right? Yeah. And our, I mean, a real, real goal here is to help eliminate chemical usage. And that’s not that’s not you know, replacing anybody’s job. Yeah, exactly. I could be replacing the chemical click Next.

Trevor:
That’s true. But I mean, they’ve got millions of dollars they can find someone else to do. I mean, so do you see like technology like this as the future because I know right now, I think it’s case Ah, are they’re developing like driverless tractors? So you’ve got driverless tractors, autonomous weeding machines? So do you think tech like this is going to be the future and ag?

John: 16:40
I think it makes sense. Because there’s just in every, like, job title in farming, there’s a labor shortage. So tractor drivers, hand readers, you know, everybody, I think, if we don’t do things like this, we’re gonna be in trouble with being able to sustain, you know, the country’s food supply. We’re the world’s rather. So it just makes sense. Like, the technology is here, you know, it’s, it’s just making sure, on our end, that we listen to the farmer and, you know, give them what they need.

Trevor:
Hmm. I like that. And speaking of that, I mean, what’s the response been, like, from farmers where you’ve used it on their on their land? I mean, has it been good? Have they been? Have they had any, like, very helpful critiques about it?

John: 17:28
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s been really cool to see it, take off the way it has. I’ve run most of the demos. So we’ve done a couple seasons of like, full season weeding, and onions, you know, in New Mexico and Eastern Washington. But about three months ago, we realized that basically, every farmer wants to see it in their field in their crop. And so we had like demo days, but they’d come see it in Washington, but then they’re like, well, I need to see it in carrots, you know, in California to believe you before buying it, we’re selling equipment, we’re not doing leasing or like, pays, you go, like per acre model. And I started doing demos in California and breaking into crops, and it was just like, as soon as they saw it in their field and invited, like, they immediately go and invite all their co workers, like all the, you know, higher ups of the farm, the decision makers, if the if I’m not already talking to that person, and then it’s like, basically, the conversion rate from demo to sale has been really high. We’re basically sold out for 2022 as well. Oh, wow. Like, in addition to this year, it’s being done. Which is great. We’re getting, you know, the kind of adoption that we were, we knew that this was going to be the situation. So it’s good to see that, you know, happening.

Trevor:
Yeah, and that’s great that I mean, once you’re doing those in person demos, I mean, people can see it on their property, doing their crops, and they have that sort of buy in from there. So that’s awesome. There’s been a good conversion ratio.

John: 19:12
Yeah, I mean, their eyes light up. This is like, most of them are like, this is what we’ve been waiting for. Huh? Yeah, good.

Trevor:
Yeah. No, that’s awesome. And so I would love this so I don’t have a farm. I’ve got a yard. What do you think like maybe in the future, there could be a much smaller scale version of this like going around your yard and taking care of weeds? I mean, do you think that might be something that might come of this maybe in the future?

John: 19:40
We’ve toyed with the idea like my my dad’s asked for one, you know, you can just a handheld shooter version, you could go around instead of spraying chemicals. We’d have to figure out the safety of it. You know, having a person hold a laser is a lot different than a robot with them aiming only down. You know, like, that’s where we get our safety. It’s gonna happen, like, as a hobby project at least. And we’ll see how feasible that would be.

Trevor:
Yeah, that’d be super cool. I mean, I know that I’ve seen my sister has sent me a snapchat of her neighbor. In Germany, they have like, it’s like a Roomba, but it’s a lawn mower. And so it just goes around their yard. Oh, yeah. Adding up everything Aparna does that right? Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I thought that was super cool. And so I’ve often wonder, like, when are we going to have those big weeders? Kind of like how you have but on a smaller scale? Or maybe even do you see maybe one of those farmers going to take that big system home, and they just let it do their yard or something? Of course, not in a commercial area, just like, on their home, or something.

John: 20:42
I’d say goodbye, like, especially with the weight, you’re gonna lose your grass.

Trevor:
You might get rid of your weeds, but you’re definitely gonna be able to see where that thing went. Yeah, yeah. So I mean, what’s been the biggest struggle during the whole development of this kind of getting people to get on board with lasers? Or the technology behind it? Or maybe the r&d? What’s been the biggest struggle?

John: 21:05
Well, I think, I think it would be the fact that like, the tech is just getting to the point where it’s capable of doing this, like the computers and the the cameras, and the gold and the lasers. I mean, those have been around for a while. But none of them were designed for a farm environment. And so we’ve, I mean, we’ve gone through, like, more iterations than I thought you would need to, but it’s good that we moved so fast and broke so much stuff, because we learned how to like ruggedized, you know, a computer with eight GPUs in it. That is like, you know, pretty expensive and sensitive to vibration, shock, heat, you know, but we’ve broken everything in every possible way and found how to not break it anymore. I mean, the tubular glass, they’re about six feet long. Oh, wow, about, I think 80 millimeters in diameter. So what’s that, like? five inches, four inches. And so you can imagine that being pretty brittle, right? Like that long of a thing. And so just, yep, we froze the tubes. Before we figured out we needed antifreeze. And just a ton of it’s been good, because our CEO, Paul has pushed us super hard to get into the field, like, day one, you know, we kept taking prototypes out there, breaking it, fixing it, making the new, we basically were always in this stride of, as soon as one is coming out of the fab shop. We’re like designing the next one. Like, it’s no, no delay.

Trevor:
That’s awesome. Yeah, I didn’t even think about that. I mean, cuz like you’re saying, like a farming environment is going to be, I mean, pretty tough, pretty unforgiving. And of course, you’re gonna have all this tech in there. So what’s the repair? Like? I mean, can you guys record repair these things pretty quick, or is there a lot of downtime involved.

John: 23:07
So by doing all this prototyping, and breaking things, we’ve learned which components, you know, could break. And the tubes are the number one thing. But not only can they they break, which they don’t, this is the possibility. And there’s so many of them. That we wanted it to be really easy for the farmer to replace. So we made everything like that, like the lasers or the computer, or, you know, all of our little packages. Everything is really nicely packaged and self contained and modular. So it’s like, we just hired a VP of sales and his first time out of the demo. Out of seeing the robot demo. I just had him replace it to. I was like, let’s see how easy this is. I didn’t tell him how to do it. He just opened the hatch. Okay, so there’s water to water lines to power lines. And then you just flip a little latch and pull it out. Put a new one in, takes like two minutes.

Trevor:
Oh, that’s not bad. Yeah,

John: 24:10
so I mean, you know, mechanical engineers, especially from the company that was previously do a pretty good job if they know something, you know, could be needing replaced, making it easy to replace. Because most of the time, especially in like startup world, you’re going to go and fix your own shit. So you just, you know, you go through those pains.

Trevor:
Yeah, that’s kind of different from what you hear about, I mean, different large scale startup companies like a Tesla to where you know, they’ve got, of course, the whole right to repair thing, but replacing their stuff or fixing their stuff is super duper complicated. And then you have people online like di wires, they’re like, it doesn’t need to be this complicated at all. And so it’s good you guys have made it. Super simple to replace. Biggest things, which are, I mean, super tech savvy, super advanced, but still pretty, relatively easy to replace and fix?

John: 25:08
Yeah, you know, I don’t I really don’t necessarily understand the reason for locking people out of that kind of stuff. It’s definitely not our philosophy we want. I mean, if the farmer can replace it, like, you know, immediately without having a cause that’s way better for a product and then let you know that the outlook on our product?

Trevor:
Yeah, I mean, even like companies like john deere, I mean, they have the whole rent repair thing and that going on. So I mean, that’s something that you guys are definitely beating the multimillion dollar companies that so that’s good to hear. Um, so what do you think about, I’ve seen more and more ag tech startups like this kind of booming in the past decade? And so I mean, what do you think kind of started that, like just kind of Silicon Valley, and everybody started to want to have their own impact on the environment? And all this new technology came out? What do you think kind of inspired all this? And ag tech?

John: 26:02
Yeah, I think it’s driven by like, the fact that, in general, I think people want to do stuff that’s, you know, good, like, in general, good for the earth or good for people or good for their, you know, friends. And I think tech, maybe got so heavily involved with, like, maybe stuff that’s a little less important. You know, like, making some app that doesn’t actually increase. Like life, you know, happiness. So I imagine there’s just a lot of people that were like, you know, I want to do something good. And there’s all this tech coming out, deep learning and all that stuff. And farming is just, you know, I think farming has always been innovative. Like, if you go to a farm, you just see like, 10,000 new different things. And so from mechanical engineer standpoint, that sounds like a lot of fun. You know, designing stuff like that, especially because farmers are so sure, like, they’re okay with a little bit of risk. And so these things can look like death traps, like most of the stuff on a farm. And then I think from the software side, like I said, I think it’s just people wanting to do something. Good.

Trevor:
I like that. So did you do you have like an agro farming background? Or is this kind of all kind of new to you, when you when you started this, or when you joined it?

John: 27:45
It was totally new to me. And I’ve loved the journey of like learning about farming, because I don’t think I would have ever gotten that experience just living in Seattle working at a you know, aerospace automation company. Shea Meyers always jokes about you know, the, the buyer who asked to sit on the entry or whatever. I love that. I always think about that. But um, I have spent a significant amount of time at the farms. And I just really enjoy talking to the farmers, and just seeing all the varying ways they can do their, their operations. And they’re just super good people. Like, I haven’t met one farmer didn’t like that, like they’re so willing to, you know, jump in a truck with you. And show you their farm for like, four hours to talk about stuff. Yeah, just yeah, at the drop of a hat.

Trevor:
That’s awesome. Yeah, I mean, that’s quite a big shift from aerospace to kind of working in the ag tech world. So has it made you think more and more about kind of, like, where your food comes from? And have you thought any more about it? Like when, whenever you go to churches or anything?

John: 28:54
Absolutely, yeah, and I mean, I’ve, I’ve always kind of lean towards organic, and I definitely go for organic when I can now. But I also try to encourage, like, my friends, you know, understanding of farming, so I take billion pictures, and I explained things to kind of show them like the pains that farmers, you know, go through. So yeah,

Trevor:
that’s cool. I like that. Yeah, I mean, that’s a fun, we went to, we went to a chocolate farm in Hawaii, and we actually interviewed them on the show. And I mean, they were super nice. They give us like the behind the scenes tour of everything. So I mean, it’s just cool. When you finally meet the people that make your food, it makes it that much more relatable. And you’re like, Hey, here’s the people behind my food. I didn’t tell my friends about this. And so I’ve been trying to tell all of my friends and family about them and they’re starting to buy their chocolate so it’s cool. I mean, it’s just like those little personal relationships kind of bridge the gap between farmers and consumers, which is pretty cool.

John: 29:54
Yeah, I love I love going for, you know, let us that is from a farm. I’ve been to That’s a weird feeling. I don’t think most people, you know, I don’t think most people in the country probably know exactly where the food’s coming from.

Trevor:
Oh, yeah, yeah, no 100%. And so do you think like for farmers that uses technology? Do you think they might be able to use it for their marketing? Like, hey, we’re using we’re reducing spring, we’re using autonomous leaders. Here’s how it’s helping the environment.

John: 30:22
Absolutely. I had this idea to have like a laser weeded sticker that they could put on their produce, either on either on the bag or on like the apple or whatever. And have that be kind of something that like, society goes for instead of and knows that, that means there’s no chemicals, or at least no herbicides used?

Trevor:
Yeah. No, that’s such a good idea. I mean, could something like this kind of work for pests? Also, I mean, if you might have, like a pest outbreak, you can maybe use something to where it targets just the bad pests for a crop?

John: 30:57
There’s no reason it can’t. Yeah, we’ve had farmers ask us about different types of beetles. And we know the deep learning cannot detect it. But instead, a lot of time to figure out how much time like no laser time you would need to do to kill whatever beetle. But I’m sure we’re gonna be doing it at some point. Yeah, I mean, I can ask for it.

Trevor:
I can imagine just like little turrets on top of this autonomous weed, or where like, as the bugs fly by and just kind of zap them. I mean, that’d be pretty cool. Be a little deadly, but it would look pretty badass.

John: 31:29
It’s super fun to watch. Like, I’ve spent, I don’t know how many hours behind that thing, walking in looking at the lasers running, that if you look at our YouTube, it’s just so cool. Like, it looks like a little light show.

Trevor:
Oh, that I haven’t looked at the YouTube yet. But I’m gonna have to go look at it and just kind of see what that looks like

John: 31:47
that yeah, it’s it’s insane to watch it work in like the high density crops like spinach and chards. Because you can’t even see the weeds a lot of the time, because it’s so dense, but the robots seeing it and using that super, you know, surgical laser to get in between and kill the weeds.

Trevor:
Now all about precision, I mean, a lot more precise than just blanket spraying chemicals, whether it will crop Yes, or spray or anything possible. It’s cool. That’s so cool. Well, john, this has been awesome, man. If people want to learn more about carbon robotics, where can they go to learn about you guys and kind of see how the whole developments going for the autonomous leader?

John:
Yeah, so we have a really great website, carbon robotics comm that’ll link you over to like, YouTube, and all that kind of stuff, Twitter, Instagram, and on the website, you can click, you know, contact us. And I read a lot of those, and then I’ll reach out and, you know, if somebody’s looking to do a demo at their farm, we’ll we’ll do that set that up, or invite you to a demo nearby.

Trevor:
So Are y’all pretty much available around the US? Or is there any particular area y’all focus more on,

John: 32:54
we are focused for the 2022 season, or basically the entire year for West Coast. We’ve got customers in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico’s kind of our farthest. And we’re probably going to wrap that up, so that we can build out that support organization, that’s going to be the most critical thing for the next year. We have technology that works. We need to make sure we support it well, and the farmers are happy. But 2023 will probably break into Midwest. And then I think plan is to go international after that.

Trevor:
Oh, awesome. Well, that’ll be exciting. I mean, yeah, I can’t wait to see you guys. Take over the US and I can’t wait to see more of these on farms. I’m gonna start looking at YouTube videos now. And I’m gonna look at that video. So that’s I think this is I mean, super neat. It’s the perfect blending of agriculture and technology. I mean, it’s a problem we’ve had for years and such a great answer to it.

John: 33:52
Yeah, there’s just so much like tailwind you know, like, it’s good for the planet. It’s good for humans. Farmers love it. You know, our customers love it. Everybody wants to work here because it’s super cool. It’s badass. We’re working on a laser weeding robot?

Trevor:
Oh, yeah. I mean, that’s awesome to hear that every day.

John: 34:09
There’s there’s like, I can’t find a problem with with the situation. Yeah.

Trevor:
Well, that’s awesome. That’s good to hear. I’m glad you like it. I’m glad you like this job. I think this is super cool. Well, we’ll have to touch base with you guys soon. Maybe 2022. Whenever you guys are slowly growing. We might have to touch base with you all again. But thanks so much for coming on the show, john.

John:
Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me.

Trevor:
Again, thank you for listening to this episode with john. I was wanting to include some laser sounds in the intro, you know, because I thought it’d be kind of fun and kind of cheesy, but I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t utterly ridiculous and really corny. So now. So anyway, thanks so much for listening to this episode. If you enjoyed it, if you learned a thing or two, maybe you’re new here. Consider leaving a review on Apple iTunes. That helps us out ton. I think right now we’re sitting at something like 69 ratings on Apple, which is phenomenal. So if you haven’t already, please consider leaving us a review. Or if you’re on a platform like Spotify or Google podcasts, consider sharing with a friend or family member. organic growth really helps us reach a whole lot of people and a bigger audience for this show. And we can help people learn more and more about where their food comes from. So thank you so much for supporting the show and we’ll see you next week.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Ep 121: Quality Specialty Vegetables – Babe Farms

You’ve heard “quality over quantity”, right? Well, what if you could have both? Our guest today is Jeff Lundberg from Babe Farms in Santa Maria, California. Babe Farms grows quality vegetables and also grows a quantity of varieties, from traditional veggies like carrots and radishes all the way to lesser known vegetables like romanesco and frisee. Jeff and I chat about the start of Babe Farms, the relationships they’ve built with customers and how their Farm Days bring out tons of locals looking to learn how their food is made!

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Show Notes

  • History of Babe Farms
  • Jeff’s background
  • Types of produce grown
  • What does sustainability look like on the farm?
  • How has social media helped showcase the farm?
  • Examples of specialty veggies
  • Crop Talk Newsletter
  • What has been Jeff’s biggest win at Babe Farms?
  • Relationships with workers
  • Yearly Farm Day.  

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Transcript

There might be a few typos, but you’ll get the gist!  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Trevor Williams
2:55
Yeah, absolutely. So you’re with babe farms, a specialty crop growers. I’m super excited to chat with you guys. So before we kind of dive into that, tell me a little bit about your background and kind of how you got started working with big farms.
J
Jeff:
3:09
So I’ve been in the ag area I’ve involved in ag all my life. My family. Were as far as like, as long as I’ve known. I grew up on our farm as a little kid, my grandfather was a farming, his his grandfather. So we’ve been in the business for a long time. So it was kind of inevitable, I kind of grew up in a little, little kid riding around and attracted with my dad. I can remember falling asleep. Watching the wheels go around on the big tractors back in the day. So I have fond memories of all that. So born and raised in the business and in Santa Maria as well. So Santa Maria is a fertile valley that has ocean influence. And and it’s been it’s a it’s it’s farming is what it’s not important.
Trevor Williams
3:54
That’s awesome. So you guys grow a lot of stuff. I’m looking at your website. And it’s awesome. By the way, I love geeking out over like really nice website. So as it says you’re the pioneer, especially vegetables. So what’s your whole production? Like? What do you guys grow? And kind of how is it kind of grown from what it started out.
Jeff:
4:13
So they, they’ve grows a lot of varieties of products, we probably grow 70 varieties. And it’s probably we did that 52 weeks a year, which is kind of not as normal around here. We are a little milder climate in the Salinas Valley. So most people even in Santa Maria traveled to you in the winter months. And we do for some organic production and some things that we have some growers down there, but but the large majority, you know, over 90% of what we do is year round here in the Santa Maria Valley. And of those 70 varieties, we probably grow them in groups like 15 varieties, 15 different commodity groups that we call them. They’re either they have like cultural practices, meaning we reform Have them same, we transplant them the same, we cultivate them the same, we fertilize them the same, we treat them the same, so it’s easier for us to treat them as groups. So probably 14 or 15 different groups. And it’s like a large garden out there. Not it’s when I tell people I grow 70 varieties, they look like look at me like I’m crazy. And maybe we are we try to do we try to do it really well. It’s it’s a niche farming. It’s a large niche farm now but at one time, it was very small. And we grow it we try to be very consistent. Our biggest outlets is white tablecloth and high end shefte restaurants. So obviously COVID in the pandemic did not help us because we were so heavily weighted in food service. We are doing a better job of diversifying Avi I thought I was pretty diversified growing 70 varieties, but to be honest with you, when a pandemic hits and the world shuts down, you figure out real quick that you’re not as diversified as you may have thought.
Trevor Williams
5:58
I can’t imagine. Yeah, COVID kind of threw everybody in knuckleball, I mean, I know. I’m here in Florida. And so I knew a lot of South Florida farmers they started if they were selling direct to restaurants or wherever they would then start selling direct to consumers. And that kind of worked out really well. So what are some ways that you guys kind of pivoted during the whole COVID or I guess, during COVID, because it’s still kind of going on?
Jeff:
6:18
Well, we’re, we’re pretty big operation as far as many moving parts and probably have 250 employees. And we farm about 1000 acres 200 of that is organic. So when when the pandemic hit, and we planned months, even a year ahead of time, we’re working on projections right now for next spring, just trying to stay ahead of it. Understand plan acres and things like that. So when the code when COVID hits, and it shuts it off in a day. I mean, I remember the day it was March 12 and in the world has stopped. And we had acres and acres of product and made us sick because you drive out there and when when the restaurant business really shut down, there’s really no outlet. People ask why? How do you waste that much food, there’s no way you can turn it around and find alternate avenues you know, supermarkets and retailers have have contracts and they have relationships and we have some of those we just didn’t have enough to handle that. That surge of all that product. It was supposed to go to fruit servers, and then all of a sudden was turned off like a light switch. It was crazy. So we some things that that affected us it was weird. Just like the pandemic affected businesses differently. Meaning Home Depot’s in the lowest of the world and the big business to Walmart’s and targets they had their best year ever, you know, you see that which kind of made me sad because the small mom and pop and I would consider our our farming operation a family business. It may grow 1000 acres especially but we are very family oriented. And and I’m not a corporation by any means. My mom and I are on the board and we usually have conversations over coffee and we we write things down on napkins, we do not have corporate meetings if we can help it.
Jeff:
7:57
So we we had some we had some changes in how things you know, the pandemic made people buy different, what they looked at some of the more hardware items we go karate and kale and kale was a superfood years ago but it really made a comeback in the pandemic because people were in supermarkets buying the things that they were comfortable with and they knew would last you know those all those hardware items, carrots, potatoes and things that I think that I don’t grow. I go specialty carrots, but there’s a lot of things out there. Broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower, people are in the storage buy in that stuff because they were forced to the more restaurants they were all at home cooking.
Trevor Williams
8:34
Yeah, that’s very interesting. I mean, yeah, I saw so many people throughout the country, they were even having to dump produce because they had nowhere for it to go. And I heard a lot of consumers think well, why can’t you donate all that stuff to pantries and food pantries. But I mean those food pantries only have so much cold storage, they can store all the produce at so it’s crazy.
Jeff:
8:55
Exactly right. We did donate a lot. We were I mean, at that point, we just tried to get rid of it. Give it to somebody that can use it. But there was so much so many people doing the exact same thing. You’re exactly right. They can only take so much. I mean they can only hold so much. And then the product is perishable in the field. So it’s ready this week and next week there’s another planning ready so you just continually the pot pile up You can’t just sit there and sit on it a week probably yes. But any more than that you’re overdue and you just need to get rid of it.
Trevor Williams
9:22
Yeah, no, I can imagine. So I know when it comes to like big farms that kind of do like kind of mono cropping kind of like corn, wheat, soybeans and stuff like that. But on a big vegetable farm like you guys do y’all crop rotate it all How am I how exactly does that work on your operation?
Jeff:
9:38
So we do we rotate the so strawberries is a big commodity in the Central Valley along with watsonville Oxnard and Salinas and Santa Maria has really grown in strawberry acreage. We have strawberry farmers that we rotate with probably upwards of 200 acres every year. I rotating this so we’re farming 1000 acres. 200 of that is in rotation at all at all at all times. So if a farmer 2000 acres, 200 acres, we’re getting around in every five years, those 200 acres of strawberries are on a different 200 acres of farming that I do, which helps me break cycles along with all my commodities, I definitely have a rotation by myself. But strat rotating with strawberries is a tool to help break disease pressure, because you can really make yourself some problems by farming the same type of commodities on the same ground over and over. So strawberries is one way that you do that. And strawberries have the same need, they will have serious problems if they farm Strawberry Strawberry strawberries, they can get away with it twice. And so can I usually, but if you start doing things two or three times, four times for sure, you will make yourself your own problems. No, I
believe you. Yeah. I love learning about Florida or California strawberries because I know Florida and California kind of have a little bit of a rivalry because we I mean, both days are kind of the rare ones where we can grow 52 weeks out of the year. And if most of the countries down Florida and California are growing, we’re growing strawberries and no, I think Plant City is the winner, strawberry capital of the world. But I think like for the rest of the year, you guys in California are the strawberry capital of the world.
Jeff:
11:12
Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. It really gets going here in March, April, depending on how cold or wetter winter is. And it just rolls all the way into November, December. The longer they can hold on to it. They will depending on when rain starts here. But yeah, you’re right. Those, those those strawberry acres are very popular during those times. And California is big. I bet
Trevor Williams
11:35
so yeah, we’ve got a place down here. I think strawberry crest. It’s kind of around Tampa. That’s kind of the big strawberry belt. And I mean, they are obsessed with strawberries down that there’s a strawberry festival. I know people that make like strawberry pizza, which it’s like a dessert kind of so are you all kind of the same way do you have like a particular area around Santa Maria, that are kind of like obsessed with strawberries around the area.
Jeff:
11:58
There’s a strawberry festival in Santa Maria annually. I think they missed it last year with the COVID pandemic but it’ll be back and it is a big deal. You’re right strawberry, everything from drinks to decorations. It’s amazing what they can do with strawberries. They definitely, they do it all.
Trevor Williams
12:14
That’s so cool. Yeah, I’m about, I think an hour and a half from Dothan Alabama. And I think something like 70% of the country’s peanuts come within a 50 mile radius of them. And they’ve got a huge peanut festival. They’ve got these funny little peanut statues outside of buildings where they all like kind of customize them. So it’s always cool kind of seeing like communities kind of rally around their local commodity. So whether that’s in Florida, Alabama, or California. So I know sustainability is getting super popular as people want kind of a more sustainable food system, and they just want to buy, I guess healthier, more sustainable crops or food whenever they go to the grocery store. So what are you guys doing to kind of be more sustainable, and also to let you know, to let people know what you guys are doing.
J
Jeff:
12:58
So we sustainability is kind of a necessary item, it’s not something that we have ever not wanted to do. But the more productive you can be, which sustainability kind of helps with that as far as not abusing your soil. There’s no one that wants the soil to be healthier and fibrin than the farmer because that makes productivity. So we do things like drip irrigation, which saves on water, we do a lot we do drip everywhere we possibly can, there are certain crops that just do not aren’t conducive to that we do things like cover cropping. Obviously, the rotation I spoke about any reservoir that we may have, we have one reservoir that we treat the water. So that is all within specs of melt lgma, which is a which is a committee or advisory association that we are all part members of we will recycle water. Any sometimes when reservoirs will catch water, or we have catch basins, there’s rules in California that you can’t have your water running on your neighbors. So what we’ll do is pump it out of rules, reservoirs and use that water to water roads. Our commercial fertilizers are no longer used on organic farming for obvious reasons. So we’re rotating those crops, with other varieties trying to get used beneficials to suppress disease. There’s there’s definitely some tools in the in the in the toolbox that we use to do that. So it’s it’s very much a family business. farm workers are part of that maintaining self and have a safe and healthy work environment for employees. We do not exist without our employees, we have a great team of employees and labor such a shrinking value. You know, as far as commodity, we try to take care of that commodity. Those people are just doing what everything does, and we have some really long term employees has worked for us for a long time. So we really respect that and we’re proud of that.
Trevor Williams
14:57
That’s awesome. Um, yeah, so before I forget I know water in California is kind of a hot commodity. So what’s that? What’s that struggle like when you’ve got 1000 acre farm, but you’re also in a state where water is kind of scary or something, you’ve got the fires going on and stuff like that. So what’s that struggle like?
Jeff:
15:13
It’s difficult by for sure. We live in we farm in an area that is mostly supplied by underwater aquifers, which were blessed. The Yuma area, and Arizona is all driven by canal system. So it’s all open water. So from a food safety perspective, our system is much more desirable because you pump it out of the ground. But that doesn’t make more water you. I mean, Mother Nature has to be part of that. The drip system that I was explaining to you at some of the water conservation practices that we do where we do hot over water, we do not waste water. We don’t waste fertilizer. I remember years ago, I mean, inputs were cheaper, when I was just a kid get into it, I remember remembered, you would plant more you would fertilize more, because all those inputs and even water was more more prevalent, you would be able to do all those things. Just because it was easy. Just make sure you had it to make sure you available. We don’t do that we do not grow anything or apply any input that we know isn’t going to be utilized completely. Or at least, you know, harvested. We do not plan for the hope this gets harvested. We don’t waste. There’s no such thing as waste anymore. In in real time farming.
Trevor Williams
16:31
Yeah, I like that. I like that. So in terms of harvesting, I know you mentioned your workers earlier. And I know Shea Meyer is I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him with I can’t remember why he produced I think they grow onions. And I can never remember if he’s in Colorado or Idaho, but we had him on the show. He deals with a lot of onions. And he recently went to the Senate or to the US Capitol to kind of talk about working with immigrants, hoa visas and stuff like that. And I know COVID had a huge impact on that. So I mean, what what is the whole labor situation right now because I know, picking 1000 acres of vegetables like that’s hard labor.
Jeff:
17:10
It is it is like I said we have approximately 250 employees year round. That’s probably what I have gone for me the most a lot of including strawberries are very seasonal. So it’s hard to hold on to labor if you can’t get it on paycheck 52 weeks a year. I’m one of the few farms that sticks around and farmed. I’m as busy and Thanksgiving weekend or, you know, things November in December as I am in March and April. And it’s because we have that used to be before COVID. And we’re still the new normal is different than it once was. But we definitely have a used to have a very seasonal push for the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not that’s not normal for vegetables, I guess it is, but it’s more prevalent in my business. And last year was an anomaly, obviously. But usually we get this big push for the November and December months. That keeps us busy. And that year round consistent. You know, workload is actually something that helps me hold on to labor. My labor is side of employees have been with us for honestly, 2030 years, I have individuals that have a harvest foreman, carvers manager, who his mother works for me and my sales desk. She’s worked for us for 30 some years, and he’s worked for me for 10 ever since he got out of college. Oh, wow. So those are, those are success stories. It’s pretty cool.
Trevor Williams
18:32
Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s cool to hear. Yeah, I’ve heard more and more stories about large operations that have workers like that, that kind of stick around for the long haul. That’s awesome. And so I actually found you guys, I think on Instagram, and it seems like you’ll have a pretty active presence on social media on the internet. And so what I mean, what was the inspiration behind that? And how are you guys using that as kind of a tool to show people what you guys are doing and all about your great produce.
Jeff:
18:59
So I’ll be the first to say that I’m not a social media, social media on Facebook, but my marketing person came to me sales and marketing manager now came to me and said, You know, this is where I’m this has been years we’ve been doing this for probably eight or 10 years. And it’s kind of a pay it forward kind of expense. And and it’s a it’s a it’s an education, we use social media, mostly for marketing. It’s a tool to reach to the end user, really the chefs, the retailers, the shoppers, the food, bloggers, you know, etc. It helps it helps answer questions, it directs them to where they can purchase our products. Really our color, our diverse product line really translates well on social media. It appeals to people we get a lot of people looking at our, our, our website just for the things that you you bring up because it’s it’s easy to look at. Not everybody has that many colors, and that array of variety to look at so it really helps us. We we have opportunities to collaborate with others. companies and we use social media to kind of get that out there. There’s an example there’s a there’s a woman here on the coast and uses our product she does crazy boards, like crudity board giveaways, and she will use our products build these amazing plugin ridiculous looks like flower arrangements, and then she’ll, she’ll put him out there for weddings and events. And people don’t even want to touch him. They’re so pretty, but you can eat everything on the plate from from whatever whatever is there. From carrots to bok choy to to it’s just gorgeous radishes we have all these different colors or radishes cutsem she, she claims she gets really really pretty. It’s amazing. Yeah, I’m
looking at your Instagram right now. It’s just Bay underscore farms. I mean, the color there the carrots, the brussel sprouts. The beets, radishes, everything. I mean, it looks so good. And even. Are these purple brussel sprouts. You guys grow? Are those cooked?
Jeff:
20:55
Yeah, we do a little bit of both. Yeah, purple color. It’s a big thing. We do horrible. radishes we do. So we do some ninja radishes we do purple. We’ll have purple cauliflower, baby cauliflower, and certain times of the year. It’s It’s It’s definitely an interesting color. We have a new baby Brussels it’s a very popular item. We’ll go to shows and that’s I get your purple baby brussels sprouts people like didn’t know those existed.
Trevor Williams
21:20
Yeah, it’s like, it’s like something different. They’re like, Hey, I didn’t know this was a thing, kind of like the purple carrot towel. And I had no clue. But apparently, carrots were originally purple. And then they were just turned orange over time. That’s awesome. So you guys, also you’re doing something which is great. And I’ve struggled at doing it. But it’s your crop top your crop talk newsletter. So what’s the idea behind that and just kind of updating people on what you guys are doing?
Jeff:
21:45
Yeah, again, it comes from the marketing side. And it’s it’s kind of a little more old school. It’s a newsletter. It’s paper, or it’s electronic. We do both. But mostly nowadays, it’s electronic. But it originally started as a paper thing that we would send out to our customers. It’s either it moves between monthly and bimonthly. That we send out to our customers and contacts if features what’s in season, what’s the best, you know, most fresh in season? Because there is some there’s definitely some seasonality to what we do. We try to have everything year round. But there’s times a year there’s easier and better and more prevalent recipes, all the latest events and happenings and made farms. It’s really just a way to get in front of our customers and have them say, Hey, we’re still here. This is what we’re doing. This is what we’re looking at. And we get a lot of attention that way. Chefs like it, they, they they actually will look tag us and come back and they’ll say Look what I did with Maine farms, carrots, and we love that we just just a big circle kind of spins it up.
Trevor Williams
22:45
Yeah, that’s so cool. I love hearing about the relationship between chefs and farmers. Because I think, I mean right now with like Food Network and stuff like that. I mean, we treat chefs like celebrities, and rightly so I mean, they’re hardworking, very creative people. But I feel like lately, more and more people have started to pay attention to farmers and kind of learning where their food comes from. And I think a lot of chefs are kind of helping that too. And so I mean, do you think that’s a super important relationship? I mean, obviously, between the farmer and the consumer, but also between the farmer and the chef, do you think that’s kind of also a very powerful relationship?
Jeff:
23:19
I do. I do. And we, in particular, have really good relationships with lots of chefs, because of the type of products that we grow and promote. Before there was a cooking show, who would have thought that you could actually get people to watch people cook food on TV, you know, 15 years ago. And now it’s like, so popular. And I think what has helped us is people will want like, I’ve seen some of the shows where they have this surprise thing, and it was romanesco I’ll pick romanesco I’m not sure if I’m familiar, but it’s in a cauliflower family. It looks almost like a pine cone. It has this point to it. And it’s a brassica. It looks very much it’s very much part of the brassica family tastes a little bit like cauliflower has a nutty taste to it. Anyways, they would just drop this in the middle of this, this competition on TV. And all of these pieces. Most the chef’s knew what it was, some didn’t. But nobody watching the show knew what it was like, What is that? And it affects our call and or we’ll get it we’ll get a surge. And it’s because hey, they saw TV, they know it can be done. I want to do that. And there’s more and more people. Let’s face it, that are cooking gourmet vegetables or any kind of meals, just because there’s so much of it out there. There’s so much media out there. And that and the fact that if you go to a white tablecloth restaurant in Vegas or a big city, and you sit there and you have this meal that is like Wow. I it just reminds people that hey, I want I want to have this more often. So there’s more and more people and really could home chefs that are home cooking, that have learned it seen it and they want to do it too.
Trevor Williams
24:57
It’s pretty cool. Yeah, that’s awesome. I mean, you get things like Food Network. Coming in, of course, YouTube is another big one where I mean, anytime I want to learn to make a dish, I’ll just go on YouTube and just Google it. I mean, it’s it’s pretty handy. So yeah, you’re right. I mean, it goes for everything. Oh, yeah. Are y’all? Is there any certain type of chef or restaurant y’all are looking to kind of work with? Or is it really just anybody interested in getting some fresh grape produce from you all?
Jeff:
25:21
Yeah, we we, we have no qualms about working with anybody that wants to work with us. And if you’re looking for a high quality, you know, high end, very good, colorful produce, then you need to be talking to us because I think what I will never forget this, I was at a show and somebody walked up to me. And we we do we used to do four or five, we do four or five, six shows a year. And we’ll be sitting there and somebody walked up and said, Hey, babe barks. You guys are like the Coca Cola of baby bitch. I’m like I’m gonna use because who doesn’t know what Coca Cola is? Right? So we want to be well known. And that’s kind of who we we’ve been doing this since 1986. And I don’t think anybody does as large array of specially vege as a farm. So we hope to be the forefront for a long time. Yeah, that’s
Trevor Williams
26:10
kind of a compliment the Coca Cola specialty vegetables. I mean, that’s, that’s hard to beat. So you said earlier, y’all grow corabi? Right. So I grew that when I was teaching Ag and I haven’t taught or haven’t grown it since. So what’s, what’s a good way to cook that like, I don’t think I’ve actually had it besides just taking a bite out of it raw. I feel like most people don’t know what it is. So what’s a good way to cook and prepare it?
Jeff:
26:36
So it’s very, it’s pretty diverse. And it’s pretty popular. It’s one of the few products that during the pandemic actually grew in volume, it really, really pushed like it was one of the one of the few that really increased, and I think it was because it’s such a hardware item, you can store it, you can keep in your fridge, it’ll last for weeks. It has the texture of either broccoli, like a broccoli stem. And if you’ve grown it you know what we’re talking about. I’ve seen I’ve seen it in salads, after you peel the outer skin off the outer skin kind of has this more of a tougher feel. But the interior is has that broccoli stem texture or a coma as a almost if you’re familiar with income, it almost says the texture of hair come up. But the flavor of almost like broccoli, I’ve seen it in soups. It’s very popular in the Asian community with that so it’s it’s it’s pretty diverse special for sure.
Trevor Williams
27:35
Yeah, I don’t think I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen it at a restaurant but I know a bunch of people that cook by and a lot of people that swear by it so I don’t know if our local Publix has it but I’m going to have to stock up on some corabi and trying to cook it
Jeff:
27:48
because everybody knows what it is and if you’ve never seen it he kind of grows he Have you seen if you grow it grows up on top the ground you know the roots in the ground and has this wall on top of the ground and then these leaves coming out of the sides of it it just it’s an entry. It’s got the same texture like I said and that waxy feel of broccoli leaves, but it’s and it is a brassica but it’s it’s got a different look for sure it looks it has its own distinct look for sure.
Trevor Williams
28:11
Yeah, if you don’t know what it is, you’re gonna think it’s like some kind of like alien vegetable. You’re like, What in the world is this?
Jeff:
28:16
Yeah. Yeah, it’s amazing. I was at I watched with my kids are watching the Star Wars. I can’t remember which which one it was. But at one point, they showed this table full of vegetables. And they were trying to find things that just didn’t look normal. Nobody would recognize. And romanesco and kohlrabi were on it on that table because I stopped it and I said kids rewind. And I looked at it was a still shot up the table. I’m like, that’s romanesco and that is kohlrabi and it’s stuff that you would never see. On a normal table. It was interesting.
Trevor Williams
28:48
No way. I’m I’m a big Star Wars fan. So I’m gonna have to go look for that. That’s pretty nice. I
Jeff:
28:53
can’t remember. Which, which, which episode, but I swear I stopped it. And I told the kids and they both laughed.
Trevor Williams
29:02
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. I mean, you never know what the ag industry is gonna impact and now it’s even Star Wars. That’s cool. Yep. So you’ve built relationships with with, with restaurant owners with consumers and stuff like that. You’ve been going through the pandemic, what would you say has kind of been the biggest win with your time here at babe farms?
biggest win? Yeah.
Jeff:
29:26
You know, I like I said, I was born and raised in this business. I went to Cal Poly graduated in 94. And like I said, it was a family business started in 86. And I really worked there throughout the years. My biggest win is really the the camaraderie and the continued. Just loyalty from an employee base. No matter we’ve been through some tough times everybody goes through tough times pandemic was one of those, but the fact that everybody wants to hunker down employees wise and support you because we were All of us together. Obviously, everybody employed here can go find a job somewhere else. But and when it’s all said and done, I’m the one that’s going to be left left holding the bag. But nobody has ever felt and given me the impression that they’re uncomfortable, they’re going to let let us down. It’s all about this is a team effort. And I have, like I said, some people that have been here for years and years and years, and they live and bleed and breathe like it’s their own. And I, I totally appreciate that. And I could never express my gratitude enough of how much people care about it, like it’s theirs. And that’s what I think makes us who we are. We had an interview, and did a small thing. And we have a woman that works on my wash line. She’s been with me for I think, 30 or 35 years. Really nice lady, broken English, mostly Spanish. And we let her speak about what she liked about vape farms and, and her the pride that she takes in every box of leaves that wash line before it gets on a pallet comes to our cooler. It just almost cracked me. I mean, it just really affected me because she talked about it, like she cared about every box. And that’s the way that’s the way I want it. And that’s the way it really is around here. So it really I appreciate that. I’m proud of that. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Trevor Williams
31:19
That’s good to hear. I feel like that kind of buy in is really difficult nowadays. And so that’s good. That’s kind of like a I mean, everybody at bay farms is kind of on the same page. They’ve all got that passion for what you’re doing. So that’s really good to hear. I’m excited to hear that.
Jeff:
31:32
Yep, that’s really good. It’s a it’s a good feeling for sure.
Trevor Williams
31:35
I bet. So last question. What do you think about the farmer consumer relationship? I think it’s gotten a lot better over the last couple years, I think more and more people, like we’ve said, like, even during COVID have wanted to figure out more about where their food comes from, and stuff like that, like people have been going to farmers markets trying to buy more direct. And so what do you think about that relationship? Is it getting better? Is it getting worse? Does it need some work? What do you think?
Jeff:
32:00
I think it’s, I think it’s a never ending conversation or an opportunity to educate consumers. I’m involved in a few organizations. And, and we farmers are not very good about telling their story. And we believe we have been in the past, we’re trying to be better at that. We are trying to be proactive. If you’re always in defense mode, defending yourself from every organization that wants to, you know, put you down or say that you’re not doing it right, you’re wasting water, you’re spraying too many pesticides. They’re always something out there trying to knock you down. But what farmers have to do a better job of is being proactive and telling their story. I’m I’m on a board of an association that is using that very platform with social media just to get out there and connect consumers, to the farmer, and really people to people, because that’s where the connection is. Not everybody understands how farming works, and all the stuff that goes in and all the hands that really bring it to, to the grocery store. But if if they understood how much blood sweat and tears and passion like I was describing goes into those boxes, they wouldn’t maybe not be so critical of it or are quick to judge. I think one of the biggest misconceptions of the consumer is just how the there’s a lot of marketing that goes into ag. And not all farmers are good marketers. But for instance, I’ll use organic, I think organic is a well marketed term. There’s nothing wrong with organic. But there’s really nothing wrong with conventional either in the world we live in conventional and organic farming is very safe, it’s very healthy, we wouldn’t be able to do it in the world we live in if it wasn’t, but when people step on something to make the other one look better. I have a problem with that. I grow both I talk I do not put down either one. I think they both have their place. You know, organic has slower and lower yields. It drives prices up. But there are certain people that want that and need it and it’s marketed well, is organic, any safer than conventional. Now, I think they’re both very safe. And I think they’re both very good opportunities. I don’t know that the world can be fed organically. But I definitely think there’s a place in this world for both of them has to be.
Trevor Williams
34:22
Yeah, that’s something that I honestly had no clue about. I thought that I mean, most farms were either organic or conventional. But as I’ve done this podcast, most people that are growing organic, it’s only a small fraction of their farm like they’re like you guys there. They have 1000 acres, but only 200 that is organic. And so I mean, what was kind of inspiration but behind kind of growing a small section of organic produce.
Jeff:
34:43
Really, it’s customer demand. I mean organics, like I said, well marketed and there’s people that want that we like there’s certain items that we only do organically, organic spinach, organic kale, organic fennel. I do fennel, conventionally and organically. I do certain things both ways. But there’s your Things I only do organically. The problem with organics and when the wind when winter gets weak because California actually does have a winter, not a not a real abrasive winter. But when things get days get shorter and weather gets colder. fertilizers do not react, they didn’t begin in a cold soil. And it’s just it’s kind of like, it’s kind of like what you do after you harvest something you put in your fridge and slow it down, because it’s trying to decay, you need heat, and you need all those things in the soil to make things work. So you can’t we can’t farm organically year round, and we can’t farm everything we do organically completely and solely. So we do both because we have to be consistent because the consumer needs wants to be consistently supplied.
Trevor Williams
35:41
Oh, yeah. I mean, that’s one thing. That’s a huge struggle that I’ve also heard a lot about, I mean, consumers are wanting great produce 20 473 65. But of course, you can grow all that produce 20 473 65. I mean, even in states like California and Florida, where you can grow it for a decent amount of the year, you’ve also got some periods where you can’t so it’s an ongoing struggle, I can assume.
Jeff:
36:02
I agree. Yep. It is in and we do a pretty good job of it. But, but there’s always hurdles in front of us for sure. But But yeah, I think that that relationship back to your question, the relationship between consumers and farmers is only getting better. We also participate in a farm day. Santa Barbara County Farm day, we started it a couple of years ago. And we’re big, big participants of it. And it we it’s a way for the general public, no connection to ag to come out, see what we do, how we do it, look at the equipment we do. Because there’s so many food safety hurdles, and food security, and things that we have to abide by that you can’t just have the general public out there walking through your fields any day. But if you plan for it, you bring them in, we give them free vegetables, we let them ask questions. And it’s happening this September. And it happens every year, once on a Saturday for four to six hours. And then they go around to all the different farms. There’s like 15 Farms in our area that are all participating. It’s just a way for the public to get around and see. transplanting is one part of Ag us especially grower than the go down and see a strawberry grower and realize that every strawberry has to be hand picked. And they go wow. They don’t actually think about that until you see it. Pretty impressive.
Trevor Williams
37:18
Oh, I bet So yeah, I mean, that’s so cool to hear what what’s the response been like from those days where they actually come out, and they can actually see how their foods grown? how its pig, how its harvest. So what’s the response been like?
Jeff:
37:28
They love it. They love it. They bring their kids. We get people last year we had I think two years ago, before the pandemic, we had 300 visitors. And we were one of the more just because of the same thing, like we were talking about with the social media were more colorful stop. So they’re like obey farms or the Oh, we were out there more in social media. So they kind of know who we are even locally, they’ll know who we are. So let’s go there. And then the fact that we’re giving away free vegetables, they’re like, yeah, that’s a given we’ll come by. So it’s just it’s kind of like a farmers market without having to pay for on that Saturday. And then we can show them kohlrabi. They may not get that in their local grocery store and say, Hey, this is what it is. This is how you cook it. It’s pretty cool. Yeah, that’s
awesome. I love farm days and stuff like that. I think they’re super cool. I mean, they’re great. Not only a great, I mean outing for your family, but it’s also a great educational tool. I mean, people can literally see and learn straight from the farmer instead of Google and kind of ask any questions they might have.
Jeff:
38:22
No, I agree. And then and then as you and I know, anything you Google had, not to bring politics into anything, but everything has a spin. But if you talk to the grower, he’s a real guy. He’s just trying to make living like you are. And he tried to poison you, because he feeds his family, from every vegetable in that field is just like he’s trying to feed you. So honestly, we usually it’s very positive. I’ve never really had a bad experience talking to the public at those events. But if somebody is critical or questionable, they usually turn around pretty quickly when they realize that we’re just real people just trying to do the right thing. Yeah,
Trevor Williams
39:00
like you said earlier, I mean, that person, the person communication is really key where you’re not trying to be I mean, you’re just being honest and open with them, I think is huge. And yeah, I think that’s awesome. I agree. I agree. That’s so cool. Jeff. Well, I think this has been awesome. If people want to learn more about babe farms, you guys are active on Instagram, your website, where else can they go to kind of see what you guys are doing?
Jeff:
39:24
Yeah, that’s social, all social media appropriate, or platforms that you’re discussing Instagram, we know Facebook, where we have a website, they pay for specialist Comm. It’s it’s, it’s if you ever have a question, or you want to see who we are, that’s that’s how you can see us. But that’s probably the best way and then you get the visual. It’s amazing what you can see. Just by searching things for sure. Yeah,
 
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Ep 120: Aerofarms – Vertical Farming, Elevated Flavor

Vertical farming is a super interesting subject within Ag. I really do think it’s going to be the future of agriculture in cities across the world, especially in larger metropolitan areas. If you live around New York City, you might be familiar with our guest today is Tim O’Brien from Aerofarms. Aerofarms grows high-quality greens using vertical farming technology. Tim and I chat about the start of Aerofarms, the process of opening new operations, and how they are working with a few companies on growing cacao using this technology.

Check them out at the links below:

AeroFarms Website

Florida Cattle Ranchers on Facebook

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Show Notes

  • Start of AeroFarms
  • How does this technology work?
  • Plans for new Vertical Farm –
  • Can this help reduce carbon emissions from food transport?
  • What sets AeroFarms apart from other indoor farming systems?
  • What foods can this work for and what foods can it be applied for in the future?
  • Could tech like this work in space or other planets?
  • What does the future look like for AeroFarms?
  • What has been the biggest struggle growing the company?

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Transcript

There might be a few typos, but you’ll get the gist!  

Trevor:

Hello, and welcome to the farm traveler podcast. I’m your host Trevor Williams. Hope you’re doing great city pub and I have had the house to ourselves this past week, Allie and her mom and her sister Molly. They have actually been on a once in a lifetime trip to Greece. You know, the beautiful country of Greece. They’ve been to Athens, they’ve been to San Tareen. They’ve been having a ton of fun. And while they’ve been doing that Satie and I have been at the house, chillin, I’ve taken her to pet smart gotten her a bunch of treats been to Home Depot at least 12 times. And I’ve been catching up on some video games and movies, which I mean, you know, what you do? It’s been great. Um, so yeah, I I’m excited for today’s episode is with another vertical farming company. This one is called arrow farms. And they are around the New York area. So we’re chatting with Tim O’Brien from arrow farms. And we’re going to talk about how arrow farms is different, what their vertical farming looks like. And really how this new technology can help reduce carbon emissions. What sets us apart from other indoor farming systems in Canada, the future, they’re actually I believe Tim said that they’re going public, in terms of like, you know, investing very soon. And I think they’re also opening up another location. And I think I thought this was awesome. This was just such a cool timing. Because, you know, we went to LA aloha a few weeks ago. And we did that whole tour, which you know, if you haven’t already, go to YouTube and check out our farm tour, I’ll link that in the description, where we toured cacau and full circle aerofarms is actually working on how to grow cacau plants in a vertical farming environment. And so I think that’s super cool. nobody’s really done it before. And so they’re kind of at the forefront of that. So you never know, maybe in a few years, we can go towards a vertical farm that is growing cow aka chocolate, which I think is phenomenal. So yeah, this is a great interview with Tim we chat a lot about the future of agriculture, the future of vertical farming and stuff like this. I really think that this stuff is going to be the future I mean, if you’re in a larger area, like in New York or like a Philadelphia this would be a great way you can provide fresh local produce in terms of green greens and all that good stuff and actually if you’re listening and you’re from New York maybe you’re in Philadelphia wherever you can actually find their produce at Amazon Fresh which I did I didn’t know that was a thing. Also Whole Foods Walmart and a couple others like a shop right and stuff like that. And they’ve got a bunch of really cool greens you can buy like super mix some looking at their stuff right now they’ve got a spicy mix of microgreens which sounds delicious you know, they’ve got kale, or rainbow mixed or watercress and all that good stuff. If you want to check them out. Go to arrow farms calm that’s just arrow A e r o farms calm. So yeah, I hope you enjoy this episode. This was a blast talking with Tim and learning more and more about another fascinating vertical farm business. But arrow farms as Tim is going to explain is a little bit different. So hope you enjoyed it. And thanks so much for listening. All right, well, Tim Brian from aerofarms. How are you doing?

Tim:

I’m doing well. Thanks, Trevor, how about you doing? Well,

Trevor:

I am super excited to chat with you, as I was telling you just a minute ago, I’m a big fan of hydroponics and the whole future of urban ag. And so aerofarms does that. And so I’m super excited to chat with you about it. But before we dive in to aerofarms, kind of tell us a little bit about yourself kind of a background and how you got started with arrow. Sure,

Tim:

So I I’m a New Jersey native born and raised in New Jersey, very proud of the Garden State and like the family farms in my area where I grew up along the Delaware River in the Delaware River Valley. Several of those family farms face similar situations, and one in particular, faced the notion that their children did not the next generation did not want to take on the farm. And so a lot of those family farms that face that same consequence, ended up selling to developers and kind of suffered the urban sprawl. But one family farmer, my community, the Snyder family, they had the foresight to take their farm and bequeath it to Rutgers University, which in New Jersey is our land grant university where the Agricultural College Cooke colleges, and they bequeath it to them, and they created it into a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Center, which still is in existence today. This was back in 1987, that this event happened. But I say all that Trevor because I am part of a whole group of people, youngsters at the time that got high school summer jobs, college summer jobs, working at the Snyder Research and Extension Farm in pittstown, New Jersey, and did not come from an agricultural background. But after experiencing that facility and working there, particularly for me, I worked there for six summers in a row between high school and my undergraduate in college, it absolutely sparked an interest in sustainable food production, alternative ways to produce food. And it charted me on a course to get a bachelor’s degree in plant Soil Sciences from the University of Delaware. And where I currently live here in the Pacific Northwest, I came out in 1995 to get my master’s degree in sustainable ag from Oregon State University. And what I thought was going to be two years out here in the northwest before it came back to New Jersey turned into 25 years later, and a whole story that career. So for me and aerofarms This is a bit of a coming home. scenario for me coming back to New Jersey, working with aerofarms to work in this very interesting and innovative area of Ag biotech these days.

Trevor:

That’s awesome. Yeah, I think most people outside of Ag have no clue that technology like this is I mean, not only out there, but also it’s super popular. And I know over the past like decade or so it’s gotten even more popular. Like there’s companies like you guys aerofarms we had another company from Wyoming called vertical farms on and so it seems like indoor hydroponics and growing produce this way is really catching on. So going off of that kind of tell us if you can a little bit about kind of the background of aerofarms and how you guys started?

Tim:

Yeah, aerofarms is a fascinating business because its its original founder, a gentleman named Dr. Ed Harwood, who was a longtime professor at Cornell University in Ithaca. Unfortunately, Ed did pass away, just recently, and so we all at aerofarms are still grieving his loss and he’s left a void in the in our in our company, but we’re at a very exciting inflection point four in the history of the company. And we know that ed is watching down with that beaming smile of his as he’s finally seeing the the fruits of his labor from all those years ago but at Harwood started our company in his garage literally, and which is the classic American invention story, right. And he was building tabletop versions of his indoor vertical farm chamber to where it got large, large enough to where he took over his entire dining room and he turned that into a grow room if you will, of his endurable farm and he was trying to scale from there and he was you know, having different people build them in their back sheds and whatnot and And long story short Trevor he he finally went out and said I’m gonna go raise some money and kind of try and make a go of this with this business and in the great story that I’d used to tell was that the the original investors would, would ask him Well, well, who’s your chief grower He would raise his hand say I am and they’d say, well, who’s your chief financial officer and he raised his hand say Aye. And, you know, for every every task, he was raising his hand, and they all realized real quick, like, oh, boy, we got to get a team in and around and, and scale this thing. And so that’s, you know, entered David Rosenberg and Mark Oshima, who are carrying the torch forward in Ed’s absence here as we move forward. But they were in a different kind of early stage, indoor vertical farm business. And they met up with Ed saw the story saw the opportunity, and as they say, the rest is history. And they’ve been carrying the torch forward. And aerofarms has been around since 2004, as a more formal company. But it’s been tinkering that for for many years beyond that.

Trevor:

Okay, that’s pretty cool. So now assume that I don’t know how hydroponics and this technology work. I know there’s some people listening that might not know. So how exactly would you explain that to somebody that doesn’t really know how this process works?

Unknown Speaker 11:07

Yeah, so indoor vertical farming is a is a discipline within what’s known in our industry is controlled environment AG, controlled environment, agriculture. And so indoor vertical farming is essentially, fully controlled environments. So we’re not limited by the sunlight, we’re not limited by seasons are not limited by soils from that standpoint. And so we fully control all aspects of the growth of our plants, we have indoor lighting, we have a nutrient solution that we either use in a bath for the roots of the plants, or we can mist the roots of the plants in an aeroponic method, where we’re just spraying a very fine mist on the roots and keeping them moist all the time. So they, they think they’re in a perfectly moist soil bed. We we control all of the lighting, spectrum intensity photo periods, so we can design and tailor a lighting regime that the plant actually needs to be perfect. And contrary to popular belief, the sunlight that that grows our plants outside, there’s a lot of wasted spectra, there’s a lot of wasted energy there for horticultural agricultural crops. As a rule, you know, we can then prescribe our light regime to maximize photosynthesis and sugar production to produce whatever fruit or or tuber we’re trying to create from a horticultural value perspective. And so it’s a very detail oriented, prescriptive level of farming that is perfectly suited for areas that may not be suitable in the outdoor environment to grow certain types of crops. And it helps reduce the logistics or transportation associated with getting fresh, nutritious produce to large urban areas very quickly. And a great example of that is our flagship farm in New York, New Jersey, which sits right outside of New York City and is in this in literally in the center of the downtown of Newark, New Jersey. And we can produce just absolutely nutritionally packed leafy greens for the communities there, and they can be eating them within 24 to 48 hours of those being harvested in our facility and that’s that’s a powerful nutritional access story. That’s an apparent a very powerful horticultural kind of problem solution story around logistics, and shipping. There’s a powerful climate change and environment story to be told about the way that we can scale and grow indoors and maximize the productivity of the space we’re in.

Tim:

So what Yeah, what kind of space are you in? Because I’m learning that more and more people that start these hydroponic companies are usually in like old abandoned warehouses or like an old like shopping market or something. So what kind of warehouse Are y’all in?

Trevor:

So the best This is great. And our our one of our warehouses is actually an old paint ball gaming facility. This is cool. Okay, yeah, and so we’ve actually left some of the graphics on the wall, everything is a little homage to the the paintball facility. And, and the other is a an abandoned steel factory building that was there. And so, you know, we’re right in the iron bound district of of Newark. And so those two facilities produce our commercial leafy greens as well as produce our r&d based material that we use for for developing new concepts and products. So what kind of products are Making? I mean, I’ve heard that when it comes to hydroponics, I think I heard this from somewhere where they’re doing it kind of in space they’re doing, they’re doing like very small hydroponic systems on the ISS. And they’re saying that it’s really helpful when you do something that has a large edible biomass. So things like leafy greens and stuff like that. And so what exactly are y’all growing?

Tim:

there’s some very specific requirements of, of products. And there’s horticultural and economic requirements for for this. But there’s the one of the main drivers of the success of a product in inverse indoor vertical farms is light use efficiency. And so we really, we have a very rigorous and to be honest, a proprietary screening process that we evaluate various different crops, and we run them through a protocol and an algorithm to determine which ones are going to be successful. But what we like about baby leafy greens, and, and some herbs, is their ability to grow quickly, to be suited for automated automated harvest. We’d like their value in the marketplace and where we can be competitive at at the grocery store shelf. So we compete against field farmers for that same shelf space on those retail store shelves. And so we factor all that in to tailor our exact product mix. In each of our different farms that we have, we just announced our new farm commercial farm that’s going to be built in Danville, Virginia, right on the North Carolina, Virginia line. And we also just announced a farm being built in the St. Louis area in conjunction with the Henry Danforth center, as well as the World Wildlife Federation.

Trevor:

Okay, yeah. And that’s going to be a whole brand new kind of community you guys are going to impact with, with hydroponics with this vertical farm. So are you guys, what kind of like educational tools have y’all done, where you’re trying to tell people like, Hey, this is how vertical farming works. This is what it can do. buy our products, here’s how they’re helping the environment. So what all are y’all doing there on the education side? Yeah, so

Tim:

we’ve got a couple of different kind of what I would say, prongs to that fork, so to speak, one of which is, in our earlier days, we actually fulfilled Ed’s vision of building some, what I would call tabletop or, or modular grow systems that utilize our technology. And we worked with in the city of Newark, with one of the Newark charter schools, and we put it in the school to learn about urban ag with the students and teach them about that. And they were they would then eat those leafy greens as part of their salads at lunch. And that was just an awesome 360 connection for them on a variety of levels. For that, we are working on a variety of pilot programs with various land grant universities, to help them shape curricula around indoor vertical farming so that as the next generation of the labor force comes through the ag sciences programs, they are training them to have the latest and greatest skill sets that are gonna be needed by this industry as it matures. And then the ultimate thing is our flagship r&d facility where it’s a research and development facility, it provides verification of our different technologies. And we’ve expanded that and announced the world’s largest r&d based indoor vertical farm, which is we broke ground on this summer in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in conjunction with the United Arab Emirates University, and other industry partners there. And so we are really committed to education, r&d for this industry as it matures over time.

Trevor:

That’s so cool. I mean, I feel like as I mean, this industry has been around for a little bit, but there’s still so much r&d and kind of growth, because I know even just a few years ago, when really LED lights kind of became super popular, because you used to have to use these really expensive bulbs. I remember when I was teaching we had a greenhouse with a smaller hydroponic system, and the light bulb goes out and so to buy a new one was like $300, but now you can get an LED light system for that’s huge and outputs, the exact light spectrums that the plant needs, and it’s a lot cheaper. So I feel like that’s one a revolution that’s kind of happened. There’s no telling what’s going to happen next. Right. Absolutely. I

Tim:

think and that’s one of the reasons why it’s an exciting time to be in this industry, because it’s it is in its infancy, but it’s it’s maturing very rapidly. And I think that the opportunities in this industry From like what you said, with lighting efficiency, development, fertility regimes in these systems, there’s a whole world of genetics out there yet to be optimized and developed for CEA based or indoor vertical farm cropping systems. So it really, really is a ground level kind of getting in on the ground level opportunity in a variety of facets of this, this section of the industry.

Trevor:

So I know that one of the huge selling points about this technology is that if you’re in a large urban area, you can produce food locally, like you’re not having to bring in transport it from across the country or anywhere. So do you see this as kind of like kind of an answer to helping reduce our carbon emissions?

Tim:

Absolutely. And I think it also is going to help enhance the nutritional quality of our food, because you remember, for example, in strawberry, you know, a lot of times there have to be sacrifices made at the breeding level, because they need to be able to transport that strawberry across the country, or in some cases across the world. And so they need to breed for certain traits that tend to allow it to be stored longer, and transportability, lack of bruising and things. And so while they may be able to select for that, they may end up losing some of the flavor and nutritional aspects of it. But they have to kind of, you know, go for the best of both worlds. In our particular case, we represent an opportunity to reduce the amount of logistics required to get this product to the end consumer, we can scale vertically, so an acre farm of footprint can be up to 390 times more productive than an acre of field ground, then our system, and so you think about the the you know, and we don’t have the pest pressures, environmental pressures that come with that. So the the lack of pesticides that we you know, we don’t have to use the prescriptive levels of fertility that we can use. So there isn’t waste because we measure both what’s going in and we measure, because we’re aeroponic and hydroponic based, we can measure what’s coming out of the drain, and we can dial back or dial up nutrients based on what the plant is and isn’t using, feel farmers can’t do that. They don’t see that it just all runs offered, moves through the soil profile into the water system. And so there is an incredibly powerful environmental story to be told here. When you compare this to field agriculture.

Trevor:

Yeah, and also, I mean, with the systems you can grow year round, I mean, you don’t have to wait on the season, the right time of year to plan or anything, because it’s indoor, and it’s an indoor environment, you can grow basically, whatever you’re out.

Tim:

Yeah, I love that, you know, when I speak to to younger audiences. I love to just say that, you know, at aerofarms we’re not limited to the soil, the season or the sun, we can really grow 20 473 65 and it’s a whole new frontier for producing food. Yeah, I can’t wait to see what happens. Because I mean, there’s some that I know aeroponics is huge, where you know, you kind of suspend the plant and it’s like misted throughout the year. I know, that’s not really as popular because I mean, it’s a little bit more intensive, I think. But I’ve seen some companies like you guys, that will have like a little demo of that and kind of explain what that is. Like, for example, my favorite ride at Disney World is the land because they have hydroponics and aeroponics and so they have this little thing. And I want to say it’s brussel sprouts that are like they’re on this conveyor belt system where they’re moving around, and their roots are literally just hanging there. And then they go through this little door that miss them with water and nutrients. And so it’s super cool. I mean, there’s so many different ways and different systems that you have.

Trevor:

Yeah, I mean this this these indoor vertical farm systems are an agricultural engineers paradise, because there’s so many different ways that you now have available to you to work with the natural plant architecture that the growing habit and structure and form of the plant.

Tim:

And you kind of have this blank canvas to be able to design grow systems and grow chambers and towers around the ideal architecture of of the plant. For example, we are in a partnership with our good friends at Horta fruit, which is one of the largest berry growers in the world and we’re specifically focusing on indoor vertically farmed blueberry, which, as a as a New Jersey native, Trevor, the blueberry was originally domesticated out of the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey in the early 1900s. And became a main crop for not only the US and the world And here is arrow farms working with word fruit pioneering or re domesticating, blueberry for indoor vertical farms. And it’s exciting because those plants that they are using for these indoor vertical farm systems have such a unique architecture. And we’re building very interesting. Grow systems and structures to to capitalize on the canopy and the architecture of those plants.

Trevor:

Oh, that’s exciting. I didn’t know that about the blueberry. That’s pretty cool. So I know there’s a lot of different companies out there that are doing vertical farming and stuff like that. So how exactly are you guys that aerofarms different? Like, where do you guys get doing different? What kind of sets you apart from the other? vertical growing companies out there?

Tim:

Yeah, I think, you know, in a nutshell, for me, Trevor, I think it’s that we’re playing long ball. And when I say we’re playing long ball, we are very committed to our core of browned r&d associated with our cropping systems. We are in it to be the kind of industry leader in the industry stalwart in perfecting these systems, optimizing the systems, no matter which crop these that we’re working in, we have a whole portfolio of patents that we have filed around the various technologies that we’re developing. And so Ed Harwood, our founder, and his co founders, David Rosenberg, and Marcus Shima, have really set a vision for long term, sustainable presence and growth in our industry for aerofarms.

Trevor:

So I like that idea of just kind of sticking around for the long haul, instead of just really kind of going crazy and hopping on kind of the trend. I mean, that’s a good idea, you guys are kind of focusing on the long haul, where this technology is going to take you. And also, I saw some on your website about partnering with you guys about doing co production with with hydroponics, is that right?

Tim:

Yeah, so that’s a project that I’m actually involved in, as well. And so it’s new project, it’s with cargo Corp. And, you know, that particular industry is just absolutely being decimated by climate change, and the growing regions of the world, that they have their, their suppliers are really struggling with the quality of the product that’s being produced, the growth systems are being challenged now as climate and environmental patterns are changing. And so we are working with them to try and innovate in areas, particularly around nursery tree production for them to try and optimize the health and vigor of these trees before they go out into the real world and have to do do battle with all the environmental pressures that come from being out there in the natural world. And so our, you know, our theory is, is let’s innovate, and produce these superior nursery trees that can then just hit the ground running and be vigorous and healthy, because they came from, you know, this perfect environment. And, you know, we’re in the very early stages of, of an 18 month kind of benchmarking phase, that’s gonna, you know, parlay into a multi year partnership agreement. And again, that’s part of our long term vision for, for these projects and cargo realize that and we were thrilled that they wanted to partner with us over that.

Unknown Speaker 28:43

Yeah, that’s super exciting. I mean, that’s the first time I’ve heard of another crop like cacao that’s going to be grown, possibly using this technology. I mean, that’s huge. I mean, there’s no telling what’s going to be next, if it’s going to be oranges, apples, or, you know, kind of larger produce, it’s kind of more typically difficult to grow in those circumstances.

Tim:

Absolutely. And I think that, you know, this is our first foray into tree crops. And I can speak from experience in industry, you know, you know, the tree fruit folks and the citrus folks, and everybody kind of raised one eyebrow when they saw that one. Oh, okay, trees. Let’s keep an eye on that here in the coming years. And it wouldn’t shock me if if we were to, you know, in five or so years, we’re talking about more and more tree crops.

Trevor:

That’s super fascinating. Well, I can’t see I can’t wait to see how that goes. I mean, that’s going to be super neat to follow. So when it comes to this technology, and we kind of mentioned earlier, do you think things like this I know you know, Elan musk Musk is wanting to go to Mars, populate Mars, go back to the moon and stuff like that. And so as we’re slowly trying to like become a multiplanetary species. Do you think stuff like this kind of might be the answer to feeding people on different points? Whether that’s Mars, the moon or even the space station where we can use systems like hydroponics.

Tim:

Potentially, I think that we’ve got a lot of work to do here first on earth, and I think that we, we are going to be able to create a lot of learning and knowledge here that may in the future be applied up there. As you know, obviously, we are a ways away from that, but I can tell you that, you know, this, this horticulture in a box, so to speak, or farming in a box is is going to have to be a foundational element for ways to sustain, you know, human populations off the planet. So I’m sure this will be someday long before you and I or, or long after you and I are around, someone will be looked back at at an indoor vertical farming and say, yeah, that, you know, our space farms have their roots in that no pun intended.

Trevor:

Yeah, no, that’s true. That’s funny. Yeah, it’s gonna be very interesting. I mean, of course, with that, with those systems, you’ve got to have water. So you’ve obviously got to have some sort of production for water. So that’d be pretty hard to do in space stations are on Mars, or the moon or anywhere. So that’d be very interesting. So what’s the future looking like for you guys? I mean, I know you’ve got multiple projects going on, you’ve got another farm you guys are putting up in Virginia? Um, are you are you guys wanting to kind of spread throughout the country without also kind of losing the focus of playing the long term goal? So what’s the future gonna look like? Yeah,

Tim:

I think for for aerofarms, we’re going to continue to kind of expand our footprint. But most importantly, Trevor, I think that aerofarms is going to continue to build equity in the aerofarms, brand around, nutritionally packed, well, grown, healthy, great tasting food, whether that’s you eat an aerofarms, micro green, you eaten aerofarms, romaine salad mix, you eat an aerofarms, strawberry or an aerofarms blueberry in the future, we want to be associated with not only the indoor vertical farming, but the, the the nutritional quality, and the amazing flavor that comes from these these products, because of the growth system that we’re utilizing. And I think for us, success for us is going to be, you know, the best of both worlds in feeding people with just awesome tasting food, but also minimizing the environmental impact for folks. Hmm,

Trevor:

I like that. Yeah, I can’t wait to see more companies kind of jump into this whole vertical farming thing. So I mean, what’s been the biggest struggle? I mean, I know when you’re starting a company like this kind of, first off, one of the biggest struggles is going to be just steal it from cost, because this technology is really difficult. But I mean, also, I’m sure educating consumers is difficult getting investors. So what’s kind of been the biggest struggles you guys have faced? Yeah,

Tim:

I mean, for for aerofarms. Like any other, you know, early stage scaling company, it’s, it’s been resources, right, we’ve had to, you know, raise capital and use that capital wisely. You know, where we’re growing, we’re working with natural biological systems. So, you know, while we may be in a factory type building, this is not just factory farming. And so it’s not like we set a set a machine up, and it just produces less plants. I mean, there’s tremendous variability in genetics and other environmental inputs that we have there. So we have to really be on top of our game. And we have a tremendous growing staff and science staff that really work on the day to day challenges of, of these growth systems. And so there’s been a lot of horticultural optimization that’s taken place. And we’ve come tremendously far, but we we like all the other indoor vertical farm companies have a lot of room for improvement moving forward.

Trevor

That’s good to hear. So I’ve got a little hydroponic system, and I can never get it working well. And so how hard was it to kind of the biggest thing I struggle with was the nutrients either adding too much or too little and having the pH just right. So I mean, that’s a huge struggle when you’re trying to maintain 1000s and 1000s of plants. So I imagine it’s pretty important to pay attention to those levels, right.

Tim:

Absolutely. Absolutely. We have an amazing system that we’ve partnered with Dell corporation to build a data visualization module that aggregates all of our indoor farming environmental data and nutrition data, temperature, data humidity. And our science team uses that as a centralized visualization tool so that they can monitor all facets and aspects of the growth and measure that against our performance metrics of our crops so that they, on a real time basis can make adjustments to our growing systems to maximize the growth and yield of those products. Hmm.

Trevor:

Yeah, I mean, there’s so much science that goes into it. And I wish I could devote all the time in the world to just studying how, how to do it effectively. But I’ve learned a lot through trial and error. And so I haven’t cranked up one for summer or fall yet. So hopefully, sometime soon, I’m going to start small. And last year, I tried a pepper plant, it did not work out. So I’m gonna try something smaller, like a lettuce or spinach. So hopefully that’ll work or maybe some microgreens. Those are always fun the grow. So how do you feel about the farmer consumer relationship here in 2021? I feel like it’s improved. And this is something I always like to ask people in the ag world, because they always have a different perspective on it. So how do you think the farmer consumer relationship is? Well, I think,

Tim:

I mean, overall, I think that it’s a powerful relationship. I think part of part of our mission and all agricultural professionals mission is to further connect the general public to the food that they eat, we talk about that, whether it’s understanding where their protein their meat comes from, whether they understand where their vegetables and fruit come from, I think the more we can establish an emotional connection, and a consciousness by the consumer to a local farmer, I think the more value that the consumer sees in those products, and thus, they’re willing to pay more of a fair price for the product that is farmed by those farmers. And we can help the industry be much more viable and thrive better by having that consciousness be transacted through a fair price for a product that’s been grown. Because all too often, you know, the large industrial scale, conventional corporate farms, just brace to the bottom with price. And the consumers would, you know, don’t understand that. But the power of a locally grown piece of food is very powerful in the minds of creating value for the consumer and the general public. That and the word organic are two very powerful triggers, emotional triggers for for them, that they tend to be willing to pay more for something that’s locally produced and organic in its certification, because of the connotation that comes with that. So I think that that consciousness in that relationship between farmer and consumer, you know, as, as all of us in the farming community, whether we’re into vertical farmers are filled farmers, we have to continue to foster and build and maintain those relationships with the general public.

Trevor:

I like that, yeah. And I’ve always tended to think that the closer the farmer and the consumer are in terms of their relationship, I feel like the healthier the consumer will be. I mean, if you can find a farmer, and if you can just buy straight from them, you’re probably gonna buy less processed stuff, you’re gonna have a healthier food system, you’re gonna have healthier diet. And I mean, it’s a win win.

Tim:

It sure is for you know, I’ve volunteered over the years on various farmers markets boards, I’m a huge proponent of farmers markets. And I think that the more people can get that direct connection with that grower, but also they can understand that those dollars are going to then circulate much more locally in their economy. And that, that weaves a social and economic fabric that strengthens and strengthens that community. And so I’ve, I’ve always volunteered my time to, to help local farmers markets thrive. Because, you know, if you look at them on a national basis, they struggle a little bit with their authenticity, right, with real farmers, you know, selling the produce that they’ve grown versus, say, a wholesaler, or a middle person coming in and selling something that they just, you know, distributor bought. And so the more we can directly connect those constituents to those consumers with those, those farmers from their local region, it’s a very powerful, powerful model.

Trevor

I like that. Yeah, we we’ve actually got several here in Panama City, and I feel like they’ve gotten super popular especially now, during COVID. I mean, people want to buy more and I’ve heard All in South Florida doing that as well, doing more direct to consumers. And so I think one of the positives of all this COVID stuff is that that’s slowly happening. Like we’re slowly getting more out there. We’re learning more about where our food comes from. We’re taking more risks at farmer’s markets and stuff like that. So yeah, maybe it’s the future. I mean, we’ll see. We’ll see where that goes.

Ep 119: What makes Florida Beef special?

When you think of Florida, you probably think of beaches and Disney World. And honestly, you wouldn’t be wrong. But, believe it or not, Florida is actually huge in the beef industry. In fact, the largest beef cattle ranch is located here in the sunshine state! Today, to learn more about beef and its role in Florida, I chat with Gene Lollis from Florida Cattle Ranchers. Gene and I chat about the history of Florida beef and major breeds throughout the state, why land conservation and sustainability is so important in ranching (and how ranchers have been at the forefront of conservation for decades), and how the rise in direct to consumer beef products is improving the relationship between producers and consumers.

Check them out at the links below:

Florida Cattle Ranchers Website

Florida Cattle Ranchers on Instagram

Florida Cattle Ranchers on Facebook

Listen to the episode on the apps below:

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Show Notes

  • Gene Lollis (Law-less)
  • Florida Cattle Ranchers – Sharing the story of Florida Beef 
  • History of Beef in Florida
  • Desert Ranch – One of the largest beef cattle ranchers in the United States
  • How COVID impacted beef processing
  • How does beef play into sustainability?
  • Land conservation in Florida.
  • Misinformation in beef and it’s impact on the environment
  • The biggest struggles wit beef ranching

Be sure to follow us on social media!

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https://www.youtube.com/farmtraveler

Subscribe here:

https://podkite.link/FarmTraveler

Call to Action

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Ep 118: Launch of Farm Traveler Market Bundle!

Our goal with these boxes is simple:

Connecting the average consumer with high-quality, small farm products. We hope these boxes build both relationships and repeat customers to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers.

These boxes are literally connecting consumers with farmers across the country. Our first box is all about honey and features some delicious honey from: Register Family Bee Farm, Williams Honey Farm, and Rebels Roost.

If you are interested in these boxes, email us at farmtravelerseries@gmail.com or below! Once the first 10 boxes are gone, there gone, so hurry!

Listen to the episode on the apps below:

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Show Notes

  • Launch of Farm Traveler Market Bundle – Our take on Subscription Boxes – minus the monthly subscription.
  • First box – Honey Edition

Call to Action

Want to stay up to date on the show, consider following our newsletter.  As a thank you for signing up, you’ll receive a FREE guide on 5 simple steps you can do to support farmers.  Sign Up HERE!

A Thank You Letter to Jeremy Clarkson

If you haven’t already watched Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Prime, do so now.

One Christmas morning, about 15 years ago, I got my first iPod touch. It was by far the coolest piece of tech I’d ever owned up to that point. With a mean 16GB of memory, I could download hours and hours worth of movies, TV shows, games, and oh yeah, probably 4000+ songs. The first thing I did however, was open up the iTunes store and buy a few episodes of my favorite show, Top Gear.

One of the episodes I bought was when the trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May bought 3 inexpensive cars and turned them into police pursuit vehicles. Jeremy’s car had iron spikes welded to the rims while Richards had a tire spike strip mounted to the front. As usual, the episode was filled with hilarious calamity and complaining at how slow James May was driving.

Top Gear was a large part of my childhood. Here in the U.S., the show only aired on BBC America. So when it was on, you can bet I was glued to the TV. My friend Max and I would always send clips to each other of some of the exotic sports cars they’d have on the show or even the famous episode where they shot cars from a car cannon…seriously, that was a thing. My dad would even get some laughs out of the show as the trio would race around the country side while towing campers. Probably the coolest parts of the show were the grand adventures across countless countries. Driving across Africa, or though the Alps, or even here in the U.S., Jeremy, Richard, James, and their film crews always did an amazing job documenting the beautiful landscape of every country they visited.

Fast-forward a few years and now the trio is on the Grand Tour on Amazon. The same crazy adventures and multi-million dollar super cars can be found, just this time on a more convenient platform.

A little over a year ago, something cool broke out on my news feed, “Jeremy Clarkson Starts Filming Farming Show for Amazon Prime.” Just the thought of Clarkson working on a farm sparked my interested. While Jeremy is sometimes a bit brash and crazy, his entertaining skills are second to none. If anyone could do a farming show, it would be him. After the announcement, we didn’t really hear a whole lot about the show for quite some time. Almost a year after news broke, a trailer dropped. And boy did it look pretty darn cool. The trailer was followed by waiting and more waiting.

Until finally the series was released. And let me tell you…it did not disappoint.

Clarkson’s Farm is one of, if not THE, greatest series I have ever watched. Full stop.

I’ve been around farming and agriculture for a large portion of my life. It’s an industry that doesn’t get a whole lot of respect. We treat celebrity chefs with the utmost respect, but have no clue who our closest farmer is. Most people don’t know how much hard work goes into farming.

But now, thanks to Jeremy Clarkson, they do.

During the course of the series, we see Jeremy learn how to plow, how to care for sheep, how to harvest a crop, and even how to open his very own farm shop. His honesty throughout the series is both hilarious and inspiring. He starts out by not knowing how to plow a field and by the end he’s a natural. And of course, Jeremy’s typical over-the-top self shows up as he buys a monstrous Lamborghini tractor.

Jeremy doesn’t sugar coat anything during the series. He showcases the struggles of farming. Struggles like months on end of rain that all but ruins a crop, or the loss of sheep, or even the struggles of farming during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I know this might sound cheesy, but while I watched this show I was so close to tearing up at a few scenes. As the music swells during several scenes while Clarkson and the gang are harvesting, I was so thrilled that farming is FINALLY getting the attention it deserves. It is FINALLY getting a series professionally and artistically curated to show what REAL life is like on a farm. It’s hard. It’s a 24/7 job. It’s back breaking. It’s essential.

But it’s also beautiful. It’s rewarding. And it’s worth every bit of heartache. Now Clarkson is most likely a millionaire several times over. So it’s not like he needed this operation to be a success. He had the resources needed to invest in equipment, personnel, etc. So while it was extremely difficult for him, imagine how difficult it might be for someone without his financial background. Someone whose livelihood is almost completely dependent on how well mother nature might cooperate that year. This is the real struggle of hundreds of thousands of farmers across the world.

So, to Jeremy Clarkson and everyone involved in the production of Clarkson’s Farm, I want to say this:

Thank You. Thank you for showing millions of people what life is a farmer is like. Thank you for being honest and entertaining in your approach to this often overlooked industry. The artistry and production of this series was astounding and unlike anything I have ever seen. I’ve heard farmers, ranchers, and people outside of agriculture say nothing but positive things about this show. Clarkson undertook an enormous challenge for his first year of farming. While many obstacles where thrown in his way, and even if he only profited $144, he succeed. Jeremy succeeded in telling his story and sharing how difficult and yet how rewarding farming is. And to Jeremy, thank you for your sincerity during your first farming season. We could tell you felt overwhelmed, but you didn’t give up and you hammered right through some of the biggest challenges anyone could imagine on a farm. Also, it was great to see the MFB again.

Thank you for this series. It’s everything I hoped it would be and so much more.

It’s clear how successful this show has been since it’s release. It’s been one of Amazon’s biggest original shows, ever! After only about four weeks out, it already has an order for a second season. So even more is in store to see Jeremy and the gang take on farming for a second year.

If you haven’t already seen the series, go and watch it. You will not regret it. It hits all the right notes. You’ll laugh (a lot), you’ll learn a thing or two about farming, and you might even tear up a bit.

In the meantime, I guess it’s back to reruns of The Office.

– T

Ep 117:Ag Aviation Adventures – Tyson and Cally

This is a re-air of my interview with Tyson and Cally.

Tyson and Cally are the two adventurous people behind Ag Aviation Adventures.  Through social media outlets like YouTube and Instagram, Tyson and Cally document the behind the scenes workings of crop dusting, their daily schedule, and also educate consumers on how spraying effects crops.  Their videos are super informative and take viewers inside the cockpit with Tyson as he talks about various agriculture topics during his spraying route.  This is a great conversation with Tyson and Cally and I highly suggest you check out their YouTube and other content.

YouTube

Instagram

Adventure Rig on YouTube

Adventure Rig on Instagram

Listen to the episode on the apps below:

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Show Notes

  • Start of Ag Aviation Adventures
  • Daily life and schedule of crop dusting
  • Offseason life
  • Fighting misinformation
  • How much pesticides is used on crops
  • Spraying GMO and organic crops
  • How Cally runs the ground operation
  • What makes crop duster planes so special
  • Fish guts for organic crops?

Call to Action

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Ep 116: Water Quality Month

Listen to Cacee and I’s first interview here!

This month is National Water Quality Month with Farm Bureau. The program is designed to showcase the important steps farmers and ranchers are taking at both saving water and improving water quality. Here in Florida, Cacee Hilliard with Florida Farm Bureau’s This Farm CARES program will be highlighting farmers throughout the state that are doing their part in environmental conservation. In today’s interview, Cacee tells us about some Florida farmers using new and old technologies and how the goal for this program is to educate consumers and other farmers on current practices.

Listen to the episode on the apps below:

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Show Notes

  • Cacee Hilliard with Florida Farm Bureau
  • This Farm CARES Program
  • National Water Quality Month
  • How do farmers save water in Florida? A state with very sandy soil that doesn’t allow for a lot of water retention.
  • Farmers and ranchers are part of the solution with good water quality
  • Latest innovations and technologies
  • Tree T-Pee from Shark Tank
  • Water Wars

Call to Action

Want to stay up to date on the show, consider following our newsletter.  As a thank you for signing up, you’ll receive a FREE guide on 5 simple steps you can do to support farmers.  Sign Up HERE!

Ep 115: Farming without the bank?

Mary Jo Irmen is the woman behind Farming Without the Bank. In our interview today, Mary Jo and I chat about how she developed this strategy, why farmers have to buy the farm generation after generation, and how financing don’t have to be super complicated!

Listen to the episode on the apps below:

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Show Notes

  • Mary’s background
  • How do farmers make the bank plan B
  • How do farmers leave a legacy so we are not buying it with each generational change
  • Why farmers need to think of themselves as a banker and they need to be bank owners
  • The “Infinite Banking” concept 
  • Why it’s not bad for farmers of any size to be told no from the bank
  • Why farmers having control of their money is a HUGE factor in when to sell or hold
  • Mary’s Podcast: Farming without the Bank

Call to Action

Want to stay up to date on the show, consider following our newsletter.  As a thank you for signing up, you’ll receive a FREE guide on 5 simple steps you can do to support farmers.  Sign Up HERE!

Ep 114: Can Gene Editing make food healthier?

My guest today is Dr. Haven Baker from Pairwise. Pairwise is a growing food tech company working to create a healthier world through better fruits and vegetables. Uniquely, they are working to address barriers to consumption – think things like flavor, texture, and shelf life – to that will make healthier eating easier and more accessible. Today, only 10% of Americans eat the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables, according to the CDC.

In our interview, Dr. Baker and I chat about how Pairwise is using gene editing to create healthier and tastier foods, the “snackification” of fruits and vegetables, and the advantages of gene editing over plant breeding.

Listen to the episode on the apps below:

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Show Notes

  • Dr. Baker’s Background
  • Background of Pairwise
  • Creating leafy greens, berries, and cherries
  • Working with Bayer
  • Working genetics
  • Gene editing and GMOs?
  • Advantages of gene editing vs plant breeding
  • Plant DNA
  • CRISPR technology
  • How this can improve diets.
  • The convivence of food.
  • “Snackification” of fruits and veggies.
  • Why we don’t see commercials for commodity crops.
  • Pairwise closed a $90M Series B funding round earlier this year, and now has more than 100 employees (in only three years.)
  • Addressing barriers to consumption – think things like flavor, texture, and shelf life – to that will make healthier eating easier and more accessible.

Quotes

  • “Today, only 10% of Americans eat the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables, according to the CDC.”

Call to Action

Want to stay up to date on the show, consider following our newsletter.  As a thank you for signing up, you’ll receive a FREE guide on 5 simple steps you can do to support farmers.  Sign Up HERE!

Ep 113: What are Microgreens?

Microgreens are always super fascinating to me. Little, yet delicious greens that can be added to almost any dish. My good friend (and past guest on the show) Paul Hoff, introduced me to our guests today because he absolutely LOVES their microgreens! Daniel and Jordan Miranda are the minds behind Legacy Greens. Based out of Tallahassee, Daniel and Jordan grow several varieties of microgreens for customers all around North Florida. In our interview today, we chat about their backgrounds with sales and hemp, how they are able to grow year round in a very controlled environment, and much more!

And even enjoy a fun guest intro from my ol pal, Ben!

Check them out at the links below!

Legacy Greens Website

Legacy Greens Instagram

Listen to the episode on the apps below:

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Show Notes

  • Daniel and Jordan’s backgrounds
  • What are microgreens
  • Differences between microgreens, shoots, wheatgrass
  • Meeting demands of customers
  • Covid’s effect on business
  • Products: Broccoli, Kale, Purple Radish, etc.
  • Can almost any plant have a microgreen?
  • Creating Grow Kits for customers
  • Working at farmers markets

Call to Action

Want to stay up to date on the show, consider following our newsletter.  As a thank you for signing up, you’ll receive a FREE guide on 5 simple steps you can do to support farmers.  Sign Up HERE!