Thought of the Week

When our soils are gone, we must go unless we find some way to feed on raw rock.

-Thomas Chamberlain


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Heliculture – NOT the growing of helicopters

Heliculture is not exactly on everyone’s mind, nor is the product of this field, escargot snails, on everyone’s plate.  This French delicacy is served at fine restaurants the world over.  The new company, EscarGrow Farms of Eureka, California, is helping to supply high-quality snails and snail caviar for those of us brave enough to indulge.

Owner and snail farmer Charity Anais West worked in France, in the wine industry for a time, and became enamored of both French wine and French snails.  The escargot she had back in the USA was a far cry from the fresh snails served in France.  So, after much research and preparation, she decided to start her own snail farm.


Happy snails at EscarGrow Farm. Photo source

Charity works with the Petit Gris or “little gray” snails.  You might also find these snails in your garden munching on your plants!  Her first snails actually came from her mother’s garden; her snails now are foraged from all over the city.  She raises them in a hoop house.

The snails take about a year to reach market size, and Anais West raises several thousand snails at a time.  She is experimenting with different feed for the snails.  So far, they have enjoyed fresh organic greens and fruit, especially cucumbers, as well as organic cornmeal, wheat bran and crushed oyster shells to help strengthen their own shells.

Snails are sold by the pound, and only in California, due to invasive species restrictions on shipping out of state.  Snail eggs, or caviar, is also gaining in popularity in high-end California restaurants.  Anais West and her snails get rave reviews from area chefs about the excellent flavor of her snails and caviar.


Snail caviar at EscarGrow Farm. Photo source

Business is slow, but keeping snails is space-efficient and it’s a rewarding pursuit!

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Thought of the Week

As the world’s population grows, it also continues to shift more toward urbanization and farther away from the farm.
People in cities tend to think they know more about how food is grown
than people in rural areas, and if they ask for policy changes based on what they think they know, it can have a big impact on agriculture.

Jack Bobo, Senior Vice President, Intrexon

Posted in Ag Production, Education, Farmland Preservation, Feeding the World, For Kids, GMOs, No-till agriculture, Technology, Thought of the Week | Leave a comment

Chinese Lanterns!


Early on the morning of July 5th, I found this right on the edge of our very dry wheat field – a God-Bless-America Chinese lantern!

It is by the grace of God that it didn’t burn the entire field.  There was black ash on the metal framework inside the lantern, evidence of its live flame.

Chinese lanterns are beautiful to see – but oh, please be careful of your surroundings when you send one off into the air!

It should also be noted that they really are the worst kind of littering as well.  :(

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Cereal Tidbits

In Rome, in 496 BC there was a drought.  The priests thought if they started worshiping the Greek goddess, Demeter, she might help.  They changed her name to Ceres from the Latin “crescere,” meaning “to grow” which is also the root of “create” and “increase.”  She became the protector of crops, and the caretakers of her temple became the grain dealers.  A new Latin word was coined meaning “of Ceres” – cerealis, which became the word cereal.  Come along as we eat cereal!


Ceres, the Goddess of Agriculture. Photo source


** Over 70% of the world’s croplands are planted in cereal grains.  Those grains provide 53% of humanity’s caloric intake.  Wheat occupies 22% of croplands world wide, and provides 20% of calories consumed worldwide.


Photo source

** It’s been estimated that more than 60% of the population of the world relies on a total of four crops, three of which are grains.  Those four crops are:  rice, corn, soy and wheat.

** Oatmeal is richer in proteins than whole wheat.  Samuel Johnson remarked in the dictionary he wrote that oats are “a grain which is generally given to horses but in Scotland supports the people.”  A Scotsman replied, “That is why in England you have such fine horses and in Scotland we have such fine men.”

** John Kellogg ran a health resort in Battle Creek, Michigan in the late 1800s.  He advocated a healthy diet, and invented a flaky breakfast cereal made from smashing boiled wheat and corn into thin flat sheets and baking them.  He had trouble perfecting the formula until one day when he was called away while the wheat was cooking.  When he returned, the wheat was far overcooked, but money was tight and wheat was expensive, so he ran the overcooked wheat through the rollers anyway.  The thin crispy flake that resulted was the perfect formula.

** At first he called this cereal Granula, which he later changed to Granola before finally changing the name to Corn Flakes.  The cereal was a novel invention and reputedly very healthy, but it didn’t taste very good.


The first Kellogg’s package. Photo source

** John Kellogg had a younger brother named Will.  Will Kellogg was more interested in making a profit than his brother was.  When John left on an extended trip, Will did something that John had forbidden – he added a coating of sugar to the cereal.   People liked John’s unsweetened cereal a little, and they loved Will’s sugary cereal.  When John returned, he was furious.  Will ended up starting his own company which he called Kellogg’s.  Will Kellogg’s cereal eventually put John Kellogg’s cereal out of business.  The brothers were rivals until their deaths.

** A patient of John Kellogg named Charles W. Post started his own dry cereal company called Post Cereals, selling a rival brand of corn flakes.  John Kellogg claimed that Charles Post stole the formula for corn flakes from the safe in his office.

** Charles Post came out with a cereal he called “Elijah’s Manna.”  He tried to export it to Britain but they refused to register it, saying that giving such a religious name to a food was sacrilegious.  Post changed the name to Post Toasties.

** In 1949 Post Cereal introduced a sugary line of cereals:  Sugar Crisps, Krinkles and Corn-Fetti, and the kids went wild.  General Mills followed suit with cereals:  Trix, Sugar Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Puffs.

** In 1975,  a dentist who was alarmed at the steep increase in the number of cavities he was seeing in children went to the supermarket and bought 78 different kinds of cereal.  He took them to his lab and measured their sugar content.  1/3 had sugar levels between 10 and 25%.  1/3 contained between 26% and 50% sugar, and the rest of them had sugar levels even higher than 50%.  The highest was Super Orange Crisps which was almost 71% sugar!  Not surprisingly, those cereal with the highest sugar content were brands most heavily marketed to children during Saturday morning cartoons.

By 1977 a coalition of 12,000 health professionals asked the Federal Trade Commission to ban the advertising of sugary foods on children’s TV shows.  The petition was accompanied by a collection of 200 decayed teeth collected and donated by pediatric dentists.  In 1979, the typical American child watched more than 20,000 commercials between the ages of 2 and 11, and more than half of those commercials were for cereals, candy, snacks and soft drinks.


Today’s cereal aisle. Photo source

As a result, Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes was remained Frosted Flakes; Post changed Super Sugar Crisp into Super Golden Crisp;and Sugar Smacks became Honey Smacks.  Although the names changed, the sugar content did not, and nothing changed about the fact that cereals were pitched to children on weekend daytime TV.  The cereal industry uses 816 million pounds of sugar per year.

Grape Nuts is one of the few cereals with no added sugar.  It has nothing to do with grapes or nuts, being made out of baked wheat and malted barley.

Be sure to eat your Wheaties!

Posted in Ag Production, Corn, Education, Farm Products, For Kids, Oats, Sugar, Technology, Wheat, Work | Tagged | Leave a comment

Thought of the Week

The way we treat our soils will shape humanity’s options
in the next century and beyond.


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Thought of the Week

“I guess I make a lot of work look like not much.”

-Rick Waitley, President, Association Management Group


Rick Waitley – A Great Leader and Advocate for Idaho Agriculture. Photo source

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Replacing Everyone But the Cow!

I’m talking about robots! Robots and computers are replacing humans in industries across the board, from self-ordering kiosks at McDonalds to autopilot in airplanes to agbots helping out in the dairy industry!

Yep, we now have agbots! A shortage in farm labor is driving a move to robotic dairy milking systems.  These new systems bring huge benefits to both the dairy cows and dairy farmers.

Most dairy operations milk cows twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening, and multiple farmhands are needed to move the cattle, attach milking machines, clean udders and more.  With a robotic system, cows can milk themselves on demand, 24-hours a day! When a cow is ready to be milked, she walks herself into a chute with a scale. Each cow has a collar that is scanned to identify the cow, to keep track of her daily activity, and to monitor her eating habits.


A dairy cow all hooked up in a robotic milking chute. Photo source

After a cow’s collar has been scanned, a bucket with pre-measured sweet cow treats pops out for her to enjoy while she is being milked. In the stanchion, a robotic arm cleans each teat with a mini scrub brush, lasers read where the teats are located, and another robotic arm hooks up the teat suction cups to begin milking. While the cow is being milked, data is being collected and sent to a computer: how much milk each teat is producing, the temperature of the teats, weight of the cow, time since her last milking, and whether  she shows any signs of illness. The sensors used to position the milker also wash and disinfect the cow’s udder and itself. Each robot can milk about 60 cows every 24 hours!


A cow being scanned for milking placement. Photo source

And, in case you were wondering about those sneaky cows who try to “milk” the system for extra tasty treats, the robots also reject cows with less than a certain number of hours between milking!

While robotic milking systems are a huge investment up front, they have been proven to lead to production increases from happier cows – up to 5 or 6 extra pounds of milk per day per cow!


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Thought of the Week

If every farmer in the United States were to adopt no-till practices and plant cover crops, American agriculture could squirrel away as much as 300 million tons of carbon in the soil each year, turning farms into net carbon sinks, rather than sources of greenhouse gases.


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Cattle! Beef!

Thought you would like to learn some new exciting information about cattle, to lock away in your brain, so you can impress your friends.


In 1955, the population of the United States was 165 million people.  
The cattle herd then was 90 million.
In 2015 the population of the United States was 308 million people.  
The cattle herd then was 90 million.


This, from the 2012 USDA Ag. Census.

Compared with 1977, we’re producing 31% more beef with:
30% fewer cattle
19% less feed
12% less water
33% less land
12% less nitrous oxide
18% less methane
18% less manure, with a 16% smaller carbon footprint

The U.S. produces 20% of the world’s beef
with 7% of its cattle

As the population increases by 2.5 billion in the next 35 years, beef consumption is expected to double

The hide of one cow can make 12 baseball gloves and
144 standard league baseballs

Hides aren’t the only way cattle are involved in sports.  
Strings on tennis, racquetball and badminton racquets are cattle byproducts.  
So is the rubber head of a shuttlecock (birdie)

Leather coats, shoes, purses, hats, briefcases and luggage are all made from cowhide

Cattle are cultured.
Not only are their byproducts used to make paints, dyes, inks and brushes, but also drum heads, piano keys, and the strings on guitars, cellos and violins

Chalk, crayons, rubber erasers and modeling clay, adhesives,
glue for stamps and bandages are cattle byproducts

And let’s not forget about birthdays!
Cake mixes, candy, confectionery, flavorings and candles are all cattle byproducts

And then there are cosmetics:  anti-aging cream keeps us looking young

Cattle aren’t just for humans:
Our pets eat beef, too, and it doesn’t taste like chicken!

Cattle byproducts are used as fertilizers and plant foods in our gardens

As you can see, all parts of the animal are used in one way or another, for our daily use.  Now, that’s something to think about.


Posted in Ag Production, Beef, Education, Farmers, Farmland Preservation, Feeding the World, For Kids, Livestock Production, Ranchers | Leave a comment