Saturday, December 31, 2022

Slo-Mo Soil

 Originally Written May 15, 2020, during a time of ample water.  Rewritten December 31, 2022, for our drought situation. 

Slo-Mo Soil


One of the world’s greatest resources moves at its own pace.

When I worked in Wisner, I would drive a half hour one way down the same highway.  During that time, Nebraska raised the speed limit on many of the highways, theoretically lowering the amount of time needed to spend on the road on your way to your destination, but also increasing the chances of something not-to-pleasant happening.  It seems that as time passes, so does everyone’s insistence upon going faster.  As the character Brooks found in the movie The Shawshank Redemption when he was released from prison, the world has progressively got itself into a hurry. 

We also don’t want to wait.  Fast food, instant drinks, guaranteed delivery times, drive-up services, overnight orders, no appointments needed.  We call the postal service “snail mail” because it isn’t electronic, and who writes a letter by hand anymore?  Speed and online dating have been available for years.  Technology does everything now—there’s even an app available for crop scouting.  Too bad it can’t actually walk out there and tell you what’s wrong with your crop. 

Some of the best things aren’t created overnight, though.  There’s nothing like a well thought out, hand-written card sent by mail, addressed to only you, your name written in ink on the envelope.  And although you might meet someone online or via a quick date, can you really get to know them in one date?  It takes time to know someone.  A good wine must age.  So must a good personality. 


Soil knows this, too.  It takes a LOT of time to create soil in the first place.  Soil comes from a “parent material”, which is ancient windblown, rain-washed, weather-worn, and time-stamped minerals and materials.  We’re talking eons here.  It takes so long, we consider soil one of our limited resources: because we can’t recreate it in our lifetime. Or several lifetimes.


Organic matter content in soil is related to many positive qualities—including aggregation, water infiltration, water holding capacity, soil structure, biological processes, long term nutrient content and capacity, and yield response.  Organic matter is a mix of decomposing manure and plant material, earthworm casts, microbes, invertebrates, and humus.  It takes time to build.  Years, in fact.  You can’t just dump some manure on a field, wait a year, and expect organic matter to jump up significantly.  Soil takes time.  It’s not in a hurry.  You can’t honk a horn at it, flip it off, pass it in the passing lane, or tail it bumper-to-bumper.  It will still take its own time. 

That manure you applied and that old plant matter and those dead critters (microbes, invertebrates, insects, arthropods) in the soil will eventually break down and change into that lovely organic matter to help you out.  It takes chemical and physical reactions that we can’t rush—and we can’t duplicate, either.  We have to feed the system, and create the right circumstances to allow the processes to happen.  But it will happen. 


There is a difference between surface and ground water.  Since groundwater is held in the ground, and soil is the ground, recharging or a change in groundwater takes a long time to show up as well.  Recharging the groundwater from the drought of 2012 was just regaining strength in 2020; groundwater levels were rising until our current drought situation, which depleted it considerably.  And the crazy weather we had in 2019?  That was mostly surface water changing through flooding.  In years we have extra surface water: give it time, and extra water hanging about in the surface trickles down into the groundwater, too, and we’ll have more of it in stores—if it doesn’t all run away first.  But it will be accounted for.  Soil just takes time. 

Soil isn’t one big block of solid mass—there are very small “holes” in it, too, and that’s where the air and water are held.  Gradually, the water on the surface travels down to the storage area—the groundwater.  Little by little, if it isn’t used right away for another part of the water cycle, water drops from one “hole” to the next via gravity and osmosis until it is collected into the aquifer.  Then it can be stored until needed later.  That’s a good thing, right?  It just takes time.  Which soil knows it has.  There’s always time for soil.  We as humans just don’t think we have any. 


Perhaps we need to take a page out of soil’s instruction book and learn to wait a bit.  What’s another couple of minutes, of hours, of weeks, of years? 

After all, the best things come to those who wait.  Or so I’ve been told. 


Thanks for reading,

Julie S. Paschold

May 15, 2020

Rewritten December 31, 2022

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Water and the Hydrologic Cycle




When you see a picture of the earth, you see that a majority of it is blue.  Three-quarters of the surface of the earth, in fact, is covered in water.  That’s 118,500,000 square miles covered with the stuff. 


If there is so much of it on earth, why has the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency been freaking out for decades about water?  The government developed the Clean Water Act, and allowed states to establish and enforce regulations enforcing the quality of water.  Neighboring states argue about water rights, and who has the right to what amounts at what times.  Why all the fuss?


Well (ha!), of the estimated 327 million cubic miles of water, 97.22% of it is in the oceans—which means it is salt water, and not usable as is for growth; and 2.15% is fresh but frozen in glaciers and icebergs.  That leaves only 0.03% left to circulate through what we call the “hydrologic cycle” and on which every growing thing depends.  This fresh water cycles through snow and rain, rivers, lakes, ponds, underground, in the soil, and evaporated as water vapor in the air. 


Although we have 981,000 cubic miles of water in the whole hydrologic cycle at any one time on the entire earth, the water in the air as vapor or awaiting precipitation (say, 25% of the hydrologic cycle) isn’t immediately available for living things to utilize.  That leaves us water in rivers, lakes and ponds (surface water), and water in the soil and under the ground (groundwater). 


So, with the surface and groundwater, we have 735,750 cubic miles of fresh water for every single living thing here on the whole earth to utilize.  How much of this water that is available to us can we see?  For every lake or mile of river on the surface of the earth, there is a volume of water 25 times that underground.  This groundwater is stored in aquifers, or reservoirs of rocks containing pores and holes that the water flows through. 


Okay, so I’ve thrown a whole mess of numbers at you.  What’s the bottom line?  Of all the blue that you see on a photo of planet earth, a small drop of that is available for us to share with the plants and the birds and the bears and the bees.  That means we have to take care of what we have.  If chemicals or contaminants leak into one part of the hydrologic cycle, it can infiltrate the whole thing.  And although the earth does tend to heal itself, there is only so much it can do.  Certain chemical compounds don’t disappear.  We have to be responsible caretakers of this planet. 


So be kind—not only to each other, but to Mother Nature as well.  If you take care of her, she will keep on taking care of you. 



Julie S. Paschold

March 30, 2020


Reference: Soils in Our Environment: Seventh Edition by Raymond W. Miller & Roy L. Donahue. 1995. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ. 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Soil Organisms

Soil Organisms

I spent a full busy day digging in my soil after a long awaited rain, and I thought it was good to revisit what was in the brown stuff that was all over my hands, and supporting my new bushes and fall bulbs as they await the upcoming winter.

What critters are in soil, and what do they do?

Soil may seem like just something to hold up houses or a place for our plants to grow, but there’s a whole world of living critters down there working hard in their individual niches—each critter has an important job that contributes to the health of the soil.  But what are these critters, and what do they do?

1. Animals

a. Burrowing Animals:     These are larger animals, like rodents, moles, badgers, rabbits, armadillos, and such.  They dig into the soil, so can aerate the soil.  But because of their large size, and because some of them also destroy vegetation, they can be more detrimental than helpful at times.    

b. Earthworms: These worms feed on plant residues, and their secretions create aggregates that aerate the soil and increase water filtration and root penetration.  

c. Arthropods & Gastropods: Arthropods are mites, millipedes, centepedes, and insects, including larvae.  Gastropods are snails and slugs.  These critters feed on plant residue and decaying vegetation, breaking it down.  They can also burrow into the soil, aerating it.  Some of these critters can be pests, feeding on living plants.  

d. Nematodes: Nematodes are tiny worms that come in several species, and eat a variety of diets.  Some nematodes eat decaying vegetation, helping to create organic matter.  Some prey on bacteria, fungi, and algae, controlling populations.  And some nematodes are parasites to plant roots.  

2. Plants

a. Plant Root Systems: Every plant has a root system that grows into soil, doing more than anchoring the plant from being blown over or washed away.  Root systems have root hairs and mucous that create ecosystems for microorganisms.  Roots also utilize and circulate water and nutrients in the soil.   

b. Algae: Algae are microorganisms that carry on photosynthesis.  These guys are in the soil in moist areas, and produce organic material.  

3. Fungi

a. Fungi: Fungi are organisms that do not create their own food, but live on dead or living plant and animal tissue.  These include mushrooms, molds, yeasts, and rusts.  They are integral in decomposing organic matter, and the soil contains an abundance of the critters growing within it.  Some fungi can be predators on living cells, creating diseases.     

b. Mycorrhizae: Mycorrhizae is an association between fungi and plant roots.  This is a symbiotic relationship that is integral in assisting with nutrient utilization.  

4. Protista

a. Protista are one celled organisms such as protozoa and slime molds.  They feed on bacteria, keeping the populations in check.  

5. Monera

a. Bacteria: Bacteria are single celled organisms that are the most abundant critters in the soil.  They have many functions, including creating organic matter by breaking down dead tissue, nutrient cycling, and fixing nutrients.  These are very important critters that we would not be able to exist without.  Some, however, can cause diseases to plants and animals.  

b. Actimomycetes: Actinomycetes are a series of branched cells that function similar to bacteria, but work together instead of being on their own as single cells.  They also break down dead tissue, recycle nutrients, and create organic matter.  

6. Viruses

a. Viruses technically aren’t living in the full sense of the word because they are not complete cells, and cannot replicate on their own.  This is why they need to invade other cells to use their replication systems.  Most viruses cause diseases and they can help control population sizes, but they do not usually survive long in the soil.  

So the next time you step out on to that blackish brown stuff holding up your plants, think of all the living things under your feet—and say a little thank you for all of their work.  

Thanks for reading.

Julie S. Paschold

Written July 20, 2020

Reference: Soils in Our Environment, Seventh Edition, by Raymond W Miller & Roy L Donahue, 1995.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Fake Meat: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?


A repost from April 2020.  In today's age, when we are finding so many ways to argue and find sides, this article seems applicable. 

People can be picky and tricky.

In this self-conscious age, there are just as many opinions on how to eat healthy as there are personalities.  The list of diets people have clung to include low fat, low sodium, Mediterranean, vegetarian, vegan, no red meat, low starch, Paleo, Adkins, juice, intermittent fasting, ketogenic, and DASH.  Take your pick, and you’ll find someone who stands by it, and someone who can’t stand it. 

In the past few decades, vegetarianism and vegan lifestyles have become more popular, whether they believe it lowers cholesterol, extends people’s lifespans, saves animals, or saves the earth.  Vegetarianism eliminates meat from the diet (and vegans eliminate all animal products), and when you take something away—you have to put something in its place.  Humans need certain amino acids and vitamins that are readily found in meat—so creative ingredient management allows for many of these items to be replaced by products from plants high in protein.

Enter the veggie burger.  I remember my first taste of one of these in the 1990’s—a pressed, lumpy, chewy disk reheated from a freezer box that had little more flavor than the cardboard it was packaged in.  Modern “faux meat” or “plant-based protein” is supposed to look, taste, and act so much like the real thing that manufacturers claim they fool even the most devoted red meat eaters with their products. 

So even vegans can have a juicy burger, right? 

Not so quick.  Who are faux meat burger companies really targeting with their commercials?  When you have a cowboy who is used to eating red meat biting into a juicy burger, and then tell them you tricked them into eating processed plants, are you targeting the cowboy, or are you targeting the vegetarian?  I know some vegans who gag with the thought of biting into meat—much less watching a commercial of a juicy burger. 

But then there are the vegetarians who are trying to eat healthy.  Just because you see the word “plant-based” doesn’t mean it is healthier.  If they look at the ingredient list of one of these new veggie burgers, they are going to see some funny looking names, and a higher sodium content than regular beef.  And those people on Paleo diets and trying to eat less processed foods?  Don’t look at these faux meat puppies—imagine what has to be done to peas, rice, mung beans, potatoes, apples, etc., to make it look like beef. 

The beef folks have grabbed onto this concept to sell their product—and shoot down veggie burgers.  Their ads make fun of the ingredient list of the patty, and that it has to be highly processed to imitate what they naturally produce with one ingredient. 

So now, through advertising, we have people fighting each other—veggie or beef burger? 


Similarly, there is a fight between dairy milk producers concerned with almond and soy “milk” manufacturers taking over their market.  The alternate products are good for those with lactose difficulties—but dairy farmers don’t like that they use the word “milk” because they don’t come from animals.  They do have a point—I know someone who thought almond milk was just cow milk flavored with almonds, not a dairy free product that didn’t benefit the dairy producers.  This seems to me another advertising fight: are you on the side of soy/almond or cow milk?

You know who wrote about this years ago?  Dr. Seuss.  Remember the Sneetches?  Butter side up or down?  They launched a war over something as silly as food preference. 

Rings a bell, doesn’t it? 

Pretty soon, we’ll have the beef producers launching steaks at the pea and mung bean producers, and the almond producers shooting the dairy cattle with nuts.  THAT sounds nuts to me. 

As a consumer, it is your job to be informed.  Do your homework—know what you are buying, know what is good for you.  Don’t rely on advertising to tell you what you should be eating or doing.  And perhaps advertisers should be focusing more on the positive aspects, rather than picking fights with what they feel are their competitors. 

As far as what we should be eating:  who do you know that only eats one kind of food?  “Chicken only, thanks”.  “Lettuce every day”.  “But we had shrimp last night, Mom!”  Boy, that would be boring.  So unless you have Crohn’s or lactose intolerance or a proven reason to avoid eating what you are avoiding—I’ve found that variety really is the spice of life, and if you eat with moderation, and eat with mindfulness—chances are, you’ll do well.  And respect what’s on your neighbor’s plate, please. 

Can’t we all just get along? 

Hey—if we start agreeing to find a middle ground for our respective diets, maybe we can talk the politicians into reading some Dr. Seuss—and bring the Sneetches’ lesson to Washington, D.C.! 

Thanks for reading,

Julie S. Paschold

April 17, 2020

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Does Your Soil Have a Hangover?


Does your soil have a hangover?

An exploration into soil health

The result of being a two-time graduate of the agronomy program of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, spending many hours as an undergraduate at the soil fertility research program working with Dr. Dan Walters, and slaving away at my graduate work with the USDA-ARS Soil and Water Conservation Research Unit associated with the agronomy department at UNL is that I have been lamenting the loss and retirement of many of the professors that taught me—the UNL soils team that was once so abundant seems to be sparse at the moment.  It is going through growing pains, awaiting reestablishment of its shaken foundation.  The Crop Production Clinic in Norfolk in 2020 was mostly geared toward pest management.  So when I saw an opportunity to view a soils presentation online given by a Lancaster County Extension Soils Specialist, I grabbed the chance.  Could there be hope? 

Aaron Hird spoke of soil health, and he used a good metaphor.  If he doesn’t mind, I’m going to “borrow” that idea and run with it.  Soil health is defined as the continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. 

If you think of the soil as a body, then how do you take care of its health? 

Well, how do you take care of your own body? 

If you ate junk food, didn’t exercise, sat behind a desk all day and stared at a computer or laid on the couch and watched television or played on your smartphone constantly, how would you feel?  If you drank sugary drinks instead of water and ate only processed foods, how would your body respond?  You’d feel pretty cruddy, huh?  The more yuck you put into your body without building muscle, the more fat you will acquire—and the less energy you’ll have.  It doesn’t matter how much you sleep.  If you don’t put good stuff into your body, you won’t have the energy to do anything.  So your body will crave energy, but if you keep giving it the wrong stuff, it won’t use the food efficiently and won’t find the proper nutrients it needs.  You’ll get hooked on caffeine, eat more crap, and it’s a never-ending cycle. 

It’s the same thing with soil.  The microbes and plants living in the soil have certain requirements to stay healthy and living—the soil needs to eat healthy, too.  That’s why we soil sample and apply the correct fertilizer for the crop growing there each year.  But fertilizer isn’t enough.  You know how you feel when you wake up after a late night partying?  That’s kind of how the soil feels if you take too much out of it without putting the right stuff back.  Yeah, your soil’s going to get a hangover.  And just adding a bit of fertilizer doesn’t do the trick.  That’s like taking a vitamin and expecting to go back to normal.  That wouldn’t work for me! 

Soil needs the proper balance of air circulation, water, nutrients, ability to maintain and build structure, create habitats for microbes and other critters—a whole gamut of health considerations!  If you look at that list, it doesn’t look much different from ours—we need to breathe, drink, eat, build and maintain bones and muscles, and protect the microbiome in our gut, too. 

So when you are making your field plans this year—or just out tinkering in your garden or yard—please consider all of your soil’s needs!  It will thank you later, and you will reap the rewards. 

Thanks for reading!


February 5, 2020

Julie S. Paschold

Reference: Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County’s Successful Farmer Series, January 31, 2020: Soil Management:

Friday, March 11, 2022

I am: a poem

 I am

            drinking in tendrils

            of serenity

            that squeeze between

            the stones of stridence

            in my mind.


I am

            slurping swirls

            of sunshine

            that sing beyond

            the stars of darkness

            in my eyes.


I am

            tasting dewdrops

            of tenderness

            that slide from under

            the tension

            in my toes.


I am

            sipping drizzles

            of a dawning day

            that emerge from

            yesterday’s ashes

            on my lips.


I am

            swallowing spirals

            of inspiration

            that rise behind

            the dried grasses of dullness

            between my fingers.


I am

            guzzling whorls

            of energizing life

            that seep above

            the dying shards of emptiness

            in my heart.



I am


            aiming to thrive

            despite the friction

            of desolation

            and madness

            that threatens

            to overtake

            and absorb

            my every being.


March 11, 2022

Tansy Julie Soaring Eagle Paschold

Sunday, March 6, 2022

That's Just Not Natural


That’s just not natural

Tricky advertising and common instincts in plants


I was walking down the produce aisle in my grocery store last week, grabbing the items from my shopping list derived from my planned menu for the upcoming few days.  I had sent my son on a mission for yellow onions, and I was going to look for fresh broccoli.  As I turned and looked up, a package caught my eye.  A bag of organic lemons.  They weren’t on my list, and I don’t find it necessary to pay extra for the fancy “organic” word—those are expensive letters!  What caught my eye wasn’t that they were any better than the regular lemons—there was no visual difference, actually.  It was the wording on the package.  I was so amused that I laughed out loud, and even pulled out my phone to snap a photo:

[First of all, a short comment about the “non-GMO”.  Yeah, so your lemons weren’t beamed down from the Starship Enterprise and created from an alien species.  Well, good for you.  Ha.  Not going into that with this blog.  And I definitely wouldn’t pay extra for those words to be printed on a package, either.]

What I laughed about was the “naturally seedless” part.  Have you heard people say the word oxymoron?  Then go on to use the phrases such as “jumbo shrimp”, “wise man”, “unbiased opinion”, and “genuine imitation”?  Well, folks, add “naturally seedless” to the list. 

What is Mother Nature’s one goal for EVERY SINGLE PLANT on this earth, regardless of where it is grown, why it is growing, how long it grows, or what it looks like?  For that matter, Mother Nature’s goal for every living species on this earth…….

……is to reproduce. 

A lemon is a fruit that grows on a tree.  A fruit is “a ripened, thickened ovary of a flower, which protects dormant seeds and aids in their dispersal”, according to my college Biology textbook. 

So every time you bite into an apple or an orange or a squeeze a lemon, you’re handling someone’s ovary.  Yup.  You read that right.  Plants have ovaries, just like people.  The seeds are their babies.  Mother Nature intends for each plant to develop progeny; that is why each lemon tree develops fruit with seeds—so little trees can emerge and take over when the parent tree gets too old. 

So a lemon without seeds?  That’s just not natural. 




If a plant has an ovary, it means it has to get fertilized, right?  I mean, we were all taught about the sperm and the egg.  You can’t have a baby without both.  So if the fruit is the ovary, what the heck is the plant’s sperm? 

Well, ahem, do you sneeze a lot during the times that flowers are wide open and blooming?  Have you heard someone say they have “hay fever”?  Do you have to brush off yellow stuff when dancing through the daisies and prancing through the posies?  The sneezing is your irritation from the yellow stuff, which is pollen.  The pollen comes from stalks in the center of the flowers—and they are little tiny specks that float around, on a mission.  They are the plants’ sperm.  So that means you’re breathing in plant sperm on those fresh air walks.  [I’ll give you a moment to get over your heebie jeebies here.] 

Once a pollen grain finds the right place, it fertilizes the ovary, the flower dies, and the fruit is created, with the seeds inside. 




So what happens when the plant is stressed, dying, or somehow in trouble?  A plant will perform amazing feats in order to make its babies.  Even change genders. 

On a corn plant, the ear growing protected in husks lower on the side of the stalk is the female part of the plant—the kernels are the babies.  The male part of the plant is the tassel on the top, which creates all the itchy pollen that flies all over the place (including down your shirt, if you’re so unlucky to have to walk through a corn field during pollination).  If a corn plant is damaged somehow, like stepped on, cut off, drowning, sprayed with the wrong chemical, in a storm, or missing nutrients it needs, chances are the ear didn’t develop properly.  In that case, since pollen is a dime a dozen and it can get away with creating a tiny bit of its own and receive pollen from its neighbor, the stressed corn plant will change its tassel to become a partial ear. 

Just to prove I’m not pulling your leg, here’s proof:


I call it transgender corn.  Kinda neat, huh? 



Wow.  So it is more “natural” for a plant to be transgender than seedless!!!  

Yet another demonstration of why you shouldn’t believe everything you read in advertisements. 




Thanks for reading!


December 30, 2019

Julie S. Paschold

Reference: Biology: Concepts & Connections by Neil Campbell & Jane Reece & Larry Mitchell. 1994. Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc. Redwood City, CA

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Catch Words in Your Food


What do all those words mean on your food packages?

Okay, show of hands now.  When you go grocery shopping, how many of you look for “organic” or “natural” food?  Do you think “cage free” and “free range” eggs are the same thing?  Do you think brown eggs are better than white eggs?  Do you reach for the “non-GMO” packages?  Do you shun gluten? 

Another show of hands.  How many of you can actually explain the definitions of and differences between all these words?  Do you even know what gluten is? [hint—it’s not artificial gloppy goo…]  While researching the correct wording for some of these items, I stumbled upon some eye-rolling comments on certain websites.  I won’t go into much detail right now other than to say that I’m amazed at the diversity of intelligence on this planet. 

Here is some clarification on the meaning behind a few of the words you find on your food:


What does the USDA certified organic label mean?

The United States has federal guidelines each producer (crop or animal) must follow in order to earn that stamp on their product. 

·         Produce must be grown on soil that had no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides applied on it for three years prior to harvest (there’s a whole list of “prohibited substances”, including human waste). 

·         Animals must be grown in a way to consider their natural behaviors—like grazing and wandering—fed organically grown feed and forage, and not be given antibiotics or hormones (so if they are sick, they can’t get a “Z-pack” like you or I do). 

·         Processed foods can’t have artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors, and must have organic ingredients. 

·         If a packed product is “made with organic ingredients”, it means that the whole product isn’t organic, but some of the ingredients are.  It won’t have the fancy USDA seal on it. 

·         No organic foods contain genetically modified organisms (or GMO’s).  Genetically modified seeds are not used to grow the food, unless there is no other alternative. 

·         Some processing methods are prohibited in organic foods, like irradiation. 

There are USDA inspectors devoted to making sure producers of these items are indeed following the guidelines.  Each producer must carefully document everything—copious recordkeeping is involved, and in fields, setbacks are required so no carryover from neighboring fields drift over. 


What does “natural” mean?

According to the USDA website, “Natural” is allowed on packages when a product doesn’t contain an artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed.  Minimal processing means that the product isn’t fundamentally altered.  The label claiming “natural” must also explain what is natural about it (such as no artificial ingredients, no added color, etc.).  Personally, this seems a little vague to me, but I interpret it to mean that if you look at the product and its ingredients, you’d be able to recognize them in their original form—not ground up or as a strange goo that came out of some factory somewhere.  Unlike hot dogs—hot dogs are definitely NOT natural. 


No hormones in pork or poultry?

No matter what you do to pork or poultry—no matter what kind of product it is turned into—pork and poultry will not have added hormones.  Federal regulations prohibit this.  So your bacon and chicken nuggets and turkey dinners and pork chops and ribs and loin and chicken strips and buffalo wings and ground turkey will be free of hormones.  Let me repeat that—HORMONES ARE NOT ALLOWED IN RAISING HOGS OR POULTRY. 


What is the difference between “cage free” and “free range” eggs?

·         Cage-free simply means that the birds don’t live in a cage.  All birds must have unlimited access to food and water, but cage-free birds are also “allowed to roam”, according to USDA’s website.  They aren’t required access to the outdoors.  To be humane (not for USDA, but for another organization called Humane Farm Animal Care, or HFAC), they need 1.5 ft2 of space each. 

·         Free Range takes it a step further, quite literally for the hen’s sake.  During her laying cycle, she must be able to go outside.  This doesn’t mean each bird is required to actually GO outside, but she has the option, usually through doors that lead to a screened in porch.  HFAC asks each bird to have 2 ft2 of space each. 

·         Pasture-raised is another word you might see being thrown around.  It isn’t regulated by USDA, but this calls for 108 ft2 of space for roaming with access to a barn for cover. 

In the end, the quality of the egg and its nutritional value doesn’t change when any of these words are used—it’s just a way of indicating how the hens were housed.


Is a brown egg better for you than a white egg?

Honestly, I think of skin color when I think of this question.  Just like we’re all the same inside no matter the color of our skin, egg quality is not affected by the color of its shell.  There is no nutritional difference between “browns” and “whites”, either. 

If you’ll notice, there is a variety of “browns” and “whites” out there.  It’s like going to a paint store and realizing there isn’t only one color of white paint.  [Will I choose “chalk white” or “white dove” or “ecru”?]  The difference is the breed of chicken laying the egg. And it just so happens that the breeds that lay brown eggs also tend to lay larger size eggs.  The price difference? The larger size brown egg is more expensive to produce (think amount of feed per weight of egg), and that is represented in the price you pay at the store. 


What is a GMO?


 GMO means “genetically modified organism”.  USDA terms genetic modification as “The production of heritable improvements in plants or animals for specific uses, via either genetic engineering or other more traditional methods. Some countries other than the United States use this term to refer specifically to genetic engineering.”  USDA has a whole other definition for genetic engineering: “Manipulation of an organism's genes by introducing, eliminating or rearranging specific genes using the methods of modern molecular biology, particularly those techniques referred to as recombinant DNA techniques.”

Foods from genetically engineered plants must meet the same safety standards as foods derived from traditionally bred plants.  They go through the same tests, and are just as safe as those “non-GMO”s out there.  It’s just a ploy to get you to pay a little more for a fancy stamp. 

This is one of my biggest pet peeves, and there isn’t enough space to totally go into this.  Corn, soybeans, potatoes, squash, and apples are all crops that have been genetically altered. 

In the 1990’s genetic engineering wasn’t as technical as it is now, and some methods were used that caused concern—putting pieces of bacteria DNA in a corn plant to make it resistant to a pest, making crops resistant to certain herbicides so you can use the chemical to kill weeds.  Soon after, people started getting scared of GMOs, perhaps thinking we were going to turn into zombies or create the superbug that kills us all.  Now, we have more modern ways of “genome editing” that are basically ways of speeding up natural breeding.  So genetic engineering really isn’t as scary as it seems. 


Should my diet be gluten-free?  What is gluten?

First, if you don’t even know what gluten is, why are you trying to take it out of your diet?  Gluten is a group of proteins found in cereal grains (think bread—wheat, rye, and barley).  They are the proteins that make bread dough “stretchy” and able to rise during baking, and are found in the endosperm of the grain.  The grain is actually a seed, and the endosperm is the starchy part that feeds the plantlet until it can grow roots and shoots to make its own food. 

You should only be worried about gluten if you have a disease related to being allergic or intolerant to gluten.  This means you have gone to a doctor and s/he has diagnosed you with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.  Other conditions that may (but not always) require gluten free or reduced diets include irritable bowel syndrome and wheat allergy. 

Gluten isn’t unhealthy—they are proteins!  They just happen to be a group that some people can’t handle well, like lactose in milk. 

(image from North American Miller’s Association)


This is my random comments section.  In perusing the medley of websites, I found some highly uninformed people (and some with no common sense).  I’d like to just make a couple of observations. 

·         One person mentioned canola oil.  This is a vegetable oil many people use in baking and you find it in some processed foods.  They thought it was the same thing as motor oil—and how can we be drinking something we put in cars?  People, canola is a plant.  It is a relative to broccoli, cauliflower, and mustard (yeah, mustard is a plant, too—shocker to some people out there, I know).  All oil, regardless of its source, is regulated by the same federal standards!  We aren’t drinking the same thing as our vehicles!  Yikes! 

·         In a discussion about biosolids on organic farms, a person mentioned that food should be grown without synthetic fertilizer, but we shouldn’t use biosolids either because all poop is gross.  First, biosolids are treated domestic sludge—people poop only, not animals.  They aren’t raw sewage; they’ve been treated and monitored and have nutrients as well.  Also, plants use nutrients in the soil to grow and create your food.  Each time you take a crop away from the field to use as food, you are taking some of the nutrients away from the soil, too.  So if you take something away, you must add something back.  If you can’t artificially create nutrients (fertilizer), you have to use something “natural”.  Thus, you’ve got to use poop.  And poop is just recycled food. 

·         The comment was made that we need to grow a variety of vegetables and fruits instead of corn and soybeans because “you can fit a lot of vegetables on 40 acres”.  Corn and soybeans aren’t grown the same as tomatoes and strawberries and so forth.  You can’t run a combine through 40 acres of jalapeno peppers or eggplants.  Harvest would be very time consuming and labor intensive.  Have you ever had a vegetable garden in your back yard?   The weeds in mine are atrocious because I just can’t get to them all—I think weed management in a 40 acre vegetable garden wouldn’t mirror a corn or soybean field.  It would be a giant headache.  There is an overall population trend away from rural areas.  Since everyone and their mother are moving to the city, who is going to grow these 40 acre monster vegetable gardens?  And the weather in the locations where most of the corn and soybeans are grown really wouldn’t allow year-round production.  What are you going to do when there’s a foot of snow on your 40 acres and its 20 degrees out? 



I agree that a person should shop smart and be careful about the type of food they eat and the ingredients that are in the products they buy.  Yes, read your food labels!  But I encourage everyone to become educated about what your food and its label is saying to you.  At least use your common sense, please.  And no drinking motor oil! 


October 4, 2019

Julie S. Paschold