5 Things You Didn’t Know About Soil

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite of information or want to drop some knowledge on your dinnertime companions, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

When many of us think of soil, we think of dirt. But, soil is so much more than just dirt. Soil gives life to all of the food we eat. Without soil, we can’t grow fruit, veggies, grains and more. Let’s get to know our soil a little better.

5. Soil is full of nutrients

Soil is made up of minerals and organic matter.

There are a lot of nutrients in the soil, including calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. However, the three main nutrients found in soil are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, also known as NPK. But, why does soil need nutrients? To fuel plants! Soil provides plants with the minerals and nutrients they need for proper nourishment. In turn, this nourishment is what makes us healthy when we eat these nutritiously grown foods.

So, the soil gives its nutrients to the plants, which then gives the nutrients to us. This means we are getting our nutrients from the soil!

4. Soil has layers

We see soil as just brown dirt, but there are many layers to soil.

When we see soil, we see the “litter zone” on top. This is where we find things like twigs and leaves. However, there’s also the topsoil, subsoil, and bedrock at the bottom. The most important layer is the topsoil because this is where plant growth takes place and root systems form. But, producing just one inch of nutrient dense topsoil can take hundreds to thousands of years, depending on the climate, because topsoil is made from decaying plants, animals and crushed rock. Crushed rock is what takes the longest because it has to be broken down and decomposed.

If you look at the soil in your hand and see the shiny particles, they could be crushed rock from glaciers millions of years ago.

3. Soil has many vital functions we can’t get from anywhere else

Soil is very busy! It has a lot of different tasks that make our world go round.

First, soil holds in moisture to prevent flooding, gives us groundwater, and keeps water intact for crops to grow. It even purifies water as it enters the ground. Soil is a modifier for the atmosphere. It emits and stores CO2, water vapor, and other gases, providing a massive carbon sink for the Earth’s CO2 cycle.

Soil also recycles nutrients so they can be used to help plants grow more than once. It’s the foundation of photosynthesis, meaning we wouldn’t be able to grow anything without soil, and it even provides a habitat for many organisms- big and small. Some organisms include gophers, groundhogs, bacteria, and various types of fungi.

2. Soil has its own microbiome

 The soil microbiome consists of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other microorganisms. Teeny tiny microscopic organisms that serve a big purpose!

These microbes act as a fertilizer. They help plants grow and mature by changing nitrogen from the air, absorb phosphorus to become healthy, and protect plants from fungal diseases. When these microbes are in proper balance, they store and cycle nutrients like carbon and nitrogen. This stabilizes and supports growing plants, and is the foundation of a natural regenerative process that’s been on Earth for millennia.

The diverse microbiome is also responsible for the nutrients in our 5-7 daily servings of fruits and veggies, protein in wheat, and healthy animal feed for our protein. It is essential to providing us the nutrients we need. The more fruits and veggies you eat, the more microbe diversity in your gut and the healthier your gut and overall immune system are!

1. Soil loss will be detrimental to our world

Some experts are saying that we only have 60 years of soil left. We are losing soil at the same rate as losing 30 soccer fields every minute.

There are many reasons why we’re losing our soil, including erosion, poor farming practices, rain intensity, and wind. What does this mean for us? The more soil we lose, the fewer crops we can plant. This could wreak havoc on our food system and become a major barrier to feeding the world. Food insecurity will be a large concern, especially because soil is a finite resource meaning its degradation is not recoverable within the average human lifespan.

There are, however, solutions to this problem. One includes planting cover crops specifically to improve soil quality by giving the soil time to rebuild its microbiome. A second solution is to introduce root systems, which improve the structure of the soil by making space available for air and water to regenerate in it.

Farmers are also taking steps to ensure soil health, including increasing the organic matter in soil, diversifying crop rotations, using no-till or reduced tillage, and using cover crops. The solution to saving our soil comes in the form of many practices, not just one.

What Should I Eat in a Day?

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Food as fuel

Our bodies are amazing engines fueled by the food we eat. What are some amazing functions our engines do to live a healthy life? Our heart pumps about 7,500 liters of blood through 100,000 miles of blood vessels every day – which is why we want to avoid heart disease. In one second, 50,000 new cells have been shed and replaced.

And to keep our body functioning in tip-top shape, we want those cells to be strong and healthy. The more fruits, vegetables, and nutrient-dense foods we eat, the stronger our new cells will be, making our whole body healthier.

Bill Bryson put it eloquently: “Every day, it has been estimated, between one and five of your cells turn cancerous, and your immune system captures and kills them. Think of that. A couple of dozen times a week, well over a thousand times a year, you get the most dreaded disease of our age, and each time your body saves you. Occasionally, cancer develops, but overall most cells in the body replicate billions and billions of times without going wrong.”

You see, it is so much more than maintaining a certain body weight. It’s the difference between cells that can fight diseases and those that cannot.

Research shows that by following the USDA’s recommended nutrition guidelines, we are healthier, have stronger immune systems, and are less likely to develop diet-related illnesses. But why are vegetables healthy and chips not? What makes one food good for us and another bad? It’s all about what’s inside the food: vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

The food groups

The USDA just updated its daily recommended nutritional allowances. But we start to ask ourselves questions, like “what does 5 to 7 servings of produce look like?”, “if I only eat 3 meals a day, how can I possibly get all of these servings in?” and “can I just do it all at once, like in a smoothie?”

According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025, healthy daily eating consists of a few key categories.

  • Vegetables: 2.5 cups, or 2.5 tennis balls
    • Dark green, red and orange, legumes, starchy – we need them all because each of them contains different vitamins and minerals including fiber, vitamins A, B6, C, and K, potassium, iron, cobalamin, and magnesium.
    • Aim for 2.5 cups per day. But note that not all veggie portions are created equal – double your amount of leafy greens that wilt when cooked, like spinach, and then round up!
  • Fruits: 2 cups, or 2 fists 
    • We mean whole fruits here. Apples, oranges, grapes, berries…you get the idea.
    • Necessary vitamins and minerals found in fruit are fiber, iron, vitamin C, and potassium.
  • Grains: 6 servings, or 1 cup of uncooked oatmeal, 2 slices of bread, and 1 cup of uncooked brown rice
    • Most of this should be whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole-grain bread.
    • Limit your intake of refined grains – pasta, white rice, white bread. If you do eat them, look for enriched refined grains that put some of the vitamins and minerals back in.
    • Nutrients in whole grains include complex carbs, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, and selenium.
  • Dairy: 2-3 cups, or 1 12-oz. glass of milk and 1 cup of plain yogurt
    • This includes milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified drinks, like soy milk.
    • Dairy contains fat, but several studies say we should not be limiting our daily intake of fats because they’re a necessary part of our diet. Rather, we should limit our intake of saturated fats.
    • Keep your saturated fat consumption under 10% of your daily calories. If that requires drinking low-fat milk instead of whole, don’t worry…it contains the same amount of vitamins and minerals.
    • If you have a sensitivity to dairy, supplement the vitamins and minerals you’re missing. For example, leafy green vegetables are also high in calcium, making them a viable option.
  • Protein: 50 grams, or 3 decks of cards
    • There are many different proteins to choose from: seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy — the options are endless!
    • Aim for at least 8 ounces of seafood a week.
    • Note that different proteins have different compounds, so be sure to read the label and opt for leaner proteins with less fat.
    • Keep in mind that nuts and seeds are high in calories due to their fat content.
    • Proteins also contain healthy fats, cobalamin, vitamins A, D, and B6, iron, fiber, and potassium.
    • A good rule of thumb is to eat one gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight (just divide your weight by 2.2 to convert it to kilograms)
  • Oils: 5 teaspoons, or 5 dice
    • Because of their fat and caloric density, a little bit goes a long way here.
    • Focus on heart-healthy oils, like olive oil, avocado oil, and canola oil.
    • Oils, especially olive oil, contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These are said to limit inflammation in our bodies and reduce our chances of developing diet-related illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes.
  • Limit saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium
    • Read the nutritional and ingredients label to spot these in your foods.
    • Avoid processed meats as they contain more sodium, saturated fats, added sugars, and calories.
    • Less than 10% of our daily calories should be from added fats and sugars – the lower, the better.
    • The Dietary Guidelines also recommend keeping your sodium intake below 2300 mg.

We know this task is easier said than done, so our printable infographics are here to help!


What to eat

Now that we’ve told you the food groups to include in your diet, you’re probably wondering how on earth to accomplish this. Don’t worry! We’re going to give you examples of simple meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snack time, that will help you reach your daily goals and make grocery shopping and meal preparations a lot easier.

Click on each of these categories to see our D2D-verified meal options that not only squeeze in a variety of nutrients within all food groups, but also adhere to an overall caloric intake of 2,000 a day when consumed with healthy snacks:


Healthy snacks can help you reach the rest of your daily caloric needs. A few good snack ideas are a banana with almond butter, an apple with a handful of whole nuts, 1 ounce of dark chocolate, or Greek yogurt with fruit.

Any of these meals can be mixed and matched every day. If you eat a breakfast high in protein, eat veggies with lunch. If you are on a non-dairy, plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan diet, find alternative ways to get protein. Treat your food as fuel for your body, and know what’s going in. Lastly, although getting nutrients from whole foods is best, if you feel deficient in certain nutrients, supplements like vitamins can help.

If you’re still unsure of what to buy, click on the image for a printable shopping guide you can take with you to the grocery store. If you want to take a look at my shopping list this week as a quick example, click here.

Remember to have variety in your fridge. Try to buy a couple of options from each category every week. For fruits and veggies, the more variety, the better!

What about other diets?

The USDA Nutrient DatabaseHarvard Health’s The Nutrition Source, CDC Division of Nutrition, among others,  each have their own perspective on the best way to meet our body’s nutritional needs, so we want to include a few other considerations for nutrition and long-term health.

But these sources agree that eating our recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables is crucial for long-term health. Produce has fiber, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and phytochemicals. If you eat five to seven servings of produce a day in lieu of processed food it can help you keep chronic diseases at bay. 

One diet method with proven long-term success is intermittent fasting, where you consume all meals within an 8-10 hour window. It can lead to healthier cell production and a reduction in long-term health diseases. Intermittent fasting can also improve endurance, coordination, brain health, balance, and muscle mass. 

There’s also been more attention on diets promoting a diverse microbiome, resulting in a healthier heart, immune system, inflammation, and even mood. The interesting thing about our gut bacteria is that it craves the foods you eat the most. If you eat fruits and vegetables, you want more. If you eat sugar and processed carbs, you want more. This is why many have gravitated toward a whole-plant-based diet.

The EAT-Lancet report is also in agreement with a mostly whole-plant-based diet with very limited amounts of meat. Contrarily, the paleo diet necessitates an increased consumption of meats and other protein-heavy foods to achieve optimal health. However, its effect on long-term health is contentious. And now, we have the added complexity of the paleo-vegan diet, or pegan diet – a mix of meat and vegetables, with less dairy, grains, legumes, sugar, and processed foods.

An Important Note…

The information in this post is to serve as a guideline. Everyone’s body is different and therefore requires different nutrient intakes. For example, someone who wants to increase their muscle mass will need more protein in their diet. And those who rigorously exercise daily will need more calories than someone with a sedentary lifestyle. Get to know your body and understand its needs. And consult a doctor or nutritionist before changing your diet plan.

Building a Sustainable U.S. Beef System

We are pleased to introduce Sasha Gennet, Ph.D. as a guest columnist for Dirt to Dinner.

Sasha heads up The Nature Conservancy’s Sustainable Grazing Lands strategy in North America, where she leads an interdisciplinary team of science, conservation, policy, and communications experts to achieve widespread adoption of conservation management practices on U.S. grazing lands, as well as protection and conservation of working lands. (Above image courtesy of TNC.)

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I wasn’t one of the lucky kids who got to grow up on a ranch. No one back then would have expected me to work on livestock production and grazing lands. We lived in the suburbs, and I come from a family that had mostly worked in factories, not farming. I was even a vegetarian in my teenage years, on the grounds that I didn’t want to eat an animal if I didn’t know and feel good about how it was raised (which is still true).

My love for the outdoors and need to be near nature led to my early career as a botanist and restoration ecologist. Through my early jobs and in my graduate school research in grasslands and on ranches, I learned two key things about land stewardship:

  • Livestock is one of the best tools available for managing land to benefit soil, water, and biodiversity. Essentially, good grazing management in the right places is good for native plants and wildlife; grazing animals can help manage fire risk, and strong rural economies rooted in ranching help slow urban and agricultural sprawl.
  • Ranchers are deeply committed to protecting the natural resources that make their livelihoods possible. This is true of ranchers in California, the Great Basin, the Dakotas, Florida – all across our country. For example, Meredith Ellis, a second-generation rancher in Texas, uses soil health and sustainable grazing practices to help sequester carbon, withstand extreme weather events, safeguard water quality, and provide consumers with beef they can feel good about buying. You can check out her story here.

Those early years spent studying grasslands and working on ranches instilled a deep appreciation in me for the people who dedicate their lives to producing food and the many—often overlooked—contributions they make to land management.

Now, through my work with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), I’m lucky enough to partner with local ranchers to promote the conservation value of grazing lands and advance sustainability goals across the complex beef supply chain.

By partnering with family-owned cattle operations to test new on-ranch practices and collaborating with food companies to source sustainable beef products, we’re working to mainstream livestock production practices that actively restore and regenerate nature—practices that are good for ranchers and the environment.

To get there, we must first understand the value of what’s at stake, acknowledge the challenges that stand in our way and define a clear path forward.

The Vast Footprint of Working Wildlands

More than 770,000 cattle operations span the United States, and 90% are family-operated. The ranches and grazing lands where beef cattle live most of their lives total about 775 million acres nationwide. That’s the size of Alaska, Texas, California, and Montana combined.

These incredibly diverse lands include native grasslands—the least well protected habitat type on earth— like the iconic prairies of the Great Plains as well as the rangelands of the Great Basin and desert Southwest, savannah of California, and pastures in the Southeast.

This part of the U.S. agriculture system contributes $76 billion to our economy. But these private, public, and tribal grazing lands provide more than economic benefit and food. These “working wildlands” also provide wildlife habitat, secure freshwater, and help mitigate climate change by drawing more carbon into the soil.

Farmers and soil health practices are a big part of the picture, too, since most beef cattle are finished on grain after spending a large part of their lives on grazing lands. In fact, as much as one-third of the 90 million acres of corn grown in the U.S. ends up as feed.

There’s too much common ground between ranchers, farmers, and conservationists to not work together toward mutual goals. The people and families who care for these valuable lands are the backbone of rural economies and essential to a world where nature and people thrive.

Challenges and a Path Forward

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has worked for decades with farming and ranching communities to collaboratively advance conservation. We have supported numerous voluntary conservation easements, partnered with local organizations, supported federal funding for ranch stewardship and protection, and used our own lands to research and demonstrate how livestock can help regenerate nature.

While successful in many ways, those efforts have yet to ensure long-term conservation across these vast and varied lands and communities. In fact, many grasslands and rural communities that depend on these lands are experiencing greater challenges and risks than ever before: land values that outpace profitability from livestock grazing, more droughts and floods, and market shocks like we saw in 2020 due to COVID-19.

In recent years, TNC has expanded our work to engage more deeply with initiatives and companies in the beef supply chain, engaging and advancing robust sustainability programs.

Given its importance economically, and strong influence on natural resources, the beef industry—from farmers and ranchers to restaurants and retailers—is uniquely positioned to help safeguard and steward nature, while benefitting producers, rural communities, and consumers.   

So, what can the beef industry do to ensure a healthy environment, while ensuring ranchers and farmers sustain their livelihoods and deliver quality food products? A seemingly simple but essential first step is for leading companies to recognize that healthy, functioning ecosystems and thriving agriculture operations are the foundation of a secure and equitable food system. That then needs to lead to committing to improving the environmental and socio-economic sustainability of their supply chains, setting robust goals, and investing in implementation, including tackling climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It also includes working diligently with civil society, producers, and other companies to define and identify a path to environmental and socio-economic sustainability, for example by actively participating in the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

Collaboration Is Key

Several companies are making significant commitments. Last year, Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. announced new aspirations to source fresh beef products more sustainably by 2025, with a focus on grazing management and soil health across an additional 12 million acres. This announcement came after TNC worked with Walmart to identify opportunities and actions to improve sustainability in its beef supply chain to help improve soil health and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

In collaboration with TNC and the University of Minnesota, McDonald’s analyzed their beef and chicken supply chains to identify climate mitigation opportunities. Based on this work, McDonald’s is now building programs with their suppliers to meet their company’s ambitious 31 percent greenhouse gas reduction goal.

Our work with McDonald’s and Walmart led to the development of a Roadmap for a Sustainable Beef System, which is helping more companies identify opportunities and take action to make improvements within their supply chain while tracking progress toward their environmental goals.

In essence, we’ve created a science-based approach that can help companies create solutions that are environmentally beneficial and economically favorable for producers while delivering a product that meets consumers’ expectations.

Sustainability needs to be the business-as-usual approach in the U.S. beef industry in order to ensure long-term food supply, economic security for ranchers and their communities, and a healthy environment for us all. Taking that a bit further, the food production process needs to actively restore and regenerate nature, and there’s no time to waste. Seeing two of the world’s largest purchasers of beef take proactive steps to achieve sustainability within their supply chains signals tremendous momentum in that direction.

But much more needs to be accomplished, quickly, and we can only get there by working together.

5 Ag Priorities of the Biden Administration

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite of information or want to drop some knowledge on your dinnertime companions, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week! 

With a new administration in office, we should expect to see a different set of priorities for food and agriculture. Rep. David Scott, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and Tom Vilsack as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture will put into place a fresh agenda. So what should consumers and farmers expect going forward? Here are 5 things we found.

5. Rural Economic Development and Revitalization

This one is for farmers.

Over the last few years, farmers experienced declining net farm income and massive direct government payments. We learned from the farmer survey we conducted in the fall that farmers don’t like and don’t want these government subsidies. This administration will look to create packages to stimulate rural economic vitality that are more comprehensive. This includes promoting an increase in ‘green’ jobs, expanding health care services, and improving broadband access.

There is also a strong new commitment to making the system work better for everyone, both farmers, consumers, and everyone in between.

4. China Relations

We’ve learned that China dominates global trade, making them a vital relationship to maintain, especially for farmers and ranchers.

The Biden administration will prioritize improved relations with China and fulfilling ambitious purchase commitments. However, agriculture will be just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to future relations with China.

We should also expect to see movement away from the bilateral approach we’ve had for recent years to a more multilateral approach, especially with the EU. This means there will be more emphasis on building coalitions that can exert influence over China.

3. Improved Trade Opportunities

Recently, we’ve had an “America first” approach. This will likely evolve into something else.

So, what will it evolve into? A more traditional model of negotiation. One that’s built around ‘constructive engagement.’ Like above, bilateral trade negotiations will fade away. However, attempts to revive and rejoin broader trade initiatives and agreements will certainly emerge. This will be especially true in the Pacific and with long-standing U.S. allies.

Trade is what makes the world go ‘round. We will certainly see differences in the system, but there will be a goal to make the system better for everyone.

2. Covid

Biden is already addressing Covid-19, but what about when it comes to agriculture?

Covid-19 is an immediate priority for the entire government. We are seeing that in the form of federal initiatives to combat the virus and vaccination plans. Most of those growing our food reside in rural areas, making vaccine access a high priority. Also, economic support for those hurt by the virus and lockdown will see aid.

It seems as though Covid is not going away anytime soon, so the new administration will continue to prioritize resolve.

1. Climate Change

Addressing climate change is at the forefront for the Biden administration. But, don’t look for omnibus legislation.

Instead, we’ll see an expansion of existing programs and some additional incentives for environmentally responsible and friendly farming practices. This includes efforts that promote conservation and other regenerative ag practices by farmers and ranchers We should also expect to see immediate actions by flurries of executive orders. A popular topic of debate will be the creation of a ‘carbon market.’

Farmers as a whole are supportive of acting responsibly to better the climate and environment. However, policies that use incentives and rewards for positive and responsible acts will work better than threats and punishments. Every farmer is different, therefore, the administration should understand that what works well for one may not for the other. It can’t be a one size fits all, but instead more freedom to act responsibly based on the farm.

Q&A with FFA’s Tyler Gardner

Future Farmers of America (FFA) is the premier youth organization preparing members for leadership and careers in the science, business, and technology of agriculture.

To support FFA’s members and their contribution to ag, Dirt to Dinner is please to introduce Tyler Gardner. Here is a Q&A from Tyler’s point of view.

Tyler Gardner is one hard-working college student. His education in ag started with working various positions at his family’s cranberry marsh. As his experience broadened, his mission evolved to produce healthy and sustainable food for generations to come.

Tyler, tell us a little bit about your background, family, and studies. 

I grew up and currently live on one of my family’s cranberry marshes in Pittsville, Wisconsin, a small town in central Wisconsin.

I am currently attending the University of Wisconsin River Falls and majoring in Agriculture Business. 

I hope to use my degree in Ag Business to obtain a job in the ag industry and eventually come back and work within the family’s business.  

What is your favorite part of working on your family farm?

My favorite part of working on my family’s farm is the feeling of pride and ownership. It is not just a job, but it’s a way of life for my family.

My father taught me from a young age the value of hard work and to never quit until the job gets done. These values have always stuck with me and it reminds me to keep working hard because someday that marsh could be mine.

It is also very rewarding to work throughout the summer months on a crop and then see your hard work pay off in the fall.

“It is just a great feeling of accomplishment to know that all the early mornings and late nights over the summer paid off to grow your cranberry crop. Seeing the final crop at the end of the year is by far the most rewarding feeling and it is one that is truly hard to describe unless you’re a grower.”

Tell us about your cranberry operation…how long has it been in the family? 

My family’s cranberry operation began back in the early 1990s with my uncle, Butch Gardner, and my father, Tom Gardner. The first cranberry bogs that they planted were on the marsh that I grew up on. They proceeded to grow the family business by building and planting more cranberry marshes in the Pittsville area. They then began to buy other marshes around the state. 

We currently operate around 2,000 acres of cranberry bogs. Along with growing cranberries, my family also has built cold storages and cranberry processing plants. This has streamlined the processing for our cranberry juice concentrate and sweetened dried cranberry products.

How is farming cranberries different from other crops? 

Cranberries are a crop that needs to be taken care of all year long, but once springs rolls back around that is when the cranberry vines come out of dormancy and they begin to start growing again. 

What is needed to grow cranberries is sandy soil, a large water source, and the correct climate. The cranberry’s root systems grow best in the sandy soil because cranberries need more acidic soil to grow in. The sandy soil also makes it ideal for drainage.

It sounds like cranberries can’t grow just anywhere…

Cranberries need to stay moist, but cannot be saturated for long periods, because it can create rotten fruit and damage the plant’s roots. We also need a large water source to grow cranberries, because in the summer months we need to irrigate the plants, and then in fall, we need the water to harvest the crop. We also never use any high-pressure wells, rather we reuse water from large bodies of water such as ponds and reservoirs.  Lastly, having the correct climate is the last most important part of growing this fruit.

Cranberries can only be grown in certain parts of the world because of their very specific climate needs. The area where I am from, for example, is a perfect area because cranberries need warm summer months for the growing season, the cool falls months to change their color, and the cold winter months so that they can go into dormancy until the next growing season.

How do you harvest your crop?

Harvest for this crop begins with the flooding of the cranberry beds. Our cranberry beds are in a rectangle shape with dikes and ditches surrounding them, this makes it possible to add and take water off the cranberry beds. Once there is about a foot or two of water in the cranberry bed, we then take a large rake attached to a tractor and drive into the cranberry bed and knock the berries off the vine.

Once they are all knocked off the vines then we added another two feet of water into the bed to completely flood the vines. Cranberries naturally have 4 little air pockets that allow them to float to the top of the water.

Then we take float boom to corral all the cranberries together and then we take a berry pump and pump the cranberries out of the bed and put them into semi-trucks to take the cranberries to market.

Cranberry vines produce a crop every year and usually do not need to be planted twice or every year. There are even some cranberry vines that are over 100 years old and still producing a crop. But the biggest reason why people do replant or renovate cranberry beds is to create a better producing bed with vines that are going to give them a better yield.  So yes, we do use the same vines (bushes) and reuse (plant) exiting vines into new beds. When we plant cranberry vines, we take the cuttings off existing cranberry vines and place them into the ground into a new bed. It takes about three years for these new cranberry vines to develop and start producing well. 

What is processing cranberries like? 

What makes our cranberry operation unique is that we can clean, store, and process our cranberries ourselves. The process for cranberries begins with the “cleaning station”. Cranberries are hauled into the station with semi-trucks and they are stored and cleaned. In the cleaning process, only the best berries are selected to be placed into storage. After the cranberries are cleaned and sorted, they are placed in large wooden boxes and then sent to the freezer where they stay until they are needed for processing. Fresh cranberries can stay in the freezer for up to two years before they are processed.

Cranberries are cleaned and sorted using machines such as shaker tables and specialty cleaning equipment made for cranberries. We don’t use robotics during the cleaning process, but before the cranberries go into further processing, we use robotics to sort out all the light-colored berries or any unusable cranberries that were not taken out during cleaning. 

The cranberries are then taken out of the freezer and transported to the proccing plant, where they are processed into jams, sauces, juices, and my favorite, sweetened dried cranberries. 

Tell us about your pest and weed management practices. 

Because of our abundant acreage across Wisconsin, we have hired and trained our scouting team. This way, we have resources for our growers year-round on all pest, weed, and other growth management practices. This team works hand-in-hand with each property manager to discuss, discover, and decide what is best for that particular property. 

Our scouting season starts in early May and goes until late August where the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) team surveys the marsh and identifies weeds as well as monitors pest pressure.

The team then correlates the information with growing degree days and pheromone traps and will conclude if anything is at an economic threshold—or is at the level where is it damaging your crops enough that you will see a decrease in yield.

If a weed or pest hit an economic threshold, the team and the manager will come together and decide on the best solution promptly. Because we are growing fruit for human consumption, we are extra cautious and sustainable in all our practices here at Gardner Cranberry.

What are some of your sustainable practices?

We take a lot of pride in our sustainable practices as a large cranberry grower in Wisconsin. All the fruit we grow is approved to the highest market standard and can be shipped anywhere in the world. The unique thing about cranberries is the large amount of water we recycle and reuse during all seasons of the year. We have reservoirs that hold our water for all irrigation, frost, and flooding events. These large reservoirs bring with them a diverse ecosystem that includes anything from floating peat bogs to native Tamarack trees and migratory birds.

Because our system is naturally integrated, our top priority is always to use sustainable and regenerative practices.

We understand our system works best when everything is in its natural state and can work together. During the springtime, we have an opportunity to do a spring flood to control our first major pest of the season – the spanworm. If the timing works out, we use our water to flood up the cranberry beds until the vines are fully submerged and we keep it on for 48 hours to kill any live insect activity in our vines.

This is a great regenerative option that we conduct at least once every season. By doing this, we naturally eliminate a large pest concern and we avoid using any alternative options.

We want consumers to understand that our family not only eats these cranberries, but we also live and work on these properties – it is essential for the land to be healthy, safe, and sustainable for generations to come.

~  ֍  ~

Stay tuned for more Future Farmers of America stories like this. If you would like to get involved with FFA, visit www.ffa.org.

If you’re a fellow FFA and want to share your story or tell us about an inspiring member, please email us at info@dirt-to-dinner.com – we’d love to hear your story!

5 Nootropic Foods

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite of information or want to drop some knowledge on your dinnertime companions, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week! 

Nootropics, otherwise known as “smart drugs” are taking over the supplement market. They’re known for their “brainpower” effects, helping users think more effectively and develop a stronger memory. What many people don’t know is that nootropic properties are also found in whole foods that we eat every day.

5. Salmon

We knew that salmon contained healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but nootropics too?

Salmon is a fatty fish that has a rich nutrient profile. One filet of salmon is a significant source of omega 3s, protein, vitamins B12, D, E, and selenium. Salmon also helps maintain high brain function due to its high DHA density from omega 3s and its high protein profile. Salmon can also improve the ability to send and receive messages in our brain.

Salmon is one mighty superfood! Try eating 3-4 ounces of salmon a week to reap its benefits.

4. Blueberries

Blueberries are a well-known superfood, but they are also a natural nootropic.

Blueberries are one of the most versatile, yet nutrient-dense fruits. There are so many ways to eat them, as a snack, in yogurt, in granola, even in dessert – the possibilities are endless. Blueberries help boost cognitive function because they’re high in antioxidants, including anthocyanins. These antioxidants also help protect the brain from free radicals caused by aging, making them a useful tool to help reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s too.

If you want to see the nootropic results from blueberries, trying incorporating 2 cups a day into your diet.

3. Spinach

These greens are more powerful than they look!

Spinach is great for our bodies. It’s full of vitamins and minerals, like vitamins K, A, C, and B12, magnesium, iron, and folate. They’re known to improve eye health, reduce stress, prevent cancer and other diet-related illnesses, and aid in bone support. When it comes to the brain, spinach contains lutein and zeaxanthin for faster mental recall and increased memory. Spinach can even enhance athletic ability. We’ve all heard of Popeye, and even though it was a cartoon, there is some truth around the strengthening capabilities of spinach.

One cup of spinach a day is more than enough to see its benefits. But remember, a cup of spinach in its regular form isn’t actually a cup. Instead, think of what cooked spinach would look like in a cup and do your measurements off of that. Eating spinach doesn’t have to be boring either! Add spinach to your eggs, a smoothie, or try a breakfast wrap that we eat almost every morning here.

2. Dark Chocolate

Oh, yes – chocolate!

We love knowing that dark chocolate can help us stay healthy. Dark chocolate is known to improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, raise good HDL cholesterol, and, of course, improve brain function. Dark chocolate is made from cocoa beans and is rich in flavanols. Cocoa beans help increase blood flow to the brain and trigger the production of new brain cells, keeping your brain in tip-top shape.

So, don’t feel guilty about having that one piece of chocolate at night! Just remember, only dark chocolate made with 70% cocoa or higher has these benefits. To avoid too much sugar, be sure to eat in moderation – only 1-2 ounces a day.

1. Eggs

If you enjoy eggs at breakfast, then you’re already on the right track!

Eggs are one of the easiest and healthiest foods to incorporate into your diet. They are full of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. They are also rich in choline. Choline is especially important for our brains because it helps with transmitting signals across neuronal membranes. Choline creates acetylcholine in the body, which helps the body retain memories and achieve restful sleep.

There are so many ways to enjoy eggs. Here are a few of our favorite recipes below:

And for more information, including a long list of nootropic foods, head to our article – Nootropics: How to Eat for a Better Brain 

Regenerative Ag: The New ‘Sustainable’

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At a high level, Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming practices based on decades of science and applied research that when combined, helps to enrich soils, increases biodiversity, improves watersheds, and ultimately harnesses carbon in the soil.

The premise of Regenerative Ag is to replicate nature instead of conquering it. It promises to increase yields, enhance the health and vitality of farms for generations to come, as well as provide resilience to climate instability. But not all farms apply these principles the same way. Because there is no stringent set of guidelines for what is considered “regenerative farming,” each operation will vary the application of these practices, as well as how they measure the success of their regenerative efforts.

Soil can save our planet? And reverse climate change? Regenerative ag is also a tool to reduce CO2. Even though agriculture, forestry, and land use account for approximately 18% of annual greenhouse gas emissions, these claims about soil are only partially true. Farming practices and soil health are just a piece of the puzzle to carbon emission reduction.

The Trailblazer: Gabe Brown

The face of the regenerative ag movement is North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown. After nearly losing his 1,760-acre family farm outside Bismark due to a series of massive hailstorms, blizzards, and successive crop failures, Brown turned it all around. Having been introduced to the central ideas of regenerative farming over the years, it was not until he aggregated his learnings and applied them simultaneously to his farmland that he was able to boost microbial activity in the soil, retain carbon, and restore ecological balance.

As Brown explains, regenerative ag is a real paradox: the best way to achieve it is to do less, not more. 

Gabe Brown used synthetic fertilizers like many other farmers in his area but decided to try something a little different when he removed them altogether. Brown then experimented with planting several one-acre plots with varying monoculture cover crops and then on one plot, he planted everything together in what he called a “biodiverse polyculture cocktail.” What he witnessed over two very dry and challenging months was that productivity was three times greater on the polyculture cocktail plot.

Since Gabe’s polyculture plot also realized higher yields than his neighbors, he was determined to find out how this was possible. His water filtration rates also skyrocketed, going from a one-half inch of water filtered per hour to one inch in only nine seconds. To further measure his success, he conducted carbon-retention testing using soil samples.

Given these dramatic results, Gabe no longer applies synthetic fertilizer. He practices rotationally grazing his livestock on these plots, leading to increased soil health and yield. Many farmers find they reduce synthetic fertilizers with this method, but few have gotten to the point of eliminating them altogether without negative yield effects.

Compared to the typical 10 to 30 tons of carbon stored in conventionally-farmed soils of the Northern Plains, Gabe has found “where we’ve done in-depth, significant testing, our soils have 96 tons of carbon per acre in the top 48 inches”.  Many agree that measuring carbon sequestration is the best hope for demonstrating the power of regenerative agriculture, though not all operations will have the ability to use this measurement technology.

What Makes Something “Regenerative”?

At the core, regenerative agriculture is the practice of farms finding various ways to draw substantial carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But it is much more than that: it enriches the soil by diversifying its microbiome, preventing erosion, and increasing its water. Regenerative ag can be done with a variety of methods, including no-till farming, crop rotation, and animal grazing, just to name a few. But all methods must adhere to these four key principles:

(1) improving soil, water, and biodiversity

(2) creating unique combinations of these farming practices to suit each operation

(3) ensuring these practices work for the landowner, farmer, producer, and all other stakeholders

(4) continually grow and evolve practices to reach maximum potential

How is the Success of Regenerative Agriculture Measured?

One of the more contentious debates within regenerative ag is how farmers measure the successes of their operations. However, efforts are in the works to make quantifying regenerative ag an affordable, relatively pain-free process.

Currently, the majority of farmers calculate their reductions of inputs and increased crop yieldsto determine the effectiveness of their particular regenerative ag practice. This includes decreased pesticide use which ultimately reduces overhead costs, increases yield, retains water in the soil, and enhances resilience to pests and drought.

Subsequent Investigations

Dirt to Dinner seeks to answer these questions in subsequent Regenerative Ag posts:

  • How does carbon make the soil healthier, and by how much? Who benefits – the farmer? The consumer? The environment?
  • What is in it for the farmer? And will the government mandate specific practices? A deeper dive into carbon credits versus incentives.
  • What does the ramp-up to becoming regenerative look like? How long does it take soil to be regeneratively productive?
  • What is the payback for farmers to compensate for the ramp-up period? Does the yield increase in all cases? Or is it location specific?
  • What are the stories of other farmers successfully practicing Regenerative Ag?

Have questions about Regenerative Agriculture that you would like answered? Let us know here.