What Do the Suez Canal and Covid Have in Common?

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To understand how significant this event is, let’s paint the picture of both the vessel and the Canal.

The massive container-cargo vessel MV Ever Given is 1,300 feet long, about the length of the Empire State Building if it were tipped on its side. Its cargo load is also impressive: the ship can haul 18,300 trailer-size containers that make up an estimated 224,000 tons of all manner of goods. If you were to line those containers end-to-end on land, it would stretch from N.Y.C. down past Washington D.C.

The ship – bound from Malaysia to the Netherlands — encountered 46 mph winds that helped push the huge vessel aground on the Canal’s eastern bank.

In short order, the Ever Given had blocked the entire 984-foot width of the Canal – effectively stopping passage by any of the other 50 vessels that normally move through the Canal each day, Each year, almost 19,000 vessels that travel the Canal. As efforts to free the ship dragged on for a week, the back-up of waiting ships grew well into the hundreds – by some estimates, as many as 350 of these massive ships.

As the incident makes clear, the Suez Canal is one of the most critical global trade points. The Canal, built over a decade beginning in 1859, has become a significant shortcut for oil, gas, and other ocean-borne freight moving in international commerce, especially between Europe and Asia.

Rather than brave the long, tumultuous route around the southern tip of Africa, ships traversing the 120-mile Canal can save as many as 3,500 nautical miles and as much as two weeks in travel time – and cost.

Today, the Canal accounts for about 10-12 percent of international commerce. Lloyd’s List (the recognized Bible of the shipping industry) estimates the cost of the blockage to international trade at $9.6 billion every day – or $400 million every hour or $6.7 million every minute we waited for the Canal to reopen.

If the ship is now freed, what’s the big deal?

The spectacular sight of the motionless Ever Given makes for entertaining video and somber news reports.

But the significance of the event is much bigger than a single cable news cycle.

While the Ever Given has been dredged, and is no longer blocking the Canal, consumers everywhere will be living with the after-effects of this situation for weeks – and possibly months to come.

Why? Because the ripple effects of closing the Canal will spread around the global trading system and once again highlight the delicate balance that exists within our modern supply chain for basic goods – oil, gas, food commodities, manufactured goods, and virtually all the elements of modern daily life.

Modern supply chains are much like carefully choreographed ballets. Each step in the chain depends upon the timely completion of the previous link. Just-in-time delivery is a cornerstone of the system. When deliveries are delayed, stocks may accumulate at production points, and shortages emerge at delivery points. Critical equipment and infrastructure – such as trucks, storage space, and so on – no longer function in the smooth, carefully-timed manner needed to keep the system moving smoothly.

Producers can’t sell, retailers can’t deliver. Consumers became intimately acquainted with these simple realities during the Covid pandemic.

How one ship affects the entire supply chain

As a result of this incident, hundreds of ships will be out of position as they wait at anchor or take on lengthier, costlier travel routes. A global shortage of containers (like those on the Ever Given) will become more pronounced. It will take weeks to sort out the imbalances and restore the system’s normal timetables and schedules. Freight rates are likely to increase, meaning the costs ultimately borne by consumers will rise, too.

Events such as this have a trickle-down effect that spreads across the entire supply chain. Given the importance of the Suez Canal in overall global commerce, the consequences of the shutdown aren’t likely to be confined to only a few, select products. The Canal is an important part of the global energy trade, with almost 10 percent of refined oil and 4 percent of crude flowing through the Suez Canal. Every day, about 600,000 barrels of oil bound from the Middle East to Europe and America travel the Canal.

Video coverage of the event helped everyone see the sheer scale of the problem. 

Most of the products onboard are exported from Asia to Europe and then shipped across the Atlantic to the U.S. For instance, coffee from Vietnam gets processed in Europe and then sent to U.S. grocery stores. But the roster of goods flowing through this trade artery also include furniture, clothing, manufactured goods, even some of the pulpwood that makes up many of the paper products consumers rely upon. (Flashing back to the great toilet paper shortages wrought by Covid.)

Canal traffic regularly includes everyday food staples, notably significant volumes of coffee, as well as livestock. As many as eight of the vessels delayed at the Canal are reported to be carrying animal cargoes. The Canal is a major trade route for many of the 1.6 billion live animals exported by the European Union each year, especially those bound for Asian markets hungry for animal protein. Thus the actual volume or live animal trade affected by this event could be significant. Hopefully, this event won’t prompt another meat shortage like last spring’s declining meat supply.

So what can the consumer expect?

What consumer products will be affected? And how will it all affect the supply and cost of the food we buy every day?

The consumer can expect once again to see some spot disruptions to normal supplies at the retail level. European consumers may bear the brunt of the disruptions, but the ripples will spread to other markets, too. The week-long delay was costly enough on its own.

But as we learned from our Covid experiences, the system will adapt. The Canal is now reopened. The problems we noted will be solved. The only uncertainty is exactly how long that process will take. The more important issue is when the system will return to its normal rhythm, as disruptions and backlogs ease and equipment moves back into normal positions.

This Visual Capitalist chart puts the various shipping choke points in perspective.

We may see some supply disruptions, but they are likely to be more isolated and temporary than systemic and sustained. Prices may spike in certain places for certain products, especially in the energy sector. But supply and demand remain generally in balance for basic commodities and staple goods. There is no need to stockpile.

5 Benefits of Spinach

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!

Today is National Spinach Day! We love this leafy green, nutrient-packed veggie. And, it’s so versatile that it’s almost impossible not to incorporate it into your diet.

5. It’s full of vitamins

Spinach, along with most leafy green vegetables, are high in vitamin K. One cup of cooked spinach contains 740% of our daily value of vitamin K. We need vitamin K in our diet because it is essential in bone health and wound healing due to it being a blood-clotting agent.

Spinach also contains vitamins B12, B6, B9, E, and C.

4. It’s high in magnesium

Spinach is one of the best sources of magnesium in our diets. One cup of cooked spinach contains around 156 mg of magnesium, contributing about half of our daily average of 320-400 mg. We need magnesium in our diets because it helps protect our body against diet-related illnesses, lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, and more.

Along with magnesium, spinach also contains calcium, iron, potassium, and folate.

3. It’s a nootropic food

Nootropics are known for their “brainpower” effects, helping users think better and improve their memory. Spinach is a great nootropic food because it contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which helps with faster mental recall and increased memory. Also, because of its dense nutrient-compound, spinach can even enhance athletic ability.

One cup of cooked spinach a day is enough to see these nootropic benefits.

2. It’s an integral part of the MIND diet

Spinach is loaded with fat-soluble vitamins and phytonutrients, vital for making sphingolipids. Sphingolipids are a type of fat found in brain cells. The beta carotenes, folate, and vitamin K in spinach promote cell growth by helping make up brain cells’ membranes.

1. You can add it to almost any dish!

One of the reasons we love spinach the most is because you can add it to so many different recipes. Spinach is great in smoothies, eggs, pasta, rice, and more. You can eat it as a salad, a side, an appetizer, or in the main dish. The possibilities are endless with this nutrient-dense superfood.

If you’re looking for spinach recipe ideas, here are a few of our favorites:

Avoiding conventional strawberries? Ask these questions first…

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Many regular food shoppers anxiously await the results of the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen” list. Even if you don’t know what or who EWG is, you’re probably aware that conventional strawberries and other common produce items are supposedly loaded with toxic pesticides. With all the press this list gets, you might assume the research behind it must be scientifically credible, right? Well…

Developing Our ‘Reliability Radar’

Some of our everyday news sources, like social media, flood us with information. And unfortunately, much of it isn’t credible. Many websites try to cloud our objective reasoning by intentionally misrepresenting data to ‘sell’ a perspective, much like the sudden popularity of the celery juice diet that Hayley Philip previously wrote about.

So how can we build our analytical defenses back up? We’ve put together our own unique list — “The Discerning Dozen” — a compilation of tips to help you identify good science from pseudoscience. This way, you can be the judge when catchy news stories like The Dirty Dozen are released.

The Discerning Dozen explores four topics to help determine a site’s credentials: credibility, accuracy/transparency, bias, and quality.

In each, we’ll walk you through a few questions to ask about any article that will help you spot problems in the logic. We’ve even created an infographic to have handy for future readings!


Though challenging to read, studies from .edu and .gov websites lay the foundation for good research. Try to stick with sources that use respected institutions to verify their practices and reporting. 

  1. Is it written by someone from a credible establishment? Reports and studies from recognizable institutions (academic, governmental, and/or medical) often have the most detail and are peer-reviewed, meaning other institutions have verified the research. Accredited medical journals with .org and .com sites, of course, can be good resources, too. Newbies to exhaustive reports can read the overviews typically found on the first page to understand the big picture. Still need an interpreter? Check out usefulscience.org; it’s a great resource for deciphering studies and has a simple, intuitive interface. Scholar.google.com is easy to navigate, too.
  2. Does it include knowledgeable industry experts and authors? Trustworthy reports and articles come from professionals with credentials in their related industry. These experts usually provide insight garnered from data, rather than opinion and specious claims.
  3. Which references does the report cite? Reliable research that’s not written by a credible establishment and doesn’t come from an industry expert should, at the very least, cite credible sources, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture or Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to substantiate any claims.

That’s a nice little circle of trust there, right? But as we know from life, few things are that easy…yes, there’s more to consider.


So the site ends in .org or .com and it’s not a medical journal. What’s the next step to check its trustworthiness?

  1. Is it cherry-picking data? This is when an organization only shows data that supports their agenda but fails to address conflicting info or cites data out of context, and/or relies on outdated data since nothing more recent aligns with their purpose.
  2. Do other sites use the same facts? Hopefully, you can find the same information cited by other credible institutions.
  3. How much do they spend on researching their cause – and how much for marketing? All non-profits must publicly disclose financials on their site; you just have to dig for it. For instance, on EWG’s Statement of Activities page, 13% of their expenses went toward marketing and fundraising – not horrible. However, Functional Expenses reveals a much higher figure: in addition to fundraising, each subcategory also has its own marketing expenses. Furthermore, only a paltry 2% of their expenses is going to research and data. That’s not much funding for finding solutions to a problem, is it?

Click here to download infographic.


Time to take a peek under the hood when the site’s validity is not easily determined.

  1. Do a domain double-check: Sites ending in .com and .org aren’t as regulated as the .gov and .edu sites of the world, so you’ll need to dig into the “about us” page for some background. Sometimes it’s hard to tell reputable foundations from organizations peddling questionable products or ideas. So be sure to read the bios of the management team and authors to determine reliability.
  2. Is there political pull? Any site can have an agenda, but not all of them explicitly state it. Advocacy websites, like PETA, are quite clear in their intentions. Reading the “About Us” page can tell you which policies, actions, campaigns, and lobbies they promote.
  3. Is it clear who wrote the article? This is a simple one we often overlook. If the author isn’t stated and/or doesn’t cite sources used for its research, then you can quickly determine it was written in-house to promote the organization’s stance.
  4. Is there only one answer? Does the author address alternative viewpoints on the topic? Good writers don’t omit or contest credible data that conflicts with their intent.


If you manufacture a product, you know about quality control – measures and precautions taken to ensure customers that everything is in good working order. This goes for websites, too…

  1. How’s the quality of the writing? Typos? Wrong words used? Time to check the author and his/her data.
  2. Don’t judge a site by its homepage. Does the site look rather simplistic? Or so polished and bursting with content that you feel like you found a goldmine of good material? No matter the design, the site is only as good as its underlying content, so vet it accordingly.

5 Benefits of Chicken

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!

March 19th is National Poultry Day! And, what better way to celebrate than to talk about one of the healthiest proteins we eat – chicken!

5. It’s a lean protein

We seek to add various lean proteins to our regular balanced diet because they contain less fat and are great sources of nutrients. Chicken is an excellent example of a lean protein because 3 ounces of skinless chicken contains about 17-24 grams of protein with only about 3.5 grams of fat. Chicken with the skin on is around 40 more calories than skinless and has 8 grams of fat.

4. It’s packed with vitamins and minerals

We want to eat food with vitamins and minerals because it’s the vitamins and minerals that fuel our bodies. Chicken contains vitamin B3 and B12, niacin, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and of course, protein. All are essential in our bodies!

3. It’s essential for our brain and nervous system

Chicken contains one B vitamin called choline. Choline accelerates the body’s creation of acetylcholine, which is crucial for brain cell functioning. Eating chicken can also improve memory and help with other brain and nervous system functions.

It’s essential to eat chicken or turkey at least twice per week to obtain these brain benefits.

2. It’s good for our bones and muscles

Due to its high protein quality, chicken is vital in maintaining good bone density and building muscle. We’ve all had trainers tell us to eat protein after a workout. That’s because it helps build muscle. When the protein is lean with less fat, like chicken, it’s even better because it builds muscle with less fat.

1. It can help protect us from diet-related illnesses

We know that chicken is a nutrient-dense food and contains a lot of essential vitamins and minerals. This makes chicken valuable in our diets and also crucial in protecting ourselves from diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. One study found that consuming chicken as part of a vegetable-rich diet led to a decreased risk of developing these diet-related illnesses. And, since chicken is less expensive, it’s helpful in developing countries and our own.

Looking for chicken recipes that are both healthy and delicious? Check out our favorites below:

EWG’s “Dirty” Little Secret: There’s No Science Behind It

Our founder speaks up about our right to choose whether to buy organic or conventional produce by empowering us to use facts substantiated by research institutions, not fears caused by a political group misusing data to fit their agenda.

Every year, an organization called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes out with its list of a “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables that are supposedly “contaminated by some pesticide residue”. EWG’s goal is to get people to buy organic (and thus, more expensive) versions of these fruits and veggies rather than their conventional counterparts. They also make very clear on their website that this is also part of a political agenda and that they even spun off a political group, the “EWG Action Fund”, to lobby on their behalf.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog or checked out my bio, you’ll know I’m not opposed to organic food. In fact, I think both consumers and farmers should have a choice on what they want to eat and grow. I believe if you want to buy organic produce, it should be available to you.

However, whether you decide to buy organic or conventional fruits and veggies, I want you to be armed with facts, not fear. For many of us, the lines are really blurred as to what is better. Honestly, they are both allowed to use pesticides – they are simply different types that are allowed by the organic industry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So, to tell Americans not to eat produce because they might get sick and poison their families is actually adding to our nation’s health issues.  The majority of Americans either have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, or are obese.

Of course, there is no magic bullet. But the American Heart Association Journal, concluded the following:

“Higher intakes of fruit and vegetables were associated with lower mortality; the risk reduction plateaued at ≈5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. These findings support current dietary recommendations to increase intake of fruits and vegetables, but not fruit juices and potatoes.”

It is not just your mother telling you to eat your fruits and vegetables; there continues to be peer-reviewed evidence. In fact, the U.S. National Institute of Health said that eating more fruits and vegetables can reduce cancer, too:

“The epidemiologic experimental and clinical studies conducted…suggest that the risk of colon cancer and possibly other cancers also may be lowered by taking large amount of dietary fibers and other dietary components associated with high intake of grains, vegetables, and fruits. There is an inverse relation between incidence of colon cancer and the amount of fiber consumed.”

Additionally, the Annals of Internal Medicine did a study linking diet to cardiac health:

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables given over 8 weeks were associated with lower levels of markers for subclinical cardiac damage and strain in adults without preexisting CVD [cardoivascular disease].”

The science behind EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” has been called into question. It’s just not true that there are “dirty” or “clean” foods based on whether they were grown conventionally or organically. My biggest concern with what EWG is doing, aside from it being scientifically questionable, is that it can negatively impact our health.

Eating your five daily servings of fruits and veggies can be transformative to your life and health. Don’t let EWG scare you or make it less likely you’ll buy affordable fruits and veggies – regardless of how they were farmed. Rest assured, both organic and conventional methods of farming are safe.

Foster Brothers Farm: Covering Good Ground

We are pleased to have Bob Foster of Foster Brothers Farm write about the farm’s cover crop practices. Based in Middlebury, VT., the dairy farm supplies milk for Cabot cheese products through the Agri-Mark cooperative. The farm also recycles cow manure for their “Moo Doo” compost products sold around the Northeast. Foster is a member of the New England Dairy Association and serves on the Board of Directors for the Soil Health Institute.

When you drive past a farm field this winter, you might be curious about what’s growing there. Yes, growing. At our dairy farm and farms across the state, we’re growing plants on our fields — even in the winter. 

We keep the growing season going 365 days a year with cover crops, like winter rye (shown in the photo at the top of the page). You’ll see fields throughout Addison County and across Vermont green with cover crops still growing as long as the temperatures are around 30 degrees. When temperatures dip even colder or fields are covered in snow, winter rye will go dormant then renew growth in late winter.

Vermont recorded nearly 30% of its available cropland planted to cover crops in 2017 according to the Soil Health Institute, and we’re increasing that number every year. The U.S. average is only 5.6%.  

Covering Ground for Soil Health

Why does this matter? Farmers are covering what were once barren cornfields in the winter because we’ve seen the scientific benefits like carbon sequestration, reduced erosion and nutrient runoff, and flood mitigation. We pair that with reducing tilling or no-tilling in the spring for even greater gains in each of these areas. 

More people are now starting to understand these benefits, too, as documentaries like Kiss the Ground call attention to the fact that without healthy soil our society is in trouble.

Cover crops help us solve the issue of climate change because they are an amazing carbon sink. UVM Extension agronomists estimate that if all 80,000 acres of Vermont’s annual cropland had a cover crop, the carbon sequestration would be equivalent to taking over 51,000 cars off the road. 

To the left: Kirsten Workman, an Agronomy Outreach Specialist at UVM Extension, demonstrates the benefits of rolling cover crops and no-till planting for soil health at a field demonstration at Foster Brothers Farm in Middlebury.

George Foster of Foster Brothers Farm (far left in photo) volunteered to share the farm’s conservation practices as part of a tour of area farms with the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition.

Another reason we use cover crops is to help the soil hold more water. As extreme weather events like heavy rain and flooding become more common, we need our soil to absorb that water and stay in place.

On an acre-by-acre average basis, developed land can contribute up to four times more phosphorus pollution through runoff than farmland and seven times more than forested or natural areas (Lake Champlain Basin Program). According to Food Solutions New England, 85% of the farmland in New England is managed by dairy farmers and is keeping land from being developed.

Putting it into Practice

At Foster Brothers Farm, we grow 900 acres of hay, 550 acres of corn, plus 300 acres of soybeans and small grains to feed our cows. In the spring, our winter cover crop needs to stop growing so it won’t compete with the corn we need to plant on the same field.

Farmers do this in several ways, depending on their goals and conditions. Some harvest the cover crop for feed for the cows, some flatten it down with machinery, some till it underground, and others will kill it with an herbicide like Round Up®, also known as glyphosate. At Foster Brothers, we’ve experimented with doing all of these methods.

The winter rye cover crop is pushed down by a roller-crimper on the front of the tractor. Corn is planted directly into the flattened winter rye at the same time using a no-till planter pulled behind the tractor.

On our farm, the biggest environmental benefits come when the cover crop is not tilled and is left to decompose into the earth, building organic matter, increasing water infiltration, and protecting the surface of our soil. Either rolling it down or using herbicides means there will be no tillage on the field, which dramatically reduces our carbon footprint and helps maintain healthier soil. We have seen this with our own eyes as we have watched our soil improve dramatically as we adopted this conservation cropping system of no-till and cover crops. 

Our soil is biologically active, and we want to take care of it just like we do our cows and people.

Managing Pesticide Use

We recognize that some people have concerns about the use of glyphosate. We don’t take the use of herbicides lightly. We are raising our families on our farms and we share the same concern for safety. We employ certified experts to ensure we utilize these tools safely and only when needed. The time, amount, and method of application of herbicides is extremely precise, specific to the crop, and regulated by EPA and the State of Vermont.

The U.S. EPA, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), as well as other regulatory authorities in multiple countries, continuously review registered pesticide products and have repeatedly confirmed that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and are not carcinogenic when handled according to their label

Most farmers I know have reduced their use of longer-lasting and more toxic chemicals, instead favoring safer and less persistent chemicals to achieve the same goals. Glyphosate is one example of this. It is applied to a growing plant (the cover crop or target weed). It breaks down quickly and is safer for humans, animals, and the environment compared to other options when handled appropriately.

Looking to the Future of Farming

The latest biotechnology innovations enable farmers to practice more regenerative farming techniques and are just one tool that farmers can choose to use. 

I believe agriculture is at the heart of solving a lot of the issues we face like climate change, flooding, and the water quality in Lake Champlain, and there are many paths farmers can choose to get there. Farmers started on this path to improve soil health because protecting the environment is in our blood.

Most agriculturists aren’t out waving the flag about what they are doing. But, as people become more interested in how our food impacts the environment, it’s time we shared how we’re getting the job done while also providing people with things they can use, whether it’s milk, cheese, compost, or other farm products. 

When talking about sustainability, the media and research often focus solely on greenhouse gas emissions or one component of how we run our farms. Few think about the big picture including the positive impact local food production has on food security, nutrition, and our economy. 

The saying is ‘there is no such thing as free lunch,’ but dairy farmers are on track to continue to provide affordable, nutritious food with little impact on the environment. The movement we are building is nationwide and the dairy industry has set our sights on being carbon neutral by 2050.

Every farm has something to contribute and I’m proud to do my part.

5 Safe Food Additives

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!

Additives often get a bad reputation. Many of us assume that if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, it’s automatically bad for you. This, however, is not the case. Many additives are entirely safe for human consumption, so much so, we see them in our fruits and veggies.

5. Octadecenoic acid

Octadecenoic acid, also known as oleic acid, is a naturally-occurring fatty acid in animal and vegetable fats. It’s classified as a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid, meaning it is a healthy fat with one unsaturated carbon bond.

Foods that contain octadecenoic acid include oils, meat, cheese, nuts, seeds, eggs, pasta, milk, and avocados.

4. Hexadecenoic acid

Hexadecenoic acid, also known as palmitoleic acid, is also a monounsaturated fatty acid, specifically an omega-7.

We find hexadecenoic acid in animal and vegetable oils, animal fats, and even breast milk!

3. Phenylalanine

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid. Our body uses it to make proteins.

High-protein foods contain phenylalanine, including dairy products, eggs, nuts, soybeans, meat, and fish.

2. Phylloquinone

When you take a bite of a banana, you get a big chunk of phylloquinone, which can help prevent blood clots. We also know phylloquinone as vitamin K1.

Phylloquinone is most present in leafy green vegetables, but it’s also in some fruits.

1. Chemicals

 Everything we’ve listed above can be considered a chemical, but there is a negative stigma surrounding the word. Yes, some substances are not the best for us, but those are processed chemicals found in foods like potato chips.

Fruits, vegetables, and meat all contain naturally-occurring chemicals, meaning we eat chemicals every day. It’s important to know which chemicals are good for us and which are not.

Lucy Stitzer x Farm Journal: Soil, Plant & Human Health

Thinking about Regenerative Ag with Lucy Stitzer, Dirt to Dinner and Nate Birt, Vice President of Trust In Food, a Farm Journal initiative, was originally published on Farm Journal’s AgWeb on March 2, 2021.

Nate Birt: We hear a lot these days about conservation, or sustainability, or regenerative ag. But soil health is really a fundamental building block underlying every ag system, no matter what terminology we use. It even made it into the Super Bowl this year! What are you observing about soil health in the world of food and ag, and what should farmers be paying attention to?

Lucy Stitzer: Chipotle’s marketing captures the idea of a cleaner, happier, more future facing farming. What does this mean exactly? 

Personally, I think that it all starts with the soil. When I first started learning about soil, I didn’t think it was very glamourous or exciting. But when I realized how alive it is – I started paying more attention.

Did you know that in one teaspoon of healthy soil – there live over 7.8 billion microbes – more than all humans on Earth today. Compare that little teaspoon with the human microbiome – and we have 100,000 billion microbes floating around our entire body – about the size of a mango. 

And these little organisms in the soil are more diversified than all the life – plants and insects – in the Amazon! Because of the Earth’s carbon dance of life, 10% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions are found in the soil. 

Healthy soil means a healthier environment and healthier humans. Regenerative Agriculture makes the soil healthier, have more nutrients, takes carbon out of the air, and retains water. This is different from the concept of sustainability which has broader meaning including animal welfare, human labor, and deforestation. Regenerative agriculture is primarily focusing on the soil itself, however many see it as the panacea to save the world from climate change by pulling carbon out of the air. But we can’t just get there with one type of farming and one answer.

What big-name companies or brands are stepping up their commitments to soil health and regenerative agriculture? What can we learn from these announcements as farmers? 

Walmart is committed to having zero emissions by 2040 – restoring 50 million acres of land will help them achieve their goals. Danone will help achieve their regenerative goals by helping farmers make the shift to regenerative ag by locking in long-term contracts with farmers to guarantee stable profit margins.

And Land O’Lakes, a farmer cooperative, has partnered with Microsoft to help farmers with their rural broadband which, in turn, enables them to have ‘intelligent agriculture solutions’ so farmers can keep their soil healthy by fully utilizing precision agriculture. NRCS is also trying to help farmers invest in conservation practices by providing federal financing, as well as from private capital.

“We seem to be divided on everything…let’s use food to bring people together.”

– Lucy Stitzer

Regenerative agriculture refers to the ability of farmers to strengthen ecosystems through their farming practices – yet you refer to the challenge of balancing regenerative practices as part of an entire food and ag system. What can the larger food and ag ecosystem do to support farmers holistically, including regenerative agriculture adoption?

I think companies, the government, and the entire ag ecosystem can recognize that there is not just one answer to growing our food. There is a tendency in our country to take sides. We seem to be divided on everything from immigration to impeachment to the welfare state to education and religion. Bringing the food to your dinner table doesn’t have to have the same divide. Let’s use food to bring people together – unite the country. There is not just one answer to growing food. Regenerative agriculture is a great answer for the soil – but it is not the only answer.  

Incorporating different agricultural practices into farming will certainly help the soil. But what we have to guard against is putting one type of farming on all farmers. Just as people are unique, so are farms — their soil microbiome, their environment. Every farmer should have a choice on how they grow our food. What works great in Kansas doesn’t work in Missouri. 

Finally, trading carbon credits created at the farm is beginning to be a reality. Farmers would have additional income by selling the carbon they have sequestered in their land. There is still a lot to iron out here – but it is being discussed as a way to reduce carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and provide additional farm income.  

It’s not as simple as every farmer adopting a cookie-cutter set of conservation practices or products. How should farmers be thinking about learning the lay of the land, then customizing sustainability to fit their needs? 

I am not a farmer – so my only thought here is for farmers to tell their story. Let people know how you grow your food, farm the land, use different technologies, take care of your soil and your watersheds.

Agriculture is being thrown under the bus as degrading the environment when the reality is that farmers are generally more environmentally conscious than most of us.

In addition, compared to any other industry, farming is the ONLY one that can be carbon neutral.  

What are you reading/watching/listening to that you’d recommend farmers check out? For example, The Wall Street Journal just published an excerpt from a new book this past weekend highlighting the accomplishments of precision agriculture and many ag sectors, such as livestock, in lowering environmental impact. 

On Saturday, Robert Paarlberg, an agricultural economist wrote an excellent piece in the WSJ reminding us that farming practices over the years has gotten better. Science and technology such as precision agriculture, seed genetics, and irrigation management, have helped reduce pesticides and fertilizers while yields have increased. Growing our meat and producing our milk takes less water, less feed, less land, and fewer animals than it did in the ’70s.  How can we continue this trajectory?  

A great page turner on soil is The Hidden Half of Nature, by David Montgomery and his wife, Anne Bikle. He is a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington and she is a biologist and environmental planner. They write a fun and fascinating book about the soil microbiome.  I loved it and learned a lot. 

I also watched Kiss the Ground. It was thought provoking. It explained regenerative ag very well and highlighted Gabe Brown, a North Dakota regenerative farmer. However, I wish it had a more balanced view on the different types of farming. 

I would like to end with a couple questions for all of us. How can we use creative thinking, technology, and science to advance our food system? How can we push past political agendas and just ‘do the right thing’ for human and environmental health?


Check out Lucy’s full interview here:


5 Creative Ways to Eat Your Veggies

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!

Vegetables are one of the most nutritious foods we can consume, and our bodies need a lot of them. Fruits and veggies should fill half our plates at every meal. If that seems like a hassle to you, it shouldn’t! There are lots of fun and yummy ways to get your daily value of veggies.

5. Smoothie

Need to get a little more vegetables in your diet? Throw them in your smoothie!

Packing your morning smoothie with vegetables is a great way to start your day. The vitamins and minerals will give you energy and help get your day started on the right foot. If you’re worried that your delicious smoothie will taste more like a V8, then fear not. If you add the right fruit and other ingredients, you won’t even be able to taste it.

Spinach is a great vegetable to add to smoothies because it’s a nutrient-dense leafy green with a mild flavor. Just be aware that the blender can strip some nutrients, so don’t rely solely on smoothies for your veggie intake.

4. Load up those eggs

One of my favorite ways to get my vegetables in is to put them in my scrambled eggs.

Again, eating vegetables first thing in the morning is excellent for your body and adding your favorites to eggs is also delicious. I love to add bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, and sometimes even broccoli to my eggs, finished with some spices like Lucifer or Everything But the Bagel Seasoning and feta cheese. It’s one of my favorite meals and gives me the energy to get through my morning.

If you’re looking for a recipe for a veggie breakfast wrap, click here.

3. Veggie-packed bowls

Big bowls of rice and veggies are trendy on social media, but you can make them the most nutritious meal of your day.

When we think of these dishes, the first thing that comes to mind is the rice or quinoa. But, it’s so easy to make the veggies the star of the show by remembering two things – versatility and color. With veggies, you want lots of different kinds because they all contain other yet equally essential nutrients.

Another dish that can fit in this category is stir fry. What’s so great about stir fry is you can add whatever you like. We mix up the veggies all the time. You can switch out the regular rice for cauliflower rice and can also use frozen vegetables.

Did you know that some vegetables are more nutritious in their frozen form than fresh? For example, carrots, sweet potatoes, and collard greens may lose some of their nutrients during transportation. This is why frozen vegetables may be the better choice because they retain more nutrients.

2. Add veggies to your pasta

Veggies and pasta are probably one of our favorite combinations because the flavor is out of this world.

You don’t need to overthink this one; it’s as easy as it sounds. For example, we’ve added seasoned sweet potatoes, carrots, and celery to our Japanese buckwheat pasta. The flavor of this dish is light, but it’s packed with nutrients. One of our favorite ways is to add bell peppers and mushrooms to marinara sauce. This sauce paired with a spicy protein, like spicy turkey sausage, is overflowing with flavor.

You can even opt for veggie pasta, like spinach, chickpea, or zoodles. The possibilities are endless! And, check out this recipe for lentil pasta with veggies and turkey sausage.

1. When in doubt, swap it out

What do we mean by this? 1 word: cauliflower.

I will admit, I was not a believer in cauliflower products. I thought, “Gross, just give me my carbs.” Then I tried cauliflower rice, and it was instant love. Now, I can’t get enough! Cauliflower rice with grated cheese, cauliflower pizza crust, mashed cauliflower, cauliflower tater tots, even buffalo cauliflower. You can do so much with this one vegetable.

Now, I’m not saying only to eat cauliflower. But, if you need extra veggies, swapping out your usual carbs with cauliflower is a great solution.


Don’t Look Now, But They’re Gaining on Us

On the run? LISTEN to our post!

South America – led notably by Brazil and Argentina – has quietly emerged as a major producer of the basic crops and products that form the foundation of our global food system. Their productive capacity extends far beyond the sugar, citrus, cocoa, and other tropical and sub-tropical crops we often associate with any country south of our border. Brazil and Argentina also grow corn, soybeans, wheat, and other cornerstone commodities of the global food system. Four nations – Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay in South America, and the United States – together dominate global soybean trade.

South American producers are feeding expanding populations at home and abroad that want more and better food. And in the process, they have become major global competitors, especially as China begins to fill their soybean and corn deficit both from a growing economy and a rebound of hogs from the African Swine Flu.

Why does it matter? Because it helps meet the growing demand for food, primarily protein, from consumers everywhere. It drives the global markets that determine and maintain the delicate balance of commodity prices. It affects the income and well-being of the U.S. farm community. And ultimately, it influences the prices we all pay for the food on our tables.

Welcome to a Changing World

The headline went almost unnoticed in the major news media. But it attracted a lot of attention in the farming community when it appeared early in 2020 on various news wires…

Brazil to surpass the US as the world’s largest soy producer.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture noted that the 2019-20 Brazilian soybean crop would come in at an estimated 123.5 million metric tons (mmt), far above the weather-troubled U.S. crop of less than 100 mmt. To add to the concern in farm country, USDA also noted that an estimated 75 mmt of the Brazilian crop would find its way into export markets.

Since those reports, the picture hasn’t changed – except to become even more complicated. USDA projects that Brazilian farmers will plant, harvest, and export even larger amounts of soybeans in the 2020-21 marketing year that has just begun. And to make matters more complicated, Trade Market News increasingly speaks of Brazil as not only the world’s largest producer of soybeans, but the world’s largest exporter, as well.

Behind all the numbers, one message was clear: U.S. farmers are facing some tough competition to serve the growing demand for the soybeans and coarse grains needed to feed expanding animal herds around the world — especially the already huge (and still growing) market offered by China.

The Brazilian agricultural sector has grown robustly over the past decade and a half or so – and the Argentinian agricultural system remains a strong competitor in global agricultural markets. Together, these two nations make up an agricultural powerhouse, with rising clout in the world food picture.

A serious analysis of each country’s farming and food production systems would fill books. But just consider a snapshot of each.

Complicating the Picture

What makes South American producers so competitive?

A 2016 study by the U.S Department of Agriculture found that higher land and capital costs in the United States helped give both Brazil and Argentina significant advantages in overall farm-level production costs per acre for both corn and soybeans. Higher U.S. yields for corn helped offset the disadvantage somewhat, but these South American producers were found to have a per-acre price advantage that averaged 11 to 28 percent below U.S. costs.

U.S. corn farmers continue to have the overall price advantage, thanks to their superior per-acre productive capacity. But Argentine corn producers trail the United States by only 3 percent above U.S. costs (25 percent for Brazilian corn growers). Brazilian soybean farmers had a per-bushel cost advantage of 8.5 percent. Those kinds of advantages translate into very attractive prices for foreign buyers – and help explain the emergence of both countries as major factors in global corn and bean markets.

Not everything is rosy for the Brazilian and Argentine farm sectors, however. Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to farming and food, and experts also cite several continuing challenges to growth. Some offer rays of hope for better market opportunities for U.S. producers and exporters.

  • Global supply – and price — issues.

Worldwide stocks (basically soybeans in storage) of soybeans dropped again at the end of 2020, to a seven-year low of 140 million bushels. At the beginning of 2020, that figure was 575 million bushels.

And as economics dictate when supplies decrease and demand increases, prices have enjoyed a resurgence over recent months. Soybean prices that averaged about $9.50 in 2020 now sell for more than $13.50 – levels not seen in almost a decade.

In response, demand for corn as an animal feed also has increased worldwide, allowing U.S producers more opportunity to exploit their edge as the world’s largest and most efficient corn producer.

  • Brazilian supply issues. Brazil faces delivery problems for their soybean export commitments. Brazil is running low in stocks for their domestic customers. As a result, they have temporarily eliminated their 14% tariff for imported soybeans. They could import up to 1 million tons this year.
  • Investment. Not only have Brazilian farmers been willing to re-invest their new profitability in production expansion, but government assistance and foreign investment has helped fuel expansion of the country’s agricultural infrastructure. For example, a modern new road from key production areas around the Amazonian city of Manaus to vital export points has helped the flow of Brazilian crops from field to foreign customer. Soybean producers also have shown a willingness to invest in new, more drought-resistant seeds, and the inputs needed for optimal yields. The commitment to investment will be a key to continuing market competitiveness, as South American producers seek to match – or outperform — their northern counterparts in production efficiency.
  • Currency and economic challenges. The value of the Brazilian real has dropped by almost 30 percent over the past year, lowering the price of Brazilian exports and the cost of production inputs. Much of the continent continues to grapple with how to rebound from a lingering global economic downturn and the very real damage done by a global pandemic. Many have seen a sharp drop in economic vitality, but seem on the rebound now. Those efforts will be critical to attracting the investment that drives growth and modernization.
  • Political instability. Governments continue to struggle with the best means of dealing with political unrest triggered by allegations of government corruption, human rights abuses, economic and social injustice, and other public unrest that triggers fiery campaigns and heated public debate.
  • Environmental pressures, especially within Brazil. Deforestation in key parts of Brazil has accelerated in recent years, outraging the environmental community in an age of climate change. Some politicians and economists counter that more agriculture, logging, and mining are key steps in regenerating the economic health on which progress depends. The debate promises to grow only more intense.
  • American market resurgence. Efforts to resolve lingering trade disputes between the United States and China will be closely watched. USDA’s year-end projections for 2021 point to an expansion in U.S. soybean exports, as trade relations with China settle down and export levels rebound from the depressed levels of the past two years and return to the more traditional levels seen before the contentious trade dispute between the two countries. Soybean exports so far this marketing year are robust, supporting USDA projects that soybean sales to China will grow from the $17-18 billion levels of the past two years to more like $26 billion – above even the high levels reached in 2017.

Flying Down to Rio – and Beyond

Agriculture represents one of the mainstays of the Brazilian economy, despite the global economic downturn of the late 2000s and the more recent COVID pandemic.

Rising population and strong economic growth have created a robust domestic market for a wide and growing roster of food. But the real source of vitality in Brazilian agriculture rests in its enormous success in moving aggressively into global markets.

For decades, the country has developed market-oriented policies and improved farming and food production practices that have made it an international haven for investment.

The government actively supported the agricultural sector with a broad and extensive array of initiatives and policy changes – largely aimed at allowing Brazilian producers to compete for growing world markets food.

Programs helped producers diversify crops, improved their access to the capital needed to mechanize and purchase improved inputs, expanded agricultural research. provided targeted tax reductions and subsidies for select exports – and more.

Where are these exports going? Who are its most important trade partners?

Asian markets represent almost half the market for all Brazilian farm exports. And China is at the top of the list – as both Brazil’s largest export market and its largest supplier of total imports.

Reports from the Brazilian government in the first half of 2020 point to sharp increases in year-over-year sales. In January alone, China bought a record $3.8 billion in Brazilian farm exports, including $750 million in soybeans in that single month, according to their Minister of Foreign Trade. For perspective, that is more than the Pentagon is asking for its defense budget for the entire year.

In plain English, the Brazilian farm economy is growing despite all sorts of challenges, and its exports are going gangbusters, thanks in large part to strong demand from China and the rest of Asia. Brazil – and fellow South American country Argentina – are successfully capturing more and more of the markets important to American farmers and the U.S. agricultural system.

Don’t Cry for Argentina

Argentina shares many of the same characteristics of diverse climate and soil that make Brazilian agriculture so successful. The country produces a wide range of crops and animals, with a robust and growing wine industry.

The rich grasslands of the Pampas region once made Argentina a powerhouse in the production of cereals and cattle. But as the country increasingly urbanizes and other nations improve their competitiveness, Argentina has not seen the same level of dramatic growth and expansion as its South American neighborGreat weather and strong global demand for soybeans, feed grains, and animal protein helped Argentina maintain a strong presence in the global market picture. However, export taxes and other government-directed efforts to manage markets risk further damage to Argentinian competitiveness.

Oilseeds represent the fastest-growing segment of the country’s exports, up 130 percent from 2018 to 2019.

Meat exports rose by half in the same period. Brazil remains Argentina’s most important trading partner overall.

China is Argentina’s second-largest export market, with Viet Nam, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia also buying large amounts of Argentine farm products.

The United States imports around $5 billion each year – mostly metals and minerals, and about $300 million for fruits and vegetables, and another $300 million in wine.

The Argentine government spurred internal controversy in early 2021 by announcing the two-month suspension of licenses for corn exports. The move was intended to conserve corn supplies for local animal feeding, but producers strongly opposed the measure, leading to the imposition of export quotas for corn. Concurrently, Argentina lowered export taxes on a long list of specialty crops, helping improve the price competitiveness of those producers.