agriculture

Organic Panic: A Dietary Dilemma

We all build our new bodies out of the foods we eat, so why not obtain the best building materials we can afford? It's a reasonable thought, but the concept of "organic food" is often confusing. In this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Christian look to see what science has to say about organic and conventional foods.

Black Blizzards of the Dust Bowl

Just look at that photo. It was 1935 and a leviathan of dust advanced on a parched and decimated land. Families fled. Farms fell into ruin. The Dust Bowl terrorized the prairie lands of North America and threatened to turn the entire region into desert. In this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Julie an I travel back to the ruined farms and black blizzards of the Great Depression. What agricultural practices led to this near-apocalypse and how did we plant trees to combat the ecological damage?

Leaf-cutter Ants and the Future of Space Agriculture

An ancient race has come to dominate a single agricultural crop, one in which they've invested everything to sustain their massive population. They're one vicious blight away from starvation, but at this point there's no returning to the source. Their precious crop is a million years extinct in the natural world and there's no going home. It sounds like an ideal plight for a futuristic generation ship, adrift among the stars with a belly full of space crops, but this is of course the story of the leaf-cutter ant.

I love old animated Disney movies, as well as the gruesome Brothers Grimm stories or Perrault fairy tales that most come from. One of the best has got to be "Cinderella," with its talking mice and bad cat in the 1950 film and the grisly, on-the-fly foot surgery in the Grimm's version. So I was pleased to see the cachet of a nice fairy tale title extended to the world of agriculture. "Cinderella species," like their namesake heroine, are diamonds in the rough, underappreciated beauties still hidden in the obscurity of the wild. More specifically, they're the 3,000 species of wild fruit trees that grow in areas of west Africa, southern Africa and the Sahel, largely uncultivated. But that's been changing since the mid-1990s, when researchers at the World Agroforestry Centre surveyed residents on which indigenous trees they found most valuable. Instead of putting timber species at the top of the list, most people chose fruit trees as valued delicacies, staples or even famine food.

Sure, thanks to a pesky sinkhole, all you have are your memories of the Epcot Center's Horizons attraction. But hey, maybe you won't have to wait too long for the real thing. Scientists are once again talking about robot harvesters in a way that brings to mind the ride's futuristic farm equipment (check out the video clip). You can practically smell the oranges.