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Much More Than Good Food

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(Earth Eats theme)

KAYTE YOUNG: Hey from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats. 
JARROD DORTCH: It's an opportunity for us to fundamentally change the way we look at what and how we eat. And I just hope that this isn't just a small moment in that, but it's the beginning of a Food Revolution.

KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show we talk with professor, entrepreneur, community artist, and urban gardener, Jarrod Dortch about the value of growing food beyond the food itself. Harvest Public Media has a story about the effects of climate change on livestock farming, and a piece on farming insects for food. All that and more coming up in the next hour here on Earth Eats, stay with us. 

Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young. Let's start with food and farming reports from Harvest Public Media. Here's Renee Reed. Hi Renee. 
RENEE REED: Hello Kayte. The US Department of Agriculture is helping beef up research at 19 historically black colleges and universities. The USDA is investing nearly $22 million in 58 research projects, four of them are at Langston University in North Central Oklahoma. Wesley Whittaker is the Dean of the School of Agricultural and Applied Sciences. He says institutions like Langston have fewer resources than other land grant universities. But Whitaker says this funding makes them more competitive. 

WESLEY WHITTAKER: We can engage in the lot more research and also better-quality research. Because of these funds, also we can compete for better quality scientists to engage in these research activities.

RENEE REED: In a statement, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the USDA is working to improve equity. He said the funding will build on land grant institutions capacity to come up with solutions for agricultural challenges.

African swine fever has been detected in the Dominican Republic, the closest it's been to the US in 40 years. Harvest Public Media's Seth Bodine reports on the potential consequences of the disease's spread and efforts to control it. 

SETH BODINE: African swine fever isn't a risk for humans, but it's a highly infectious disease that's lethal for pigs. When the Dominican Republic dealt with the disease four decades ago, it led to more than 100,000 pigs dying. Now it's in the Caribbean country again. Paul Sundberg of the Swine Health Information Center says if the disease comes to the US, it could devastate the American pork industry. 
PAUL SUNDBERG: It would stop our pork exports and we export between 25 and 30% of our product right now. So that would be both a production thing as well as an economic consequence. 

SETH BODINE: Sundberg says the US Department of Agriculture is coordinating with the Dominican Republic to control the virus. The Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection have also enhanced inspections. Seth Bodine, Harvest Public Media. 
RENEE REED: An executive order from President Biden could make it easier for farmers to fix their tractors and combines themselves instead of bringing them to a dealer. The so called Right to Repair would force manufacturers to allow individuals access to diagnostic equipment to fix products. Mark Blackwell is a cattle farmer in southern Missouri. He says it's also about having options in repair shops.
MARK BLACKWELL: The John Deere dealership in my area owns 21 stores from Topeka, Kansas, Harrison Arkansas, to Rolla Missouri. So if you own a John Deere tractor, you're going to take it to one of their stores.
RENEE REED: Biden's executive order encourages a move toward right to repair policies, but it would take state or federal legislation to make it the law. Thanks to harvest Public Media's Katie Peikes, Jonathan Ahl and Seth Bodine for those reports. For Earth Eats, I'm Renee Reed.
(Food and farming news theme)
KAYTE YOUNG: The heat of summer reminds us to appreciate things like shade, air conditioning and water. That's especially true on farms across the country where it can be a struggle to keep livestock cool enough. As Harvest Public Media's Dana Cronin reports, with increasingly hot summers linked to climate change livestock producers are searching for ways to keep their animals safe in the heat.
DANA CRONIN: It's feeding time on Borgic Farms in Raymond, Illinois. Hundreds of 12-week-old pigs are crammed into a long barn, climbing over each other in search of feed. It's pushing 90 degrees today and the air here is humid and heavy with the smell of pig manure. Phil Borgic owns this farm, he just turned on eight massive cooling fans with six-foot blades to suck the hot air out of the barn.
PHIL BORGIC: And then if the temperature comes up like this afternoon, and where it gets warm enough, then we'll turn on those waters. But the first thing that comes as a breeze, and then it gets warmer yet, then we bring out the garden hose and hose down to kids and cool them off. 
DANA CRONIN: Borgic's parents bought the farm in the 1950s when most livestock farming was done outside, they've since moved things indoors to help control the effects of increased temperatures on the pigs.
PHIL BORGIC: As we went through time, our fans kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger, to pull more air through and over the top of the pigs and to get that heat out of there. And then the right beginning we didn't add water. And so as we learned we started adding that sprinkle water then to help cool them off to more.

DANA CRONIN: Keeping the animals cool is essential not just for their comfort and health but also for their productivity. Amanda Stone researches heat stress in dairy cows at Mississippi State University and says milk production can decrease a whopping 25% when cows are too hot.
AMANDA STONE: So if a cow is producing 100 pounds, during periods of heat stress, she's only producing 75.
DANA CRONIN: And it's not just cows, it's goats too. Every morning at 5am the 100 plus goats here at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery outside Champaign, Illinois file in for milking. Milk meters measure how much each goat produces per day. When it's hot farm co-owner Wes Jarell says there's less milk and he has noticed the changing climate is having an impact.
WES JARRELL: We've always known that in the summer heat, their production goes down. And we know just by looking at the records that the duration of that and the intensity of that is increasing.
DANA CRONIN: Prairie Fruits Farm is pasture based, meaning the goats spend most of their time outside grazing on acres of grass and shrubs. Like dogs, Jarell says goats pant when they get too hot and take cover in the shade under trees. And while the farm does have a couple of small barns, he says they're making plans to build a bigger indoor facility, in part because it's getting harder to keep the goats cool enough. 
WES JARRELL: In the summer when it's going to be hotter and more humid. We need the best ventilation possible and we need protection.
DANA CRONIN: The price tag on that new barn is nearly $700,000. Climate experts predict that if we continue emitting greenhouse gases at the current rate, most of the summer in Illinois will consist of so-called dangerous heat days. And while that might make the $700,000 barn worthwhile, Jarell says they'll have to find a way to pay for it, and there are a few options.
WES JARRELL: Obviously what we need to do is make sure we can sell the products, and we can look at what customers are willing to pay.
DANA CRONIN: So don't be surprised when you start paying a little more for your milk, pork, or goat cheese. It may just be another cost of doing business in a changing climate. I'm Dana Cronin, Harvest Public Media.
KAYTE YOUNG: Harvest Public Media covers food and farming in the Midwest. Find more from this reporting collective at
(Trendy Music)
JARROD DORTCH: Tomato, celery, early girls in the middle, patio tomatoes on the ends and then a mix of peppers and celery. And then over here we've got some nice eggplants that are coming.
KAYTE YOUNG: It took Jarrod Dortch and a few tries before we successfully scheduled an interview on his home garden in Indianapolis. We were both on board, but life kept getting in the way. When the day finally arrived, it was raining but I wasn't about to cancel. Luckily Dr. Dortch's home has a covered front porch.
JARROD DORTCH: I'm Dr. Jarrod Dortch. I am actually a professor of communication at Indianapolis. I live in the Garfield Park area, I just moved down here maybe less than a year ago. So I'm getting to know the neighborhood moving from a suburban area to a more urban area.
KAYTE YOUNG: He lives in a bungalow on Nelson Street in the Garfield Park neighborhood in Indianapolis. It's part of the Big Car Collaboratives, artists and public life residency in the Cruft street comments. The tube factory art space is just around the corner, and Jarrod Dortch has been connected with the art collective for about 10 years.

But I was here to talk to him about his work as a gardener. Jarrod  is the owner and operator of Soulful Gardens. I asked him how he got started.

JARROD DORTCH: Well, Soulful Gardens came out of... while I was working on my dissertation, five years or so back, I was really stressed out, wasn't eating great, just need to do something different. So me and my dad, we started gardening in my backyard. My parents had moved near where I was living before. And my mom for some reason wasn't going to let my dad have a garden. So I was like, "You know what, I got plenty of space. How about we start one in my backyard?" 

And it was Memorial Day weekend, we were listening to the race, we went to the to the nursery early in the morning, got a bunch of stuff. And then that day, we put in a bunch of vegetables and it took off. And once I saw that, and every day I would come out and I would look at my leaves and my plants and I will try to take care of them. And then after doing that, eating fresh from the garden, I thought well, I wanted to share this with other people. 

So I kind of started what is a CSA, I didn't know that at the time, community supported agriculture. So I was saying, give me like $50 at the beginning before the season starts, and I'll invest that money into the garden, and I'll take care of the garden, I'll water it, I'll buy the plants and stuff. And all you need to do is come by every week or so and pick up a pound to three pounds of produce. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Jarrod found that though people wanted to support him by purchasing a membership, they didn't always show up to pick up their shares. And he struggled to find places to donate the fresh produce. Many local pantries were only set up to take nonperishable food. He eventually found a pantry that distributes produce, and he donated some to Second Helpings, a community kitchen that's well versed in handling perishable foods. But Jared realized that he needed to adjust his model to make it work for him. 

JARROD DORTCH: So then I moved into working with Big Car down here in Garfield Park, I started doing their raised bed gardens. And once I started doing the raised bed gardens, I learned that, maybe I could take the garden actually to the people's house, instead of coming to get vegetables from my house. 

Big Car is an art space, the museum gallery and public community art area. So I've been working with them for the last almost 10 years now as a community artist, and they've been very supportive in all my endeavors. And then as I moved into gardening, they had boxes that were already available to them. And I stepped in to work those boxes and worked through other boxes in the neighborhood. And I really learned the craft doing that. 

Then once I did that I learned how using a raised box raised bed, how much more efficient and much better the growth was, and then also how much more accessible it is that people because a lot of times you're either you can't dig, or you don't want to dig or your ground or your soil might not be good. Or you might have animals, or you might have you know, pets, and you want to raise it up or you want to look a certain way, I found that the boxes were much more efficient. You can control the soil and also it allowed for individuals that may have never grown anything before, to be more successful, it's much more successful that way. So to taking that and then moving into trying to find a way to replicate that at a retail level for individual homes. And that became really a good thing for me. 

Once I realized that the CSA format for me personally wasn't going to be personally and professionally wouldn't be that great. I started having people inquire about, "I want to start a garden. How can I do that?"

And I was like, "Okay, let me figure out what would be the best way to bring a garden to people's homes." Because I always say what's fresher than the farmer's market is your yard. If I can walk outside and pick something, it's going to be much more likely that I'm gonna eat that than if I had to go somewhere to get it. 

So I started doing some investigation after I learned about raised bed gardens and square foot gardening. I started doing some research and I said "You know what, let me attempt to build some of these of my own." Because they're like kids out there and things I wanted to build on my own. And I didn't have a whole lot of experience with like woodworking and power tools, any of that. So I learned all that stuff. And then I started developing a basic box concept that I liked. It's four by four box that gives you 16 growing zones if you're into square foot gardening, I put a little fence around it. I mean animals are gonna get into it, but not as many as that barrier tends to help quite a bit. 

And then I started learning about, where to companion gardening, like what plants need to be next to what and what positioning in the garden, north, south, east or west, should you put certain things. And then once I got through all that learning on that next season, I came out and I started offering a few boxes. 

And I had one customer that first year, and they're still a customer of mine, I come by every year, and I replant their box. And then after that it started, it started to grow, people started to see the promise in the product that I was producing, they started to see the growth, people started to see health wise the benefits of eating fresh. And then unfortunately, we had a pandemic where everyone was at home, they needed things to supplement their STEM education for children, they were worried about food in the stores, they're worried about in a supply chain. So it kind of all came together at the same time. And not that I would ever say that the pandemic was a benefit, but it was a benefit to those individuals who were interested in growing their own food because it taught a lot of people how necessary it was. 

It also was kind of an issue for a while because that first year, during that first summer of the pandemic, there was a lot of seed and a lot of materials being used by individuals that hadn't used before. So for individuals that were in the industry or in the business of agricultural business, it became more difficult to find supplies and things. But I never got upset about it because I knew people were using it for overall good, for being in more engaged and more involved in the food that they're eating. 

KAYTE YOUNG: But the pandemic led to other issues, which we'll hear about after a short break. My guest is Dr. Jarrod Dortch of Soulful Gardens in Indianapolis. Stay with us. 


I'm Kayte Young. This is Earth Eats. I'm speaking with professor, community artist and urban grower, Jarrod Dortch. Before the break, we were talking about how the pandemic increased demand for his raised bed gardening services, but also how gardening supplies were somewhat depleted due to the new crop of home gardeners that had sprouted up with stay-at-home orders and food scarcity concerns. This year, Jared found that lumber was so overpriced, it made it difficult for him to continue building raised beds for the prices he had been offering. 

JARROD DORTCH: I did a really large community garden up in Gary. And by the time I got done, the wood I was buying for the last set of beds, I believe was five $5-$10 more than it was when I originally bought the original. So budgeting has been very difficult. It's been up and down but I think things are settling down a little bit now. 

KAYTE YOUNG: So tell me more about the community garden you started up near Gary. 

JARROD DORTCH: So I started a garden at a charter school in Gary, the charter school the Dunes. They wanted to supplement their food for our students with the garden and they also want to use the garden for education. So I think we built like four large beds to begin with. And then we went ahead and added more beds, and we also built a greenhouse. Hopefully this will be an opportunity for the students in the building and the community surrounding it to be able to have more access to fresh foods and fresh produce. 

Yeah, like for them I know a lot of times they start seeds in like their science classes and things and then they can put those seeds into the ground and see and turn into plants. And then also in their math classes they can learn about how much you can get from a certain plant, even if they do a farmers’ market or something of that nature, you can start doing some additions. So there's so many different opportunities for them to learn from. 

And number one thing is like learning about the soil itself what components make up the soil, how to make soil, and I don't say dirt, I say soil because there's a difference. 

Soil is something that feeds and nurtures your plants. Dirt is like what you use to fill holes. So for knowing like getting into permaculture dealing with worms and learning about worm castings and how that is a benefit to your soil, and learning about how leaves and other natural materials, biodegrade and compost and how that is a net benefit for the actual flavor and nutrition of the plant or the vegetable that you're eating. Like a tomato is much more nutrient dense if it comes from certain soil. These are things that students may have not been exposed to. But as we need to know more about these things, I think they will know more about these things with the addition of these types of supplemental educational things at their schools. 

KAYTE YOUNG: So you went up there and built the beds and kind of set up the system, will you be offering support throughout, like coming back? 

JARROD DORTCH: The plan is to do some do some educational programming either via video or in person. But also, they'll always be something that I'm always checking in on. They've connected with Purdue Extension of there, and they have some strong student and faculty leaders there that are working on it. So it's going to be something to be taken care of. I also always have a hand in it as it's going to be something that's always going to be in my heart. 

So one of my biggest worries going into it was like who is going to take care this? Actually one of my best friends is the school officer at the school. He's also a pretty good gardener, so I know that he'll keep an eye on things. But I wanted to make sure that there were systems in place. And that's one of the reasons we built the greenhouse, but I want to make sure they had like a water system throughout it. Because it's even though it's a little cooler in Northwest Indiana, it's gonna be hot, and then when we add the plastic, it's gonna be super-hot. And now are you gonna be able to maintain the beds? And they'll be like yes. There's a whole lot that goes into it. I've always tried to stay away from big greenhouses, because I know that's gonna be a big job for one person. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Well, and also with school gardening, you have to take into consideration what months of the year are they there, and what months are they gone, and then plan your garden according to that, which is hard because the summer growing season, they're not around. 

JARROD DORTCH: They're coming in really when it's kind of a change over, from you're harvesting from the summer plants, and then you're moving into planning your fall garden, if you're interested in having a fall garden, so it's very difficult. And then there's always transitioning between students in and out. And depending on how you had this set up, is it a garden club, or if it's part of a classroom assignment, who's going to be involved and how often they're going to be involved? So there are a lot of factors, and it really was a learning experience to find out what is the best means in which to approach a situation where you're dealing with students at a school?

And that exposure is great, it's really an area where food access is a huge issue. It provides them a kind of an understanding. Cause there's a lot of students, a lot of people in general that don't know where their food comes from. I think that was a huge factor is the fact that the plan was to utilize some of that produce in the actual lunches and the actual meals that are being served. And also it would provide supplemental food for families for children take home to their family, so and then also the child feels like they've done something because they've been part of bringing home food and a part of creating the food that their families eating. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah, if you can see your own cherry tomatoes you grew in the salad bar at the school, it feels like you have a sense of pride, like, "We did that!"

JARROD DORTCH: And I have a real thing about cherry tomatoes because in my garden they're usually like snack food for me or for my animals, my dogs. But if you go to the store, they're like 4.99 a pound. And I'm like these are literally while I'm out in the garden, working the soil or picking weeds, or pulling off some dead leaves, I'm eating the cherry tomatoes like candy, and then you go the store it's 4.99 a pound. 

It's really important that we learn about eating, seasonally eating, growing and seasonally grown. We've gotten spoiled to the fact that I can go to the grocery store and get something outside of the season. But learning about creating recipes and creating meal plans based off of what's available at the time is really really important. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Since you bring up recipes, could you talk about any of the foods that you've discovered through your gardening efforts that stick with you or have become favorites.

JARROD DORTCH: It's really funny because the first little garden that I ever did, I took a chest of drawers, I took all the drawers out. And for each of the drawers I turned those into little lettuce beds and then the actual chest itself I turned her over, I turned it into a pepper bed. So I guess I was doing raised beds before I really knew it. 

And so in our house, the number one priority for us every year is our peppers. Because we can use those in about everything. And we like peppers, we like them hot, and we also like to freeze them, and can them, and pickle them.

And then the lettuce, once I had the list from my garden, usually like loose leaf mesclun mix or green, or a green or a red mix, it changed the way I view the salad like it was totally different. And I've been off iceberg for a long time. I know about the romaines and I know about buying green leaf lettuce at the store, but it's really different when you're growing it in your yard. If you're smart enough and not do like I didn't plant it all at once, you can have it all season long. And those are the very basic things. 

Like I said, tomatoes, my dad always grew a lot of tomatoes and we had peppers, but seeing the vast variety of pepper, and the different complex flavors that those peppers can bring to different meals really changed a lot of things. Were big omelet people, omelet frittata, egg-based meals. And so I use a lot of peppers, like directly out of the garden, a very vast mix of them too. Hot, very regular, like earthy, smoky. There's such a different variety of flavors. So I think even though it may not one food, but just the fact that I have access to that many different flavors, really with peppers, and knowing that they're such a good food for you overall, with the level of fiber and other content. I think the peppers is the number one thing. 
KAYTE YOUNG: You said you hadn't really been that into eggplant before, but then you discovered some things you could make with it. 

JARROD DORTCH: Oh the eggplant, really the Ichabod eggplant, this smaller, Japanese style eggplant. Growing up, I've had eggplant parmesan, and I'm not a big fan like I really actually wasn't a very big fan. But finding the smaller eggplant and putting it into stir fries and using like a lot of the vegetables from the garden together, in a stir fry a very quick, hearty healthy meal. Those are things that really got me. 

And then the herbs, my wife is very into the herbs and learning about not only the taste of the herbs, but the medicinal properties of different herbs. That really has changed the way that we eat too. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah, and herbs are one of those things where it just feels ridiculous to go to the store and buy a little packet when you're like, "I could just be snipping them in the yard!"

JARROD DORTCH: Once you realize how easy herbs are to grow, and how bountiful they can be, it really is, it really is. I guess, our favorite thing that we found out about is we planted garlic, a couple of years back. We planted like Halloween, and then we pulled it on Father's Day the next year. And that was our that was our biggest moment. That was the epitome of we're in this now. Once we could pull garlic straight out ground and have our own garlic, and then the fact that you can just take a bowl of garlic and turn into like an 8-10 garlic plants. It takes patience, we had to make sure that we covered them over the winter. And we took good care of them. But to see them pop up and to be able to eat them and be able to share them with people, it really changed like... that was our we made it then, we've made it now. The fact that we're growing our own garlic. 

And now my wife and I are trying to get into like ginger and turmeric and some of the more root vegetables and things are a little bit more exotic. But garlic really was the one. Because I find myself, those were the things that we were buying the most. Onions, I got better at onions, that meant a lot to me because we use a ton of onions. Onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes, these are the things that we use in multiple different types of meals. 

It really made me happy because during that time, the garden is growing when other things are not. So at least you're still growing something. So I could still go outside and like see growth and see that period where you're like waiting, between maybe November to March or you're waiting on something to grow. Garlic gives you that little fix, like, "Oh, I can go out and all the garlic sprouting. The garlic is coming up. I'm seeing some stocks."

It gives you a little boost because you're not able to grow. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Growing food is not just about the food for Jared Dortch. After a short break we'll hear more about what gardening means to him. Stay with us. 

(Funky music)

Kayte Young here, this is Earth Eats. If you're just joining us, my guest is Dr. Jared Dortch. He's a communications professor, a community artist, and an urban gardener. We've been talking about some of the foods he likes to grow. Some of his favorites are peppers and garlic. We talked about other foods that he recommends for first time gardeners, and how to handle the surplus, if your garden is particularly successful. 

JARROD DORTCH: I always tell people to grow things that are going to have a bountiful production, that you also can save for the time that you don't have it. So the fact that you can freeze those things is really good, canning and freezing. It's really freezing for me, get you food saver or something that keeps the package without air in it. That's really important and you can have for who knows how long. 

We did a lot of canning, I stepped away from canning a little bit. We always made canned pickles, like hot pickles with either cucumber or like green tomatoes. There's so much sodium in a lot of that, that though I slowed down with that. 

For a while my wife would do canning of fruit. My wife made some really great like preserves and jams. But we don't do as much we just don't have as much space. And there's only two of us. We don't really use as much of it as others would. My parents still do a lot of a lot of canning of peppers and tomatoes for pickles. Yeah, definitely. 

I tell people a bush beans is another one, cow peas, like purple hull peas or black-eyed peas. They're bush. So they'll take up a lot of space, they produce quite a bit, you'll get two or three solid harvests off of them depending on how many you plant. You can dry them, you can can them, you can freeze them. I think that my number one thing I tell people is that we're planting your garden make sure you're planning on things that you can freeze, dry or can, so there's longevity. I wanted to make sure that what I was growing wasn't going to go to waste. 

Green beans or like cow peas, which are like black eye peas, purple hull peas and then tomatoes, peppers, those are all things that can be, multiple ways of saving them for later. I used to make a lot of canned pickles. I do like, I call it sauce, but it's really pico de gallo. Now I can grow every element of it. I can grow the garlic, I can grow the onions, I can grow tomatoes, I can grow the peppers. I can't grow the limes. That's the only thing I guess, but I guess I could grow a mini lime bush. I haven't done that yet. But you can use lime basil, which has got the same flavor. So that's one of the things that motivated me to be better at, like the onions and garlic were issues I had, things I couldn't grow. 

KAYTE YOUNG: I'm not very good at onions. 

JARROD DORTCH: The onions are difficult at times. Soil is really the key with those. I've had some more success recently than I've had in the past. But those were things I know that whenever we're buying groceries, we're buying those things. And those are things I know that are staples in our home. 

KAYTE YOUNG: So do you grow any fruits, do you grow any berries or...?
JARROD DORTCH: Our plan, like we just moved down here so our plan next year is to start a bit of... not an orchard but some smaller plants. You know, you fruit, your peach trees and your apple trees, couple of those. We haven't had great luck with raspberry, blueberry bushes and things of that nature. So our next step is really I wanted to first understand the growing of the garden vegetables. But now I want to get more into the fruit and the fruit trees and the fruit bushes. 

We did do strawberries for quite a while. And we had good we had pretty good luck with strawberries. But that's the next step is really getting into the fruit and learning about how to maintain them and how to keep them going. I know that it's a little bit more difficult than just growing your annual vegetables. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Jarrod has plenty of ideas about what to grow, and how to prepare and preserve the food that you've grown. But from that very first garden that he planted with his father, one Memorial Day weekend, it's always been about more than just the food for Jarrod Dortch. I asked him to think back on that time on what led him to gardening in the first place. He was in graduate school, working on his dissertation. 

JARROD DORTCH: Really, like I went to the doctor and I got all my bloodwork done, and my health was not good. Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, all of it was a problem. So when I started working in the garden, it gave me an opportunity to kind of let go of a lot of things to do something that was positive, to see growth every day. And also be outside, not sitting in front of a computer, not sitting at a desk to be outside doing something physical. It got me to motivated to do a lot more than I had been doing. And I think that that got me to say, "You know what, I think that this could be a benefit for other people."

Because I know, you get into your 30s and 40s. And you're in your job and a lot of our jobs are sitting and working at a computer, at our desk, and not doing a lot of like actual movement or being outside. I think that it was an opportunity for me to do something that really changed my health. And I knew that if it changed my health, that it could be beneficial to others that I knew we're dealing with the same issues. 

It really is a holistic thing. It really is about going outside and it's about patience, learning to wait on a seed to grow into a vegetable. Like that's the most awesome transition to see a little bitty seed guy pop out and become this beautiful vegetable, and then eat it on your plate later on. It's about actually getting some vitamin D and getting some actual activity by digging and working, about getting to know the earth better. It's really more than just... it's really about not being into instant gratification. The majority of things that we deal with and the things that we prepare and how we get things now are so quick, that we don't really have the opportunity to really understand where it's coming from and understand like, the work behind it. Like when I eat lettuce out of my garden, or I eat tomatoes out of my garden, it's a different experience than just eating a tomato that I bought, or even now more than anything had delivered to my home by a grocery store. So it's a it's a totally different experience. 

Yes, the produce, I mean, honestly, there's always an economic factor, and the benefit from growing your own food. But really, the experience was much less about that, and much more about just getting outside, being active, learning a new skill, finding something to dive into, to do research about and find out about, that was something that I wanted to do. It wasn't dictated to me. So it's a totally different situation. Yes, I saved a lot of money, because I had food available. And I found ways to use the food that I had to make meals, even though I may have not like eggplants and things like that hadn't really cooked very often. But I found out ways to use them. Because I found out that it's really important to be connected to what you're cooking or eating, and to have an experience and learning about that. It just changes the way that you view food in general. 

KAYTE YOUNG: What do you think about the way that a lot of people who hadn't been interested in growing food before suddenly became interested when the pandemic hit? 

JARROD DORTCH: I think it's good. It's unfortunate that it had to be this situation that got people interested in the food. But for me to get so interested in it, it took me to see my health decline. So if this is what got individuals to be more interested in it, my only hope can be that it's not something that ends once things get so called better. My hope is that it's a lifelong skill that they've gotten now, or a lifelong habit that they have, or lifelong joy. Yeah, it's something they enjoy doing. I know, I've worked with several young people, and every year, this is what they like to do. Like they know they're gonna be home during the summertime. And they're growing up. And this is something they're doing, and they've learned a skill and they get us into their adulthood. 

I think the number one priorities is that we don't forget the lessons learned from the situation. And then we take the skills that we learn, and we continue to pass them on to either, and it's not always just to your children, it's to whoever's open to the information. Like I want to share it with my community members and my neighbors and whoever else wants to learn something about it. I want to learn from my community members, I want to learn from my neighbors, I want to learn from young people that are growing things that I'm not growing. I just think that it's an opportunity for us to fundamentally change the way we look at what and how we eat. And I just hope that this isn't just a small moment in that, but it's the beginning of a Food Revolution as it comes to individuals. 

And everybody's not gonna jump into it. But I think that those who have spent the time and effort the last couple of years, I hope that they continue to do so, and they spread the word. And I hope that they realize it beyond the economic point. Yeah, the holistic point. Like for me, it was totally like I can't afford to buy food at the grocery store. I don't like to do it, because I know from past history, like the how much more it cost to go to the store. But I also know that there's so many other benefits from going into the garden and doing it then there are from going to the store in general. And there's nothing wrong with the grocery stores, we need to have those, but you definitely can supplement your eating with having your own garden. 

KAYTE YOUNG: It makes me feel better. That's the reason I do. I like how I feel when I spend time in the garden. 

JARROD DORTCH: I find that I'm more creative once I come out of the garden too. I do a lot of art related stuff. And I feel like when I spent some time in the garden and I truly spend time where I can like genuinely spend that time thinking about what I'm doing in the garden, it's not just the mechanics of it. Like it's actually like oh, okay, planning and looking at and being creative and thinking about the long-term outcome of what's going to come from what I'm growing over when I'm planning things. I think that spurs my overall creativity and makes me more of a well-rounded individual. As I approach different issues or problems or, opportunities, anything. 

KAYTE YOUNG: With a full-time teaching job, involvement with community art projects, and the growing demand with Soulful Gardens, Jarrod has been feeling overstretched. He wants to make sure that gardening remains a nourishing element of his life, rather than a source of stress. An injury this summer forced him to step back a bit. And he says he'll be rethinking the future of the work.

JARROD DORTCH: Soulful Gardens will definitely be going under the microscope

during the colder months this year, and decisions will be made about how we best can serve our community going forward. I feel that for me as an individual, it's a little bit too much for one individual to do. It's a good thing, it means that you've built something that's gotten big enough that you need to expand. But now it's really about deciding how we wanna expand, and also I joke about it, but we don't want to be McDonalds. I want to make sure that there's still a personal feeling involved with the business, but I also want to make sure that more and more people are able to experience the joy of growing your own food. So it's really about finding a balance between efficiency and productivity. Like the more people that we can serve, the better, because it opens up more opportunities, and more access to more people. But we also want to make sure that we're not so focused on quantity that the quality is not there. Either quality of production or quality of experience. Cause it's really an experience. 

It was a struggle this season. And I planted some vegetables and some boxes here at my home, and they did not do very well at all. I don't know what it was this year, but they just weren't doing very well. And I just, I said you know what I'm not going to give up on these, I'm not going to say just "You know what, they all can't be winners" and walk away from it. 

I decided that I was going to transplant them into a new box, all the plants that I had before I transplanted to a new box, and that happens to be the box at the front that's doing the best right now. So all those plants were ones that were underdeveloped, they hadn't been growing very well, and I took some time and I really put some effort in to transplant them. Which is something that I'm not as skilled at. 

There were okra, eggplant, tomatoes, kale, and chard. And I moved those, and they're doing really well now. So they're like the few plants that I’ve been able to really spend some time with, really work with, really focus in on. And they've done well after a really rough start. And I kind of feel like, they give a light at the end of the tunnel for this whole season. They provide a light at the end of tunnel even though things might not work out exactly as you want them to, when you want them to, or how you want them to, if you take the time and the effort and have some patience, things will work out in the end. 

KAYTE YOUNG: The garden in his new place is just getting started, but it's already productive. We stepped out in a light drizzle to take a look. 

Okay so what all do you have in this bed? 

JARROD DORTCH: This all celery, tomatoes, early girls in the middle, patio tomatoes at the ends, and then a mix of peppers and celery. And then over here we have some nice eggplants coming. Kale which I got some broccoli in front, okra, that's coming. These eggplants I'm really proud of them, because they were really struggling. And they are beautiful now. 

KAYTE YOUNG: They look gorgeous, and they don't have all that like sleet beetle damage they usually get. 

JARROD DORTCH: Because a lot of it is running towards the green plants, but the broccoli I'm going to be able to use that head no matter what happens to the leaf. I've got a few cabbages in here and they've got eaten up pretty bad. But like I said I don't put any pesticides on stuff. I don't even put like diatomaceous earth or any of that on it. Like I don't put any of those type of, anything that will kill a pest will kill something else too, to me. 

So I'm going to start doing, chard has a leaf that doesn't get eaten very much. So I'll do more chard. Collard greens do okay. But cabbage, kale, they get eaten pretty much pretty bad just in the hot summer. So I'm going to work on really refining my technique about the time that I spend and when I put things in, and where I put things. Like I got these two beds, once things slow down a little bit, like this is the first week I've had off of school too. But I'm going to fill those up and put like cauliflower and broccoli and 

KAYTE YOUNG: Some fall stuff

JARROD DORTCH: Some fall stuff in, cool season crops. I'm also going to put some plastic over top of these during the fall to do some extensions. 

(Funky music) 

KAYTE YOUNG: Thank you so much for talking to me, I really appreciate it. 

JARROD DORTCH: No problem, no problem. I really enjoyed it. It's been a difficult season, but like I always say, from the obstacles that you face, you learn, and you adapt, and move forward. Always forward. 

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Dr. Jarrod Dortch of Soulful Gardens in Indianapolis. Find out more about his work at 

Insects have long been a part of people's diets, but in the United States, edible bugs like crickets and meal worms are a niche industry. As Harvest Public Media's Katie Peikes reports, some insects enthusiasts are focused on getting people over the perceived ick factor. 

SHELBY SMITH: Good mornign!

KATIE PEIKES: On a hot Saturday morning at the Des Moines farmer's market, lots of people walk by a tent that has signs that say "Dare to eat differently and eat prairie lobster" 

Child: It's a cricket!

KATIE PEIKES: That's 8-year-old Reese Gohr, she just watched her dad Charles and her sisters Everly, and Charlie try roasted crickets. 
CHARLES GOHR: They don't have a lot of taste guys. 

KATIE PEIKES: Reece then caves to the pressure

REESE GOHR: I ate it! It tastes weird

CHARLIE GOHR: Is it bad that I like it?

CHARLES GOHR: No, it's not!

KATIE PEIKES: Shelby Smith owns Gym-N-Eat Crickets. She sells cricket powder and cricket protein bars. But she says her smokey barbeque roasted crickets are her best seller. 

SHELBY SMITH: Hot and spicy and buffalo ranch are my two favorites, fiesta tastes kind of like Doritos.

KATIE PEIKES: Smith eats crickets every day, by the handful, in a taco, or on eggs. Smith got into cricket farming in 2018. She grew up on a farm, but her dad advised her to explore something other than corn and soybeans. She heard about crickets on podcasts and bought some from amazon. She says they were airy and bland. She wants her customers to have a better experience, so she spices them up a little. 

SHELBY SMITH: I want everybody to have the most tasty cricket that they can for their first cricket, because for some Americans that's going to be the only shot you get at getting them to eat insects. 

KATIE PEIKES: It all starts on a small farm in central Iowa. It's breeding time and the male crickets are chirping. Smith says there are about three quarters of a million crickets in a building the size of a one-bedroom apartment. 

(Sound of crickets chirping)

SHELBY SMITH: So they are only a few days away from harvest, they just don't know it yet. 

KATIE PEIKES: Every month and a half, Smith takes the crickets and puts them in a freezer and boils them before she roasts them or makes protein bars. Insects have been picking up steam as an alternative protein source. They take less water, land, and feed to produce than beef or pork. Wendy Lu McGill heads the North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture; she says education and exposure are key to getting people to give insects a chance. 

WENDY LU MCGILL: And when you are feeding people insects, the, "It's not so bad" reaction is kind of our entryway to get people to just expand what they're eating. 
KATIE PEIKES: McGill says she'd like to see edible bugs become more standard, kind of like how oat milk or almond milk took off in the market. Insects are already a pretty normal food for more than 2 billion people around the world, like in Ghana. Iowa State University's Manju Reddy says it has to do with people not always having access to food. 

MANJU REDDY: People who are not food secure, they are willing to try. But if someone has their food secured, they don't want to try. 

KATIE PEIKES: That's what Reddy and a student from Ghana found through research. Reddy is a food science and human nutrition professor. She says in the U.S. it'll take a while for insects to become a regular part of the menu. 

MANJU REDDY: I mean in my personal opinion it's going to take a long time to make it as a staple food. It can be an additive. 

KATIE PEIKES: Unlike in Ghana it's expensive to farm insects here. It's a relatively new industry, there's not a lot of research, and there are no government subsidies. Also people who are allergic to shellfish may be allergic to some types of insects. 

Shelby Smith knows there’s a long way to go, but her cricket products are getting more exposure. They're now sold at more than forty Hy-Vees in five states. 

SHELBY SMITH: If we can even just get a fraction of the people that eat seafood, to start eating insects, I think we're winning. It's just changing the way Americans think about food, one bug at a time. 

KATIE PEIKES: Smith says even if they’re not for everyone, she wants insects to be more widely eaten. Katie Piekes, Harvest Public Media. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Harvest Public Media brings us all kinds of stories about food and farming in America’s heartland. Find more at 

That's it for our show this week, thanks for listening. We'll see you next time. 

RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Payton Knobeloch, Josephine McRobbie, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed. 
KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Dr. Jarrod Dortch.
RENEE REED: Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artist at Universal Productions Music. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.

Jarrod Dortch standing behind a raised garden bed with leafy plants and a grassy yard behind him plus more wooden raised beds behind him

Jarrod Dortch says he's never been a big fan of eggplant, but he sure has the touch when it comes to growing it. Here he is in his home garden, which is also a community garden on Nelson Avenue in Indianapolis. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

This week on the show, we talk with professor, entrepreneur, community artist and urban gardener Dr. Jarrod Dortch about the value of growing food, beyond the food itself. 

Harvest Public Media has a story about the effects of climate change on livestock farming and a piece on farming insects for food. All that and more, this week, on Earth Eats.

Jarrod Dortch bending over a garden bed with his hands in the leaves looking down on eggplant
Jarrod Dortch builds raised bed frames that can be stacked for higher gardens that are easier to tend.  It's simple to add lightweight fencing or plastic covers for season extension. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

Solful Gardens

Dr. Jarrod Dortch is a Professor of Communication at Ivy Tech Community College. He lives in a bungalow on Nelson Avenue in the Garfield Park neighborhood in Indianapolis. His home is part of the Big Car Collaborative’s Artist and Public Life Residency in the Cruft Street Commons. His garden is also a community garden, sponsored by Big Car and Slow Food Indy (where Jarrod is a board member). The Tube Factory Artspace is just around the corner, and Jarrod Dortch has been connected with the art collective for about 10 Years. 

Our conversation centers on his work as a gardener. Jarrod is the owner and operator of Solful Gardens. He grows food himself, and he helps other gardeners get started by building raised beds their own yards, complete with soil,  plants, and some fencing to keep the animals out. He utilizes square foot gardening concepts and companion planting, and focuses on crops that the clients will use in everyday cooking, and produce that is easy to preserve. In some cases he maintains the garden for the clients, for some he provides support and consultation as they build their knowledge and skills. He also works with organizations and community gardens. 

Jarrod's motivation for sharing gardening with his community is not just about increasing food access. Growing food brings so much more to his life--getting him outside, connecting him with the natural world and providing the satisfaction that comes from nurturing a plant from seed to fruit. You can connect with Solful Gardens on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Hear our conversation in this week's episode of Earth Eats. 

Music on this episode:

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from the artists at Universal Production Music.

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