It’s Been a Long While

I know it has been a long while since I have written for this blog, and I wanted to apologize to my followers and readers. You would think with the pandemic, I would have more time to write as our lives and routines were upended, and whether by choice or not, I would have the opportunity to pen a few articles.

However, my last semester at North Dakota State University was spent online after spring break, either stuck at my computer on a zoom class or writing as it seemed my professors piled on the homework. 

During that time, I was worried if I would find a position in my field or be forced to find something to pay the rent regardless. Staying in Fargo was looking like less of an option, and I started expanding my job-search territory to just about anywhere. In some respect, myself and my family were hoping to find something in California as this was my home state. After reading a post in a Facebook group from someone who was having difficulty finding work in the state, I realized it was futile. 

I posted my resume on the usual job sites and signed up for alerts for agriculture communications jobs. I received alerts for positions either I wasn’t qualified for (on a side note, “entry” level is not what it used to be as you have to have experience, but how will you get experience without a job) or didn’t involve communications but sales. I’ve been in sales most of my working life, selling everything from men’s suits, financial products, to wine. 

I received an email from the career center sent to all students in the communication department and thought about applying for a while. The position was looking for a writer and wanted experience, so I sent writing samples from this blog and articles I wrote from interning at American Ag Network. I did not expect much but wanted the experience interviewing for jobs. 

Little did I know, the publisher would call me back a couple of days later and offer to fly me to Denver to interview in-person. Fast-forward, and I am living in the Denver metro area writing for a living and my “beat” is law and environmental issues. 

Calling my blog “From L.A. to the Farm” seems silly and hypocritical as I don’t live on a farm or even a rural area. However, I want to continue writing about issues that interest urbanites wishing to learn about agriculture.

However, it will be more about animal agriculture and their role in the environment, but I will continue to focus on the industry as a whole. 

For instance, I wrote about the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee acknowledging that the industry can solve the climate crisis. The report titled, “The Case for Climate Action: Building a Clean Energy Economic for the American People,” outlines a congressional action plan to tackle climate change through 15 policy proposals that include agriculture programs. 

Additionally, there are programs where ranchers in Nevada can participate in a sort of “cap and trade” program where they can be paid for conservation the sage-grouse population in the state.  

These are just a couple of examples debunking the myth that agriculture destroys the environment and the land and issues I will write about. I will bring the whole story of the issues beyond what you read or hear on the radio, which fits their audience’s narrative. Now that I am settled in my new job and new city, I will begin this creation again as I told myself I would do so after graduating. 

Thank you for reading and your continued support!

Kernza – A New Perennial Grain in Development

Kernza is a grain crop currently being bred and developed that is gaining the interest of small-grain farmers, cereal makers and climate scientists.

What is Kernza?

In 1983, plant breeders for the Rodale Institute selected a Eurasian forage grass called intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium). Kernza is a grass species related to wheat for domestication. The Rodale Institute, along with the USDA, began selecting the seed for traits such as improved seed size and fertility. In 2003, under the guidance of Dr. Lee DeHaan, the Land Institute (link) in Salina, Kansas, began the Kernza Domestication Program along with the University of Minnesota, to further the progression of the grass traits to include disease resistance. In 2019, the university released its first “named” variety called MN-Clearwater.

Unlike other grain crops, which are annuals, Kernza is a perennial. In a study by Steve Culman of The Ohio State University, “Kernza provides environmental benefits relative to annual grain crops, including reduced soil and water erosion, reduced soil nitrate leaching, increased carbon sequestration, and reduced input of seed, tillage, energy and pesticides.”


Image courtesy of


A study conducted by Michigan State University over eight years looked at 70 million acres of farmland in 10 Midwestern states and found that a quarter of the cornfields are inconsistent yielders, or “unstable yielders.” This is a result of the fields, either being too wet or unsuitable for cropping. As a result, any nitrogen applied to the fields is wasted because there is less plant material to absorb the nutrients and roughly 40% in the water and into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.

The University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative has been working with Kernza to help improve water quality by preventing soil erosion and prevent excess nitrogen runoff. Kernza can assist in turning land that is inconsistent yielding into acreage that could be used to produce a crop and provide good forage for cattle. In the studies, Kernza appears to do well with grazing in the fall and producing grain the following summer. By using rotational grazing, the cows help contribute nitrogen that helps to build soil biology and helps farmers use fewer inputs.

Current uses

The grain has a sweet, nutty flavor making it a good for cereals, snacks, and brewing. The kernel has more bran and fiber, but fewer carbohydrates than wheat. Kernza can replace up to ten percent of wheat flour without changing its flavor profile, according to Chris Wiegert of HFI in Valley City, ND. Wiegert also states that a few large food companies are interested in the flavor profile and its sustainability.

Due to the unique flavor profile, Kernza has been used by a few companies to make beer with the grain. Fair State Brewing Cooperative in northeast Minneapolis created a golden ale called Keep the North Cold, that replaces white wheat and can be enjoyed on a summer day. The brew was developed in partnership with the clothing company, Askov Finlayson to source the grain locally to create an all-Minnesota product.

In 2016, California-based Patagonia Provisions partnered with the Land Institute to create the first brew from Kernza called Long Root Pale Ale. The name comes from the long root system of the plant which can grow ten feet or more. This year the company launched its second beer with Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland OR. made with organic ingredients and Kernza called Long Root Wit.

General Mills is also interested in the grain and has partnered with the University of Minnesota and the Land Institute to market the grains under the Cascadian Farm label. The company donated $500,000 to the University’s Forever Green Initiative to advance research and development including the processing of the grain. Its efforts to market the cereal, called Honey Toasted Kernza Cereal, were derailed by a crop failure this year.

General Mills was able to use the grain from its’ 2018 crop to market 6,000 boxes of the cereal which are available through with the funds going to the Land Institute for further research of the grain. Maria Carolina Comings, marketing director for Cascadian Farm, hopes to have more grain next year making it available to more consumers and “continuing to build awareness for the potential of climate-beneficial foods.” It also has committed to making the crop a commercial reality by 2040.

Further development is being made with Kernza to determine the best growing practices, long-term impacts of the crop on the environment and to improve grain yields. Studies are also being conducted to determine the grazing capability of the crop. While it may be a while until Kernza is available on a wide-spread basis, it is something to keep an eye out for and learn about in the future.



Christmas trees – memories created, supporting the local economy, but prices may be higher

If you haven’t started decorating the house, you may be deciding between an artificial tree or getting a real one. If you choose a real tree, this year there may be a shortage of having the best selection and deals may be harder to come by. With the Recession of 2008 and 2009, tree farmers were reluctant or unable to plant tree seedlings.

As supplies have dropped, the average price for trees has also increased. Sales data from the National Christmas Tree Association show that, between 2015 and 2018, retail prices rose 23% from $62 to $73 — including a 5% jump last year. A tree typically takes seven to ten years to mature into a six or seven-foot tree.

“There are some variations to that by tree varieties and location in general. But, its that long before a grower sees a harvestable crop,” said Tim O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association. “There are annual maintenance costs, there are certainly the challenges of growing a crop outdoors that all of agriculture is familiar with. There are bugs, there are diseases. There are the wet years, there are the dry years. It’s one of those challenges where you try to read the market that far out.”

Whether you are a fan of the smell of a real tree or prefer an artificial tree, a survey conducted by Nielsen found that three-quarters of American households display a tree, whether it is real or artificial.


However, the increase in price shouldn’t distract you from considering a real Christmas tree. With a real tree, there is the experience of going out with the family and picking out just the right tree. O’Connor likens it with two videos playing side-by-side.

On the one side is the family having the experience of getting in the car, going to the tree lot or the farm, and finding the right tree. Perhaps this is the year of not finding the perfect one where you have to put one side in the corner to hide the bad spot. O’Connor tells the story where one year, his family found a tree with a bird’s nest in it, and the kids loved it. Every year, they put back the bird’s nest, and the kids take turns putting it back into the new tree.

On the other side of the screen, mom or dad drags a dusty box with the tree from the basement, attic, or garage. On the way, they bang their head on the pipes or rafters, cusses, and slaps the tree up. Afterward, you spend a considerable amount of time rearranging the branches to make it look realistic.

Then, there is the question of the environmental impact of a real versus artificial tree. O’Connor points out that with an artificial tree, while you are reusing it every year, it is made from PVC plastic and aluminum or steel shipped from overseas, and eventually, it sits in a landfill for a very long time. A study conducted by WAP Sustainability Consulting on behalf of the A.C.T.A, which represents manufacturers of artificial trees, claims the environmental impact is lower than that of a real tree if you use the artificial tree for five or more years. The study contends that a real tree, which may end up in a landfill, has a bigger impact on water and energy use and has a more significant impact on greenhouse gases.

O’Connor points out real trees they are biodegradable, mulched, used in landscaping, and other things such as hiking trails. As was pointed out at the beginning of the article, seedlings are replanted for each one cut down, they are not cut down from wild forests on a large scale, said Bert Cregg, an expert in Christmas tree production and forestry at Michigan State University. Cregg stated that the study conducted by WAP Sustainability Consulting was too narrow in its parameters. He and O’Connor point out the effect on wildlife and the local economy.

“The fact that a real tree is grown by a farmer who is conducting their business in a local community,” said O’Connor. “They are buying goods and services. They are employing people.”

Besides, with the consumer trend of buying local and knowing where their food comes from. Real trees can fit into that perspective.

“You can learn the story of where your tree came from, grew it, and how it was cared for,” said O’Connor. ”There’s a whole lot about a tree that matches up with the trend that the consumer cares about today. Which is very different from the tree made by a big factory in a foreign country.”

If you do decide to purchase a real tree this year, here are a few tips for buying the tree. Touch it, observe it, and make it is not dried out and brittle or having needles falling off of it when you purchase it. It should be fresh and soft. The needles as you run your hand over it should stay on the tree. Then, you should put a new cut on the bottom of the trunk, right when you bring it home, and before you put it in the stand. Take off about an inch. Think of it as a fresh cut flower, and you have to keep that trunk underwater and allow it to drink and not go dry. If you do that, it will drink a lot of water for that first week or ten days, and don’t let it run out.