Awe Shucks: The Truth About Corn

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in David Brooks, Energy, Food and Drink | Posted on 04-08-2009


by David Brooks

When was the last time you really gave some time to thinking about corn? Corn plays a huge role in our lives. When a joke is no good, we say it is corny. When a guy sees a good looking girl, she is referred to as being cornfed. When embarrassed we tend to respond with a quick "Aw shucks." At a Nebraska football game fans actually wear an ear of corn on their heads. Snooty people have even been accused of having a corncob up their (you get my drift).

We should give the lowly vegetable a little more respect, and here’s why:

  • One bushel of corn will sweeten 400 cans of pop
  • Corn is grown on every continent except Antarctica
  • Corn is an ingredient in over 3000 grocery items including: toothpaste, nylon, plastic, oil, saccharin, paint, soap, cereal, and margarine. It is the main ingredient in pet food.
  • Residents of Mexico eat an average of 400 lbs. of corn products per year.  Americans eat an average of 160 lbs. 
  • 50% of corn production world wide is for animal feed.   

Did you know that the average ear of corn has 600-800 kernels and is always arranged in an even number of rows. Most ears of corn have 16 rows. (Really, count them.) Actually, watermelons and cantaloupes always have an even number of stripes, too. There is one silk for each kernel of corn. A bushel of corn contains about 27,000 kernels. Of the 282 million metric tons of corn grown in the U.S. last year, over 55% was genetically modified.

A little more trivia about the wonderful vegetable we call corn:

  • The first breakfast cereal was Corn Flakes
  • Most cosmetics have ground corncobs as an ingredient. It is very absorbent and relatively dust free.
  • Toilet paper uses corn starch.
  • Toothpaste has Sorbitol, which is produced from corn sugar dextrose and is used as a bulking agent (so it stands up on your toothbrush).
  • Disposable diapers and feminine protection products use corn starch.
  • A few other items that use corn products are: mustard, batteries, beer, crayons, sheetrock, aluminum, and believe it or not the ceramic sleeve on a car;s spark plug has corn paste in it.

Corn is an amazing product. The next time you take an aspirin or caplet that is coated with a shiny finish, remember the shine comes from corn. Also, remember when you pull in to fill up your tank at the gas station that fuel containing 10% ethanol takes about 2 bushels of corn to make 1 gallon of ethanol. It can take as much as 300 gallons of water to make one gallon of ethanol depending on where the corn is grown. Add onto that the extra fertilizers, herbicides and misused land it takes to make “cheap” fuel.

Last but not least the best selling food at the state fair? The CORNDOG.


Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in David Brooks, Farming, Film, Home and Garden, Science, Seeds | Posted on 18-05-2009


by David Brooks

It is time
once again to put the seeds in the ground, and with that come some questions: Do
I put one seed in the hole or two? What happens if I put three? How close
together should I put the seeds? Can I squeeze one more plant in this row, or
will that crowd out the others and lead to the ruination of the entire garden?
To a seasoned gardener there is no quandary concerning the seeds, but to a
novice that plot of ground can be a puzzle of immense proportions.

The seeds
planted determine a lot about your garden. So, let’s look at seeds. Where did
you get them? Are they safe? Did you choose organic seeds to try and control
what is inside you food?


There is a
lot of research going into seeds and crop output in the country now. Over the
past 20 years we have seen the introduction of a number of bioengineered crops
throughout the world. The argument rages as to whether we are making it
possible to feed the world, or setting ourselves up for a genetic mess and an
insect or disease infestation that cannot be stopped.


Many of you
are seasoned enough to remember in the mid-nineties when it became almost impossible
to buy a taco in America. A bioengineered corn seed named
Starlink made
it into the food supply and was quickly deemed unsafe and not fit for human consumption.
The corn had made it so deep into the food supply that anything made with it
was pulled from the shelves and millers nationwide had to stop milling and
empty any silo that could possibly have had
Starlink in it. To this day
labs check each load of corn delivered to a processor for traces of


The quality
of the seed determines the quality of the product you grow. Choose wisely.


The Future
of Food
is a good documentary to watch concerning this issue. The length is
around 1 hour and 30 minutes, but it’s well worth the time spent.


After you
watch the documentary the timeline following will make more sense. Please take
time to watch it and then enjoy your backyard garden.


  • 1901 -
    Ishiwata Shigetane discovers that the cause of a disease outbreak in silkworms
    is a new species of bacteria, later called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt.
  • 1905 – Sir
    Roland Biffen shows that the ability of wheat to resist infection with a fungus
    is genetically inherited.
  • 1907 -
    Erwin Smith and C. O. Townsend discover that the cause of crown galls is a
    bacterium called Agrobacterium tumefaciens.
  • 1930 – In
    the 1930s, plant breeders notice that plants infected with a mild strain of a
    virus are protected from infection with a more destructive strain.
  • 1938 – The
    first commercial insecticide that contains Bt hits the market.
  • 1947 -
    Armin Braun shows that A. tumefaciens introduces a factor into plant cells that
    permanently transforms them into tumor cells.
  • 1950 – In
    the 1950s, studies show that proteins produced by Bt bacteria kill insects.
  • 1972 -
    Ernest Jaworski reports that glyphosate herbicides work by inhibiting a
    critical biochemical pathway in plants.
  • 1974 – Jeff
    Schell and Marc Van Montagu discover that a circular strand of DNA (a plasmid)
    carried by A. tumefaciens transforms plant cells into tumor cells.
  • 1977 -
    Eugene Nester, Milton Gordon, and Mary-Dell Chilton show that genes on the A.
    tumefaciens plasmid are transferred into infected plant cells.
  • 1981 -
    Helen Whiteley and Ernest Schnepf, at the University of Washington, clone a Bt
    toxin gene.
  • 1983 – Jeff
    Schell and Marc Van Montagu, Mary-Dell Chilton and colleagues, and scientists
    at Monsanto introduce genes into plants by using A. tumefaciens plasmid
  • 1986 -
    Roger Beachy shows that plants bioengineered to produce a viral coat protein
    are protected from infection with the virus.
  • 1990 -
    Field trials show that Bt cotton strains resist bollworm and budworm.
  • 1996 -
    Genetically engineered virus-resistant squash seeds hit the market.
  • 1996 – Bt
    cotton hits the market.
  • 1996 -
    Herbicide-resistant strains of soybeans, cotton, canola, and corn reach the


Gardening Feats and Dirty Lies

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in David Brooks, Family, Home and Garden | Posted on 30-01-2009


by David Brooks

One thing we know for sure about Americans: we
are a competitive bunch. The last big political race took aggressive
competition to a new level. Anyone OU plays in any sport brings out the
competitive juices of fans and non-fans alike. Banks are competing for
big bailout money. Car manufacturers are doing the same. Advertisers
are trying to win the title of Best Superbowl ad. All of this so
people, or groups, can declare themselves “winner.” It is also clear
that sometimes those in the competition may tell a little white lie, or
possibly huge, over-the-top, outright lies. Democrats and AIG
executives seem to be the worst. (Just kidding, put down the hothouse

Thank goodness for gardening. Happy people enjoying
the fruits of the ground would never see their work as a time for
competition. How could a lie ever invade the solitude and beauty of a
back yard garden? Tilling the earth is a way of showing peace and love
to each other, the soil we work, and possibly the new administration.
So, it is safe to say that gardeners rise above the cheap, tawdry
competition the rest of the world is locked into. Gardeners show the
world how honesty and compassion really works. Gardeners are truly the
Salt of the Earth. Sure!

I was raised by a gardener. My dad
actually bought a house because it had a 20’ X 40’ greenhouse behind
it. The previous owner raised geraniums for a retail group called
TG&Y. Some of you may actually remember their stores. My dad went
through the OSU Master Gardener program and graduated summa cum laude
and was valedictorian of his class. There were only five in the class,
but we let him gloat.

I had an uncle in Houston named Murray
who was going through the same type of training in a Texas program that
was very similar to the one my Dad excelled in. Both set out the same
summer to plant their first “Big” gardens.  Daddy in the greenhouse,
and Uncle Murray in the backyard. It did not take long for something to
peek through the dirt of both gardens. Naturally my dad’s somethings
were greener, stronger, taller and better in every conceivable way.
That is until Uncle Murray called to let Dad know that his plants were
the greener, stronger, taller and yes, better of the bunch. It was on!
A fist fight held over the phone with Turnips and Tomatoes used for
gloves. The first year was civil, but by year three it was all out

And then the lies started! Over the phone a description
is as good as you can make it. However, one day Uncle Murray sent a
picture. It was a Polaroid of a head of cabbage the size of a
Basketball. This was easily proved because a basketball was in the
picture. It took years for Uncle Murray to admit it was a youth
basketball about 2/3 regulation size. The competition then moved to the
height achieved by the okra plants. While I was doing homework one day,
(maybe not) my dad came in and yelled, “Bring the Polaroid camera and
follow me.” We went straight to the Okra rows planted outside the
greenhouse. There at the end of the row was an impeccably dug one foot
hole. My dad proudly stepped into the hole and faced the camera.  His
instructions were to take the picture from just under the knee so it
would not look like he was kneeling. After 3 or 4 attempts we got the
shot he wanted and shipped it off to Uncle Murray.

A few days
later came a Polaroid of one of the biggest Tomatoes I had ever seen.
Uncle Murray put a dollar bill in the photo to show the size. That
tomato was a beauty. Daddy was fit to be tied. My aunt admitted years
later that he was able to achieve such a huge tomato by buying it from
a gardening pro at the farmers market outside Friendswood, Texas. 

competition between these two lasted more than a decade. Both men are
gone now, but the legend of their lies lives on. Both men bought new
houses late in life based solely on the size of the yard and the
gardens they would hold. Daddy and Uncle Murray lived into their 70’s
with gardening, competition, and a few good whoppers leading the way to
happy retirements. Both had roadside stands where they sold the
abundance of their gardens, and, of course, they lied about how much
they made. One year daddy sold a bushel of Okra for $600.00. Naturally
Uncle Murray beat it with a 3 foot ear of corn that brought over
$1000.00 and is now in the Smithsonian. I fully intend to grow a garden
this year that will beat them both. Since they are not here to defend
their honor, I know my garden will beat them both.

We Are What We Eat

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Business, Current Affairs, David Brooks, Food and Drink, Science | Posted on 12-12-2008


by David Brooks

Someone once said, “You are what you eat.” They were correct. Unfortunately, we have become a nation that should be wearing yellow and red suits, big red shoes, and answer to the name Ronald. We all know the general trend in America has been to eat more, eat poorly, add unwanted pounds, which cause health problems that diminish the quality of life, etc, etc, etc. 

Recently food producers and consumers have been providing momentum to the health and wellness trend. Food manufacturers are the first step in wellness adoption, and consumers have been driving profound changes in how today’s food and beverage products are formulated, packaged, and sold.

Food is used as fuel for the body and pleasure for the tongue. People are learning that nothing will affect their health as significantly as what they put in their bodies. The Hartman Group has been tracking the shifts occurring in American’s food consumption for the past twenty years. In the late 20th century, consumers began to reject products they considered sugary or salty. The term ‘junk food’ was coined and attributed to items high in salt, sugar, or fat. Packaging began providing options such as “low fat,” “low sodium,” “fat-free,” and “sugar-free”

Now in the 21st century consumers have begun to take back there personal health and nutrition through better food and, unfortunately, a new found fondness for food additives. Research shows that more and more consumers are deliberately adding ingredients and nutrients to their daily diet. A recent wellness study concluded that the following ingredients are being added regularly by a substantial percent of the population:

  • 70% add fiber
  • 68% add Calcium
  • 61% add Protein
  • 59% add Whole Grains
  • 55% add Olive oil
  • 50% add antioxidants
  • 41% add fish oil or Omega 3 oils
  • 40% add Oat Bran

In the long term consumers want foods that will help them manage weight, lower cholesterol, fight cancer, and extend life. Whole grain breads, high fiber yogurt, brown rice are all good ideas and all beneficial. The one thing all have in common is additives and preservatives. 

In an effort to keep folks growing gardens naturally and organically I will leave you with this last bit of information. Preservatives have what are called negative organoleptic properties brought on by the metallic taste of some additives. Things with names like; potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and calcium chloride have a flavor, and it is not a pleasant flavor. Ingredients are actually added to ingredients to block acidity, bitterness, and astringency. Researchers want consumers to have a pleasant ‘taste event.’ These events have a beginning, middle, and end. Good R & D teams concern themselves with the full spectrum of the experience. So, food is enhanced with additives, which are protected with preservatives, which are flavor masked with more additives so the consumer can have a pleasant experience.

Read the back of any package in your cabinet and it will encourage you to get your shovels sharpened and the seeds ordered. Merry Christmas to all of you, and may God bless you and your gardens in the coming year.

Financial Trends—Food Trends

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Business, Community, Current Affairs, David Brooks, Family, Finances, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Locavore, Social Justice | Posted on 26-10-2008


by David Brooks

Americans have watched in awe as the financial markets have taken a rollercoaster ride that few expected, or knew how to handle. Families are making adjustments in spending so their paychecks will make it to month’s end. It is not surprising that how well a family eats is more and more based on finances instead nutritional choices. The reason is simple; food is purchased with the families’ finances and finances are struggling. 

One thing we know for sure is that no matter what the state of the economy people are going to eat. Unfortunately, money is often the determining factor in the quality of food that is chosen. From the corporate side we know that when money is tight people select less expensive food that tends to fill them up.  This trend is what makes the sale of Chips, white bread, and pasta increase while the sales of lean meat, fresh produce, and healthy beverages decline. The trend is also apparent in the restaurant business. Sit-down restaurants see their business slow while restaurants with a drive through show strength. Steak gives way to Pizza in tough financial times. However, during the 3rd quarter of 2008, even the fast food groups showed a decline in customer count as well as a decline in the revenue going through the registers.

If this recession continues, those that thought about a garden in 2008 will probably start digging in 2009. The families that worked hard this summer planting, gathering, freezing and canning, will have the opportunity to eat well, and healthily, through the tough times. 

The company I work for partners with the Regional Food Banks of Oklahoma to supply food for kids that do not eat well, or at all, from school lunch Friday until school breakfast on Monday. These kids are now receiving a backpack on Friday with a weekend’s supply of nutritional food that needs no preparation. The number currently receiving backpacks on Friday is a little over 11,000. The waiting list has grown from 2,000 to 7,000 this school year. It is a sign that people are struggling and that next year more families should read this blog, and consider growing a garden.

The food business is constantly monitoring and even attempting to change the food trends in the world. I thought you might like to see what the pundits are saying about the expected trends for 2009:

•    In marketing terms, “organic” has gone mainstream. “Local” will be the term for 2009. Consumers want to know where their food came from and restaurants are beginning to brag about local sourcing. Hence the growth in farmers markets, and community supported agriculture.

•    Unfortunately, the ideal of from-scratch cooking has been set aside for convenience and speed. Encouraged by pre-made sauces, frozen entrees and other conveniences, people will be buying, or assembling, many of their meals. Cost will be high for such convenience.

•    As eco-sensitivity has grown, consumers have questioned whether eating organic grapes from Chile is a particularly “green” choice. In the future, people will want to know how far their food traveled, and the closer the better.

•    There is a chance that “local” will see the same dilution that “organic” has seen once the big box retailers get involved. There were so many labels claiming organic origins in 2008 that consumers doubted the validity.

•    Another predicted trend is the growth of vegetarianism. Deborah Madison’s book “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” was re-released recently after having sold over 300,000 copies.

•    Watch for a rating system that will keep score of the “good-for-you-ness” of food.

•    Expect more from probiotics, a fancy word meaning friendly bacteria that is good for the gut. So far yogurt is the expected source, but soon to hit the market will be: cheeses, supplements, milk, and even chocolates.

•    Functional Water (vitamins and minerals added) will continue to be the rage.

•    As companies try to make products more healthful, notice that “low-“ a favored prefix for calories, salt and fat will be replaced by “crunchy” and “crispy.” Some products will taste bad, but apparently they will be fun to chew.

•    Last but not least, the trend for America to become even more obese is expected to increase. As consumers purchase foods that fill the belly but are not necessarily healthy, this trend is a natural result of these financial times.

The world food supply is still strong. Distribution, or lack of it, is why parts of the world remain hungry. It is no surprise to people reading this blog that good food is still grown in the backyard, and food laced with chemicals we can’t pronounce, or explain their function, is the primary item on the grocer’s shelf. 

Should these financial troubles continue—and they will—we should all grow more, and share with others at the local farmer’s market. Sometimes good ideas actually do catch on.

One last note: “locavore” was chosen as WORD OF THE YEAR by the New Oxford American Dictionary. It means one who eats locally grown food.