Food Journalism Capstone course

This page includes all of my projects and assignments for the food journalism capstone course at Ohio University.

 
 

New Food Memos: Throughout the semester, the class was encouraged to try three foods they've never had before and write a profile of the food, its history and how to prepare it.

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Coffee isn't the only beany beverage popular with americans

Soymilk can be thought of as more than a lactose alternative.

 

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A once-toxic plant, now a winter-time staple

The butternut squash can be thought of as more than a soup or sweet roast.

 

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Ramen noodles top the instant foods family

The instant noodles were one of the first convenience foods, and still reign as king of the fast and cheap.

 

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Michael Pollan's 'Cooked' urges us back in controll over our food

Taking back the kitchen means playing with fire.


The Athens Bread Company Video Profile

Shot for Senior Capstone Food Journalism Class Thanks to Doug and the Athens Bread Company
 

A Thanksgiving meal without meat.

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How to Make Hummus


Satellites and Smartphones: How Cloud Computing is Changing the Face of Agriculture and the Modern Farmer

About 372 miles above the Earth, a satellite passed over Zachary Yoder’s farm in Dalhart, Texas, taking and transmitting photos of his corn and soybean fields. Down on the planet’s surface, Yoder’s phone lit up with a notification shortly after the satellite pass over, telling him that there was a problem in one of his fields.

Grasshoppers had infected a small portion of his corn crop, and had it not been for satellites orbiting the Earth, Yoder said the problem would have been much bigger.

An illustration of the flow of data, from sensors on a farm, to the cloud, back to a farmer's smart phone.

“I expect [the grasshoppers] wouldn’t have been found without satellite imagery,” Yoder said. “We saw it before it was a huge problem.” Because he was alerted early enough, Yoder was able to remove the offending pests with a repellent.

Technology such as the satellite imagery Yoder used to discover the grasshopper infestation, has been used in agriculture for years. Soil moisture sensors, GPS-guided tractors and radio frequency identification tags on livestock are not new in the industry, either.

As high-speed internet access becomes increasingly available in rural areas, data from those established sensors can be processed by powerful computers remotely, increasing the utility and insight those data can provide.

Such cloud-computing can enhance the utility and insight the data can provide to farmers.

When Farming Meets The Cloud

The possibilities for cloud computing in agriculture have attracted high-profile investors from Silicon Valley through companies like FarmLogs.

FarmLogs is a subscription-based service that provides farmers with satellite imagery and data analysis of their fields through a mobile app and web interface. The company was started in 2011. It offers some free features such as field mapping and soil composition maps. For $500 a year plus an additional $8.50 per acre, FarmLogs will provide additional features such as crop health and nitrogen monitoring, as well as customized seed distribution recommendations. FarmLogs analyzes satellite imagery for crop growth, soil nitrogen levels and crop damage.

The imagery is updated throughout each growing season, and the data are archived for six years so farmers can track changes over time.

FarmLogs product marketing manager Shep Whitcomb says the cloud is integral to their business.

“Without cloud based technology, we couldn’t build a product that a farmer could take right into the field with them,” Whitcomb said.

Whitcomb, a farmer himself, relies on Farmlogs to run his farm while he attend to them personally. 

Yoder said that his ability to use technology such as FarmLogs came after AT&T upgraded local cellular towers to the 4G standard a couple years ago. The increased speed and coverage of the tower upgrades allow Yoder to stay connected in his fields through his iPhone.

This service saves Yoder a lot of time. Instead of driving around the perimeters of his circular fields and choosing himself, Yoder can pinpoint problem areas pointed out by FarmLogs’ technology and treat them quickly. Those problems have included sulfur deficiencies, damaged watering nozzles, and spider-mite infestations.

Making It Possible

Agriculture isn’t the only area cloud computing benefits. Amazon Web Services, a cloud computing services subsidiary of Amazon, launched in 2006 and represented $2.57 billion in revenue for the company in the first quarter of 2016, according to quarterly filings.

The cloud is a hazy term that has come to represent any off-site server a user access through the internet. The most obvious benefits of the cloud in are data security and a reduction in implementation costs, but there are more specialized benefits for farming, according to a study published in 2015 by the Open International Journal of Technology Innovation and Research.

The collective knowledge gathered by cloud computing services can be used to provide context for other farmers. Having access to years of historical data is akin to asking an expert farmer with years of experience about the effects of a dry year on a crop’s yield, according to the study.

Yoder actively uses data from FarmLogs and other services on his farm, but that is somewhat unusual in his area of Texas he says. His local peers have not taken the same steps to introduce cloud-based technology on their farms. Yoder points to his unusual career path when asked why he is different.

Yoder studied aeronautical science in college, and worked in the field for several years before returning to the family business of farming.

Thanks to his engineering education, Yoder says he is more willing and able to implement new systems on his farm, which has had tangible benefits on his yearly harvest.

By comparing data regarding the soil type variations in one of his fields to the GPS-located position of his machinery, Yoder was able to change the amount of seeds distributed based on the type of underlying soil. His tractor planted more seeds in soil that was rich in nutrients and could support a denser crop, and fewer seeds in sandy soil that is less conducive to growing the corn he was planting.

To test the system, Yoder also planted a small patch of seeds using his old methods of distribution without the data, and used that as a comparison. The data-driven field performed much better, growing ears of corn that were larger in size, according to Yoder. It also saved money, as seeds were not overplanted in an area of the field which would cause lower yields.

This technique is just one example of how cloud computing is changing the agriculture business.

“A lot of this stuff was just being noticed in 2008,” he said. Now it is a daily part of his operation.

Bringing it Mainstream

Yoder may be ahead of many of his local peers, but the barrier to entry for adopting cloud computing technologies is decreasing. Smartphones and tablet computers have made it possible for farmers to work with large amounts of data while in the fields.

Cloud-based technology has allowed Whitcomb to monitor his corn and soybean farm on his phone while hundreds of miles away working for FarmLogs in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“The proliferation of cloud based technology and cell phones really enabled our ability to build these tools,” Whitcomb said.

It also means that large-industrial farms are using some of the same technology available to a small family farm. Only needing a smartphone really levels the playing field, Whitcomb said.

Because the high-powered computers needed to process the large amount of data is stored in the cloud, the burden of using the technology is lessened for the farmer. While mechanical items like combines, autonomous self-driving tractors and sprinkler systems require in-person operation, malfunctioning smartphone apps or software that controls the sprinkler systems can be updated and maintained remotely, according to a 2010 study published in the Fujitsu Scientific and Technical Journal.

“(Maintaining the app) for hundreds of thousand or even millions of users can be done simply by amending and adding to the software on a single system in the cloud,” the study said.

That reduces costs and allows small farms access to the same technology as large-scale commercial farms.

The Future of Farming

Eventually technology could have the opposite effect, according to Chris Stewart, a professor of computer science at Ohio State University.  More technology means getting into the industry will begin to require more expertise in order to compete. Retrofitting a single tractor with an automated steering and guidance system can cost a farmer as much anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.

As cloud-based tech becomes more mainstream, researchers and academics are starting to take notice.

Ohio State University recently partnered with Amazon Web Services to host a conference on the potential of cloud computing in agriculture.

The conference was part of a larger initiative by the university to explore uses for the rapidly increasing amount of public data available in many fields.

This is no different in farming, as collecting data has been the norm for years, Stewart said. But as the amount of data increases, “the cloud is really needed to process it.”

While large-scale data analysis is made possible by the cloud, data forecasting is often thought of as the future of the industry, according to Stewart.

It’s already happening with the weather. Cloud-connected sprinklers can tap into weather forecasts to know whether mother nature will be watering the fields later in the day. Stewart said that is just the beginning, and new possibilities will come to fruition as more systems on the farm become connected and data analysis gets better.

The AgGateway non-profit consortium, hopes to speed the process along by creating open-source technology. The group’s Precision Agriculture Irrigation Leadership (PAIL) Project is attempting to create a standard for data management in irrigation systems.

“As the [PAIL Project] standards are implemented, growers will be armed with greater ability to make smart irrigation decisions,” Aaron Berger, chair of the PAIL project said in a news release.

This standard would allow soil moisture sensors to work with weather stations and sprinkler systems to create a complete, intelligent watering system.

The project is being supported by large agriculture companies like John Deere and Monsanto, according to the site’s website.

Yoder recently installed a weather monitoring station to a small part of his farm, which uses a drip irrigation system, as opposed to the centrally pivoting sprinkler systems he uses on his corn and soybean fields.

Adding a drip controller would complete his automated watering system for the vineyard, and software from the PAIL project could be the answer for linking it all together. He hopes projects like PAIL become the standard for future cloud-based agriculture technology.

“I’m pretty excited about a drip controller and how much I’m able to do by using my phone,” he said. “I would be able to monitor and control everything.”