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Agriculture

Fall 2008

BJ Duft – Of meals and missions

At age 24, BJ Duft found himself in Bill Marriott’s private jet face-to-face with the CEO of Marriott International. They were headed back to Washington D.C. from Penn State University where Duft ’86 had gone to do some on-campus recruiting for the company and Marriott had attended a ceremony in his honor. During the flight Marriott turned to Duft and asked if he could change anything at the international hotel company, what would it be? Duft was so nervous that he has no clue what answer he managed to stammer out. What he does remember is that Marriott took a Steno notepad from his shirt … » More …

Fall 2008

Seeing red (and far-red)

Ask crop scientist Michael Neff about plant growth, and he won’t talk about rainfall or fertilizer. He’ll talk about what the plants see.

“What I’ve been interested in forever is how plants use light as a source of information,” says Neff. “Plants have photoreceptors that are completely independent of photosynthesis and chloroplasts, that read their environment and say, ‘I am in full sunlight, I’m in the shade of another plant, I’ve got plants that are growing too close to me,’” and so on. The photoreceptors then trigger a host of hormonal reactions that influence how tall the plant will grow.

Neff thinks it’s possible to … » More …

Fall 2003

Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the America

This gem of a book is actually about the gem state, Idaho—specifically, the Snake River Plain of southern Idaho, where farmers, engineers, lawyers, bankers, and politicians have carved an agricultural landscape out of the parched and dusty sagebrush desert. With deft prose and engaging anecdotes, author Mark Fiege (’85 M.A. Hist.), a professor of history at Colorado State University, systematically traces the 100-year history of the creation and maintenance of the irrigation infrastructure that made farming possible in the Snake River plain. Praising it as “an ingenious, intricate, technological system,” Fiege nevertheless offers sober assessments of the economic inefficiencies, ecological losses, engineering foibles, and political … » More …

Spring 2006

Eat more garlic

If there’s just one thing you plant in your garden, make it garlic.

For one thing, it’s extraordinarily easy to grow. Plant it around Columbus Day. Cover it with mulch. Or don’t. Water it now and then when it starts growing again in the spring. And that’s about it.

You can start eating it at any stage, though obviously you don’t want to eat it all up before it develops heads. Thus, you need to plant a lot. You can chop the young shoots and add to a stir-fry. Pull the developing young heads and slice, using it for a mild flavoring. In early summer, … » More …

Spring 2006

Cool,Soothing,Lucrative Mint

If you drive through Central Washington’s mint-growing country in mid-summer, you’re likely to be overwhelmed by the scent of mint rising like an exhalation—at once delightful and inescapable—from the surrounding fields. In fact, your senses might deceive you into believing that not much has changed in the last 30 years or so. But during that time Rod Croteau, professor at the Institute for Biological Chemistry at Washington State University, has been doing research that has helped make Washington mint plants produce more and better peppermint.

Peppermint plants produce menthol, which is a terpene, as are all the other compounds Croteau researches. Terpenes are chemicals put … » More …