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Why Can’t We Farm These Foods Yet?


Thanks to Brilliant for supporting this episode
of SciShow. Go to Brilliant.org/SciShow to learn more. [ intro ] Food, glorious food. We need it to live, and stuff. But for many people, it’s more than that
— a hobby, a pastime, a passion. Farms and businesses work hard to satisfy the commercial and cultural needs of foodies
the world over. But not everything can be plunked down in
the ground and picked a few months later, or grown happily
in a tank. Some foodstuffs just aren’t that cooperative. No matter how much we want them, the science of these plants, animals, and fungi is at odds with the demand. Take huckleberries for example. They’re kind of a big deal in the Pacific
Northwest of the United States, as flocks of people head out into the woods
every summer looking to fill their baskets with the sweet
and juicy berries. They are in such demand that huckleberry picking
season is now a regulated event in some areas to help make
sure there’s enough fruit to go around. You see, these berries have a reputation of being difficult to grow in a farm setting. The soil conditions need to be just right. If you’re trying to grow them, . Additionally, in the wild, huckleberry grows
at high elevations. This environment provides an insulating cover
of snow to help protect the plant during the sub-zero temperatures of winter. Without this insulation phenomenon at lower
elevations, the plants simply freeze. And it’s hard to replicate these conditions
in other climates. Like, imagine carting in a bunch of fake snow, then keeping it frozen. Not to mention, they just grow painfully slow. it can take up to 15 years after planting
seeds or cuttings to yield harvestable fruit. But maybe we’re approaching them all wrong. After all, indigenous peoples have been cultivating
huckleberry crops for centuries — by managing the wild plants. They were the ones who taught early European
arrivals to North America how to forage for the ripe berries. And over time this practice of foraging, cooking,
and preserving evolved into the high-demand craze that we
see every year. At least here in Montana! Researchers have been working on creating
a domestic variant of the huckleberry by cross-breeding it with certain strains
of blueberries, which are closely related to huckleberries. These cultivars would be able to thrive in
a variety of ecological settings, making it more likely that the number of crops
could rise to meet the demand. But until that happens, the huckleberry will remain a treat for dedicated
berry-hunters. And only at certain times of the year. And that’s not the only luxury food product
in high demand. According to sushi lovers, n othing beats the flavor of bluefin tuna. In 2019, a single large tuna in Japan sold
for over three million dollars! Since these fish are only found in the wild, high demand has led to high prices and overfishing
— landing the bluefin on the endangered species
list. We can’t grow these fish in hatcheries yet, because bluefin tuna have a complex life cycle,
making them very difficult to farm. They are a really big fish. Like, over three meters long and averaging
two hundred fifty kilograms big. They’re fast-swimming, migratory fish, meaning their natural habitat is much, much
bigger than any tank. They need to swim to develop properly. Plus, they’re predators at the top of the
food chain, so it also takes a lot of energy to produce
the animals they like to snack on. So the mature adults are difficult to care
for, to say the least. But even as tiny free-floating larvae, they are difficult to maintain. A study published in 1991, for example, showed when larvae of one species of bluefin
tuna are packed in tightly, they grow more slowly, and fewer of them survive. That study actually looked at conditions in
the wild, but with an eye toward what would happen in
a tank — though measures could also be taken to avoid
such issues. Also, larvae may be little, but their heads
take up most of their size, so they’re… a little top heavy. So tank conditions need to be just right to
prevent them from literally sinking and actually getting hurt when they hit the
bottom. Because of their size, it can take up to 8 years for them to reach
sexual maturity and spawn more fish. And fish in captivity often experience reproductive
issues. Researchers in the EU and the US are trying
to overcome this issue by manipulating the fish’s own growth hormones
to induce reproduction. If we can’t establish captive populations
to keep up with demand, overfishing is likely to continue — which
could be bad news for this fishy favorite. Other high demand foods are at risk of becoming
endangered, too. The truffle is the poster child of expensive
luxury foods. Some varieties of truffle can sell for hundreds
of dollars per ounce. But this fungus could go the way of the dodo
unless we figure out how to grow it ourselves. See, truffles aren’t like the mushrooms
you’re probably familiar with. They grow underground in close proximity to
the root systems of trees, usually hardwoods. They are mycorrhizal species, which means they have a symbiotic relationship
with the trees in which they exchange nutrients and aid each other’s growth. But humans haven’t been doing a good job
of caring for this fungus. Because deforestation and climate change are major threats to the forests across southern
Europe that truffles call home in the wild. And they’re costly and difficult to grow
in a farm setting, mostly because it takes time to grow a fungus
with such a complex life history. One researcher in the UK harvested his first
truffle almost 10 years after planting the holly oak
tree that would develop a relationship with the fungi. However, there might be a small silver lining
to the role that climate change has taken. Even though the native habitats of truffle
fungi are being destroyed, areas in more northerly forests in Europe may be growing more amenable to these species. Given time, the ecosystem changes from climate
change might just provide the opportunity for truffles to move to brand new habitats. Our demand for these foodstuffs outstrips
the supply. It seems unlikely that sushi fans or huckleberry
lovers will let them go any time soon, so we may need to apply some clever science
in order to cultivate them. In addition to farming, though, this may be the incentive we need to preserve
native habitats for the survival of all species — including the delicious ones. Because after all, isn’t biodiversity the
spice of life? Outro:
We also think curiosity is an important part of life, which is why today’s episode is brought
to you by Brilliant.org. Brilliant is a problem solving website and
app with a hands-on approach to science, engineering,
computer science and math. For example, you might enjoy their course
on The Joy of Problem Solving, which teaches you to see math not as a rote
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you and thanks for your support. [ outro ]

100 Comments

  1. Gohobogo Author

    Here in the northern midwest we have a similar problem to Huckelberries. Thimbleberries are thin soft plush juicy cluster berries that feel like a silk cashmere blend but taste like sweet tart heaven. They're notoriously difficult to grow because they NEED TO grow in deep heavy forest hidden under leaves and bushes or else they will die, but sometimes they can peek out of reeds or long grass where us Yoopers come out to pick them for jams, preserves, primitive dyes, fritters, pies (my personal favorite), a nice pancake syrup, or my cousins' favorite, just finger food.

    Reply
  2. Alexandre Bougie Author

    Man, do people just need to chill out and just accept some things are rare. You will have very little- if any- of this food. Instead of putting an animal species towards extinction or endangering a type of plant’s existence… eat something else. Problem solved. Ffs.

    Reply
  3. Timothy Dingman Author

    Time spent around the Mediterranean (Sicily, Sardinia, Barcelona) taught me that Olive trees take about 50 years to mature and produce fruit but they continue to be fruitful for another 100 years.

    Reply
  4. Heather C. Author

    When wild sourcing here in the United states, please be cautious, and respectful of Native American harvesting rights. Certain areas are for native use only.

    Reply
  5. Rachel Schell Author

    I pick huckleberries every year. It’s the only time you’ll be in the middle of a forest, on a mountain in the middle of nowhere and run into a dozen people.

    Reply
  6. Aamir Razak Author

    Wow I didn’t know tuna was that valuable… 3 million is a huge amount of money.. hope we stop overfishing them, I had no idea they were that big in real life

    Reply
  7. MageSkeleton Author

    this has been the only time i've heard "climate change" used appropriately. As the use here is referencing the 500+ years of the changing climate and not "oh no we're going to summer from spring CILMATE CHANGE!!!…………..

    Reply
  8. MIDBC1 Author

    Man has known how to cultivate truffles since 1790….. Pierre II Mauléon of Loudon France was the first person known to have successfully cultivated truffles

    Reply
  9. P S Author

    Before I clicked on this, as a Pacific Northwesterner, I was like, "….If they don't mention huckleberries, I'm flipping a desk." Luckily, you guys were quick to assuage my worries. ;p

    I took a day trip to a hidden huckleberry picking spot a few weeks ago spent four hours hiking and picking. Got a little over a gallon of hard-earned, delicious berries. (For those who are not in the know, a frozen half-gallon can sell anywhere from 30 to 60 dollars depending on where you go and how late in the season it is.) I'm hoarding them like purple gold.
    A lot of mass market products that claim to be huckleberry are made with Californian 'huckleberries', which are actually an entirely different plant. Nothing compares to the full-bodied, slightly tart, sweet, juicy goodness of a real huckleberry. Seriously. If you've never had fresh huckleberries, it's worth the trip.

    Just… don't expect anyone to reveal their secret berry spot to you. That's the sort of thing you take to the grave. >_>

    (Also, please don't use 'berry rakes'. Those are very damaging to the plant and, as this video points out, they can't just be replanted and mass harvested.)

    Reply
  10. merwindor Author

    I don't go walking in the forest much but I am partial to the Red Huckleberry in our area on Vancouver Island. I go out on afternoon and I'm like, "Wow. Huckleberries!" I'll eat some. Maybe come back when I can next weekend. Of course they're usually gone. Picked or I just missed the opportunity. Oh well. Maybe next year I always say. Just to get a damn handful of them berries.
    I realize now why I can never find jam made from the damn things.

    Reply
  11. trbjrnjnssn Author

    For the 200+ countrys not using the imperial system – 1 ounce = 1⁄16 of a common avoirdupois pound …..
    .
    .
    .
    .
    Or 28 grams

    Curious about the choices to use kilograms and then all of a sudden ounces. Seems like using one system would be smother. Or have a little text to explain to the billions of people not living under napoleonic life conditions how many grams 1 ounce is.
    (For the curious – "The common avoirdupois ounce (approximately 28.3 g) is ​1⁄16 of a common avoirdupois pound" (wiki))

    Reply
  12. Lithus17 Author

    Cant believe a science show like this actually buys into "Climate Change". All climate change is, just another name for Global Warming (forgot about that didnt you?). So these frauds realized the Earths weather is cyclical and came up with another name to fit that agenda…

    "Climate Change". Why? Because now they cant be wrong. Have a very hot summer? Climate change. Really cold winter? Climate change. Rained a lot? A little?…climate change. And you idiots gulped it hook, line and sinker.

    Reply
  13. Wandering Writer Author

    The truffle at least sounds like it could be potentially solved by a hybrid farm growing for hardwood trees and truffles in the right climates. MIght be an interesting idea at least only problem is that it's a longer-term investment than most other farming.

    Reply
  14. Max Will Author

    A few thoughts. The scientist who finally got his first homegrown truffle did have a nifty idea, that is, since the fungi are dependent upon hardwood trees for continuing to live, why not expand on his idea in other hardwood forests? There weren't any details as to how he performed the infection, most likely spores, even infected directly on the roots, which would be a simple enough procedure, and then carefully cultivating each tree infected, soil monitored, among others. It'd be quite labor intensive, but once the rules for care are understood, then turned into a training package and others could be employed, which would add to the labor market of that geographic area.
    Instead of trying to finagle a way to farm this, why not work with Nature to do this? While it would be expensive, in the long run, and to do this would take a long view, it would amortize, but there has to be a zeal in the workers for this to be successful. I'm just a dumb aeroplane mech, but as a mech, I fix things, sometimes thinking of non-conventional solutions for different problems I run into on these aluminum holes in the sky that like to suck a lot of money, so why not offer thoughts on a different kind of fix, repair?

    Reply
  15. FirstTenor76 Author

    Whenever Hank hosts, I get serious anxiety, I don't know why… like the way the video is edited, it's like he doesn't ever take a break, doesn't stop expelling words, doesn't pause, and seemingly doesn't breathe like a normal human lol. For whatever reason, I just get lost in the videos he hosts, it's extremely wordy and he uses the same rhythmic tone over and over in his sentences / paragraphs. Not sure if it annoys me, because it is so damn wordy that I just get lost in his constant non-stop yapping that I lose interest. Is it just me or does anyone feel like this when this guy is hosting?

    Reply
  16. Serena Gamble Author

    Like Goji you can try n grow blueberries with huckleberries but at higher altitudes the uv photosynthesis process gives high altitude fruit more of the antioxidants in greater percentage to attack free radicals. Washington has 4 varieties of huckleberries and each is slightly differnt in taste color ,size and strength in nutritional content and low altitude blueberries just cant genetically modified to be included in part as a huckleberry cross bred fruit.it takes 4 cups berries 7 cups sugar n 2 envelopes pectin to make 12- 16 pints jam.fyi My sister mom n I 30 yrs ago transplanted 30 ( mix of all 4 huckleberry varieties 1/4 mile farther up our back yard mountain .planted 6 ft apart on first 5 rows then 20 feet apart on next 10 rows.over the years leaving berries on bushes for creatures our secret garden has been cross pollinated n Naturally a new strain of thumb sized berries are on over 200 plants within 2 mile radius of parent plants. Gotta Love having a mom very clever in permaculture and hortaculture.and animals eat berries walk off deficate n poof a pre deer manure fertilized mini forest of huckleberries has grown and evolved all by its self.seldom when man tinkers in genetics of the plant varieties of specific environmental exposure factors lack oxygen hi uv and volcanic specific soil nutrients is man able to mimic mother..except a mother who's been around the berries nearly 70 yrs b4 she passed.our garden gives us berries mid August to end of September because night temperatures are about same after2500-3000 ft.same temp air pressure keeps the berries producing till it frosts.this yr we made 72 pints never sell them and give as gifts for Christmas to select few.pick berries in the early morning 630am- 11 every other week on a week day no crowds to see where our treasure is off beaten path.last 30 yrs.a d trans plant any bushes we know as our moms strain( we call for our mom's brilliance in greenthumbery.lol)Wilmas wild hucklebomberries, and Wilma's purple mountain mommas majesties.just thought I would share with the world now that she has passed.summers end as an Adult picking her berries is what made her a rebel in our eyes your not lawfully allowed to dig up move or otherwise tamper with the ecological environment balance ..well she did with her middle finger up to the governing body that doesn't protect the forest in ' fire prevention maintenance and she actually doing what she did preserved a huge swath of huckleberry bushes where others roasted to the root n took nearly 25 years for a 1/4 of the bushes to make a little recovery from fire.Thank you mom.for bending the rules n teaching us in the environment sometimes a human being can intervein and in sync with natures rythems know that some thing has to happen to be evolutionary catalyst and how to make it so much easier for the plants to adapt with out shocking whole ecosystem irreversibly. Rest in peice mom tomorrow is good day for making a purple majesty huckleberry Deep dish Pie.and that's a slice of northwest life God Bless everyone everywhere

    Reply
  17. Joe H Author

    All the fake 'climate change' junk just proved this was nothing but globalist propaganda crap. Shilling for 'climate change' hoaxers just makes you look dumb, real dumb…

    Reply
  18. albiblow Author

    Sooooo. Just in case anyone is curious about how a single blue fin tuna could sell for $3M, Japanese culture has a tradition that the first tuna auction of the year sets the tone for the rest of the season (while bestowing the buyer with good fortune), and often that fish will be sold for significantly more than any other fish that year, no matter the quality.

    Moral of the story? Buy the second fish instead.

    Reply
  19. Lauren Higgs Author

    In the UK we have bilberrys. They grow on well drained hillsides. They stain your mouth purple and ruin your clothes but create a brilliant day out with the kids.

    Reply
  20. Dillon Curry Author

    Capitalism: constantly destroys our environment, ecosystems and turns our daily lives into transactions; commodities.

    Working people and the Youth: We'd like to feed everyone, since we can feed 10.6 billion people, not taking into calculation the advancement in agriculture that is bound to come. We'd also like to prioritize the development of communities, and have global strides in developing the rest of the world, in an efficient and environmentally friendly way. Also, a livable planet might be nice? Maybe we could focus production and RnD on clean transportation, environmentally sound electricity, farming methods that dont exploit animals and create artificially large populations of captive animals?

    Also Capitalism: The free market will regulate itself through consumer demand.

    World leaders: did someone mention oil? I think I heard "oil."

    Reply
  21. TheRekindler1337 Author

    I guess it’s “funjy” now while referring to any funjal species. Sounds a little strange, but I guess I’m cool with “funjus” becoming a word, as long as Hank Green agrees to spell it like that in all future videos.

    Reply
  22. Giang Hoàng Author

    Hey, so what is the name of the fruit in the image from the beginning of this video. I clicked because I want to know the name of that fruit, but oddly enough, they had not mention that fruit in the video.

    Reply
  23. Ricky Damien Author

    There are several farm in Tasmania Australia that have been quite successful in farming truffles, Tamar valley is one such farm that produces a variety of french perigord truffles

    Reply
  24. NorthObsidianG Author

    If we're trying to raise delicious food stuff such as animals in captivity.. why don't we also try and raise animals that those predators feed on.

    Reply
  25. Der_Teemo Author

    To the bluefin Tina is actually grown by a japanese University, that is doing it and experimenting with planting the eggs Insider macrels, that make the eggs hatching possible without a reproductictively available parent

    Reply
  26. KTM Trooper Author

    So im a big no no when it comes to eating insects… got dared to eat an asian hornet and imma be honest it was pretty good… will i eat it again? Maybe… will i try other insects? A definate no

    Reply
  27. Brongulus Bradisaurus Author

    How did you miss wasabi! Real wasabi can be cultivated only in certain mountain streams in Japan. It also has hardly any shelf life, so almost every commercial product marketed as "wasabi" is actually flavored with horseradish.

    Reply
  28. UncleBibby Author

    wait… if you can induce puberty prematurely in animals with hormones 4:15 does that mean you could do it with humans? 0_o that’s some freaky Epstein s***

    Reply
  29. Koba Kobayashi Author

    Tuna can be farmed now. A university in Japan, Kinki University has successfully managed growing baby tuna to adult tuna in a water tank for years. The issue is the cost but they've released a bunch of products related with Tuna.

    Reply
  30. Botruc Author

    Planting trees for truffles is like planting fruit trees, it takes time but after a few years you can have many harvests. People in my area (central europe) are planting orchads (with hazelnut tree for exemple) to grow the mushroom. So in a sense, people do farm them, albeit at a small scale.

    Reply
  31. King Bunny Author

    Hucklrberries are very common in India, we have lots of it. They grow on mountains of western ghats named sahyadri ranges of Maharashtra state. There are many tribals in this region, am one of them🧐

    Reply
  32. SIDDSTER Author

    Truffles are endangered and deforestation is one of the factors? Hey rich people you're gonna have a truffle shortage if you dont help with tree planting.

    Reply

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