100 years ago, people were eating things that most of us will never taste. So what happened?

Time travel back to 1905.

Back in 1905, a book called "The Apples of New York" was published by the New York State Department of Agriculture. It featured hundreds of apple varieties of all shapes, colors, and sizes, including Thomas Jefferson's personal favorite, the Esopus Spitzenburg.



Whoaaaa. The book is full of invaluable information and amazing drawings.

That was 110 years ago, when commercial apple orchards were still pretty rare and when even in the biggest of those orchards, everything was done by hand.


1905, image of an apple orchard in Oregon

Yeah, yeah, yeah. But why is that apple book such a big deal? The book is significant because most of the apples listed in it have all but disappeared in the past century. DISAPPEARED. In fact, we used to have thousands of apple varieties, but most of those have largely vanished due to industrial agriculture. Now, many varieties are only found tucked away in agricultural research centers and preservationist orchards.

Fact: Today, the 15 most popular apple varieties account for 90% of all apple sales in the U.S. The most commonly sold apple? Red delicious.

2015 looks so different.

The fate of all those apple varieties is not uncommon. "In the last century, nearly 75% of our agricultural crops have disappeared. They're simply gone. Today, farmers primarily grow 12 crops. And of these, we mainly eat potatoes, rice, corn, and wheat."

So what gives? Why the huge shift? In part, the shift has a lot to do with seed regulation. Back in the day, farmers would save seeds from year to year and share them with friends and neighbors. But nowadays, most seed production is controlled by big companies — and those companies patent their seeds, prohibiting things like seed saving or sharing.


Needless to say, UGH.

So what do we do now?

Not all hope is lost (yay!). It may be an uphill battle, but there are lots of small farmers working to preserve the freedom to freely share and use seeds. People store thousands of seeds from all around the world in buildings called seed banks, and trade with other farmers at seed swaps.

"They're preserving culture and biodiversity, one seed, one plant, and one person at a time." How 'bout them apples? (No, really, I bet those antique apples they're swappin' are ridiculously tasty.)

To check out the full story from The Lexicon of Sustainability, watch the video below:

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less