Where have the vitamins gone? A thought on food quality, healthy soil & nutrition
Have you ever bitten into one of your favorite foods and thought that it wasn’t quite the same as it was when you were younger? There’s a good chance that it’s not in your imagination. Fruits and vegetables today aren’t just a bit less crisp and flavorful than you remember - they’re also less nutritious. And the reason might surprise you.
(Lifeless soil (left) and soil restored using regenerative practices (right) in the backyard of David Montgomery and his wife, Anne Biklé.)
Where Have All the Vitamins Gone?
We all want the food we eat to be as nutritious as flavorful as possible. But data going as far back as 1940 shows that we’re missing a lot of the vitamins and minerals we should be getting in our food. In fact, to get our recommended daily dose of minerals and trace elements we would have to eat twice as much meat, three times as much fruit and up to five times as many vegetables as our parents and grandparents did.
The decreasing nutritional value of our foods is no minor matter. The UN estimates that a third of all people on Earth don’t get enough vitamins. And because food labels and nutrition guides often rely on data from as far back as 1975, even careful consumers can end up lacking nutrients they think they’re getting.
The Answer is in the Soil
It probably comes as no surprise that industrial farming techniques are the culprit in the case of the missing nutrients. But the reason behind it is one we don’t often think about.
Healthy soil is home to an unbelievable microscopic ecosystem. In fact, over 90% of all life on the planet lives in the soil! Along with the worms and insects we can see, countless microorganisms live in the ground. We can’t see them but those bacteria, fungi and protozoa are essential for decomposition, carbon dioxide control, disease prevention and delivering nutrients to the plants we eat. They even prevent carbon from being released into the atmosphere and help soil stability and water retention. That’s a lot of work for something so small!
As plants photosynthesize, they release carbon through their roots and into the soil. The microorganisms in the soil eat that carbon, keeping it from being released into the atmosphere. In exchange, they provide the plant’s roots with vitamins and minerals and even help protect the plant from disease. The nutrients in the plants we eat come from this symbiotic relationship.
Modern farming techniques are disastrous to the microorganisms we depend on for nutrition. They thrive when a variety of plants provide ground cover. Monoculture, in which farmland is planted repeatedly with only one type of crop, deprives the microbiome of the diversity it needs to thrive. The lack of grazing animals on cropland further erodes the natural cycle. And frequent deep tilling of the soil prevents the microorganisms and plant roots from developing to the fullest.
Microorganisms aren’t just being passively hampered by monoculture farming. They’re being actively destroyed by chemicals. Pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics and herbicides used in agriculture kill these helpful organisms as well as harmful ones. The use of GMO crops means that the plants themselves are capable of destroying the very microorganisms that help them flourish. When the quality of the soil degrades, growers are even more reliant on chemical fertilizers and chemicals. The result is a constant cycle of soil degradation, chemical intervention, and nutrient loss. Equally alarming, the disruption of the natural carbon cycle makes industrial agriculture one of the world’s greatest sources of greenhouse gasses.
Restoring the Soil
Sustainable agriculture is the key to keeping our soil, our bodies and our planet healthier. Organic growing eliminates the poisonous fertilizers, antibiotics and pesticides that are lethal to the microbiome. Experts also recommend changes that go beyond organic to truly restore the health of our soil. Animal grazing is essential to provide natural fertilizer. Instead of monoculture growing, we should be rotating crops and growing greater varieties. Heritage crops and animals are also important to provide additional diversity and resilience.
In short, healthier foods and a healthier environment begin with healthier farms. The food we love at Green Owl - organic, pastured, heritage breed and non-GMO - isn’t just more nutritious and tasty today. It’s the key to making sure our food in the future is healthier as well.
Eat well - feel well!
Stop in each week for fresh healthy chemical-free vegetables, pastured meats, butters, and other healthy amazing items you can't find anywhere else!