According to Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD, an integrative neurologist: “If we are what our food eats, we are only as healthy as the soil our food is grown in.” Research indicates that the health- promoting properties of the food we consume are truly connected to the health of the soil.
In fact, soil is a living ecosystem and if properly managed, is a thriving and complex ecology of bacteria, fungi and other living organisms from which we benefit tremendously. Sadly, modern day commercial farming is ruining our soil – as seen with pesticide application and tilling. As a result, the nutritional value of many our vegetables and fruits are significantly lower than that of the same produce grown 50 yrs ago. Statistically significant declines in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C have been found.
Donald Davis, PhD, of the Biochemical Institute at the Univ. of Texas concludes: “Modern farming’s reliance on synthetic fertilizers and plant cultivars bred for high yields has led to trade-offs between yield and nutrient concentrations.” The good news is research is showing that more ecosystem-friendly farming can stimulate plants to retain their nutritional value and diversity.
A paper published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that crops grown organically possessed significantly higher levels of phytonutrients- supporting the finding that organic farming is much better than conventional farming in supporting soil health.
Another study compared flavonoids levels ( phytonutrients that protect against CV disease, cancer and dementia) in organic tomatoes vs traditionally grown – had much higher levels. Additionally, the organic plots produced similar yields to the conventional fields, refuting the notion that organic farmers sacrifice quantity for quality.
Unfortunately, most food and agriculture research is funded and dominated by large well-financed companies that want to promote their commercial products ( chemicals and dangerous pesticides) and care little about the health impacts.
There are, in fact, more life forms in one teaspoon of healthy soil than there are humans living on the planet. Through photosynthesis ( a solar energy conversion process) plants create a sugar based carbon fuel that supports their own growth. Only about 40% is streamed through their roots, sending energy to microorganisms in the earth. In exchange, these microorganisms feed plants the mineral nutrients they extract from rock, sand, silt and clay within the soil.
Just like humans, plants rely on the soil’s microbiome for chemical defenses against pests and communication with other plants. In soils with vast biodiversity it’s common to find some microbes that are closely related to disease organisms. But these microbes don’t cause disease, yet the plants produce compounds in response to them. As a result, they develop a strong set of defenses – just in case the microbes’ disease- causing relatives come along. These plants will have the capacity to fight off disease more effectively than those grown in bad soil and offer a diverse spectrum of phytonutrients for humans.
Grazing animals also play a critical role in this dynamic ecosystem. Animals raised in pastures contain meat, eggs and dairy are much higher in nutrient value. Animals here elevate the soil’s organic matter by 60%. It’s been said that: “Nature never farms without animals.” A real beneficial cycle exists -animals are brought onto the land which makes the soil healthier, making plants healthier and in turn making the animals healthier which are than passed on to humans.
Conventional Farming – Harmful to the Soil:
Fertilizers have transformed into chemicals ( insecticides, herbicides and genetically modified varieties) which help produce greater crop yields with less labor. Farms grew larger, less diversified and animals were moved off the pasture into high production confinement facilities, essentially becoming industrialized. The following illustrates how a complex natural system became simplified and destroyed the soil.
0. Use of chemical fertilizers – plants are force-fed synthetic compounds (often petroleum based) designed to maximize growth and yield. This process interferes with the natural relationship between plants and microorganisms.
0. Insecticides, fungicides and herbicides – reduce biodiversity which is critical in the farm ecosystem. Fungicides can destroy the beneficial fungi in the soil that connect plant communities, and help plants access water and nutrients.
0. Tilling the ground – in effect, destroys the vibrant underground ecosystem where the soil microorganisms reside and function and make up the vital structure of the soil.
0. Monoculture planting – raising single crops versus a diverse array of plants. This reduces costs but comes a cost of disrupting soil ecology. We need a diversity of microbes to do their specialty work. According to biologist Anne Bikle: “Fewer kinds of microorganisms in the soil means that plants receive less in the way of beneficial compounds and molecules that soil microbes make.”
How To Locate Healthy Food From Good Soil
⁃ Buy organic ( best way to avoid pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and GMO’s)
⁃ Speak with farmer and ask questions ( Do you till? Do you use chemicals? How does the farmer promote biodiversity? Do animals graze on the farm?
⁃ Engage your senses ( use your eyes, sense of smell – healthy plants that interact with good soil produce strong and specific smells and tastes).
⁃ Buy meat, eggs and dairy from pasture raised animals. Grazing animals basically eat healthy herbs all day long.
⁃ Grow your own food by focusing on nutrient-dense plants. But you need to start with healthy soil.