It’s true that you are what you eat which might motivate you to buy organic produce free of pesticides or look for foods like grass fed beef or pastured eggs. After all, you are also what your food eats which is why it's important to note that soil is not a dead medium. When it’s well cared for, it is a vibrant and complex ecology of bacteria, fungi, and other living organisms. Everything growing in it and eating from it is healthier, including us. Here are some researched facts about modern farming:
In modern commercial-farming operations, our soil is too often treated like dirt. Now-common practices like pesticide use and tilling fundamentally change the quality of the soil and what’s being grown in it.
According to research, the nutritional value of many of the fruits and vegetables we eat today, is 5 to 40 percent lower than that of the same produce grown 50 to 70 years ago. Research has also shown that modern farming’s reliance on synthetic fertilizers and plant cultivars made for high yields has led to trade-offs between yield and nutrient concentrations.
There are more life forms in one teaspoon of healthy soil than there are humans on the planet, and scientists are still in the early stages of discovering how these microorganisms interrelate with plants as well as us.
In soils with lots of biodiversity, scientists say you’ll find some microbes that are closely related to disease organisms. These microbes don’t cause disease, but the plants produce compounds in response to them. As a result, they develop a robust set of defenses — just in case the microbes’ disease-causing cousins come along. Not only will these plants be able to fight off disease better than those grown in depleted soil, but they can also offer a richer array of phytonutrients to the humans who eat them.
Because plants can’t run away, so they have developed a huge arsenal of different chemical compounds to protect them against pests, disease, UV and water stress.
“The average food item on a U.S. grocery shelf has traveled farther than most families go on their annual vacations.” —Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
6 Ways to Find Food from Good Soil
Some food and farm activists want to see an official “soil health” label — similar to the federally regulated organic label — but there’s nothing quite like that to guide consumers at this time. Finding food grown in good soil requires some detective work on your part.
Buy organic when possible. Paying extra for organic food will protect you from pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer residue, as well as antibiotics in meat and GMO crops. According to a growing body of research, organic food may support the soil in such a way that it delivers more nutrients.
Talk to the farmer. Ask questions the next time you’re at the farmers’ market: Do you practice no-till agriculture? Do you use synthetic fertilizer and killing chemicals? If so, how often? How does your farm promote biodiversity? Are there animals on the farm? Do you live on the farm? Farmers who live on their land and eat from it themselves are more likely to take good care of their soil.
Use all your senses. When you’re shopping for produce, rely on more than your eyes. Strong smells and tastes are markers for higher phytonutrient levels.
Embrace blemishes. When you see a little bug hole on a fruit or vegetable, that’s often the healthiest one with the most phytonutrients to protect and repair itself.
Buy meat, dairy, and eggs from pastured animals. Pastures are intact landscapes with healthy soil for the most part, and the wide variety of plants growing there provide great food. What we do know is that much of what grows in a native grassland or healthy pasture has some medicinal use. Grazing animals are basically eating herbs all day long, and many of those plant essential oils have positive health benefits for both the animal and us.
Grow your own food. Nothing is fresher and has more intact nutrients than something picked minutes before you eat it. Many vegetables can offer their peak nutritional yield only when eaten within a couple of hours of harvest. By the time that organic asparagus from the store makes it cross-country to your market, it’s lost most of its flavor and nutritional potency. But when vegetables travel only the 25 feet between your yard and your kitchen counter, you get the very best it has to offer.
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