As our understanding of how the human body and the ecosystems around it change, so do our guidelines for healthy eating. Each day there is a new caution or new revelation about what we should or shouldn’t be eating.
My interest in food came from working with people in Africa who are undernourished. Trying to provide resources for health, food and water in discrete ways wasn’t working and that led me to study the connections of our health to soil health and environmental health.
The takeaway from this inquiry has been that small to medium scale farmers committed to sustainable food growing practices are having an amazing impact on the health of the people eating their food. Because of what they are doing to ensure the health of the soil, they create exponential positive impacts for human health and the environment.
I am creating a resource for farmers at www.foodwaterwellness.org called “We All Grow” to share information and help support biologically diverse and ecologically friendly farming practices and design. If you think about where your food comes from and what you get out of it, you may think differently about how and where you get your groceries. Get to know your local farmers and the food they produce. Here are the benefits you will reap.
Higher Nutrient Density: The nutritional value of food is lower than any point in history. According to British researcher David Thomas, today you need to eat twice as much meat, three times as much fruit and four to five times as many vegetables to get the same amount of minerals as eating the same foods in 1940.
Australian soil scientist, Dr. Christine Jones attributes this decrease to large-scale commercial food growing practices that discourage biological activity in the soil. The transfer of nutrients from the soil to the plant — and eventually to our plates — happens through cooperation among bacteria, fungi and plant roots. Practices such as cover cropping, rotational grazing on pasture, limiting or eliminating the use of chemical synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides all encourage biological activity in the soil and allow the plants to take up the trace minerals that we need to be healthy.
Better Taste: The nutrient dense food produced by biologically active soil saves us from having to eat so much to get nutrients we need and the bonus is those nutrients actually make the food taste better.
Longer Fridge Time: When the food is grown near to you, it keeps longer in your fridge because it spends less time in a truck before it gets to you.
Environmental Benefits: Because of the shorter transport time, locally grown food has a lower carbon footprint, and biologically active soils actually work to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere. Increasing research suggests that rotational grazing, or allowing animals to intensively graze an area for a short time then moving them along, builds organic matter, reduces erosion, helps mitigate flood and drought and decreases the need for fossil-fuel-burning farm equipment.
Cost: When you connect with farmers near your home, you have the ability to visit farms and see what they are doing to support biologically active soil. Personal contact with farmers enables you to buy directly from the farmer, which can bring the cost of the local food to a comparable level to that of high volume stores.
As we gradually understand how our food is grown, how it impacts the soil and how the soil microbial activity impacts our health, we are compelled to start sourcing food that feeds us most effectively. Amid the flurry of information of what to eat and what not to eat, buying food from local farmers who are encouraging biological activity in the soil seems to be a clear path forward for our health and that of the environment.