If you look at your food as sustaining your health as well as the environment, the price of organically grown food seems well worth it. Recent studies have shown organic fruits and vegetables contain more vitamins, and a little soil science explains why.
A large, four-year research project in Britain recently reported that organic crops grown adjacent to conventionally grown crops contained as much as 40% more antioxidants, those vitamins heralded by scientists for protecting against heart disease, cancer, strokes and other health problems.
These results from Europe don’t come as a surprise to supporters of organic farming. While the next phase of the UK study will research how the nutritional quality of the food is affected by agricultural methods, organic proponents here in the United States have some answers.
“It comes down to the health of the soil,” explains Bob Schaffer, co-founder of Soil Culture Consulting. We caught Schaffer just after he gave a talk on Whole Farming Systems to 1,200 people at the Acres USA Conference. “If we don’t look after the environment, then we won’t get healthy plants,” he said.
“The plant and the soil are highly attuned to the microorganisms in it – this is the whole system,” said Schaffer. “Plants have an inherent genetic need to protect themselves against disease, sunlight and pests through antioxidant production. The levels of protective vitamins, the antioxidants that the plants produce for their own benefit, are higher in plants not damaged by pesticides and excessive fertilizer. When we eat those plants, every nutrient in the food literally becomes a medicine for us too.”
“Those levels of protective vitamins are higher in organically grown plants,” explained Schaffer, “because the plant’s inherent disease protection mechanisms are naturally stressed. The plant produces more antioxidants, like vitamins C, E and thiamine, and toughens its cells with more calcium and boron. When we consume the plant, those antioxidants are carried into our blood and give us the same protection.”
If you take the view of conventional farming that you can just add nutrients out of a bag, the plant loses some of its ability to protect itself, he adds. “The plant gets bigger, but not stronger.” Schaffer likens it to humans – exercise stresses you but makes you stronger.
Nancy Redfeather, a sustainable mini-farm owner and Coordinator of the Hawaii Island School Garden Network, says that studies have shown a steady decline in the nutrients in the soil and in the vegetables we eat since the industrialization of farming and application of chemicals to agriculture. She believes that returning to natural farming methods can restore the integrity of the soil.
With organic farming, no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used to detract from the balance of the dynamic universe of the earth, says Shekina Carrillo, another organic farmer in Hawaii. “We have a very intimate relationship with the soil, working diligently to create balanced trace minerals. At the same time, we’re using our own farm compost to nurture the hundreds of beneficial microorganisms that are working steadily to create a fertile, successful garden. We work with nature’s way – if a plant is unhealthy, that’s when bugs will come. If that happens, we correct the imbalance rather than fight the bugs.”
Schaffer sums up the reasons for choosing organically grown food, saying, “When we consume them, their antioxidants are carried into our blood and give us the same protection. So this is the gift of plants – the real medicine that the plants are giving us.”
Choosing organically grown food also provides the benefits of saving your own body, wildlife and our natural environment from the effects of toxic pesticides and other chemicals.