A sad story

Our great grandparent’s food

Wisconsin 1890’s farmhouse

From a report describing a Fair held in 1887 in our home town, Arroyo Grande CA:

Among the exhibits were: a pear weighing 1 pound 14 ounces; a cabbage of 94 pounds, and several others from 50 to 80 pounds weight; potatoes of 3 to 9 pounds each; carrots three feet long; a squash of 217 pounds weight; five others aggregating 822 1/2 pounds; a muskmelon weighing 20 1/2 pounds; an onion of 5 pounds 2 1/2 ounces; corn 15 feet high, ears 2 inches in diameter, 18 inches long, solidly filled; five quinces weighing 6 pounds 15 ounces; 5 pears weighing 9 pounds 3 ounces; 5 fall pippins weighing 5 pounds 10 ounces, and many other remarkable products.

Really, a 3 foot long carrot? Two inch diameter corn?

But even back then, not all produce was huge and not all yields were amazing. In order to make higher yields and therefore more money, crop yields needed to increase. And thanks to the development of modern farming methods, they did increase. As yields increased, the nutritional content of grains, fruits and vegetables decreased. And they continue to decrease today (see “Declining fruit and vegetable nutrient composition: What is the evidence?”, D. Davis, HortScience Feb 2009 vol 44 no. 1). Both vitamins and minerals have decreased over time but the carbohydrate content has stayed the same or increased.

The result?

We have to eat more carbs to get the same amount of nutrition.

And so we get fatter but not healthier.

What are the possible reasons for our food’s nutritional decline? Several have been proposed…

  • “Dilution” of the nutrients due to higher yields. There are two possible mechanisms — breeding and hybridization with only yield in mind, not nutritional content — and selection within a variety for higher yields without consideration of the nutritional content.
  • Decreased soil fertility due to loss of soil life. Chemical fertilizers kill the soil organisms which supply nutrients from the soil parent material.
  • More and more marginal, low fertility lands have been put into agricultural use.
  • Decreased soil fertility due to nutrient removal. Conventional agriculture replaces only a few nutrients, usually just nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and then only at the rate taken up by the crop. The other nutrients necessary for nutrient density leave the field with the crop and are never replaced.

Plants may be bred for high nutrition. But the nutrient content of the soil makes a

Huge

difference.

So, how can I grow more nutrient dense food in my soil?

next… How Plants Eat