FARMING HAS CHANGED
As a boy, growing up on a farm in Oregon, we were very”hands on” with all of our farming. In fact, we even still had a team of horses to bring in the hay. There is much discussion today about whether our food is as good today as it was yesterday. There is no question but that the methods of growing crops and caring for farm animals has changed greatly. I loved that team of horses but when my Father bought a tractor we could do so much more in so much less time. When I was young we used cow manure from the barns to fertilize our fields of corn, clover and alfalfa. By the time I was out of high school we were using commercial fertilizers that we could apply as we seeded our crops. We began to use herbicides and pesticides. In fact, we even used DDT before it was outlawed for use around barns. We did not question then what was happening to the value of our foodstuffs. We were improving our production capability and like all other farmers we needed to improve our farms profits.
DID WE DO WRONG?
In the 1960s I began to see articles in magazines about the harmful effects of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. DDT had been outlawed by then because it was too dangerous to be used around farm animals and plants being grown for human consumption. As an active agriculturist I knew that we were increasing our profits by growing field crops faster and with less loss from insects and disease. Sometime around 1970 I read a magazine article titled “Is Our Food As Good Today As Yesterday?” That question had not been one we discussed at the feed store or the local Farmer’s Co-op. I had begun to grow a few herbs and then at one point realized the value of growing an herb called comfrey and began to plant it extensively. As we began to sell comfrey products like teas and gels to health food stores I began to have more and more discussions with store owners about the value of the foods we were growing. Then I began to hear talk about soil depletion and what that meant to the nutritional value of the foods being produced on those soils. Had we all made a mistake by beginning to use fertilizers and chemicals for pest and weed control that none of us had been aware of?
WHAT DID THIS MEAN?
As I began to attend workshops and meetings of health food store owners I was hearing more and more discussion of the subject, “Is Our Food As Good Today As Yesterday?” People who knew very little about growing crops were speaking out as authorities about how our foods were declining in nutritional value. Sometime in the early 1970’s I met Dr. Lendon Smith, MD of Portland, Oregon and we became fast friends. He was an advocate of vitamin C and over weeks and months of discussions with him I began to learn and understand more and more about what was happening to our foodstuffs, not only in the USA, but across the globe. As I traveled the world and met more and more well-educated people on the subject of nutrition I began to realize that the main factor behind this changing nutritional balance was that in our desire to increase growth and lower the cost of growing crops we had inadvertently stripped our soils of greater amounts of nutrients (especially minor ones) where we were growing our foods. One especially impressive study on this was done by Donald Davis and his group at the University of Texas which was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2004. They found “a reliable decline” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorous, iron, vitamin B2, and Vitamkin C over the period 1950-1999 for 43 different fruits and vegetables.
WHERE DID THIS LEAVE ME?
One particular study for some reason caught my attention. It was one which had shown that in the early 2000’s a person would have to eat eight oranges to derive the same amount of vitamin A as our grandparents would have gotten from one. Suddenly I began to fully understand and appreciate why even the American Medical Association was saying that we should alll be using a vitamin supplement. There are things we can do to raise the nutrition level of foods. One step is to feed our soils better by usng more natural fertilizers whenever possible. Alternating crops between fields can also often be beneficial. This is difficult but using fewer chemical herbicides and pesticides can also be helpful. This trip across these years of my own education has left me as an advocate for healthy dietary supplementation and vastly improved agricultural methods.
I am always interested in any comments you may have.