I have long maintained that the vegetable garden is the ultimate wellness tool. Science is increasingly recognising that food is truly our greatest medicine. There is no food more valuable than pesticide-free food, grown in healthy soils and harvested when ripened naturally, immediately before it graces your plate.
Freshly harvested fruit and vegetables feature antioxidants, vitamins and protective phytonutrients encased in a supportive matrix that ensures maximum health benefits. When we dumb down nutrition with supplements, there is no comparison to the real stuff. No nutrient is an island and Nature recognises that. She provides hosts of co-factors in fresh food to maximise the benefits of everything. You may be wondering why supermarket vegetables don't usually deliver the protective punch of the homegrown. Here are some of the reasons:
Lamenting Lost Nutrition
We are what we eat and what we eat comes from soils that are a shadow of their former selves. We have mercilessly removed the minerals from our food-producing soils with extractive agriculture, whilst decimating the organisms that help deliver those minerals. We have then processed more nutrients out of this food or picked it early and stored it long enough to further deplete its goodness. Numerous studies have confirmed this decline. In fact, nutritionists now claim that our food contains just 20% of the nutrition found in the food consumed by our grandparents when they were children. A recent WHO study could not find a degenerative disease that did not have a nutrition link.
The massive explosion in sales of supplements in recent decades is testament to our mass recognition that something is missing. Our food is not what it used to be and neither is our health. The answer is to adopt Nutrition Gardening®. This home garden solution, however, offers more than just a tool to counter lost nutrition. It has other profound benefits ranging from forgotten food flavours to mental wellbeing, as well as an invaluable contribution to planetary health.
The flood of TV foodie programs reflects an unprecedented flavour awakening. In a rebellion against the increasingly bland, we are discovering our inner chefs and seeking to colour one of our most pleasurable pastimes. However, the spice secrets and creative combinations pale in comparison to the pleasures to be discovered in nutrient-dense food, freshly harvested. The heirloom tomato and the crisp Russian kale can add more depth to your dish than the cleverest of Master Chef tips.
Peace in the Soil
We are here to experience as much peace and happiness as is possible in our short lifetimes. However, somewhere in our relentless quest for the “material”, we have lost sight of the “real”. Stress and fear are the opposites of peace and happiness, yet they reign supreme in many lives.
The home garden can be the solution to this misguided mismanagement of our primary purpose. The sun on the shoulders, the sweat on the brow and the sweet smell of healthy soil is where peace resides. The gardeners amongst us will understand this equation and there is now some science to help explain what we intuitively knew.
From an aromatherapeutic point of view, the smell of a healthy soil ranks somewhere near freshly baked bread and freshly ground coffee – but there is more. Recently, a soil bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae was found to stimulate production of the "feel good" hormone, serotonin. It is a lack of this hormone that lies behind most depression. The organism must be ingested to create this wonderful effect, so don’t be afraid to get dirty.
Important caution: Soil eating is not advised if you use pesticides in your garden – heaven forbid such pollution of sacred space!
The Planetary Priority
These gardening gains extend beyond your increased mental and physical wellbeing. They also include a profoundly important contribution to planetary health. We are in the midst of an unparalleled climate crisis that threatens our very existence. Many are seeking to contribute, but there is scant understanding of how one can make a difference. It is important to realise that turning off your lights or commissioning solar panels are less important than tending your own patch and building the humus levels in your soil. An increase of just 1% organic matter in our soils can reverse global warming. Here’s how it works:
There are the same number of carbon molecules on the planet that have always been here. You can't make more, so it is all about where they are stored. Carbon is either stored in the soil as humus, in all living things (including animals and plants), or in the atmosphere, as carbon dioxide. It constantly moves between these three places as part of the carbon cycle. On a global level, over the past decades of extractive agriculture, we have lost two thirds of our humus (down from 5% average organic matter to less than 1.5%). That carbon is now in the atmosphere as CO2, thickening the blanket of greenhouse gases, trapping more heat and warming our climate.
When we build humus in our soil, we are effectively sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and addressing this problem. Compost is part of the solution, as it offers a double bonus. You have stabilised carbon in the compost as humus, but when you introduce this inoculum of diverse soil workers, you trigger much more humus production. However, you must also provide the minerals and soil conditioners that support humus-building microorganisms and this will be discussed in detail in next week's blog.
Clean Food for Your Family
I walked behind a professional couple at a local farmers’ market recently and overheard their conversation. One asked the other "why do so many stalls have signs saying 'chemical free'?". I was amazed at the naivety of the question but the answer floored me! "It’s because they are not applying liquid fertilisers", was the innocent reply.
Many people are simply not aware of the grim realities of modern food production. Potatoes, our favourite vegetable, are sprayed with fungicides and pesticides a dozen times before they are chipped and fried. The last of these applied contaminants is of most concern. The vast majority of conventional potato producers kill off their crop with a herbicide called Paraquat (one of the nastiest of the nasty). They claim that the transference of the chemical to the tuber is minor at this late stage of the crop cycle, but nutrient foliar sprays can still boost spud size at this stage, which obviously involves transference.
There are two things we were not told about when we embarked on the "chemical experiment" in food production. We were not made aware of a phenomenon called "bioaccumulation", or a likely byproduct called "the cocktail effect". Our liver is our principle detox tool and this overworked organ is equipped to manage any natural contaminant. However, this principle guardian has no answer for many man-made chemicals so, recognising that they may not be good, the liver ships them off to our fat cells to limit their liability. Here, they accumulate and can become something of a time bomb. It is no different with livestock, hence the common caution about consuming the fat of animals reared in intensive confinement.
The "cocktail effect" refers to the impact of unresearched combinations when we eat something like a tomato, which may have residues of multiple pesticides. Tomatoes are typically sprayed with three fungicides and three insecticides every three days, from the time they are planted until the time they are pushed over. We may have determined that the minimum residues of each chemical did not kill a lab rat over a three-month trial period, but there is no research about their combined effect. In one rare U.S. study involving 100 combinations of ten chemicals, three new Class 3 carcinogens were discovered. This means that some permutations of the cocktail were proven to give cancer to animals, but it is less ethical to prove this with humans.
Grow Your Own Health
At this point, you are possibly rethinking your food choices and perhaps considering organic alternatives. However, this option is considerably more expensive and still does not guarantee nutrient density, flavour or shelf-life. "Organic by neglect" is common in an industry so dominated by what you cannot do, that it tacitly supports doing nothing at all. The answer to this quandary is to grow your own nutrition. Do it with minerals, microbes and humates and become a proud Nutrition Gardener®, supporting yourself, your family and your planet.
Next week we will look at the tools you might choose to embark on this rewarding path.