How You Select, Grow, Harvest, Store and Cook Your Food

Fruits and vegetables that are dark in color often have the highest amount of nutrition.

By Leah Smith

Food is supposed to do more than simply satisfy your hunger; it is supposed to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function. Good food does this, but as most people in this country continue to be overfed and undernourished, and as we find that the chronic diseases that bedevil society have their origins in poor health and nutrition, it seems that good food is getting harder to come by. However, there are many steps that can be taken to improve the nutritional content of the produce you grow to feed your family. These steps occur not just at one point in your “food chain.” From plot to pot, here are some ways to provide a nutritional boost to your plate.

Building Healthy Soils

Nutritious foods begin with healthy soils for a couple of reasons. Many antioxidants that humans want to consume are produced by plants if they are growing in nurturing conditions. If a plant is struggling to survive, it is using its energy to provide for its basic needs and will not be producing the anthocyanin, lycopene, lutein, and numerous other protective phytonutrients that benefit both the plant itself and us. People also require minerals for health; these need to be in the soil in order to be taken up by plants and thus be made available to humans as well.

So what makes a healthy soil? Soil microbes play a critical part. They are a biological component that works with the physical components of soil to create the overall picture of healthy soil.

Carbon in its many stages of composition (and decomposition) is also essential. It is the building block of plant life and also of soil biology. Dan Kittredge of the Bionutrient Food Association (an organization whose objective is to increase the quality of food) advocates not only providing soils with minerals, microbiology and carbon sources, but also aiding them in maintaining the necessary levels of air and water.

Providing and maintaining each of these soil components becomes so interrelated that it can be hard to separate one from the other — humic substances increase a soil’s water holding capacity, which encourages plants to grow well, which causes them to send exudates into the soil, which causes the soil microbes to proliferate, which also increases the soil’s water holding capacity and mineral levels, and on and on.

Plants are an integral part of the picture. Remember that various plants should be continually growing in your soil, whether cash crops or cover crops.

Selecting Healthy Plants

Now it’s time to plant. Let’s start with some basic information. Cucumbers, summer squash and zucchini, green beans and fresh peas have little nutrition. They have some nutrition; all fresh produce at least has some vitamin C because it is fresh. But especially when matched against a number of other fruits and vegetables that are simply loaded with nutrition, they have none by comparison.

On the other hand, garlic, red cabbage, red pepper, kale and beets have loads of nutrition. So an initial thought might be to adjust your planting selections with the intention of altering your menu. This might sound like no guarantee that you will eat any healthier if you simply don’t eat these “strange and foreign vegetables” in the end.

On the other hand, if children are more apt to try eating different vegetables when they are involved in the cooking of them, maybe parents would be equally willing if they grew them. But if you love cucumbers, don’t remove them from you diet or garden. Rather, be mindful about how you consume them. Instead of making cucumber salad with three cups of cucumber, maybe you can start to eat more green salads with a “healthy” topping of cucumber instead.

It is not always a question of produce selection. In many cases, increased nutrition can be achieved (more painlessly) by variety selection. For example, purple carrots not only have more beta carotene than orange carrots, but they also have high amounts of alpha carotene and anthocyanins. The Purple Peruvian potato has anthocyanins of its own as well, and because of this it is much more nutritious than white-fleshed and white-skinned potatoes. This is one of the trends in food nutrition: the deeper and darker the color of a vegetable (or fruit), the more nutrition it will have, and the purples, reds and greens (the darker the better in each case) are superior to yellows and whites. So select sweet corn that is blue, red or at least a deep yellow in color. Grow those tomatoes that are deep red, purple or even described as black or brown. And pick the purple carrots and potatoes.

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A second rule for increased nutrition is that the smaller in size a fruit or vegetable is, the more nutritious. A currant or cherry tomato has more nutrition than a beefsteak-style, large tomato. A pearl onion has more nutrition than one of those one-pounders.

The reason size matters is that nutritional components (the antioxidant-type) are concentrated in the skin and outer layers of produce, so the more skin you eat the better. To approach this another way, for a set volume of food like tomatoes, you need to increase the crop surface area (skin) you are going to eat; 2 cups of diced tomato from large tomatoes is going to include much less skin than if you made your 2 cups from sliced cherry tomatoes.This is somewhat related to the third principle, which is that the more open a crop is, the more nutrition it should have due to exposure to the sun, which stimulates the production of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals means nutrition for you. Selecting for exposure to the sun should lead you to looseleaf heads or leaf lettuce as opposed to tight heads of lettuce, and looseleaf radicchio instead of a firm head of radicchio.

Certain varieties of many kinds of crops are also genetically disposed to being more nutritious than other varieties. The Ovation strawberry has two times more antioxidants than most other strawberry varieties. Packman is a broccoli that is extra nutritious, as is Jersey Knight asparagus. Reading variety descriptions can help to identify these powerhouses.

Additionally, Dan Kittredge recommends selecting any variety that specifically mentions being valued for its flavor. Flavor comes from nutrition, so any time flavor is mentioned, the variety intrinsically has a greater potential to produce nutritious food. It is important to note that the nutrition a plant is described as having is its genetic potential. If a growing plant is showing signs of nutrient deficiency, the potential of the crop is now limited, and it will not be able to be as nutritious as it could have been because it is not getting all the nutrition it needs to grow.

A Healthy Culture

Cultural techniques also impact the nutritional levels of plants. Many practices here overlap with maintaining healthy soils.

Plants (and soils) need water and air, so maintaining moisture levels in the soil is important, of course. This may take the form of planting into raised rows or beds so that moisture drains properly from the root zone. It could include mulching the soil (or planting a cover crop) to hold in moisture and to protect the soil surface from weathering.

Note that too much water is as much of a problem as too little. It forces air out of the soil, and produce from plants that have been receiving more than the ideal amount of water do not have as intense of a flavor; the taste is “watered down,” and good flavor goes a long way toward encouraging willing consumption. Good cultural practices also means not working the soil when it is too wet, which will lead to the destruction of soil pores used by both air and water.

As mentioned above, sunlight touching plant surfaces stimulates the plant into producing protective compounds that add to their nutritional content for humans. This is why an apple on a sunny portion of a tree will be more nutritious than one grown in a shady portion. So while apples and pears, peppers and tomatoes may need some protection from the sun via their plant’s leaves, growing underneath too dense a canopy would mean too little sunlight and therefore a loss of nutrition. Likewise, it is possible for a crop to spend too much time underneath a shade cloth and to reduce its nutritional performance in this manner.

Before we get to post-harvest handling, a word on harvesting itself. Not only are many fruits and vegetables at the peak of flavor when they are at the peak of ripeness, but this is also when they are at the peak of nutrition. Some crops, such as tomatoes, apples and peaches, give you a little leeway and continue to ripen after harvesting. However, berries, cherries and grapes do not ripen after harvest. So if you are harvesting for immediate family use, allow your foods to be as ripe as possible.

Actually, while on the subject of ripeness, make sure that if you grow winter squash you learn how to test for their ripeness accurately so that you only harvest them when they are fully ripe. Though the difference may not be as stark as with ripe and not-fully-ripe strawberries, for example, a fully mature butternut squash is more flavorful and also more nutritious than one that was harvested too early.

At this point, you may be asking yourself about green versus colored bell peppers. A green bell pepper is immature (there are some peppers whose immature color is a white or purple, but shades of green are most prevalent). Does that mean that once it has ripened and is fully mature (typically red, orange or yellow) that it, too, is more nutritious? Yes, it most certainly does. In fact, the red bell pepper is one of the most antioxidant-rich vegetables there is; the green pepper is nowhere in the running.

Post-Harvest Handling

Anyone who raises produce for sale is familiar with this concept. The way you harvest and handle your crops has a huge impact on their appearance and, therefore, sell-ability.

But harvesting impacts nutrient levels at the same time. A harvested crop is not a dead crop. It is alive and “breathing,” or respiring. This means it is consuming carbon dioxide (and nutrients) and producing oxygen. This process is slowed by lower temperatures. That’s why cooling off crops as quickly as possible is so important for nutrient retention.

Harvest early in the morning so that your crops have been naturally cooled by the night air. Do not let harvested crops sit in the sun. You must get your produce into the cooler as quickly as possible.

But before that there is washing to consider. If you have picked a cool crop and it really isn’t that dirty, just get it right into the fridge. If it is dirty, clean it and drain it thoroughly, as excess moisture creates the perfect environment for decay; just don’t forget about it and leave it out too long.

An important wrinkle to remember is that if you are harvesting a crop that isn’t already cool, let it soak in water for a time, whether it is dirty or not; view it not as a cleaning step but rather as a cooling-off step, as the water will bring down its temperature much more quickly than simply refrigerating it will.

Ideal post-harvest handling means more than just rapid cooling; other steps can be taken, especially when the harvest is for personal consumption and not for sale. Remove the tops from root crop like carrots and beets. Leaving them on during storage increases respiration and nutrient lost. In some cases, just using the produce as soon as possible (no storage at all) is the best step to prevent the loss of nutrition. Spinach that has been stored for one week will have lost half of its antioxidants, and lettuce should not be stored for extended periods either. However, proper post-harvest handling and storage in closed plastic bags with pinprick-size holes to allow for respiration will help to maintain their quality for as long as possible.

Preparing ‘Health Food’

We are now at the final link in the chain, and it is time to prepare your produce to eat.

Fast Food: Different elements come into play for nutrient retention when we talk about food preparation. The first is how quickly produce is used after harvesting. For some crops this is a critically important issue, and for others not so much. Remember the respiration rates we talked about earlier? This is where they become very important.

As you might expect, some crops have high respiration rates and some have low ones. A low rate means that the crop can be harvested and held; it is a good storage crop that will not have used up all of its nutrients before you consume it. Cabbages, beets and carrots are these sort of vegetables; even cauliflower can be stored for roughly a week with negligible nutrient loss.

Vegetables that have a high respiration rate use up their stores of nutrients promptly and are best eaten very fresh. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts, two vegetables with some of the highest antioxidant levels, are very prone to loosing nutrition and sweetness in storage due to respiration. Asparagus is much the same.

Skin Is In (and More): Strange as it may seem, how food is prepared can influence its ultimate nutrition as well — not the cooking method, but the preparation itself.

As discussed above, vegetables and fruits have their greatest nutrition in and below their skin or peel. This holds true for foods you would never think of peeling or can’t peel (celery and strawberries, for example), and also, more importantly, ones that often are peeled. This list is long and includes apples, carrots, cucumbers, peaches, pears, potatoes, etc. So whenever possible you should leave the skin on your foods.

The effects can be dramatic. Potatoes have 50 percent of their antioxidant content in their skin. Another instance of the importance of preparation relates to garlic. Garlic is by far the most effective cancer-fighting component to your diet, thanks chiefly to its allicin content. However, whether or not you reap its substantial benefits depends entirely on how you prepare it for cooking — it is strictly a question of time.

Freezing is a food preservation method that is often a preparation step on the road to a finished dish, and it has nutritional specifics of its own. Some foods loose so much nutrition when they are frozen that this method of preservation should be avoided. Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are good examples. On the other hand, blueberries and raspberries possess almost as much nutrition when frozen as when fresh. You can conserve more nutrition when you freeze items as quickly as possible (both in terms of how quickly you freeze after harvesting and how quickly the food itself is actually frozen).

In Hot Water: And lastly, how you ultimately cook (or don’t cook) your food is your final opportunity to get the most nutrition out of it. Not only do you need to avoid nutrient loss, but if you play your cards right you will be able to increase nutrient availability as well.

Some foods, such as arugula and kale, are most nutritious when eaten raw. Many foods, however, benefit from light cooking, such as sautéing, because the heat makes its nutrients more bioavailable (it converts it to a form more accessible to the body). This group includes asparagus, beets, carrots and tomatoes. Many foods also benefit from being cooked with a fat, since fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are more bioavailable in its presence. Boiling is consistently the worst way to prepare vegetables in terms of nutrient loss, and is especially harmful to arugula, beets, broccoli, carrots and cauliflower.

Now that you have all of this information, it is time to get active and creative. Trade a low-nutrition tomato variety for a high-nutrition one. Make favorite recipes “potato-skin friendly.” Look for cooking options that will allow you to swap high-nutrition food in. For example, if you want onion on your sandwich, you would benefit greatly from using red or yellow (cooking) onions that are much, much more nutritious than sweet white onions; but you must sauté or caramelize them first to remove their assertive heat (this is doubly beneficial, as cooking will itself increase the content of the antioxidant quercetin in the onions).

Knowledge is power — in this case, the power to improve the nutrition in your food.

Leah Smith works on her family’s organic farm in mid-Michigan, Nodding Thistle. She is a home and market gardener, avid reader and writer, and editor of the Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance (MOFFA) quarterly newsletter. She has learned a great deal of information about plant variety selection and food preparation for increased nutrition from the work of Jo Robinson and her book Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health.

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Biomedical Agriculture: The Nexus of Farming and Human Health

By Lauren Krizansky

Patterns, cycles and rhythms are the foundation of life. They take the form of habits that shape individuals and communities and of sequences that keep the natural world in motion. One nonconformist nutritionist is tracking particular patterns across the food system to further support his argument that it’s not only what’s for dinner that determines sickness or health — it’s also the rituals and resources that accompany every meal.

“Dietary patterns” is the term Dr. Henry J. Thompson specifically uses when he talks about the causes of illness. The former cancer prevention researcher, educated at Rutgers University in nutritional sciences and biochemistry and trained at the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Molecular Medicine, delved into the notion that a person’s diet, combined with physical exercise, could prevent disease after his colleagues concluded that reactive, synthetic treatments were the answer to chronic conditions.

“I was shocked that fruit and vegetable intake was not a strong factor in prevention,” Thompson said.

He left his mainstream research to become a professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences and director of the Cancer Prevention Laboratory at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. For the past 18 years, Thompson has infiltrated an often overlooked part of the food and farm system.

“There seems to be no room for nutrition in ag-related classes,” Thompson said, reflecting on his half-century of studies, research and teaching. “I didn’t understand enough about foods. To learn, you must hang your coffee cup where the people you are interested in hang their coffee cup. This led me to a broad interest in food crops — those eaten in large amounts.”

The result of his culinary curiosities are the dots connecting the food crop to the dietary pattern to the reduced risk of the top four lethal chronic diseases: cancer, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and obesity.

“I want to discover what is really true,” Thompson said about human health, its relationship with food and the diseases that kill 60 percent of the global population. “There is so much hype. So much misrepresentation.”

Life, medicine and food

Thompson started the Biomedical Agriculture (BMA) initiative after Crops for Health, a CSU training program, made progress in investigating staple crop health benefits and established a relationship with the CSU School of Public Health. The program’s physical proximity to CSU agronomists allowed impromptu discussions and collaborations that enabled expansion into an effort to discover the human health benefits of most staple food crops. These accomplishments laid the foundation for Thompson and his cohort to build a place for biomedical research.

Crops for Health confronts the plant-food-cancer risk conundrum through “identifying, developing and producing food crop genotypes that show maximum potential to benefit human health while retaining adapted traits that make them profitable to grow and distribute in the global market place.” It is also developing tools and techniques required to understand how food crops prevent chronic diseases while disseminating findings to the global community via public health approaches designed to effectively promote long-term lifestyle changes

The overall goal of BMA is to identify specific genotypes of a food crop that alone, and when combined with other food crops, form a dietary pattern that reduces chronic disease risk.

According to BMA practices, every crop contains a complex chemical milieu. When a crop is prepared as a food, it might undergo a fundamental change in composition. The food is then combined with other foods to form the overall diet. The diet is the sum of its parts, but it might exhibit features not present when foods are consumed in isolation.

Diversity in the diet results in human health just like multiplicity in the cover crop field results in soil health. Across the whole food and farm system, he said, diversity can reduce chronic disease.

“It is the diverse consumption of a whole-food-based diet that results in improved health,” Thompson said. “High dietary quality comes from a diverse food pattern.”

Over time, typical food consumption patterns within a population are categorized and then compared with their chronic disease patterns. Changes in biomarkers have reflected that certain dietary patterns are associated with health promotion and disease prevention.

Though a person’s genotype is considered in this model, there is virtually no consideration of the different crop genotypes that compose the diet. Modifying diet to influence chronic disease risk without this knowledge is sometimes viewed as superficial. The emerging solution BMA presents is to delve into the crop to investigate chronic disease prevention.

“People need to be eating whole foods, not ingredient foods,” Thompson said. “We are rethinking food. There are principals emerging about the power of a food pattern.”

In this case, “we” partially means the governing physicians and policy makers.

He said recently that the medical community is giving attention to the notion that dietary diversity results in human health, but the argument often is that the consumer would take that advice to expand a preexisting eating regimen loaded with processed foods. This interpretation would then result in increased obesity and, in turn, more chronic disease.

In 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture signed off on dietary guidelines that champion both healthy eating patterns and Thompson’s other preventative finding: physical exercise. The guidelines specify to follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan, to consider cultural and personal preferences to make the shift to a sustainable healthy diet and to support healthy eating patterns for all.

“The problem is nutrition is not represented in a way the physicians take seriously from a medical perspective,” Thompson said. “This is the interface between agriculture and human health.”

A study in dry beans

Thompson’s research plate is filled with wheat, rice, apples, potatoes, peaches and pulses. These staple crops are what provide many populations meals across the globe. Understanding the pattern of the widely eaten foods seems the most logical approach to Thompson if he is to improve health across cultures.

Pulses are the dry, edible seeds of plants in the legume family. They are a category of superfoods that includes chickpeas, lentils, dry peas and beans. Their role in the dietary pattern is to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and to help with the management of blood sugar levels and diabetes, according to the American Pulse Association. Pulses are high in fiber and do not cause blood sugar levels to rise as much as sugary or starchy low-fiber foods. They take longer to break down and, in return, provide longer-lasting energy. Research shows that eating pulses can lower blood cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and help with body weight management, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Pulses are a source of prebiotic fiber, which is the preferred food of gut bacteria, which contributes to good gut health — another factor Thompson deems crucial for successful preventative living.

“People love to eat and can afford these staple crops,” he said. “Today, pulse consumption is down, and that is not a good thing. Cancer is linked to gut health … Usually, gut health is linked to a deeper immune system deficiency.”
In 2003, Thompson also initiated collaborative research with Mark Brick, a dry bean plant breeder working in the CSU Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.

In two independent BMA experiments, according to Thompson’s research, a twofold variation in cancer preventive activity was associated with the bean genotype domestication center. Andean white kidney beans were found to have twice the cancer inhibitory activity as navy beans from the Midwest. A twofold reduction in tumor mass accompanied the effect, indicating that the protective mechanism is likely mediated either via the inhibition of cell proliferation or the induction of apoptotic cell death in transformed cell populations.

Two carcinogenesis experiments observed the same cancer inhibitory bean genotype ranking by domestication center.

A dose-response study was also completed and showed that small red dry beans reduced the carcinogenic response.

Biomedical Ag in Action

Teaching breast cancer survivors why they should eat healing foods has shown Thompson a not-so-scientific reasons why food patterns are hard to break and equally as hard to form.

“Survivors are highly educated people,” said Thompson, who has participated in seven federally funded cancer dietary intervention projects. “Yet, I still feel I need to tell them that we are eating a cuisine and that it is not a diet.

He directs his students to eat 12 to 17 servings of vegetables a day and make meals out of only two or three ingredients. In spite of everything the survivors have overcome to sit in front of him and share a meal, he said often their biggest concern is whether or not they need to buy organic.

In his research, Thompson addresses the subject from the other side, assessing genetically modified crops. Instead of leaning on science supporting or dismissing the concerns, BMA prioritizes traditional breeding approaches, including single-gene, single-chemical solutions that are not likely to be efficacious for chronic disease prevention. It also trusts that the introduction of one gene is likely to alter the activity of other genes, which would lead to positive and/or negative biosynthetic activity pattern changes associated with chronic disease prevention. Additionally, BMA considers that benefits from a genetically modified crop might disappear when combined with other foods in a typical diet, negating the effort that went into genetically modified crop production. The altered agronomic characteristics of the genetically modified organism might also diminish the likelihood that it will be widely grown.

“My colleagues tell me that it — organic — is important and that it is good for the environment,” Thompson said, “but then there is the question of production and yields. I can’t tell you there is a definite benefit. Can you afford it? If you can, well, why not? There is no harm, and it probably does some good, but there is no reason not to eat conventional. Do not feel guilty.”

That guilt can negatively affect the mind, he said — the mental health of consumers. He hears the same sentiments when he is asked if it is better to “buy fresh.”

“Our food is so intertwined with our culture,” Thompson said. “Sometimes the most unhealthy crop is the freshest because of the abuse it will take in the kitchen.”

The food system works hard to package and deliver food in an appealing smell, taste and texture, he said. If you eat a mix of fresh, frozen, canned and moderately processed foods, anyone can reduce the risk of or rehabilitate from chronic disease.

Training, discovery and dissemination

Critical thinking is important to Thompson. He teaches several online graduate classes in the CSU Horticulture and Landscape design department. Exposing his students to as many conflicting views around biomedical agriculture is part of his finely tuned teaching pattern.

An obstacle in developing a curriculum for BMA is a lack of integration among offered courses. For example, according to BMA practices, a plant breeding course that does not discuss biofortification or a nutrition course that ignores aspects of plant diversity does little to build a student’s broader conceptual framework.

“Agriculture’s goal is to make enough food to maintain and increase society while public health accuses agriculture of ruining the environment,” Thompson said. “They don’t recognize the small profits and the level of risk or how international and domestic markets work. This is where we need critical thinking.”

BMA distinguishes itself from its counterparts because of its transdisciplinary approach. Thompson invites participants “to develop a shared conceptual framework that integrates and extends discipline-based concepts, theories and methods to address a common goal.”

Standard components of BMA training include experimental design and statistical methods for agriculture and biomedical research, experience with “omics” technologies and bioinformatic techniques, and course work that exposes students to plant breeding, nutrition and biomedical science, according to BMA practices. Group discussions and online inter-university course work ensure students gain access to a broad set of perspectives on agriculture and health.

Thompson said that through taking an honest approach to his students he has learned how to mentor, to expose relevance in work and to provide support from start to finish.

“Our [higher education] system discourages understanding,” Thompson said. “The students that are on the fringe, in that quasi-science, are missing critical thinking. This is critical to the interface of agriculture and human health.

He said he often brings to light the skeptical modern medicine practitioners that mock the notion of proactive, healthy living. He chooses to model for his students thoughtful methods to disseminate their approaches and visions in a society that, in the opinion of some, greatly supports reactive living, which is essentially prolonged dying.

“We need agriculture, human health and all people working together,” Thompson said. “We need fact and truth, not a bunch of semi-scientific concepts. If we don’t make the change to whole foods, the result will be pain, suffering and low productivity.”

Lauren Krizansky is an agricultural journeywoman. She loves, lives and works with her partner, Brendon Rockey, on Rockey Farms in Center, Colorado.

Farmer Health: Personal Pathway to Healing

By Andrew French

A few years ago I spent a cold weekend in November harvesting around 60 fully grown turkeys that each weighed approximately 30-45 pounds or so. They all had to be slaughtered, plucked, gutted, cleaned and bagged, and I used and abused my right arm and shoulder that day. At the end of that long and gory day I remember losing some feeling in the fingertips of my right arm. The next morning I woke up with a shoulder that was so inflamed and painful that I was more or less incapacitated for the day. Even when I tried to lay down and rest, the pain in my shoulder was so intense that I couldn’t stay still for more than a couple of seconds.

Dr. Kellie Seth
Dr. Kellie Seth at her practice, Healing River Chiropractic, in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Instead of sleeping I tossed and turned for a few nights. With my shoulder pain unabating, I called Dr. Kellie Seth on the recommendation of friends and made an appointment to see her. I remember pleading with her jokingly, asking her to help me be able to sleep again. In the meantime, I started to pop ibuprofen like candy.

When the appointment time came, I drove my truck, which had a manual transmission, to her office in Stillwater. Even just sitting on the driver’s seat caused agonizing pain in my shoulder. Finally, I got to her office after much gritting of my teeth.

It was difficult for me to even get my T-shirt off over my head and to set my keys and phone down. Kellie had me sit down on her chiropractic table and worked on my shoulder with a variety of methods, adjusting my neck and back. After a while she asked me how I felt. The pain was relieved tremendously. She informed me that I probably had a torn rotator cuff, and I would have to rest for a few weeks, preferably months, in order to let my shoulder heal. As a farmer, that was easier said than done.

As I drove home I realized that I hadn’t been feeling pain in my shoulder as I sat. When I arrived back on the farm, I also realized that I was able to use my arm again with very little pain. In the following days my shoulder began to feel normal again.

I’ve gotten into the habit of using my chiropractor as my primary medical doctor, with the notion that if there is anything seriously wrong with my health, my chiropractor would be able to pick up on the symptoms and recommend a course of action.

Most of the chiropractors I’ve had in my life have snap, crackled and popped me in our sessions, and I usually left their offices feeling drained and wiped out.

When I met Dr. Kellie a number of years ago I could feel immediately that she was a healer and that she was interested in getting to the root of my problems instead of addressing just the symptoms.

As a farmer, our land and our bodies face similar issues. If we address just the symptoms of our soil issues we won’t be able to create a healthy regenerative biological system. If we simply coast along keeping the farm running and never really build the foundations of a stable and successful ecologically based business, then we will ultimately crash and burn in some way. The same principles apply to our bodies and health.

Dr. Kellie practices medicine at her offices in Minnesota. Healing River Chiropractic focuses on harnessing holistic and revolutionary techniques to allow the body’s own symphony of health to play beautifully again.

Chiropractor Kellie Seth

Farmer Health: Q&A

Kellie is an intuitive healer with a broad knowledge base, and I asked her to share some of her thoughts on health with Acres readers:

What kind of doctor are you, and please tell me a little about what that means.

I am a Holistic Doctor of Chiropractic. I practice functional medicine where I create individual and unique healing programs to help people reach their true health potential. I typically see people who have “normal” test results, but don’t feel well. I determine what challenges their bodies have to healing and give the body the tools it needs to heal from the inside out. The body is designed to heal itself, and many times it just requires the right foods and nutrients to get the work done.

What called you to become a healer? Do you have any stories that would explain more in depth how and why you became a doctor?

I wanted to be a healer since I was 3 years old or so. I remember bringing home a near-dead salamander and asking mom how we could help it live again. I pursued a double major with a pre-medicine focus in my undergraduate studies.

While taking a break from the rigors of laboratory research and work as a biochemist, I did some world travel starting in India. That trip ended in a head-on collision with a logging truck and me in a coma with a traumatic brain injury. Little did I plan on returning back to the pursuit of health and healing with my own brain injury!

The phone call from India to back home informing my mom and dad that I wouldn’t walk or talk again started my own healing path and journey into holistic medicine. When I returned to the States, my first stop was at the brain surgeon’s office. He asked me if I had seizures and I replied no. He then answered “Good luck then, there’s nothing we can do.”

That is the point I realized I had to solve my own health problems in more unconventional ways. I studied herbs, homeopathy, nutrition and Eastern medicine, all in a desire to find health and healing.

As I began to find better health, I realized my car accident was opening doors for me to become the true healer I remembered in my very young days. At that point, I enrolled in chiropractic school to become the doctor I had always imagined myself to be. Now I truly live the passion and purpose I imagined as my young self over 40 years ago.

What do you think health is? In other words, is there a specific way that we should be living, or is it dependent on the individual?

Health is a unique path for every individual. Every living being possesses an energy called scalar energy. It’s the life force of all living beings. This energy is used by animals to help them determine what to eat, when to eat, when to sleep, when to drink, etc. Unfortunately, we humans have become deafened to the intuitive inner-knowing of this energy voice that helps us know how to eat, drink, sleep, move, etc.

This disconnect separates us from our true health potential. In my work, I work with each individual to determine his or her own best food choices, sleep patterns, exercise needs and possible nutritional deficiencies to overcome. I look at the three pillars of health for every patient who comes to my office. First, we look to structure: muscles, bones and tissues. Second, we look to the chemistry: the physiologic balance of organs, tissues and cells.

Third, we look at emotional/spiritual health: the balance of stress and life. By considering the three pillars of health and the body’s individual health needs, I am able to create a health plan for every patient. We work together to find the true health potential unique to every single patient.

Is scalar energy similar or the same as prana or chi, or is it something else entirely?

Prana, chi, life force and chakras all refer to the general electromagnetic field of the body’s nervous system. Scalar energy is the specific energy signature of the body’s cumulative cellular structure that searches the immediate environment for matching or mismatching of resonance.

The scalar energy field plays a role in the body’s adaptive response to its environment. It relates, communicates and makes decisions based on information from the surrounding environment.

This unique energy signature was first identified through Nicola Telsa’s work in quantum physics. I simply apply Tesla’s research in quantum physics to human biology in a clinical setting.

Chronic stress is a serious issue for farmers. Are there any basic stretching routines or meditation techniques that you would recommend to reduce stress?

I recommend daily stretching, which should include basic yoga positions that are easily found on YouTube. Many yoga instructors also include guided meditations that can be incorporated twice a day into your daily routine. It’s not only important to take care of your body but also your mind!

What role does diet play in our overall health?

Diet is crucial for achieving each person’s greatest health potential. Food is medicine. Medicine is food. What you put into your mouth can either hurt you or help you. Your taste buds are not just designed to taste food but are actually chemical messengers to your brain to inform what medicine you just put into your mouth and how quickly and best to use it. This is why eating whole, organic, non-genetically modified food that did not come from a box or bag is the best medicine for the body.

Like I said earlier, listening to your gut or instinct when you eat is the best way to determine what foods are best for you as an individual. What may be a healthy choice for you may not be a healthy choice for me. It’s all about being present when you eat and listening to your body. When you start listening, it becomes very easy to know what foods work best for you.

You talked about how the body starts to crave food that will heal it. Why do I crave salty chips and snacks a lot of the time? Is it because I am severely dehydrated, or is it programming?

The body knows how to heal itself; we just simply need to give it what it needs to get the work done. Typically when the body craves salt, it is due to a mineral deficiency of the adrenal glands due to glandular fatigue.

When the adrenal glands are overtaxed from stress, they need more resources to rebuild the mineral stores essential for daily function. Salt is one way to achieve this goal.

Any advice on healthy cooking on-the-go for busy people? I know farmers who grab fast food as they head to the market because they are starving. Any ideas on how to avoid that?

My love of crockpot slow cooking and creating enough food for an army usually solves my problem of being too busy to cook.

I like to make large batches of stew, soup, or roasts to feed me through the week. I also like to do a fast prep in the morning to have a crockpot full of delicious food at dinnertime.

Farmers and laborers in general abuse their bodies in their line of work in a pretty consistent fashion. Is there anything we can do to prepare our bodies to deal with our aches and pains?

The body is designed to heal itself if given the proper tools. When working a physically demanding job, it is extremely important to eat a variety of whole, fresh, seasonally appropriate vegetables, grains, meats, nuts, seeds and fruit. Eating variety and various colors of foods is also supportive to maintaining health, healing and strength. Avoiding pro-inflammatory foods such as processed flours, sugars, fried foods and some dairy in some cases can prove to be advantageous.

Are there specific medicines you might recommend for farmers and gardeners to have on hand on a regular basis, i.e. balms or lotions or antiseptics?

Essential oils prove to be powerful elements in soothing sore muscles, healing infections, calming the mind during stress and insomnia, calming burns and easing upset stomachs. I recommend them for many ailments. Essential oils can very easily be used in homemade balm, lotion and antiseptic preparations.

What are the main essential oils for farmers/laborers, and could you say a few words about each?

Tea tree is wonderful for infections, nail fungus, ringworm, insect bites and lice. Peppermint is great for upset stomachs, nasal congestion, headaches and fresh breath. Lavender and Chamomile are used for calming muscle cramps, inducing sleep and acting as mild antiseptics for treating infections, parasites, mites and lice.

I’ve come to you with some very serious chronic shoulder pain and you’ve been able to ease that pain so that I can almost forget about it for months. Can you share any tips or techniques to take care of our backs and shoulders, as farmers tend to overwork those areas quite a bit?

Many folks use the age-old advice of using ice on an injury. Current research shows that using ice on an injury only delays the healing process. Swelling is found to play an important role in healing an injury. Heat brings in more blood to an injury site which also means it brings in more nutrients necessary for a speedy recovery. I always recommend heat over ice for shoulder sprains. The only time I recommend ice is when the pain is so great the patient cannot fall asleep. Sleep is the ultimate healer, not to be discouraged in any way.

When muscles tense from overwork, I often use Trigger Point Release technique. This involves finding the tightest aspect of the affected muscle, and pushing and holding on this point for at least one minute. By doing so, the brain receives a message that the muscle is being compressed and for survival the brain will react by relaxing the muscle in response.

The trick is to hold the trigger point in compression for at least 60 seconds, otherwise the brain will not hear the message and not release the hypertonic muscle.

Do you believe there is a connection between a farmer’s health and the health of the land?

There is a symbiotic relationship between farmer and land. They use each other to benefit themselves. If the farmer takes care of the land, then the land takes care of the farmer. Likewise, if the farmer takes care of his or her health then he or she will be able to properly take care of the land as well.

There is an intimate interconnection between land and steward, as they each take care of each other to benefit the whole.

If you could recommend three practices for a farmer to do in the morning and at night, what would they be?

Every morning and night stretch the body, drink good clean water and give thanks for all that you have been given and what you’ve been entrusted to care for.

Why should a farmer or laborer come to you for help instead of a conventional doctor?

Western medicine holds a very important place in health and healing. If you break your leg or you feel a heart attack approaching, please don’t come to my office! Allopathic medicine is wonderful at saving organs and lives. That is what medical doctors do best. I am interested in preventative medicine and helping patients find great health before disease sets in. I want to help people find wellness care, not sick care. If you’d like to find your best health potential to live the life you were intended to have, then you would be a great candidate for my office.

This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Andrew French is a livestock farmer and permaculture designer based in western Wisconsin working on developing a viable model of regenerative pig farming from farrow-to-finish using a whole-systems design approach. He can be reached via his website for more information.

Dog Food: Healthy Alternatives

By Lee Allen

We are a nation of pet owners where nearly three out of four households own at least one domestic animal — 96 million furry feline friends and 81 million canine companions. And while we may love them (and spend $58.5 billion on them annually to demonstrate that love), we don’t feed them well.

“If you’re not controlling their food intake, you’re allowing someone else to do it for you,” says master dog chef Micki Voisard. “Most of us wouldn’t eat commercial dog food and chances are, if they knew what was in it, our dogs wouldn’t eat it either. Feeding your animal dead, processed food, produced months before you purchased it causes more problems than it solves.

Some crunchable kibble is so loaded down with everything but the kitchen sink that I see dogs hyped up like teenagers on Red Bull.”

An advocate of “real food versus dead food,” Voisard notes, “When Hill’s put the word Science in front of the word Diet a few decades ago, I think we lost our last bit of common sense in the dog feeding world.”

dog food
Tripe, turkey, lamb, beef liver and other organ meats make good food for man’s best friend.

Her concerns are shared by a growing audience, one that represents a lot of consumer buying power. In a Wall Street Journal article titled “May – National Pet Month,” it was reported that pet food varieties labeled organic now generate $2.9 billion in annual sales. Wisely, the writer did add the caveat that “while organic labels (for humans) are approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, separate pet food standards don’t exist.”

USA Weekend reported: “Many premium foods contain ‘great-sounding ingredients’ that can be less nutritious than more economical ingredients.” The publication noted: “Dog food companies are jumping on the farm-to-table bandwagon and incorporating a range of produce for canine companions.”

Citing a study by Purdue University, the article informed readers that “feeding vegetables to dogs at least three times per week can reduce the risk of canine bladder cancer,” while quoting veterinarian Susan Wynn as saying, “There is accumulating evidence that the fiber, flavonoids and glucosinolates in vegetables are beneficial in helping dogs prevent or fight chronic diseases.”

Even garden-variety cat foods are being joined on store shelves by an increasing selection of purportedly healthier options such as by-product-free, grain-free, human-grade, natural and organic brands.

Chef Voisard expresses pessimism about asking vets nutrition questions and how to feed their animals in a healthy fashion.

“Vets aren’t qualified to talk with clients about feeding pets properly,” she says, “Because they don’t study nutrition and only take the word of sales reps. How do I know that? I used to hold cooking classes for veterinarians at my Dog Chefs Kitchen and they would tell me they never took a single nutrition class in their schooling and had no experience in feeding natural food.”

Some pet owners are comfortable with the routine of feeding commercially prepared foods because they keep life running smoothly — quick, clean, no muss, no fuss. “Inevitably, there’s a price to pay for that choice, and you can pay it now to keep your animals healthy, or pay it later with vet bills,” said Voisard.

Customizing Dog Food

At her house in Tubac, Arizona, Voisard says it’s OK to feed her dogs table scraps … as long as she is the one who prepared the meal. Her cadre of canines (all rescue dogs) includes a pair of flat-coated retrievers, a border terrier, a collie/shepherd mix and a mini-Shar Pei.

“We want all dogs to be healthy and that means not making grain-based, preservative-laden, convenience dog food the staple of your canine’s diet.

You can improve your dog’s health and behavior by easily and economically amending their current diet to provide nutritious meals your pup will find appetizing.”

Providing tastier and healthier edibles for pets increasingly makes sense, especially in light of numerous brand recalls because of tainted pet food.

Canines are carnivores, they need meat, but look at the first five ingredients listed on many food bags and you’ll find something you might feed a chicken instead of a dog.

“Where’s the beef?” Voisard asks. “I advocate slightly-cooked organ meats for animals, and I love showing owners the basics of what is species appropriate, showing people that they can share their food with their dog.”

That is, if they eat well themselves.

“If we eat wrongly, no doctor can cure us; if we eat rightly, no doctor is needed,” she said. “Substitute the word ‘doctor’ for ‘veterinarian’ and it comes out the same. Food is like vehicle fuel. If you put the wrong kind of stuff in your engine, you’ll be spending lots of time on the side of the road.”

Master dog chef Micki Voisard advocates for healthier dog diets.

Voisard participates in online meetings of a group called AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, where she says, “Pet food is never referred to as ‘food,’ but is referred to as ‘human food waste.’

It’s an ugly thing when you go deep into this industry and actually see what is being used as food.” She cites fellow pet food safety advocate Susan Thixton who writes: “The AAFCO system is feed, not food. Food is what humans eat. Feed is what animals eat and can contain euthanized animals or pesticide-contaminated ingredients.”

While Voisard ultimately urges a complete change in how Fido is fed, amending your companion animal’s current diet is a process that can be accomplished in steps.

“This isn’t rocket science,” she says. “The solution to pollution is dilution, an easy nutritional path down the detox superhighway.”

While advising that there is no one-size-fits-all, her recommendation is to feed your companion animals by paying attention to the ingredients in their commercial food and supplementing with real food on a daily basis.

“Ultimately I’d hope you’d want to go further and feed your dog nothing but natural foods.”

And what is a species appropriate diet for dogs? Whether the meat is cooked or raw is up to the person and the dog. Voisard prefers meat slightly cooked in water and using the water as additional hydration as a broth.

Good Vittles:

  • Meat with the natural skin (fat) such as chicken thighs, legs, breasts. When cooking a chicken thigh or leg with the bone in water, add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the water as it helps to leach the minerals out of the bones. Then once cooked, discard these cooked bones.
  • Turkey
  • Beef (with the fat)
  • Ground beef
  • Lamb
  • Organ meats: chicken gizzards, hearts, livers
  • Beef liver
  • Beef hearts
  • Tripe
  • Fish-salmon, mackerel, sardines (canned or fresh)
  • Eggs
  • Small amounts of veggies such as kale, broccoli, carrots, sprouts, zucchini, peas, green beans
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Bones-raw knuckle or marrow
  • Potatoes-sweet or white or golden
  • Quinoa
  • Oat
  • Plain, non-flavored yogurt

This article appeared in the February 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Proper Digestion Central to Health

By Karen Lyke, M.S., C.C.N., D.SC.

Mother to three grown children plus grandchildren and a life long organic gardener, the author cultivates a nutrient-dense, pesticide and GMO-free garden, and raises a few chickens, with her husband in Ohio.

Old wisdom suggests that to understand something our best bet is to simply be open to what it is telling us, with all of our senses. Use eyes, ears, smell, taste, touch, along with intuition, to notice the obvious — and trust our own perceptions.

With the digestive system, or gut, its central location should tell us a lot. The gut — as a path for transformation and exchange with the outside world right through the center of our bodies — is indeed central to everything that happens in our bodies and minds.

Digestion is the transformation of not-self into essentially something, which resembles self. It’s the conversion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates into constituents, which are the same material that make up the body eating and digesting the food. Digestion is the transformation of substances with their own distinct identity into generic ‘parts’ which can be used by another living being.

Digestion: Microbes Play Key Role

Microbes are central to the process of digestion in both the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) or gut, and in the soil.

In animals, microbes facilitate the final transformation of flesh or fiber into something usable by the animal; in the soil, microbes transform the residues of plants and animals into something usable, and necessary, for the growth of plants.

If something that remains recognizable as alien or not-self is not transformed from ‘other’ to self compatible, the body responds as if to an invasion, for invasion by foreign substance is indeed what it is. Macrophages and other first-level immune cells rush to the surfaces of the intestines, gobbling up anything which seems unfamiliar. Macrophages engulf foreign substances. If the invasion is extensive, possibly because of inadequate hydrochloric acid (HCl) to denature the ingested proteins, then inflammation will result.

Inflammation can cause the connections between the cells lining the intestinal wall to break, resulting in gaps between the cells of the protective lining. Undigested protein fragments can then easily make their way into the bloodstream where an even more intense alarm is sounded. Here the body generates specific antibodies to the unfamiliar, not-self, substances, to engulf and then detonate them. Some view this as the basis of allergic reactions. The detonation, or destruction, of the foreign substances leads to inflammation. Initially it’s in the gut, but it can spread throughout the body.

Insufficient digestive juices thus can be the setup for inadequate digestion of foreign substances, specifically through their protein components.

The first response is food sensitivities and inflammation, which can then progress to ‘leaky gut’ and possibly full-fledged food allergies with widespread or whole body consequences.

There’s an old adage: nature abhors a straight line. Another reflection of this truth is that digestion meanders along changes in pH in the digestive tract. Slightly alkaline in the mouth, distinctly acidic in the stomach, again alkaline in the small intestine, then returning to acidic in the large intestine, is the pattern in humans. The acidity of the stomach is crucial to the breakdown of proteins.

The sequence of proteins is what gives each life form its physical uniqueness. The HCl of the stomach denatures proteins by breaking bonds in the cluster of amino acids making up a protein. The HCl releases the enzyme pepsin from pepsinogen for further dismantling proteins.

Proteins are not merely the foods we intentionally ingest; proteins also make up those little stowaways which might not get completely washed off foods in preparation. A healthy digestive system will generate enough HCl to digest and eradicate those stowaways — perhaps simply innocuous insects or microbes, or possibly more serious as potential pathogens or parasites.

The legendary sterilizing feature of dog spit might well have to do with strong canine capacity to generate lots of HCl to break down proteins quickly and thoroughly, to destroy potential parasites before they can take hold in the gut.

Adequate HCl serves several functions crucial to complete digestion. As part of denaturing proteins to release pepsin and activate further digestion to eliminate potential pathogens and parasites, HCl is necessary to release intrinsic factor, a protein which escorts vitamin B12 from the stomach through the travails of the small intestine for its release and absorption in the most distant part of the small intestine, the ileum.

Without adequate HCl, vitamin B12 deficiency is quite likely. Without adequate B12, numerous metabolic processes simply can’t happen, with the most severe consequences manifesting in nerve degeneration, affecting both physical and mental capacities.

Adequate HCl is also necessary to dissolve minerals into their ionic forms, also rendering them more readily absorbed and usable. Minerals serve both structural and functional purposes: calcium for bone and dental structure as well as activation of other processes; magnesium as a cofactor for every reaction in the body involving ATP — the crucial energy or ‘electricity’ for all physiological processes; iron for oxygen transport as well as ATP generation; zinc, necessary for all proteins from enzymes to tissue, hormone and neurotransmitter production and use.

Just when you think all the roles of HCl have been covered, the acidity of HCl is necessary to perpetuate other aspects of digestion. HCl provides for the release of bicarbonate (HCO3 -) which neutralizes the acidity of the HCl and helps food become chyme, as well as release of bile for fat digestion and absorption. The alkalinity of the HCO3- provides the proper environment for pancreatic enzymes to be released and function.

Without adequate hydrochloric acid, proper digestion simply can’t happen. Without proper digestion, the body fails to obtain the nutrients it needs and is likely to go into a very defensive state of being, with both physical and psychological manifestations.

So how to optimize one’s HCl production and digestion overall? The first step is to let your energies turn toward supporting you. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is active when our energies are outward, to respond to external stimuli. When fully ‘on,’ the SNS is the agent of fright, flight and fight. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) in contrast, allows our energies to be turned to self care.

The PNS is the agent of ‘rest and digest,’ restoration, repair and renewal. Since eating is an important dimension of self-renewal, the PNS, particularly through the vagus nerve, activates those organs and tissues, which sustain and renew the body. The vagus nerve serves the lungs, stomach, intestines and heart, thus affects breathing, digestion and heart rate, as well as speech (not an all-inclusive list).

In effect, the vagus nerve is ‘on’ unless excessive SNS activity turns it ‘off,’ which sad to say is too often the case in the current modern western lifestyle.

The first way to improve digestion would indeed be to ‘get out of the way,’ by reducing SNS activity.

Grace before meals, even a candle on a properly set table, deliberate time out from the hustle and bustle of the day, chewing slowly and thoroughly, eating only until 80 percent ‘full,’ all allow PNS renewal.

Many people find that a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar (ACV) in a small amount of water, or a cup of bone broth or other soup, calms overall while enhancing digestion. Digestive enzymes as a deliberate supplement, herbs particularly bitters to reinforce bile flow, can all be useful. A properly functioning digestive system should provide adequate mucus flow to protect the endothelial (mucosal) surfaces of the GIT, as well as activate the glands and tissues to deliver sufficient digestive HCl and enzymes.

Because the gut is indeed central to the body, and is where substances most naturally enter and leave the body, taking steps to heal the gut can promote healing everywhere else in the body.

This article appeared in the October 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Karen Lyke, M.S., C.C.N., D.Sc., has been studying the effects of food on human health ever since she was anorexic as a teenager. Her academic credentials include an MS in Human Nutrition, board certification as a clinical nutritionist (CCN) and a doctorate based on a study of the effects of oxalates in soy-based foodstuffs on human health. Also a Waldorf School graduate, and certified in therapeutic massage, she has taught anatomy and physiology, as well as nutrition, to students of massage therapy, acupuncture and holistic health.

Farmer Health: Preventing Pain

By Jack Wax

The animals that should be treated with the greatest care on most farms aren’t getting the attention they need, and farmer health should be a priority. Farmers start out young and strong, but as they age they are more likely than other groups to suffer from joint problems, painful backs and bad knees and hips.

farmer health may be improved through yoga
Young farmers practice yoga at Dripping Springs Farm, located near Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Everyone already knows that farming is one of the most dangerous ways to make a living. Safety around large animals and heavy equipment is a life and death matter, but few farmers consider the long-term health effects of day-to-day lifting, kneeling, stooping, twisting, shoveling and weeding — the activities that define the workload of most organic market farmers.

The result? Approximately one-third of farmers and ranchers are limited by arthritis, according to the USDA AgrAbility Project.

Surveys of farmers in the United States and other countries show that as farmers age they not only suffer musculoskeletal problems, but their aching, damaged joints make them more prone to serious accidents.

The flip side is that the physical demands of farming can be a good thing. Young farmers can grow into old, healthy farmers. Back pain can be avoided, arthritis can be prevented or delayed, and daily aches and pains can be tolerated without developing into major joint or muscle disorders. But it won’t happen by chance.

Experts agree that to stay healthy, farmers such as 26-year-old Eric Elderbrock and his peers need to be aware of the potential damage they are inflicting on themselves and prevent it.


Book excerpt: The Myths of Safe Pesticides by André Leu

Front cover of the Myths of Safe Pesticides book

In his book The Myths of Safe Pesticides, organic agriculturist and lecturer André Leu delves into scientific research to present evidence dispelling the claims of chemical companies and pesticide regulators that pesticide, herbicide and insecticide products are safe when used as directed. Leu breaks down the five most-repeated myths about pesticide safety, refuting them using scientific data.

The excerpt below is from the chapter discussing the myth that “pesticides are essential to farming,” and asserting that pesticides are, in fact, not the only thing keeping our planet from starvation.

From Chapter 5: The “Pesticides are Essential to Farming” Myth

“We will starve to death without pesticides.”

The greatest of all the myths is that we must be exposed to numerous toxic chemicals; otherwise we will have mass starvation. This myth states that it is impossible to grow enough food without the widespread use of these poisons.

The industry, both manufacturers and conventional farming or­ganizations, and regulators consistently argue that not using these pesticides would cause crop failures and dramatic reductions in yields.

The main Australian pesticide regulator, the Australian Pesti­cides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), is a good example of a regulator justifying the use of pesticides: “Pesticides and veterinary medicines are vital to quality food and fibre produc­tion. Australia’s primary production is worth an estimated $30 bil­lion a year with an export value of over $25 billion. Many primary producers rely on pesticides and veterinary medicines to protect their crops and animals from disease and pests.”

When pesticides are being reviewed by regulators for adverse effects to human health and the environment, the industry groups always warn that they have no alternative but to use these toxic chemicals as crop protection tools as the justification for not ban­ning them. In the final outcome, it is usually business as usual, or regulators may decide to modify the way pesticides are used to less­en some negative impacts. Rarely are they withdrawn from use to ensure no adverse impacts on human health and the environment.

Trillions of dollars have been spent on research into conven­tional agriculture while at the same time in the last hundred years there has been an almost total neglect of research into organic agri­culture. A significant proportion of this research funding has been to develop and test the efficacy of synthetic toxic chemicals as pes­ticides such as herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides.

The main reason for the lower yields in some organic systems has been the fact that research and development into organic systems has been largely ignored. U.S. $52 billion is spent annually on agricul­ture research worldwide. Less than 0.4 percent (four dollars in every thousand) is spent on solutions specific for organic farming systems.

Yet despite this lack of funding, all the data sets from the global meta comparison studies have examples of organic systems that have the same or higher yields than conventional agriculture.


Rodale Organic Low/No Till—The Rodale Institute has been trialing a range of organic low-tillage and no-tillage systems. The 2006 trials resulted in organic yields of 160 bushels an acre (bu/ac) compared to the Berks County average nonorganic corn yield of 130 bu/ac and the regional average of 147 bu/ac.

IOWA Trials—The results from the Long Term Agroecological Re­search (LTAR), a twelve-year collaborative effort between producers and researchers led by Dr. Kathleen Delate of Iowa State Univer­sity, shows that organic systems can have equal to higher yields than conventional systems. Consistent with several other studies, the data showed that while the organic systems had lower yields in the be­ginning, by year four they started to exceed the conventional crops. Across all rotations, organic corn harvests averaged 130 bushels per acre while conventional corn yield was 112 bushels per acre. Simi­larly, organic soybean yield was 45 bushels per acre compared to the conventional yield of 40 bushels per acre in the fourth year. Cost-wise, on average, the organic crops’ revenue was twice that of con­ventional crops due to the savings afforded by not using chemical fertilizers and pesticides and the produce receiving better prices.

These examples need to be researched to understand why and, importantly, to replicate, improve, and scale up globally. This will close the yield gap and has the potential to overtake the conven­tional average.


While organic agriculture currently may have lower average yields than the chemically intense industrial agricultural systems in good climate years, there are two areas in which organic agriculture can often have higher yields: under conditions of climate extremes and in traditional smallholder systems. Both of these areas are critical to achieving global food security.


According to research by NASA, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and others, the world is seeing in­creases in the frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts and heavy rainfall. Even if we stopped polluting the planet with greenhouse gases tomorrow, it would take many decades to reverse climate change. Farmers thus have to adapt to the increasing inten­sity and frequency of adverse and extreme weather events such as droughts and heavy, damaging rainfall. Published studies show that organic farming systems are more resilient to the emerging weather extremes and can produce higher yields than conventional farming systems in such conditions. For instance, the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials found that organic yields were higher in drought years and the same as conventional in normal weather years.

Rows of organically managed corn on the left compared to rows of conventionally managed corn on the right
The corn grown on the organically managed soil (left) in the long-term Rodale Farming Systems Trial has greater drought tolerance than the conventionally grown corn (right) due to better water-holding capacity.

Similarly, the Rodale Farming Systems Trial (FST) showed that the organic systems produced more corn than the conventional sys­tem in drought years. The average corn yields during the drought years were from 28 percent to 34 percent higher in the two organic systems. The researchers attributed the higher yields in the dry years to the ability of the soils on organic farms to better absorb rainfall. This absorption is due to the higher levels of organic carbon in those soils, which makes them more friable and better able to store and capture rainwater, which can then be used for crops. Research also shows that organic systems use water more efficiently due to better soil structure and higher levels of humus and other organic matter compounds.

The more porous structure of organically treated soil allows rain­water to penetrate more quickly, resulting in less water loss from runoff and higher levels of water capture. Long-term scientific trials conducted by the Research Institute of Or­ganic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland comparing organic, bio­dynamic, and conventional systems (the DOK trials) had similar results, showing that organic systems were more resistant to erosion and better at capturing water.

This information is significant as the majority of world farm­ing systems are rain fed. The world does not have the resources to irrigate all of the agricultural lands, nor should such a project be started as damming the world’s watercourses, pumping from all the underground aquifers, and building millions of kilometers of chan­nels would cause an unprecedented environmental disaster.

Improving the efficiency of rain-fed agricultural systems through organic practices is the most efficient, cost-effective, en­vironmentally sustainable, and practical solution to ensure reliable food production in the increasing weather extremes being caused by climate change.


The other critical area where research is showing higher yields for good practice organic systems is in traditional smallholder systems. This is very important information as over 85 percent of the world’s farmers fall into this category.

A 2008 report by the United National Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Environ­ment Programme (UNEP) that assessed 114 projects in 24 African countries found that organic agriculture increases yields in sub-Saharan Africa by 116 percent. The report notes that despite the introduction of conventional agriculture in Africa, food pro­duction per person is 10 percent lower now than in the 1960s.

“The evidence presented in this study supports the argument that organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems, and that it is more likely to be sustainable in the long term,” stated Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary general of UNCTAD, and Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP.

Badgley et al. from the University of Michigan compared a global dataset of 293 examples of organic versus conventional food production and estimated the average yield ratio. The comparison was divided into different food categories for the developed and the developing world. The researchers found that for most food cat­egories, the average organic yield ratio was slightly less than the average in the developed world and greater than the average in the developing world. Most significantly the study showed that organic farming can yield up to three times more food on individual farms in developing countries, as compared to conventional farms.

This information is especially relevant as Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) data shows that 80 per­cent of the food in the developing world comes from smallholder farmers. The developing world is also the region where most of the 850 million undernourished people in the world live, the majority of which are smallholder farmers. With a more than 100 percent increase in food production in these traditional farming systems, organic agriculture provides an ideal solution to end hunger and ensure global food security.

Information published by the ETC Group shows that 70 per­cent of the world’s food is produced by smallholders and only 30 percent by the agribusiness sector. Increasing the yields in the 30 percent of food that comes from the agribusiness sector will show little benefit for two reasons.

Firstly, this sector is already high yielding, and it has very little scope for large increases in yields, such as the more than 100 percent that can be achieved by organic methods in traditional smallholder systems. Secondly, this sector is largely focused on the commodity supply chain. The large food surpluses produced in this sector have not lowered the number of people who are hungry, despite the fact that the world currently produces more than double the amount of food needed to feed everyone. Simply put: the people who need this food the most cannot afford to buy it. On the other hand the people who need it the least are consuming too much. Increasing the production in the agribusiness sector will not solve the current hunger problem.

Want more? Buy this book here.

About André Leu

Andre Leu international director of Regeneration International
Andre Leu is the international director of Regeneration International

André Leu is the author of The Myths of Safe Pesticides and Poisoning Our Children. He previously served as president of IFOAM — Organics International and is currently the international director of Regeneration International. André has over 40 years of experience in all areas of organic agriculture, from growing, pest-control, weed management, marketing and post-harvest transport to grower organizations, developing new crops and education – not only in his home country Australia, but across Asia, Europe, the Americas and Africa.

He has written and published extensively in magazines, newspapers, journals, conference proceedings and newsletters in print and online on many areas of organic agriculture including climate change, the environment and the health benefits of organic agronomy.

André and his wife, Julia, run an organic tropical fruit orchard in Daintree, Queensland, Australia.

Read more

Read André Leu’s interview in the October 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine here.

Book excerpt: Food, Farming & Health by Vandana Shiva, et al.

The book Food, Farming & Health shows how our health is a continuum from the soil, to the plants, to our bodies. It demonstrates how chemical farming depletes the soils of nutrition, producing plants that are nutritionally empty but full of toxic residues, which cause us – its consumers – to suffer from diseases related to nutrient deficiency and/or toxins.

Among the authored chapters is Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian scholar, well-known environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate and author.

The excerpt below, written by Maya Goburdhun – director of Navdanya, a seed and organic produce network in India – discusses how industrial food production robs our food of its nutritional values.

From Chapter 7: Biodiversity is Health

As food travels from the fields to reach our table it goes through two more stages: the processing and the retailing. Traditionally processing food was in women’s hands and was for the most part artisanal. For example, women cleaned the wheat, washed it, dried it and then proceeded to hand grind it for flour: the chakki ka atta; till about twenty years ago, one could still go to a chakkiwalah and have one’s wheat ground to flour. However, with the advent of the liked of Cargill and Pillsbury, shops mostly retail industrially processed atta from which nutrients have been robbed as it has gone through high intensity processing machines which heat up and thus destroy precious nutrients. This of course works to the advantage of the food industry which and then get into the fortification business.

Industrial processing is violent in more ways than one: there are of course the high intensity processing machines for grinding but also for extruding and applying pressure, all of which lead to structural changes in the food with negative consequences on the health, as has already been pointed out. Most industrial snacks are subjected to these denaturing processes. Moreover, as we shall see in the section devoted to indigenous oils, e.g. soya oil and canola oil, are subjected to denaturing processes to extract the maximum volume.

If we go to foods like boxed cereals, snacks, confectionery and such, their processing is as fraught with dangers to our health. These highly processed foods contain a cocktail of chemical additives in the form of:

  • i) preservatives, to prevent them from rotting;
  • ii) colorants, to make food more attractive or natural;
  • iii) taste enhancers and flavors to increase palatability or impart a certain flavor;
  • iv) texturants: to give a particular texture to the food; and
  • v) stabilizers to increase shelf life.

After reading this list you can well ask yourself so, where is the real food in all this? To make matters worse, often processed foods manufacturers do not list all the additives used on their labels, especially as with rising awareness, consumers are getting more savvy at decoding the label.

The industrial meat industry is another danger zone where not only are animals kept in dismal and cruel conditions but heavy doses of hormones or antibiotics are used on them to increase yield, which means more empty, dead and toxic food.

Before food reaches the shelves of stores or super markets, it has to be packaged; very often the packaging consists of plastic bags or containers or aluminum foil, both being highly unecological as well as sources of further contamination of the food they contain, since the chemicals of the plastic or aluminum always leach into the content.

It is ironical that this food, contaminated in more ways than one with chemicals at the processing levels and chemicals from the packet/containers, is considered safer than what is sold in the open. Yet the truth is very different.

Research by eminent scientists, such as Dr. Seralini and others, point to the fact that food that food that has been subjected to all those various way through which they have become less and less natural, not to say denatured altogether, when consumed, interferes with our brain functions. It causes inflammation in our body, at times, as in the case of junk food, it becomes addictive; in short it leads to foodstyle diseases. It is dead food and results in dead metabolism.

Now let us see what happens once these dead, killing foods reach the Market. Since globalization and liberalization, the Market, everywhere in the world, has become a World Market; throughout the year, goods from all over the planet adorn the shelves of stores and supermarket. As Marion Nestle points out in her book Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, a veritable food strategy is put into place by the Food Industry to trap people into consuming more and more, regardless of the maximum intake considered healthy, fueling obesity which in any case is already factored in through processing (use of fructose corn syrup, transfats, etc.). After all, the excess food produced to satisfy the high volume model of producing, has to find takers.

Then there is the expiry date battle. Given that liberalization means countries who have produced excess or are producing items no longer popular in their market, such as chicken legs which store more fat, can dump their goods on third world markets, there is a big expiry date scam in practice. Often, those consumers who are not very attentive to such details will then buy food that is no longer fit to be consumed, leading to further health complications.

Another consequence of globalization/liberalization is that nowadays all food items, from mangoes to melons, which are actually very season-related food, are available throughout the year. This has many negative impacts; of course the health impact is there, as our body ideally is tuned to eat as per the seasons, something that Ayurveda emphasizes very strongly. Added to that are the socio-ecological impacts, since local farmers are often marginalized as unaware consumers seek exotic over local; and moreover these items have a very heavy ecological foot print, having accumulated food miles.

So, in the face of such a scenario, what is the consumer, the co-producer of agriculture to do? As Marion Nestle says, “Choose food according to freshness, taste, nutrition and health but also social and environmental issues.” Making such food available is exactly what the endeavor of Navdanya has been and is for the past thirty years. From the field to the table, Nadvanya has sought to ensure that the end user of the food, the co-producer, is able to access food that is precisely what Nestle advises one to purchase.

About Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva is an Indian scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and anti-globalization author. Shiva, currently based in Delhi, India, has authored more than 20 books, and speaks out about pressing issues around the world, including the degradation of land, climate, politics and health.

This book was co-written by Dr. Shiva as well as Prof. Dr. G. G. Gangadharan, director  of Ramaiah Indic Specialty Ayurveda; Prof. Dr. Rama Jayasundar of the Department of NMR & MRI Facility, and All India Institute of Medical Sciences; Prof. Dr. Bhushan Patwardhan, Director of the Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; Dr. Mira Shiva, coordinator for the Initiative for Health & Equity in Society, and founding member of Doctors for Food Safety & Biosafety; and Maya Goburdhun, director of Navdanya.

Why Mindfulness is Essential for Farmers and Their Health

By Andrew French

Farming is tough on the body, and it can also take a toll on the mind. I’ve been a farmer for over six years now and not once has the job been less than physically and emotionally demanding. Before pursuing farming as my chosen career, I worked in a number of professions that exacted their own price from my body, including landscaping and cooking in professional kitchens. None of these jobs came close to matching the exhaustion I’ve felt after a hard day on the farm.

As farmers we face weather extremes, deadlines, unforeseen calamities and a variety of demands on our minds, bodies and bank accounts. Our backs are literally the backbone of our business, and we depend on our shoulders, arms and hands to accomplish our endless to-do lists. We wear through our boots like they were made of paper, and sometimes we get covered in manure. There is a reason that farming is considered one of the most dangerous jobs alongside the ranks of loggers, fishermen and pilots, and that is because we work with and around hazardous things day in and day out. We work days that can stretch far into the nights regardless of the conditions outside. To sum it up, farming can wear a person down, fast.