- Organic: What's In A Label?
Our founder grew up working on one of the very first organic farms in the state of Pennsylvania: The Kretchmann Organic Farm in Rochester, PA. This was the late 70's and we usually needed to explain the term "organic" at the Pittsburgh farmers markets. In those days, "organic" called for manures, compost and other organic fertilizers, alternative pest control methods (insecticidal soaps, predatory wasps), and a lot of hand weeding. Organic food provides a certain peace of mind, even more so in today's society that is dominated by agribuisness, GMO foods, and a commoditized food "supply".
However, having the organic label only tells you what is NOT in your food (synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc). But what does organic tell you about what IS in your food... Besides being chemical free, what - specifically - is in organic food that makes it better? Yes, it must be vitamins, minerals, and even phytonutrients. But what does "organic" tell you about nutritional content? Nothing at all, organic is a farming method. Here is Wikipedia's definition of organic food:
"Organic food is food produced by methods that comply with the standards of organic farming. Standards vary worldwide, but organic farming in general features practices that strive to cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Organizations regulating organic products may restrict the use of certain pesticides and fertilizers in farming. In general, organic foods are also usually not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents or synthetic food additives."
Yes, we want all of that and we want to promote ecological balance. But that is just a piece of the pie. Unsatisfied with just organic, we eventually joined a new movement in farming that might be described as "biological farming" and there are many aspects to it. The guiding principle comes from a simple philosophy: nature is the best food growing system out there (yes, and way better than GMO plants that are “roundup ready”). So, understand how nature works and then … encourage those natural processes.
Farming is about Biology, not Chemistry
Photosynthesis: CO2 + water + sunlight = sugar + oxygen. This is the chemistry that plants do all day long. We of course breathe the oxygen. But that sugar - a healthy plant pumps most of it into the soil in what is called plant root exudate. Why would plants go to all of that trouble making sugar and then just to dump it into the soil? Sugar feeds the soil biology - bacteria and fungi - what might be called the plant "microbiome". These soil microbia are what connect the plant to the soil and facilitate mineral uptake. The bacteria are also the bottom of the soil food chain. When eaten by larger soil organisms, their soluble minerals become available to the plant. So, the plant has its own self interest in mind when it is working so hard to make sugar to dump into the soil. Growing plants are part of a Biological System. This simple principle is what guides many of the farming methods that are described below. It also, amazingly, is missed completely by conventional farming. Conventional farming uses soluble, petroleum derived salts that are delivered to the plants. These salts contain only a few minerals: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium primarily. They often kill the very soil bacteria that the plants want to partner with! And we humans need more than 3 minerals.
Encourage the Biology
Since soil biology is a major key to nutritious food, successful biological farming requires practices that encourage a thriving soil biology. Plowing and Tilling of farmland destroys biological life in the soil and should be minimized. "Encouraging the biology" also means making sure that your plants are connected with the soil right away. This means that new plantings require bacterial and fungal "inoculation" of their roots when planted to ensure a strong start. Finally, a thick mulch layer consisting of ramial wood chips encourages the development of a strong fungal connection to the soil biology
The Principle of the Minimum
Mineral balancing. Plants need NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) but also a wide range of other minerals as well. We test our soil yearly for NPK but also for:
- trace minerals:
The Building Blocks of Disease Resistance
Highly mineralized soils don't just make more nutritious food - they make healthier plants. With adequate nutrient availability, those sugars from photosynthesis are built into complex carbohydrates. The next step is amino acids. Amino acids, again with proper nutrient availabililty, are built into complete proteins. And plant eating bugs cannot digest complete proteins. So if our plants have the nutritional ability to make complete proteins, the bugs will leave them alone. After complete proteins, the next building block is plant lipids (fats). These fats protect the leaves from fungal disease. Plants really do have an immune system that can be strengthened through proper mineral nutrition.
The Miracle Compounds in Plants
But it is not the carbs, protein, fats, or even the minerals, that we get uniquely from plants. It is the phytonutrients. The phytonutrients are produced as "secondary metabolites" at the last building block level. As with the "primary metabolites" (carbs, proteins, and fats), phytonutrients need both the building block beneath AND the properly available nutrition to make it to this final step. These phytonutrients have many different names (tannins, polyphenols, carotenoids, flavonoids, anthocyanins, ellagic acids, etc), but berries are some of the best sources.
Want To Know More?
People health follows from plant health, which follows from soil health. Learn more about "biological farming" principles and how proper mineral levels in soil, microbia in the soil, and plant care affect food quality. Please visit: the bionutrient food association at www.bionutrient.org
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