a bit on nutrition
For folks who read my last post, there are some events coming up that may interest you:
Cedar Row farm sanctuary, near Stratford, is having a work bee & potluck for Mothers’ day on May 12th (this Saturday). I visited this lovely little place in the fall.
Also on May 12th is an open house at Wishing Well Sanctuary, a newer one near Toronto.
May 6th was the first Open Day of the season at the wonderful Donkey Sanctuary of Canada in Guelph. They’ve done some new renovations to make life easier for everyone. If you go for a visit, be sure to say hi to Werther, my sheep pal, and scratch some donkey ears!
So, almost a month ago, I spent my last day as a farm employee pruning apple trees in the sunshine. We finally finished the “big” orchard that week, and went on to do the few big Melbas near the greenhouse (they were massive!) As I was finishing up the last one, a bright robin hopped through the grass a few feet away making little chirp noises, and I felt so lucky (yet again) to be there. The next day I came back to volunteer. I have some free time before I leave for WWOOFing, so of course I want to spend some of it at the farm! We did some pre-germination stuff, which I missed last year (the senior interns had worked on it before the rest of us arrived). Then we went on to seeding in the greenhouse (which is virtually bursting at the seams right now) where some Red Admirals, the first butterflies of the season, fluttered around.
And before I left town, I was thrown a fantastic surprise party by the farm crew! Part of what makes it so hard to leave for months on end, and not know where I’ll be when I get back, is leaving behind this awesome group. Working & learning alongside folks really makes for a tight knit bunch.
I’ve seen some interesting graphics floating around the internet lately, & thought it was about time to do a post about nutrition. I came across this chart recently and it reminded me of a few things.
I think soil is an appropriate starting point here, since the soil feeds the plants and the plants use nutrients from it to grow, so it’s a pretty important part of the picture. On our first CRAFT day last season, the interns at the host farm did a skit about soil science to illustrate the interactions between different minerals and elements present within it.
Looking at the practices of organic and non-organic agriculture give us some idea of why the differences shown in the chart may exist. A typical rotation for large-scale, non-organic plant agriculture is corn and soybeans. These same two crops will be grown back to back a number of times over a few years, in a huge monocrop (which is one of these):
Just one crop is grown, over a vast expanse of land, at a time. Different plants need different nutrients to grow, but having just a two-crop rotation grown on the same piece of land over and over again depletes the same nutrients over and over. The soil becomes void of them over time, so nutrients need to be added if the land is to be used again. Common amendments in this situation would be commercial fertilizers, many of which are synthetic, and are a quick fix rather than a long-term solution. Runoff from these products is a concern as it’s a pollutant and has created “dead zones” in coastal waters. I won’t even get into chemical pesticides here.
Organic plant agriculture focuses largely on improving soil health by looking at the big picture. Instead of seeking immediate gains from using chemical fertilizers (which are not permitted in organic production), overall soil health is nurtured through proper crop rotations (ie. planting a wider variety of crops over a number of seasons, with each type using different nutrients, and providing nutrients back to the soil). Organic amendments exist and include rock phosphate, compost, and the use of cover crops. The overall health of the soil is the very basis of successful organic growing. Caring for the land in this way ensures that the soil remains balanced and properly able to feed crops. It’s no wonder organic plant foods can be more nutritious than conventional.
That’s not to say that monocropping is unheard of in the organic world. It does exist, especially in “big organics” – for instance, if you buy a mass-produced jar of jam that’s certified organic and is available at chain stores year-round, you’d be making a safe bet that what’s in the jar came from a fruit monocrop, since a huge amount of it would need to be grown in order to achieve this level of distribution. It’d probably be leaning more towards conventional agriculture if we made a scale. But buying something from a farm that uses the CSA model, or from a farmers’ market, you’re probably getting something that was done on a smaller piece of land, with more crop diversity (which would likely mean healthier soil) and a better rotation.
If you’re in the market for some new cookbooks & are wondering about the nutritional/other advantages of organic & whole foods, or you just want to learn more about nutrition in general, I recommend Jae Steele’s books. She’s a holistic nutritionist based in Toronto, and aside from lots of recipes, her books have extensive but easy-to-read sections on digestion, food combining, where to source good food, how to do cleanses, and much more. Out of my large and ever-growing collection of cookbooks, hers are the ones I go to most often!
Speaking of ‘certified organic’ and food labeling, that’s a tough area to navigate as a consumer. I won’t talk about it here because it’s such a huge thing to cover, but I’ll devote another post to it soon.
For folks interested in the hen rescue I mentioned in a previous post, here’s a video update:
Just two weeks til I take off on my wwoof adventure!