Why The Soil Your Food Grows In Truly Matters
In this modern age, humans are more disconnected from their food than ever before. Unless you happen to be a farmer, the food you’re consuming wasn’t grown by you. You probably don’t know where it comes from, how it was grown, or how long it traveled to get to where you bought it.
Even labels can be dishonest. Free-range chickens don’t have to be outside. Non-GMO doesn’t mean organic. And even organic labels don’t guarantee a food is 100% free of pesticides.
Something people don’t usually take into consideration when buying fruits and vegetables is the soil quality they were grown in. This is actually one of the biggest factors in providing superior, nutrition-dense produce.
Most Farms Today Are Single-Crop Systems
If you were to grow your own personal vegetable garden, how would you do it? Chances are, you would want to grow a variety of things—some beans, a few tomato plants, two or three strawberry bushes. Most people growing food in their backyards don’t have fifty rows of beans and nothing else.
Today, because of large scale agriculture, our food is grown in enormous amounts, sometimes acres upon acres of the same crop. Even smaller organic operations work this way. Financially, it makes sense to grow things in bulk.
The problem is biodiversity. To grow nutritious fruits and vegetables you have to have rich soil. Rich soil is crawling with bugs, fungi, worms, and decomposing plant and animal matter. All of this provides nutrients for the plant, which transfers to its fruit.
When your body doesn’t have proper nutrients, the immune system lowers and makes you more susceptible to illness. When plants don’t have proper soil, it makes them more susceptible to pests. When farmers see pests, they use pesticides to protect their crops (even organic farmers use some sort of organic bug-killer).
The problem is that these chemical compounds don’t only kill insects on the plant. They leak into the soil, further destroying the biodiversity there. Without worms, insects and fungus, the soil is unable to support all the nutritional needs of the plants, resulting in fewer nutrients for you to ingest later. This is a vicious cycle—less biodiversity in the soil leads to more pests, more pests lead to more insecticide, and more insecticide means less biodiversity in the soil.
So What Can You Do?
It’s already hard enough to eat healthy, check labels, question those labels, and eat plenty of fruits and veggies. Now you have to be worried about the dirt your food is grown in?
Even shopping at Whole Foods is not a guarantee. Fun fact: most of the farms that sell their food to Wal-Mart also sell to Whole Foods and other specialty health stores. The difference is that Whole Foods takes longer to get the produce, so in reality, Wal-Mart could have more nutritional produce due to the fact it’s fresher. The fresher the fruit, the more nutrient dense it is.
Luckily, there’s a way to check the nutritional content of produce regardless of where you buy it. You can purchase a device known as a refractometer (about $20 on Amazon) which measures dissolved solids in a liquid. By squeezing some juice from a fruit or vegetable onto the prism of the refractometer, you can see what percentage are sugars, minerals, vitamins and amino acids.
Once you’ve examined the sample, you can use a Brix Chart to determine if the numbers you found mean the produce is nutrient dense or not. Although you lose a little bit of food in the testing here, you can pinpoint which farms are producing the best food and which ones you should probably avoid.
It may seem like a bit of work, but what is the point of consuming all those veggies if they’re not doing anything for your body? You probably don’t have time to go to each farm, test the soil for biodiversity, and decide where to buy your food. You may not have time or space to grow your own. But thankfully in this time of information and invention, there are solutions you can use to make sure the plants you eat are giving your body everything it needs to thrive.