A recent article in Prevention Magazine discusses studies that show fruits and vegetables sold in markets today do not have the nutritional quality that they once did. While I was aware of these studies, today, as an organic grower, I am even more interested in this topic. So I did a little research that made me appreciate my garden even more. The main culprit of the decline in nutritional value is the inorganic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that are used by commercial growers to make plants grow faster and produce larger fruits and vegetables. For example, in 1950, broccoli had 130 mg of calcium, while today, it has only 48 mg. In fact, I read that the recent recommended increase of triple the quantities of vegetables and fruits to be eaten daily in the USDA’s Food Pyramid is a direct result of the decline in nutritional value of our food supply. Wow. If you’d like more information, you can research via the links I have noted below, or just run a Google search on the nutritional value of vegetables, organic versus conventional. But here’s a taste of what I found:
– The synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers used to produce larger crops faster deplete the soil of vital nutrients, antioxidants and minerals. The faster-growing plants do not have time to fully develop and absorb nutrients. I am all for productivity, but can we please slow down a little and let our green beans and strawberries grow the way they are supposed to? UK and US government statistics indicate that levels of trace minerals in fruit and vegetables fell by up to 76% between 1940 and 1991. (2)
– In a study of children aged 2-4 living in Seattle, concentrations of pesticide residues up to six times higher were found in children eating conventionally farmed fruit and vegetables compared with those eating organic food. While the impact of these pesticides is highly debated, why risk the health and safety of our children and ourselves? Recent studies also show evidence of a connection between pesticides and autism spectrum disorders. (4)
– Routine use of synthetic pesticides is not allowed under organic standards. Currently, over 400 chemicals can be regularly used in conventional farming to kill weeds, insects and other pests that attack crops. In contrast, only very limited chemicals are allowed in restricted circumstances under organic standards. (2) It’s also worth noting that there are almost no studies on the combined effects of the many chemicals we are regularly digesting. I don’t think they are good for us, though!
– Organic crops contain significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly fewer nitrates than conventionally grown crops. (3)
Enough! Meanwhile, on an organic farm, fruits and vegetables must work harder to pull in the micronutrients they need, to outwit the insects, and beat the weather. And guess what? What does not kill them, makes them stronger! Organic produce reportedly is much more nutritionally dense than commercial produce. And the compost, worm castings and other natural fertilizers that organic farmers and gardeners use improve the health of soil, which is most beneficial to plants and to us. And let’s talk taste! Compare the taste of a vine-ripened heirloom tomato versus a grocery store tomato. Do your own taste test between a fresh-picked sweet, juicy Sleeping Beauty melon and a grocery store cantaloupe, or an earthy, snappy Red Bliss potato and a commercial one that is, well, limp and starchy. Or consider garlic! As I’ve mentioned in other posts, much of the garlic sold in the U.S. is produced in China, and it is irradiated, which destroys all its nutritional and medicinal qualities. Among many other health benefits, organic garlic is a natural antibiotic and helps to reduce inflammation. It also makes almost everything taste better. I encourage you to plant some!
If you are not a gardener, then while you are shopping, look for brightly colored vegetables and fruits–they are naturally packed with more vitamins and minerals. Realistically, most of us cannot grow everything that we eat, but every little bit helps, so feel good about every step you take to provide fresh, healthy food for your family! Plan a little fall garden, and get your soil ready now with a helping of compost, hay and other organic matter. A 4X4 raised bed filled with a good soil mix will provide an amazing amount of produce for just a small amount of time, money and effort. I will be writing more soon about planning our fall garden!
What we don’t grow at Cowlick Cottage Farm, we buy at local farmer’s markets and co-ops. The veggies taste better and are fresher, which means they retain more nutrients. I also enjoy the idea of supporting our neighbors and keeping small farms in business. They are such a critical part of our community.
Some resources for further research:
Grow your own food and live better!