Dec 17, 2009

Are You Getting Your Minerals?

I’ve been reading lately about mineral supplementation: of the body and of the soil. Traditionally I’ve been a hard sell for nutritional supplementation of my ‘natural’ diet. I used to think of supplementation as, ‘Crisis Management’ in the respect that conventional medications are to a certain extent, ‘Crisis Management.’ Q.E.D. I made the less than logical leap Supplements Ergo Medications. So what changed for me?

I’m of the belief if you don’t know, then ask. You know the drill, “The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask!” I see dumb people. No, I see dumb questions hanging un-asked in the air like thought bubbles. I consulted with experts in the agricultural, grocery, foods and supplements businesses. I came to appreciate that non-chemical supplementation, whether of the soil, or human body, has a place in our ‘modern’ world.

For most of us alive on this planet right now, we either have lived through, or are living with the direct and indirect effects of decades of synthetic chemicals in our farming and food systems. Everything comes from the ground, water, and air, and by extension our farms. I’m referring to food and non-food products (clothing, soaps, packaging, cleaning products and so on). You’ve seen the bumper sticker, “No Farms, No Food.” Well no farms, no lots of things!

Synthetic chemicals were introduced into our farming systems in the 1950s. The intention seems to be a good one: take the guesswork out of farming by controlling the variables: pests and crop yields. Hence feeding many more people. However, relying on chemical control of pests and growing crops out of balance with natural conditions has given us a legacy of soil depleted in minerals, requiring more and more synthetic chemical management to achieve similar crop yields. This is not a judgment of hardworking farmers who use synthetic chemicals; we don’t walk in their shoes, we can’t understand their thought process without a dialogue. This is a comment on our food system: our plant systems are working long hours under very stressful conditions to put out crops that are much lower in mineral content (nutrients) than just fifty years ago. Not to mention the health stresses of agricultural workers on whom we depend for our food.

To quote a recent article in Organic Connections Magazine (published by the Peter Gillham supplements company), “U.S. agricultural records has found that the nutrient content of fruits and vegetables has been dropping since these records were first taken in the early 1960s—just over 40 years ago. To illustrate the point, you would need to be eating five apples today just to get the same nutrients you would have found in one apple in 1965.” Of course they are talking about conventional apples, not organic. How about them apples? All five of them.

The same Organic Connections article goes on to discuss that modern farming relies on chemical fertilizers that are petrochemical based. The article recommends using cheaper, powdered rock minerals to “re-mineralize” the soil and hence boost the mineral (nutrient) content of crops. “A ton of rock dust costs anywhere between nothing at all and $8.00 and only needs to be applied every 1–10 years, depending on the application. Compare this to chemical fertilizers, which cost over $400 per ton and need to be applied at least once each season.” (Organic Connections).

Many organic growers are using re-mineralization. Cal-Organic organic carrots, for example, are grown using this method. Chef Alice Waters is an advocate of re-mineralization and has up to 70 re-mineralized fruits and vegetables grown for her Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, CA (Organic Connections).

What can we do? Add powdered rock minerals to our home or community garden vegetable beds. Also, follow some principles of organic farming: crop rotation, and companion planting (planting to attract birds and 'beneficial' insects to eat the bad insects we want to avoid). Lastly, when an area of your garden is not in use, till in compost, and plant cover crops such as winter rye, or hairy vetch to build the soil and deter weeds naturally. I've used all these methods at the G4U Farm, and they work, even on a small scale.

I now believe supplements have their place in the diet, especially if one is depending on conventional produce. However, pick a good supplement that is whole foods based, not bulked up with synthetic fillers. The operative word though is, supplement. Supplements do just that – they supplement the diet, they do not replace fresh, chemical-free produce and foods. That’s the whole story.


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