Salad fixings from the garden and a B.C. apple make a tasty, nutritious snack. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Nutrition in our food on the decline

When crops don’t contain the minerals they need, they cannot provide other nutrients we depend on.

By Mary Lowther

The US Department of Agriculture has determined that much of the food we eat these days contains on average 50 per cent fewer nutrients than as recently as 1963, and it continues to decline as minerals leave the farm gate and do not get returned to the soil. They get flushed down the loo. When crops don’t contain the minerals they need, they cannot provide other nutrients we depend on.

There is a test called the Brix test that determines the sweetness and concomitant nutrition of a vegetable, but one can often tell for oneself how nutritious a vegetable or fruit is by taste: when it’s tastier, usually it contains more nutrients. If we want a fighting chance to remain healthy and withstand the present and future infections, we must learn to grow as much of our own nutritious food as possible. A side benefit is that gardening is an engrossing, fascinating endeavor that gets us outside in the fresh air. As my dear departed mom used to say: “You’ve got to take the bairns out for fresh air. It’s good for them.” Not just for the bairns.

To increase the mineral content of our crops, we can do several things. We can: have our soil tested to find which minerals it lacks and replace these minerals; compost seaweed to spread on the garden because it is rich in minerals; and compost our own manure, returning ingested minerals to the soil, as Joe Jenkins does. This last suggestion is not as icky as it sounds. Jenkins has been composting his family of four and houseguests’ manure for decades and has written an entertaining how-to manual on the subject. I’m convinced, but I haven’t convinced David. Yet. Jenkins has proven the health of his compost and has written up the findings in his book The Humanure Handbook.

Unfortunately our rainy climate washes many minerals through the soil so we need to replenish many of them every year. Drier prairie soils and those in the interior of B.C. retain minerals and nutrients far better, which is why I ensure that the mulching hay I buy comes from there. When we make sure that our soils contain robust levels of minerals that crops require, the vitamin content and taste quality skyrocket.

My own produce tastes great and, though it’s more nutritious than any I buy, I don’t grow enough for our family’s needs. Yet. As soon as a crop is harvested the vitamin content decreases, so I prefer to buy the most recently-cut produce even if it isn’t organic. Besides, it helps to keep our local farmers in business and we may need them someday.

Back when David was still young enough to listen to his elders, William Andrew Cecil Bennett told him, “The closer to home you spend your dollar, the better chance it has to come back to you.” Farmers pay taxes too, so the things you buy from a farmer goes to reducing your tax load. You can argue with me, you can argue with David, but don’t dare argue with Cecil Bennett!

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.


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