Letters from the Field


Blue skies at River Farm this month. Atmospheric changes are altering the plants we eat. 
One of the big selling points of eating organic produce is the increased nutrient density it provides compared to conventionally grown and GMO crops. While some recent studies have refuted this claim, the preponderance of evidence has supported it.

Reversing the ill effects of a compromised food system is one reason we organic farmers put up with the downsides of growing with nature instead of against it — the daily battle with weeds and bugs and disease is worth it if you are creating an environment that restores long-term health rather than depletes it.

Now comes a startling discovery that our restoration gains in the soil are very likely being offset by a little-known interaction going on above it. Warning of a “great nutrient collapse,” scientists are learning that one unexpected outcome of increased CO2 in the atmosphere is nutrient loss in plants. A fascinating — and worrisome — explanation of this discovery and its implications — was recently published in Politico.

For more than decade, scientists have shown that nutrients — from protein to calcium, iron and vitamin C — had declined in most garden crops since 1950. The obvious reason was the switch in varieties that favored quantity instead of quality. But that appears to explain only part of the reason. As the article in Politico explains:

“Rising CO2 revs up photosynthesis, the process that helps plants transform sunlight to food. This makes plants grow, but it also leads them to pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.”This process, first discovered nearly 15 years ago when looking at zooplankton and algae, means that our CO2-enriched atmosphere is yet one more contributor to “junk food.”

I read this article on the same day it was announced that the EPA is reversing regulations on clean air. Last evening, Frontline aired a worrisome expose on how the EPA is being dismantled and essentially being led by lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry. Taking a critical look at how human behavior damages this planet — its soil, water, and air — is now taking a back seat, at exactly time when we should be put it front and center.

Organic farmers are doing their part in restoring soil. You are doing your part in supporting their efforts while improving your own health. Yet clearly we need to do more than just grow well and eat well. We need to act well, too;  spending our dollars supporting good environmental practices across the board is not just a good cause but an essential one — one we can all join, anytime, anywhere.

Farmer Skip

P.S. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, not sure how to get started, we recommend reading, Deep Green, a very affordable ebook written by our friend and sustainabilty teacher Jenny Nazak. You will be inspired! (https://www.facebook.com/deepgreenbookjennynazak/)

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