I love nature. The simplicity. The pureness. Anytime people talk about finding proof of God the conversation goes to outer space, but I am quite certain that if there were ever proof of God it would be in nature. The amazing thing is is that we don’t usually see the beauty of it. I mean, of course we see nature. People say they love fresh flowers or the smell of fall or spring. They like seeing animals in their natural habitat. But what I’m talking about is the entire thing at once. The co-existing, co-creating, adaptable ecology that makes all of nature. The more I learn about food and cooking the more I see that there is NO separation between any of this stuff. For the past 150 or so years we have drastically changed the way we interact with the natural world. It’s almost like we think, “Hey this is ours. We grew nature and it listens to us.” No. For millennia, this world, thrived without our input and we took as we needed. We respected nature, most cultures gods and goddesses are of nature. We valued what the planet gave us so much that we thought it was our god. Everything we grow to eat, when done naturally and the way it was intended, it gives us all of the nutrients we need. But when we do it on a large scale, with one company trying to “feed the world” we grow in ways that lose that connection to nature. And when we do that we lose the food’s nutrients, flavor and we damage the earth.
Most people think we live in a time of shortage. All the arguments about conventional farming and GMO’s are about “We need to grow food quickly and consistently to provide enough food for everyone!” The problem is that we aren’t in a shortage. An average of 34% of all the food we grow and prepare in the world, THE WORLD, is thrown out. That equates to about 1.3 billion tons of food. You may think that this is food that is inedible, rotten or whatever. Wrong. The food industry, restaurants and grocers keep a consistent product and to do that they throw out food well before it becomes inedible. Notice how in a grocery store that every head of lettuce is identical? Or the meat is all marbled the same? Shoppers equate good looks with good food and so we have had 150 years of farming to look the same. Conventional farming is done the way it is because that is what buyers demand. The farmers have been screwed over and that is why the average age of a farmer in the United States right now is 58 years.
Bare with me for a second. Many people have never lived on a farm and I need to explain this part for some things to make sense:
Farming today, corn for example, is usually done with pesticides and fertilizers to get a consistent crop. The main ones are N, P and K. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These give plants a huge growth burst and we get large, quick growing food supplies. The fertilizers are there to give plants “stuff” to grow from. Before that, and still today as well, plants are grown in rotation. For example, one year you plant soybeans and the next year you plant corn. This gives the soil time to recover and regenerate any lost nutrients and since certain plants take more of specific nutrients this way of planting is a good way to maintain a healthy soil. The problem comes with this: How many of you eat foods made from millet? Or rye? Or sorghum? That’s one example of this problem. And the problem is that we want sustainable foods but we don’t eat sustainably. When is the last time you went grocery shopping and bought a bag of rye flour? Or pork belly? Or chicken thighs vs breasts? All we eat is CORN, WHEAT, CHICKEN BREASTS and all the other popular foods. Large companies see this and go, “OK. No more rotational farming since we can’t sell corn only every other year so how can we grow corn every year?”- GMO’s, Artificial fertilizers. But the small farmer what does he do? He cant farm in the new way always so he loses money on the years he has to sell an unpopular crop. This method is nonsense. Everyone wants organic foods and those same people ask the questions as to why are there no farmers markets? It comes down to that we aren’s working with nature anymore. Pigs cannot be bred and raised for meat if the only things humans want are hams, chops and loins. It is entirely wasteful and unethical. Corn cannot be grown properly if all we are going to eat is corn. We have to give nutrients back to the soil. Everything comes from the soil. Everything.
The best fertilizer lb for lb is chicken manure. So you put chickens on the grass. You rotate them to newer grass and let cows graze the newly fertilized grass. But cows won’s eat the really tough stuff so you get pigs and goats and in this system you have grass fed, free ranging animals with amazing fertilized fields. And with the rotating of the crops you get the most nutrients in the soil and the cycle repeats. The earth is healthy, the animals and crops are organic and full of all the minerals and flavor they can be. But this costs money and time that big companies just don’t want to spend. So what do they do? Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. It is the year 2016 and scientists really have no idea what happens when a plant grows. This is not a joke. Look it up. The best guess is the more life that is in soil (micro-organisms, etc) the more nutrient dense the crop will be. But when you put nitrogen fertilizer is wipes out all, ALL, of the micro life in the soil and you are planting seeds in dead soil with man-made fertilizers and telling everyone that it’s safe to eat. It is crazy. In 1 teaspoon of healthy soil the estimates are that there is more than 1,000,000,000,000 life-forms in there. One billion in a teaspoon.
Dan Barber is a chef and farmer in New York State who has completely changed the game about this stuff. He has a restaurant and farm that grows this way and they have bred new crops that are more nutrient dense and with better flavor that has ever been seen in the world. How? Farming the way is is supposed to be. They grew a carrot at their farm and it was the best carrot they had ever tasted but they wanted to prove that. They used a refractometer to measure the sugar content of their carrot. A refractometer measures natural sugar in food to the parts-per-billion. Their carrot was 16.9% sugar. An organic carrot from whole foods tested 0.0%. Natural sugar in vegetables is in direct correlation to the amount of nutrients in that food. The best organic stores can give us is 0.0/ Its time we demanded food that is better for us and better in flavor.
It all comes down to the soil. And in the end, we have to decide if it is worth destroying the life on our planet just to make more money for companies that have no vested interest in the continuity of our lands. If we grow our crops the way nature intended and we eat locally and seasonally and sustainably, every single time we will have healthier food with better flavor. And if it’s better for us, for the earth and tastes better, then what the hell are we waiting for?