New Food Standards, Part IV: A Free Offer and Call for Volunteers
Please note that the "free offer" slots are filled up. We have around 30 participants so far.
by Michael Astera
This part is about recruiting those who are interested in proving that we can grow food with as much or more flavor and nutrients as anyone ever has anywhere.
The hoped for result of this series of essays is the creation of some very high quality and nutritional standards for food crops. I have spent some time making the case for why these are needed and explaining how they could be accomplished. I know I said that I would write about energy in agriculture and the economics of balancing soil minerals next, and I have been trying to write that part, but something keeps nagging at me to get started on the actual process of proving that we can do this. Those other details can wait, I would like to see some things happening in the real world. I'm hoping that with your help we can do some real science here and show a solid correlation between Brix and nutrient content of fruits and vegetables, and also show the connection between the level of mineral nutrients in the soil and the crop.
First of all we need to prove that we can consistently grow excellent nutrient dense food, as good or better than was grown three generations ago, and set some quality standards for others to match.
To that end, here are the suggested standards for food quality once again:
I. The crops must contain 125% or more of the average mineral content for food measured by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in 1940 and published as U.S. Dept. Agric. Cir. No. 549, Proximate Composition of American Food Materials (1940). The crops must also have...
II. A refractometer Brix reading of Good to Excellent as shown on the chart called the "Refractive Index of Fruits and Vegetables Calibrated in % Sucrose or Brix, originally compiled by Carey Reams" and found several places on the web including here; http://www.soilminerals.com/BrixChart_Reams
As the title above says, this is also a call for help, and the first help I'm asking for is "Does anyone have or can they easily get hold of the USDA Circular No. 549, Proximate Composition of American Food Materials from 1940?". It is listed at the USDA website here: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Aboutus/docs.htm?docid=9418 but is not available on line. Not being a US resident, and living in a country with poor mail service, it's not something I can readily obtain. It would be wonderful if a reader could get a copy and scan it and send it to me to put up on line for everyone to see.
One would think that the listing of nutrients in our food back then would be a popular subject, but strangely enough the only listing of food nutrients available on line at the USDA web site is from 1896 and only lists the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrates in the foods analyzed. What we need are listings for mineral nutrients such as Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Iron, Zinc etc. Not having set eyes on USDA Circular No. 549 I'm only hoping that information will be there. If not, other possibilities would be USDA Circular No. 146, Proximate Composition of Fresh Vegetables from 1936 or USDA Misc. Publ. No. 572, Tables of Food Composition in Terms of Eleven Nutrients from 1945. (both of these are also listed at http://www.ars.usda.gov/Aboutus/docs.htm?docid=9418 ) I've spent some time looking on line for mineral content of foods from sixty or so years ago and have come up largely empty-handed. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
Once we have "the numbers" that we wish to equal and surpass, the next step is to grow the food and prove that it can be done, by anyone, anywhere. Here is where the "Free Offer" part comes in.
As some of you know, I work as a consultant in soil mineral balancing and soil fertility. People send me the results of laboratory soil tests and I write a custom fertilizer prescription for their soil. For those who wish to get involved in this home-grown science project, I am offering to waive the usual fee of $45 and write a free fertility Rx for your farm or garden. Those who wish to take me up on this offer would agree to:
1.Take a soil sample, send it to the lab and pay the $20 (approximately) lab cost, then email the results to me. I will write your soil Rx and email it to you so you can....
2. Apply the recommended soil amendments to at least a small part of your growing area, or at least keep track of what amendments, preps, or various ideas you do use or apply and share that info with me.
3. Grow whatever crop you have in mind, and then when the crop is ready to be harvested....
4. Measure the Brix level of the crop (which would require borrowing or buying a 0-32* Brix refractometer, around $35).
5. Send a plant tissue sample of the crop to a laboratory for mineral nutrient analysis (another $40), and finally....
6. Send the results of the plant tissue analysis and the Brix reading on to me.
The cost for two lab tests, plus postage, plus buying a refractometer if you don't have one will add up to a little over $100, not counting the expense of purchasing any recommended soil amendments. Paying for those things will be your responsibility. I will donate the time to write your soil Rx and will also answer questions as my time permits.
Armed with the info from the original soil test, knowing what nutrients were added, and having the results of a plant tissue test and the Brix readings from a number of growers in different climates and with different soil types, I think we will have enough info to find out if this idea is going to work. My job then will be to gather the data you contribute and put it together in a comprehensible way. I'm imagining part of the results will look something like this:
|Crop ||Brix* ||Calcium % ||Magnesium % ||Potassium % ||Phosphorus % ||Iron ppm |
|Carrot #3 |
|Apple #6 |
And so on, all put together in a way that makes some sort of sense. Whatever results I come up with will of course be shared with all who participate, along with all of the raw data for those of you who like to crunch numbers and do science yourself. Everyone who contributes will have access to whatever comes of this as well as being credited and thanked for their contribution. Who knows? This could turn out to be something that changes the health of the whole world for the better.
I would like it if at least a dozen people chose to have some fun with this; I'm thinking I could probably handle up to thirty participants max without getting overloaded, but maybe if more than that wish to play some of you would be willing to help me put things together.
We wouldn't need any grants and wouldn't have anyone telling us what we could or couldn't do, all volunteer, all in the interest of science and better health for the soil, plants, animals and people everywhere.
I have set up a new email address for this project; here it is: firstname.lastname@example.org Those of you who wish to play a part, please see the instructions on taking a soil sample and a list of suggested soil testing labs here: http://www.soilminerals.com/soiltestservices.htm
Please don't volunteer for this unless you are willing to follow through to the point of getting your soil tested, growing a crop, measuring the Brix, getting a plant tissue test, and sending the results to me to share with everyone else.
Sound like fun? Let's do it!
Dec 2 update on the HighBrixProject-
Fifteen citizen-scientist-volunteers so far. A great mix of vegetable and fruit growers, dairy, beef, and sheep pasture, and two coffee growers as well. Various sytems: Biodynamic, Reams RBTI, Eco-Ag, Certified Organic, and combinations of all of them. Here's the rundown as of Wednesday evening US eastern time:
West Virginia 1
Lots of science info coming in: soil reports, farm history, mineral analysis. We are going to have plenty of data. The plan as of now is to set up a website where all of the volunteers can post and share their info, experience, and results. The invitation is still open to anyone willing to put in the time and effort.
Dec 8 update:
It appears that the USDA did not publish mineral content of foods until 1945, so even though Circ. No. 549 from 1940 has been located by kindly and resourceful help (thanks, Frank) what we are going to need the data from are the following:
1945: USDA Misc Pub 572, Tables of Food Composition in Terms of Eleven Nutrients
1950: USDA Agriculture Handbook No. 8: Composition of Foods; Raw, Processed, Prepared
Plus the 1963 (or '75) and 1982 (or '84) editions of USDA Agriculture Handbook No. 8: Composition of Foods; Raw, Processed, Prepared.
(Thanks Steve D for the above)
And finally, the 2009 computerized version:
USDA NN-DB Release SR22_Year 2009_Composition of Foods; Fruits and Fruit Juices
Which can be found on line here:
(Thanks to Mike K, Thomas G, and Bill and Grace S)
Once these are all available, we can start to figure out just how much the mineral supply of the foods we eat has diminished and set some informed goals to reach.