Sunday, November 29, 2009

Part IV: A Free Offer and Call for Volunteers

November 28 2009

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;

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: 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 ) 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:

Calcium %
Magnesium %
Potassium %
Phosphorus %
Iron ppm
Carrot #3

Apple #6
Leeds UK

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: 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:

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!

Michael Astera

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:

Zambia 1
Denmark 1
Peru 1
Venezuela 1
Oregon 2
Washington 4
Hawaii 1
West Virginia 1
Arakansas 1
Georgia 1
Maine 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.

Michael A


Kris Johnson said...

It could be pretty tricky to find that old edition. I have the USDA Nutritive Value of American Foods from 1975 (Ag handbook #456 - 285 pages) - it's a thick book and doesn't include much info about mineral content. I also have Bowes & Church, "Food Values of Portions Commonly Used" the 1985 edition - 156 pages. That does have some additional trace mineral charts in the back.
Kris Johnson

m_astera said...

Hi Kris-

Thanks for the offers; I'm really hoping to get older info if possible. The USDA website does list those publications from 1936, '40, and '45 on their site so I would hope they have them in their archives.

What I'm really hoping is that someone who lives near the D.C. area could get them, or maybe someone could order them by mail from USDA.

I got the idea last fall from a page at this site:

"Mineral Analysis of the crop that surpasses 125% of the average mineral content for that crop according to the USDA in 1940. This standard is set as the average crop mineral content has been decreasing since standards were first documented by the USDA in 1940"

I've been emailing occasionally with Dan Kittredge who runs that site but it doesn't appear they have made any moves toward implementing their suggested standards.

Somewhere in my hard drive I have some crop mineral analyses from the UK from about that time but I'd rather use US figures if possible.

Anyway, the ones you have from 1985 would probably be very useful for comparison once we get older ones too. Thanks again-

Anonymous said...

I called my local Cooperative Extension Office. They don't have access to this (but other local offices may.) The best they could do was point me to universities which have the book in their collection. I will try requesting it through inter-library loan.

Dogpatch said...

Michael, I think it might be useful to include the variety name of the veggies and whether or not they are hybrids. Some of my garden was disappointing this year, being virtually all hybrids, but as you know, the Fiesta hybrid broccoli was a smash success. A database of potential high brix varieties would be very useful, since it is known that many hybrids are incapable of uptaking minerals in quantity, even if they are there!

AB said...

I agree with dogpatch, nutrient values by cultivar are going to be important in this work, too. Like Al Kapuler did with tomatoes. NOt all varieties proved to be able to carry deep nutrition. The range of food values from variety to variety was immense. But Kapuler was operating in a different sphere. He designated 'total free amino acids' to be the best indicator of food value rather than BRIX. (Which reminds me: this may be the reason why BD food tastes so good but usually has a relatiely low BRIX: perhaps the 'sap minerals' are congegated into other structures.

AB said...

So, somehow I missed this, Michael. Updates to your approach will appear here on the blog, apparently. Is there someway to have the blog tell us when it's been added to? (Is that what RSS does??) I only found these updates on a fluke.

I assume you are going to take care of this smooth distribution of change when the wiki arrives?

m_astera said...

Hi AB-

RE the update, I haven't been blogging long enough to know whether editing changes would notify those who were signed on to comments. Now I know and will be sure to at least double post them to the comments; perhaps I'll only post them to comments. There is a new update that I will post below.

I'm not fully sure yet how the wiki works (and will work). It's coming along, but it's a pretty steep learning curve for me and I need to know it well enough to make it simple for others. As it is the "help" section at was mostly written by those with a lot more experience in code than I have and much is taken for granted.

I've been swamped for the last ten days, apologies for the delay getting back to comments; I'll make that up with a couple more posts today.


m_astera said...

Flash Update!

Dec 9:

Thanks to the great work of Steve Diver of ATTRA and fame, we now have the data from the USDA's 1940 and 1945 food composition tables. They are to be found in the back of "Proteins And Amino Acids In Nutrition" by Melville Sahyun, 1948. The book may be read and downloaded here:

Thanks, SteveD!


m_astera said...

I had to look up Al Kapuler. I'd heard or read the name but didnt' know his history with Peace Seeds and Seeds of Change.

Seemingly what you are referring to AB was Kapuler's work with amino acids in tomatoes. Haven't found the actual paper yet, assuming he wrote one, but on topic:

There is variation in mineral uptake among various cultivars of a given plant, and I agree that as much info as we can get about the variety is essential.

At the same time, my suspicion is that even hybrids bred solely for appearance, uniform maturity, shipping qualities, and volume production, when grown on fully minerals balanced soils, will be higher in essential minerals than the average produce of any variety grown on mineral depleted or unbalanced soils.

Noted: Variety is important info, as is whether or not that variety is a hybrid.

Biodynamic produce tastes so good even when low-Brix, IMO, because it is grown with love and with the cooperation of the earth spirits. That conscious and energetic combination nurtures the plant to achieve its highest potential whatever its environment.

I still think giving the plants a soil environment with all of the essential minerals, abundantly and in good balance, will make it easier for the plant to achieve excellence and that will be reflected in the crop's Brix, flavor, and nutrient content.

Simply balancing the soil minerals and getting the soil biology going is enough to achieve high Brix and high nutrient content. If the plant is also grown using Biodynamic preps, energies, and loving consciousness, imagine the potential!

Ms Dogpatch, I have the soil test reports from your garden, and last year your soil was pretty low in phosphate and Boron. Boron gets the Calcium mobilized, and along with Phosphorus that will bring the brix up, guaranteed. Wait 'til next year!


AB said...

Sorry, Michael. I thought you were original from the NW and thereby associated with TILTH and thereby well aware of Al Kapuler, or "Mushroom," as he's known in Ecotopia.

He published something like 7 PEACE SEED JOURNALS and several articles in which he tracked the vast difference in amino acids between varieties of tomatoes grown with similar inputs.

I'm suspicious of any and all 'inputs' from the government, but I'm wondering what you, Miachael, can make out of this link given to me by Andy Clarke of SANET fame:

(hopefully, the above url will fork for you! )

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Michael.

I'll let you know when time comes to work land in Jamaica.

Best, turey.

dunzworks said...

Just be the little work I have done with making my own dirt and applying the principals of the Ideal soil, I know things grow better, taste better, and make me feel better when I eat them.

Proving this out with a control test would be a good endeavor to complete.

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Dogpatch said...

su computadora y mi computadora no comunican

I don't think...


Anonymous said...


Have you made the results aviale?

m_astera said...

Answer to anonymous on Feb 12, 2011-

We have some results available; they have not been written up into a full report yet. You can email me if you would like to see a few comparisons of the results vs USDA averages.

Michael Astera


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