By Dr. Mercola
As a physician, it's very obvious to me that the food we eat plays a major role in our health. As a result, the health of the general population can give us a pretty accurate picture of the nutritional status of our food.
About 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food is spent on processed foods,1 and the health of the average American is a testament to the abject failure of such foods to support good health.
Countless health statistics unequivocally show us that the direction we've been going in is not in our best interest. We've simply strayed too far from our dietary roots and become so disconnected from our food sources.
Fortunately, more and more people are now beginning to recognize this, and are making efforts to get back to real food. Many are now sensing this disconnection from the sources of their food as a disconnection from life itself, and it's no wonder, because that's essentially what it is.
As the sustainer of life, food surely deserves to be regarded with some measure of reverence. And it certainly deserves to place high on anyone's list of priorities in life.
Necessity Breeds a New Generation of 'Greenhorn' Farmers
Fortunately, there's change afoot... People across America, from all walks of life, are taking part in a process to reinvent our food system.
The featured film, The Greenhorns,2 demonstrates how we can collectively transform the current industrial monoculture, chemical-based agricultural paradigm into a healthier, more sustainable way of feeding ourselves and our neighbors, while restoring the health of our ailing planet.
"The Greenhorns documentary film... explores the lives of America's young farming community – its spirit, practices, and needs.
It is the filmmaker's hope that by broadcasting the stories and voices of these young farmers, we can build the case for those considering a career in agriculture – to embolden them, to entice them, and to recruit them into farming.
The production of The Greenhorns is part of our grassroots nonprofit's larger campaign for agricultural reform... Today's young farmers are dynamic entrepreneurs, stewards of place.
They are involved in local politics, partnering with others, inventing new social institutions, working with mentors, starting their careers as apprentices, borrowing money from the bank, putting in long hours, taking risks, innovating, experimenting...
These young farmers have vision: a prosperous, satisfying, sustainable food system."
Real Food Is Key for Good Health
Our current food system is driven by policy and corporate control. And while those who promote it claim that it's the only way to feed an ever-growing population, it is in fact a highly unsustainable system. It may be financially profitable for a few large corporations, but it's driving the rest of us into the poor-house—as I am sure you are well-aware, it's not cheap to be sick in America!
My first passion and career was being a physician, then an Internet educator, and now I'm transitioning into biological gardening and agriculture because I really believe it's the most logical progression for most anyone radically committed to being healthy.
While this information is ancient, it's not widely discussed. There's only a small segment of the population that really understands natural farming systems anymore, and the potential it has for radically transforming the way we feed the masses and protect the environment at the same time.
Getting personally involved with the growing of your food can be very exciting. For the young farmers in the film, growing food truly is an important part of life itself.
For me, it has become a rather addictive hobby. So far, I've converted about 50 percent of the ornamental landscape around my home to an edible landscape. And once you integrate biological farming principles, you can get plant performances that are 200-400 percent greater than what you would typically get from a plant! All in a totally sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
What's more, not only do using organic principles improve the quantity, it also improves the quality of the food you're growing. These facts should really be at the forefront of everybody's mind when they think about farming, as it's the solution to so many pressing environmental and societal problems.
Two Models of Food Production
There are basically two different models of food production today. The first, and most prevalent, is the large-scale agricultural model that takes a very mechanistic view toward life, whereas the other—the local, sustainable farm model—has a biological and holistic view.
While efficient, the mechanistic, large-scale model has many unexpected adverse side effects. Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for example, have become a primary source of antibiotic-resistant disease, which has now reached epidemic levels in the US.
This side effect of our food system alone kills at least 23,000 Americans each year... It's a well proven fact that factory farmed and processed foods are far more likely to cause illness than unadulterated, organically-grown foods. For example, one study by the British government found that 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, compared to just over 4 percent in organic flocks, and 6.5 percent in free-range flocks. This connection should be obvious, but many are still under the mistaken belief that a factory operation equates to better hygiene and quality control, when the exact opposite is actually true.
Factory Farming Causes More Problems Than It Solves
A pig rolling in mud on a small farm is far "cleaner" in terms of pathogenic bacteria than a factory-raised pig stuck in a tiny crate, covered in feces, being fed an unnatural diet of genetically modified grains and veterinary drugs. Genetically engineered (GE) plants add another level of complexity and hazard to our food system. For starters, GE plants produce foreign proteins that make them highly allergenic.
Then there's the issue of agricultural chemicals. Scientists have now proposed that one of the most widely used herbicides in the world (nearly one billion pounds per year), glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup), may be dramatically contributing to the rise of chronic disease. Glyphosate also denatures the food by blocking nutrient uptake, and kills the microorganisms in the soil responsible for plant health and plants' natural defense systems against pests of all kinds.
In short, the widely adopted factory farm "bigger is better" food system has reached a point where the fundamental weaknesses of it are becoming readily apparent, and foodborne disease and loss of nutrient content are just two of the most obvious side effects. The question is, what kind of food system do YOU want? If every American decided to not eat at a fast food restaurant tomorrow, the entire system would collapse overnight. It doesn't take an act of Congress to change the food system. All that is required is for each and every person to change their shopping habits to support the system they prefer.
Yes, You Can Grow Your Own Food!
Even if you're not inclined to start up your own farm, you can still grow your own food. Even apartment-dwellers or college dorm students can join the revolution by sprouting. One can also grow a wide variety of herbs, fruits, berries, and vegetables in pots. Hanging baskets are ideal for a wide variety of foods, such as strawberries, leafy greens, runner beans, pea shoots, tomatoes, and a variety of herbs. And instead of flowers, window boxes can hold herbs, greens, radishes, scallions, bush beans, strawberries, chard, and chilies, for example.
While you will obviously need to use pots if you don't have a garden plot, avoid using many small pots. The smaller the pot, the faster it will dry out. Instead, opt for large yet lightweight containers. You may also want to consider self-watering pots, which will reduce the time you have to spend watering. Adding a top layer of wood chips will also reduce the amount of watering a plant will need. This is true no matter what the size of your garden.
Using woodchips is actually one of the single best ways to optimize soil microbiology with very little effort. One of the foundational principles of biological gardening and farming is to avoid tilling the soil as it will disrupt the soil microbes and important soil fungi called mycorrhizal. This is precisely what woodchips will allow you to do. After a few short months, you will develop lush soil underneath the chips that will happily support food or trees that you would like to grow—no tilling required. The longer you leave the chips on, and the deeper you put on the wood chips, the deeper the topsoil will be.
Woodchips will also help eliminate water evaporation from the soil, effectively reducing the need to water your garden. Another major benefit is the elimination of fertilizers. One of the reasons why industrial agriculture is so damaging is their use of chemical salts that decimate the soil microbes. When you use wood chips you not only radically increase the bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes in the soil; they also attract earthworms, which create vermicompost, one of the best composts on the planet. Last but not least, you can eliminate expensive soil testing when you use chips, as they will optimize whatever soil you have.
Where to Find Real Food
A website called Real Food University3 offers a fascinating analysis of where our food comes from, and reveals that despite what you hear on the news, every year, we produce less and less of the food we really need. From massive industrial farming conglomerates to feedlot and confined animal operations (CAFOs) to contaminated imports, Real Food University delivers the scoop on what you probably have on your plate right now.
Fortunately, there are ways to get around these food disasters, and sourcing your foods from a local farmer is one of your best bets to ensure you're getting something wholesome. Every state has a sustainable agriculture organization or biological farming organization that is the nucleus of the farmers in that state. You can also find an ever increasing number of "eat local," and "buy local" directories, in which local farms will be listed. The following organizations can also help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area:
- Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
- Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.
- Weston A. Price Foundation has local chapters around the US where you can find organic, grass-fed milk and other organic foods
Resources for Gardeners and Farmers
I cannot encourage you strongly enough to take control of the food that you're eating, because the resources are out there. They exist. It may take a little time and effort, but it's well worth it. For fledging farmers who want to learn more, I suggest reading some of the many books and other publications available on organic, biodynamic farming. This includes but is certainly not limited to the following:
- The Farm as Ecosystem by Jerry Brunetti
- The Edible Balcony by Alex Mitchell
- Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing by Dr. Daphne Miller, MD
- Steps to Gardening with Nature by Dr. Ingham and Carole Ann Rollins
- Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels
- The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer by Joel Salatin
- PolyFaceFarms.com offers a wealth of information and resources for farmers and consumers alike, including an online store that also offers the actual physical hardware to make everything from fences to chicken feeders
- Savory Institute
- Weston A. Price Foundation
- Eco Organics, a company specializing in mineral products for hydroponics and home gardens, run by Dr. August Dunning
- Soil Foodweb Inc., a company created by research scientist Dr. Elaine Ingham, which helps farmers and gardeners understand the health of their soil