Monday, July 28, 2014

Week 11, The Preponderance of Evidence

The benefits of organic food production on the environment and benefits to human health should seem quite evident, but we know that it isn’t to everyone.  This past spring Mac had the opportunity to have dinner with Dr. Charles Benbrook and the leaders of the National Organic Program while in Washington DC on organic business.  Dr. Benbrook, aka “Chuck”, is a well-respected researcher working with organic products. He enlightened the group with the preliminary findings of a study that was just recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition.  Like any robust conversation about science, the topic of whose science is better than whose came up. While any one aspect of a complex ecosystem management system may generate some refinement, the preponderance of evidence clearly indicates organic food production systems benefit us all. 

A few points about what we know to date:

Soil Fertility - Commercial agriculture, which is a synonym for high chemical input farming, uses synthetic chemicals to add specific nutrients designed to be in the form that a plant wants. Garden-variety fertilizers like 10-10-10 are ten parts of Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium. That’s it! What about the other hundreds, if not thousands of compounds plants need to grow and be healthy? Since these chemical fertilizers act like a salt in the soil, the microbes that can produce the multitude of other compounds are compromised. Oh, and science does document that often other industrial wastes like heavy metals are mixed with these fertilizers so they can be legally disposed of by land farming under EPA tolerance levels. At Elmwood Stock Farm, we get our nitrogen from cover crops and other plants we grow to capture it from the air. Our farm, and much of central KY, is blessed with high phosphorus soils (one reason why horses do well here.) Plus one for organics.

Insect Control – Commercial agriculture has access to hundreds of highly toxic chemicals designed to disrupt biochemical pathways, hormone systems, or impose a specific toxic compound to kill insects. Venture into a farm supply store and read some labels. Of course the ones for mites, fungus, and disease are in separate categories. The fine print, well below the skull and cross bones, makes reference to things like: wear a respirator and chemical applicator suit, do not breath the spray, dispose of properly, do not re-enter the field for so long, wait x number of days before harvest, etc.  As certified organic farmers, we are allowed to use a handful of products, derived from compounds found in nature only, if and when all other cultural controls prove ineffective - things like crop rotation, variety selection, good fertility, weed control, etc. Plus one more for organics.

Genetically Modified Organisms - Tinkering with the genetic code of plants, raised for human consumption, is just plain scary to us. This ramping up of the chemical treadmill is also intertwined with corporate consolidation of the food supply. Food we eat should not need a patent protection clause on the package. Organic food production does not allow the use of GMOs at any point, and is thoroughly verified by our third party certifier. Access to independent seed sources is becoming increasingly difficult with the consolidation of seed supply companies worldwide. Organics is gaining a little ground, and small seed suppliers have a robust business. Plus one more for organics. 

Many believe that organic farming systems are much better for the environment, and the humans that implement them, than commercial farming, as it is known today. After reviewing the recently published organic research, Chuck and his colleagues arrived at a similar conclusion.  He said, "This study is telling a powerful story of how organic plant-based foods are nutritionally superior and deliver bona fide health benefits".  After careful consideration of 343 independent individual studies, the team agrees the preponderance of evidence shows that organic foods have significantly higher antioxidant levels, superior sensory profiles, less toxic pesticide residues, and better balance of nutrients than foods raised under high chemical input systems.

It just stands to reason:

     1.  If you hurt the soil microbes by adding salts with limited nutrients, the plants will take up lots of those few things and less of the others, limiting the plants’ ability to produce the diverse compounds it needs for growth and reproduction. Therefore, products are less nutritionally complete when consumed. Plus one more for organics.

     2.  If you apply numerous toxic compounds into a farming system, the diversity of species in that environment will be decreased. One of the laws of nature is that the more diverse an ecosystem is, the more stable it is. Plus one more for organics.

     3.  If you apply toxic chemicals to a food crop to control insects, mites, and fungi, there is a higher likelihood there may be residues on the food you eat. Plus one more for organics.

It is great when science can document what seems reasonable, organic foods are better when all things are considered. Thank you for the opportunity to extend the benefits of our organic farming business to the benefit of your and your family’s personal health.

In Your Share:

  • Sweet Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Garlic
  • Melon
  • Sweet Pepper 
  • Potatoes 
  • Yellow Squash
  • Heirloom Tomato 
  • Green Zucchini 
  • Broccoli 
  • Celery


Corn and Zucchini Flan, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing!

4 large eggs

1/4 cup half & half

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 T cornstarch

1/2 t salt

1/4 t black pepper

1 medium zucchini, grated & squeezed dry

1 1/2 cup corn kernels

2 T fresh basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare six 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups by spraying lightly with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, half & half, cream cheese, cornstarch, and salt & pepper; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 1 minute, or until well combined. Stir in zucchini, corn and basil.

Spoon mixture equally between the ramekins; place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes or until puffed slightly golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Zucchini Grinders, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this nice idea!

1 T butter

2 medium zucchini, cubed

1 pinch red pepper flakes

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup marinara sauce

1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

4 (6 inch) sub sandwich or ciabatta rolls, split

Note:  Zucchini cubes can be larger for softer rolls, which will tend to adapt to the size and shape of the zucchini; if using ciabatta or similar “hard” rolls, make cubes smaller.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Fry the zucchini in butter until browned and slightly tender. Season with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and stir in the marinara sauce. Cook and stir until sauce is heated.

Spoon a generous amount of the zucchini mixture into each sandwich roll. Top with a handful of shredded mozzarella. Close the rolls, and wrap individually in aluminum foil. Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until bread is heated through, and cheese is melted.   

Pan Cooked Celery with Tomatoes and Parsley, a Martha Rose Shulman recipe – she says you can serve this as a side dish or as a topping for grains or pasta. It is adapted from a recipe in “Cooking From an Italian Garden,” by Paola Scaravelli and Jon Cohen. Serves 4.

1 bunch celery, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 anchovy, rinsed and chopped (optional)

1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes in juice – or use fresh

3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Pinch of sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the celery in a steamer above 1 inch of boiling water. Cover and steam 5 minutes, until just tender when pierced with a knife. Remove from the heat and drain, set aside.  Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add the garlic. Stir until it smells fragrant, about 30 seconds, and add the anchovy if using, tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper. Stir together, then stir in the celery. Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and the mixture is fragrant, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Stir in the remaining parsley just before serving.