For thousands of years, our bodies relied on what nature provided to nourish ourselves and our children. But in recent years, this relationship has become disrupted. A shift in farming practices and our food system has stripped our soil and our food of nutrients we need to thrive.
Nutrition and nature are interconnected. So because our earth is depleted, we are too. Here’s why, what it means for women’s health, and what we’re doing about it.
The cost of industrial farming
Total farm production nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017, even as land and labor used in farming declined. According to the USDA, this is a result of “innovations in animal and crop genetics, chemicals, equipment and farm organization.”
But these innovations have come at a cost. The push to grow more, grow faster, and reduce pests introduced a wide range of industrial chemicals and detrimental practices at the expense of the quality of the soil and the nutrient quality of the food that grows in it. In short, we’ve sacrificed the health of our earth and the health of our bodies.
The soil and nutrition connection
Detrimental farming practices mean that soil nutrients are declining. Nitrogen stores have decreased by 42 percent, phosphorus by 27 percent, and sulfur by 33 percent. These nutrients support plant growth through photosynthesis, enzymes, protein synthesis, and more.
The nutritional value of food that grows in depleted soil has also been a focus of research. A study from the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was published in December 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. They studied U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits, finding “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the period studied. The study attributes this declining nutritional content to the preponderance of agricultural practices designed to improve traits (size, growth rate, pest resistance) other than nutrition.
Several other studies have similar findings. For example, a Kushi Institute analysis of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 found that average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables dropped 27 percent, iron levels 37 percent, vitamin A levels 21 percent, and vitamin C levels 30 percent.
This means that you could eat the same diet - the same foods in the same amounts - as your parents or grandparents did, and you’d get fewer nutrients.
A disrupted relationship
For most of history, soil, microbes, plants, and animals evolved and worked together as an ecosystem. But the shift to industrial farming has disturbed this symbiotic relationship, in turn affecting the nutrient quality of the food that grows in it.1. Reduced crop diversity
Just like our microbiomes, soil likes diversity. However, due in large part to government subsidies, farms have taken to specializing in just one type of crop. In fact, data shows that fewer than 3 percent of all cropland acreage was used for vegetables, orchards and berries. These foods are not only more nutrient dense than the processed soybeans and grains that most crops become, they also lend a unique diversity to the soil.
This practice of growing just one type of crop, called monoculture, depletes the soil of nutrients and contributes to both soil erosion and a loss of carbon. A diverse range of crops that grow and then return their residues to the soil helps to return more organic matter to the soil to prevent erosion and essentially “feed” the soil to improve its nutrient levels.2. Pesticide usage
Substances like herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides are intended to help increase crop yield by keeping weeds, bugs, and other organisms under control. However, they essentially act like an antibiotic does to our gut, killing both the good and the bad bacteria. Pesticides that kill bugs and other potentially harmful microbes can also destroy the important balance of the soil’s microbial populations.3. Tillage
Farms traditionally used cover crops, animals, or other methods to help turn and rejuvenate soil. Today, farms use a method called tilling, which attempts to prepare soil for planting by physically turning it over, typically by mechanical means.
While it may appear efficient on the surface, tilling can reduce microbe populations in the soil, promote soil erosion, and release greenhouse gasses.4. Synthetic fertilizers
Industrial farming practices have moved from the use of natural and organic fertilization techniques, like crop rotations, cover crops, and manure from farm animals to simply treating all crops with synthetic fertilizers.
The fertilizers that are taken up by the crops can impact the quality of the food that we eat, and the fertilizer that is not taken up by the crops leaches into the soil and environment. This can degrade the important ecosystem of the soil and degrade nutrient levels of future food planted in that soil.
Nourishing Mothers and Mother Earth
Human health depends on the health of our environment. And with the health of our Mother Earth in decline, the health of mothers and babies are too. What’s at stake is nothing short of the future of humanity. That’s why our system of radically better nutrition is needed.
We’re working to restore women and their bodies to their natural vitality. And to restore Earth to hers. We do this through radically better nutrition for women, and by supporting 1% for the Planet and by operating as a Climate Neutral business.
It is our hope that in the future, there is no need to supplement nature’s nutrition. As a brand committed to the health of Mother Earth, we care about our impact and we’re doing what we can to reduce our environmental impact and nourish both mother and Mother Earth.