Good Soil, Good Health, Good Business: An Elmwood Stock Farm Owners' Guest Post
Elmwood Stock Farm inspires me—and feeds my household—every day. This historic Scott County farm produces organic food to fill the plate, including grass fed beef, lamb, chickens and eggs, and extraordinary turkeys.
Two generations now farm together on 550 acres, carrying forward the work of four earlier generations of Bells who invested in excellent farming practices like crop rotation, pasture improvement and composting. The farm and its people feature prominently in Classic Kentucky Meals, my recent book on Kentucky food and foodways. This incomparable farm and its owners lead us in understanding the practices that build genuinely sustainable agriculture; the owners also generously share their knowledge locally as well as at the state and national levels.
In addition—and I can say "in addition" quite a few times about Ann Bell Stone, Kay and Cecil Bell, John Bell, and Mac Stone—Elmwood's CSA has more tenure and size than most in the state, and includes all seasons. I look forward to buying a Winter CSA share every year. You can buy your own main season share now. In addition (yep,) you can encourage your workplace to invite Elmwood Stock Farm to deliver CSA shares onsite to make participation easier for more of your coworkers. You can advocate for health care and insurance rewards for organic eating—a logical extension of benefits for pro-health choices like not smoking, wearing seat belts, and taking the stairs.
As Elmwood winter CSA participants, when we pick up our shares, in addition (!) to the exquisite, body-perfect bounty of beautifully grown fresh and preserved food, we also get a carefully written newsletter that includes good recipes and superb information. The most recent newsletter included a piece that perfectly—and with good humor, even—connects for us the mind-opening science that underlies the goodness of organic production + the central role of soil health + the potential for elevating organic food's role in personal and workplace wellness. I want you to read this for yourselves, and authors Ann and Mac have generously agreed to allow this posting of their newsletter. In addition, yes, to all the other work they do, they educate and inspire, changing the world as they grow and market their extraordinary food.
Joining an Organic CSA Saves a Lot More than Money
by Ann Bell Stone and Mac Stone, Elmwood Stock Farm
The benefits of consuming organic produce are so obvious to some health care providers, they offer rebates to their customers that document a contractual agreement with a local organic farmer as part of their Wellness Programming. With what we already know about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables consistently, some of them raw, and with what we are learning from the Human Microbiome project (http://commonfund.nih.gov/hmp/overview), it makes sense that these customers are considered healthier and less likely to engage the services of the medical system. If there is a surcharge for smokers, why wouldn’t there be an incentive to be in a lower risk category? Let’s do a little math to explain why this makes sense.
First the Biology, and it’s all about the biology. As organic farmers, we use leguminous plants that draw nitrogen from the air, blend it with the compounds produced through photosynthesis that are released into the soil, in a symbiotic relationship with a bacterium that is attached to the roots. When these types of plants are well managed, they provide hundreds of pounds of nutrients to feed the Soil Food Web (SFW) around them. [Reference here.] The SFW is a wildly complex jungle of creatures from single celled bacteria and fungi, to more structurally complex nematodes, worms and insects, up to mammals. The two basic Laws of Nature at play here are the more diverse an ecosystem is, the more stable it is. The other is that the more complex an organism is, the higher its Carbon:Nitrogen (C:N) ratio is.
So when a nematode (say 5:1 C:N ratio) consumes protozoa (say 1:1 C:N ratio), it must eat 5 protozoa to meet its carbon demand, and releases (poops) the unneeded nitrogen and other juicy stuff in protoplasm into the soil, which is perfect food for a plant to use for growth and fruit development. So that’s why we not only do not need synthetic chemical fertilizers, we know their salt forming habit would totally disrupt this intricate living soil complex. Through crop rotation, and animal inputs, we feed this SFW with a vast array of juicy plant and animal compounds so each little critter and microbe has what it needs, and they strike their own balance based on the environmental conditions of the day.
The principle of stability through diversity is best exemplified in the microbe world. There are estimated to be tens of thousands of species of bacteria and at least that many species of fungi. Some like it hot, others cold. Some wet, others dry, some low pH, others high pH, dark, light, etc. Organic farming systems encourage a diverse array of microbes as described above, and a similar web of activity thrives above the soil as well. Since organic farmers do not use toxic fungicides, insecticides, nematicides, miticides, acaracides, and the like, we have not limited the diversity of species or the population among a given species. The complex array of organisms acts as our prophylactic shield against pestilence. If or when pathogenic bacteria like one of the E. Coli or Salmonella finds its way into the system, the multitude of good guys degrades and consumes this lone ranger, much like school kids running the bully off the playground. We can actually make a compost tea and spray it on the crop plants, to improve this shielding potential against pathogens. Farms that use toxic chemicals have weakened the immune system of their crops and fields, giving that pesky pathogen an open invitation to move in and multiply.
Knowing all this, when we consume organic fruits and vegetables raised in this microbial rich environment, we are feeding the flora and fauna in our digestive tract what they need to thrive. The Microbiome Project has drawn a direct correlation between gut health and the human immune system. It is not just the individual vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in the food that is important, but this diverse array of beneficial microbes along for the ride on our fresh foods. How well can you wash broccoli or lettuce? This valuable microbial resource is not washed away with a simple cold water rinse in the sink, since they are integral to the fruit or vegetable itself.
It just makes sense that someone who has contracted with a local farmer to consume fresh wholesome organic produce that stimulates the microbiome is someone with a health conscious lifestyle. Would it not behoove the Kentucky medical community to incentivize their customers to adopt this lifestyle, like occurs at FairShare CSA Coalition in Wisconsin? http://www.csacoalition.org/about-csa/csa-insurance-rebate/ We have to start somewhere. Maybe the facility where you work would be willing to host Elmwood Stock Farm to deliver the weekly CSA bounty to those of you that work there and understand the value of this arrangement. More than financial savings, good health!