Everyone knows eating fruits and vegetables is good for your health. But these days, stores offer a dizzying array of options: organic, conventional, CSAs, local agriculture. Which ones are best for your health?
A new study, published in January in the journal PeerJ, looks at how regenerative farming practices — soil-building techniques that minimize plowing, use cover crops, and plant diverse crops — affect the nutritional content of the food.Results of the preliminary experiment, which included 10 farms across the U.S., show that the crops from farms following soil-friendly practices for at least five years had a healthier nutritional profile than the same crops grown on neighboring, conventional farms. Results showed a boost in certain minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals that benefit human health.
“We couldn’t find studies that related directly to how the health of the soil affects what gets into crops,” said lead author David Montgomery, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences. “So we did the experiment that we wished was out there.”
Montgomery designed the study during research for his upcoming book, “What Your Food Ate,” due out in June. His spouse, Anne Biklé, is a biologist and co-author of the study and the upcoming book.
The authors collaborated with farmers using regenerative farming practices to conduct an experiment. All the participating farms, mostly in the Midwest and in the Eastern U.S., agreed to grow one acre of a test crop — peas, sorghum, corn or soybeans — for comparison with the same crop grown on a neighboring farm using conventional agriculture. Co-author Ray Archuleta, a retired soil conservation scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, visited all the farms and sampled their soil in summer 2019. Farmers then sent samples of their crops in for analysis.