Last week I saw a long-time patient, pregnant with her 2nd child, coming in for follow-up of her blood work. A working mom, socially conscious, and well-educated on eating locally, sustainably and organically, she was perplexed as to how she could be deficient in magnesium. In addition to having a CSA share and shopping regularly at a Brooklyn food co-op, she thought she had access to the best foods available. I’m not arguing that she didn’t - many people have different absorption rates for vitamins and minerals and some have greater or lesser biological needs - but this brought up the point that a carrot is not a carrot. And my explanation of nutrient dense growing, a ongoing topic in past journal entries, came as a complete shock to this young woman. “You mean if I eat brussels sprouts that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m getting all the nutrients it’s supposed to have?”
In The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, nutrient density growing is briefly addressed. Pollan outlines the assumption people make when they buy a vegetable - that a carrot is a carrot, but in fact, it just depends.
“Back in the fifties, when the USDA routinely compared the nutritional quality of produce from region to region, it found striking differences: carrots grown in the deep soils of Michigan, for example, commonly had more vitamins than carrots grown in the thin, sandy soils of Florida. Naturally this information discomforted the carrot growers of Florida, which probably explains why the USDA no longer conducts this sort of research. Nowadays US agricultural policy, like the Declaration of Independence, is founded on the principle that all carrots are created equal, even though there’s good reason to believe this isn’t really true. But in an agricultural system dedicated to quantity rather than quality, the fiction that all foods are created equal is essential.”
This is exactly the premise for why and how we grow food here at our micro-farm. Is it organically grown? Of course it is, but our approach of truly addressing soil fertility is 10 steps ahead of organically certified foods - what people understand as the pinnacle of healthy eating.
Now in the winter season, our efforts are focused towards figuring out what we want to grow this season, crop rotation (a laborious endeavor on a small bio-intensive farm,) and re-evaluation of varieties we liked, disliked and new ones we want to try. Colorful seed catalogs in hand contrast the white and gray landscape outside bringing back the anticipation of growing again as we’ve physically recovered from the prior year’s strenuous work. When the day length time in mid February starts to awaken the lettuces and spinach in the high tunnel, we will be in full force again. For now, it’s all about the seeds.
At our last Nutrient Density lecture, Dan Kittredge focused on the seed as the starting point for producing the most optimally productive and healthiest plant. The size of the seed can correlate to the best genetic plans for the plant. This makes a lot of biological sense. Oftentimes, the runt of the litter, is the sickliest and usually the one the mother rejects by not choosing to feed. Her Darwinian instincts know that this runt has the least capability of surviving when grown and that this runt, bearing the weakest of her genes, should not be one to reproduce. From a human standpoint in infertility treatments, the largest and healthiest looking eggs (or follicles) are selected for intrauterine insemination or in-vitro fertilization. The male contribution is also important; the sperm that is the healthiest is usually the most motile and the fastest one to the egg wins (how interestingly male!) Naturally, a combination of the best follicle and sperm will most likely produce the healthiest embryos. All this logic applies to vegetables seeds as well. For those that have grown from seed, your packet contains a variety of different seed sizes. Some are small and some large, some are lighter in weight and some are more dense. Planting the larger, denser ones will give you better vitality, yield and growth potential. This is all about getting it right from the beginning.
The problem is that seed companies don’t offer you this option. Mostly because no one is asking for it. However, Dan Kittredge of The Real Food Campaign, has been interviewing seed companies to try and see if there is a way growers can pay more for the larger size seeds as this will lead to increased yields. The company that was most open to the idea is one that we often use - High Mowing Seed Company in Vermont. Johnny’s Seeds and Baker Creek were also open to the idea. What we all need to do is simply ask for it. Hopefully en masse. When there is a demand there will be a supply and if enough of us call and ask, companies will eventually oblige.
This is another way to guarantee you have the best access to the best seeds. Growing high brix crops, aka nutritionally dense plants in optimum soils will produce the strongest plants and thus the healthiest seeds which you can pick and choose from. Given that 96 percent of the commercial vegetable varieties grown in 1903 are no longer available, seed saving is important for a variety of other reasons. A great movie that discusses this is Food of the Future by Deborah Koons Garcia. [See it HERE for free.] If you’re just starting to save seed like we are, start simple and small with the easiest vegetables to save seed from. Peas, beans, tomatoes and lettuce are on the beginners list.
Here, the Vigna Caracalla or Corkscrew Vine, a plant that produces a stunningly gorgeous and fragrant flower obtained from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello produced one seed pod last fall which I saved. Which seeds do you think I’m going to use to grow my next plants?
Click HERE to tell High Mowing Seed Company that you'll pay more for larger denser seeds.
Click HERE to email Johnny's Seed Company that you'll pay more for larger denser seeds.
Click HERE to email Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds that you'll pay more for larger denser seeds.
Ther are many seed companies out there, you can make a difference by calling or emailing the company and make a request for the option to purchase larger seed szies.
Real Food Campaign working with the Organic Seed Alliance: an update on seed size and density. Read the latest newsletter HERE.