Nutri-Culture: What It Is and What It Can Do

by Gary Kline

 

The long-awaited push toward a cleaner, more wholesome and healthier way of living and stewarding the Earth is about to get underway in a major way, judging by the rapidly growing allure of alternative farming methods and the intensifying interest in nutrient-dense food gardening and eating. These recent developments form a basis for personal, societal and planetary health recovery, leading the way to a broadly transformative movement to genuinely sustainable existence overall. While this interest is rapidly building, it is apparent that a kick-start is needed to turn the corner.

 

The floodgate that can unleash this momentous behavior reversal, instigating a widespread radiant future, necessitates adoption of an advanced, innovative and enduring agricultural system combining several heretofore separate, successful methodologies. My candidate for such a total system approach follows.

 

Nutri-Culture is a method of growing superior plants and crops that draws from principles and practices of Ecological Agriculture, having its roots in the research and writings of Dr. William A. Albrecht, former Chairman of the Soils Department of the University of Missouri. It is also an extension of my own original concept and term of Mineral-Augmented Organics, plus some new amplifying aspects making that concept more comprehensive and holistic, and yielding even greater results from the combined, overall synergy.

 

I chose the term Nutri-Culture for some important, fundamental reasons. One is that the term “organic” is outworn and has a misplaced emphasis on avoidance of synthetic chemicals and pollutants which has obscured soil and fertility building objectives. We now have organic beds, perfumes, cosmetics and dry cleaners. Secondly, the nutritional aspect in growing crops and in attaining personal health resulting from properly fertilized and grown foods has long been largely unrecognized and unappreciated, hence the term Nutri in the name for this proposed next era of revamped agricultural practices. It is very telling that the National Organic Certification standards adopted in the 1990s say nothing about nutrition. If the primary reason we eat is for health, and health is largely a consequence of nutrition, then the name for how we grow food should prominently acknowledge nutrition and its link to nutrients (or their lack) in soil.

 

Instead of focusing on what not to do in raising crops, Nutri-Culture calls for taking positive measures to raise crop quality beyond ordinary and beyond the limits of conventional organics. It also eschews the use of synthetic chemicals and places major emphasis on the neglected role of nutrient minerals in treating soil for superior plant growth. However, there is considerably more to the Nutri-Culture system.

 

Nutri-Culture does not count on technological fixes and technical breakthroughs to get us to more nutritious food and better health. That’s not what is really needed and isn’t what’s going to solve the panoply of problems created in the aftermath of synthetic chemical agriculture. Rather, Nutri-Culture calls up fragments of old knowledge and concepts, works out the kinks and adds some new knowledge from the realm of nature, now better understood. This is all woven into a logical, cohesive and holistic agronomic system that can be applied all around the world and does minimal environmental harm. Indeed, it is a realistic basis for extensive soil restoration and planetary healing.

 

This system has the powerful attribute of demonstrated and observable performance. In other words, it works! And it works beautifully and simply because it is patterned after the methods and integrated processes worked out over millions of years by evolving nature. The path of nature looks like it’s going somewhere because it’s gotten somewhere. We can’t beat the intelligence of nature, so we are well-advised to join Her. Since we cannot return to our ancient hunter-gatherer existence and sustenance and must farm, our challenge is to improve upon nature as we find it for our needs without degrading nature.

 

Any form of agriculture is, to some extent, unnatural. Nevertheless, systems that are harmonious ecologically are obviously to be preferred. While organiculture has long held that reputation, Nutri-Culture is a substantial advancement over organiculture. It adds critical dimensions not generally employed in conventional organic growing. In my estimation, it makes far more sense as a way of understanding the world and carrying out sane, effective agriculture at whatever scale. Nutri-Culture has a surprising universality for application to food growing all around the world, and if instituted on a wide scale, could solve many of the world’s seemingly intractable problems. I will go so far as to declare Nutri-Culture a panacea. I see it as the one practical, compatible and effective way to get us to true sustainability and restored health throughout the biotic realm.

 

I realize this claim of universal agronomic fitness is audacious; nevertheless, I’m convinced this is the holy grail at hand. Naturally, I’d like to see this concept, and the name, taken up for the sake of humanity and aiding our ailing planet, but if there is a better name, I can live with that. What’s important is perfecting the method for broadest application.

 

In studying the writings of numerous prominent agronomists in the ecological agriculture camp I find a nearly unanimous, persistent theme - - - in a word, balance. And by that they mean soil nutrient balance. To give an example, here is a quote by agricultural consultant Jay L. McCaman (see later citation):

 

“One thing that cannot be overdone in Nature is balance. If left to herself, Nature will reach a perfect balance [as exists in the oceans] even if it takes years, decades or centuries.”

 

A question arises as to how humans can assist and hasten nature in reaching that ideal equilibrium, which Nutri-Culture aims to do. However, Nutri-Culture is not limited to making adjustments in soil chemistry or the customary organicultural techniques of composting, manuring, cover cropping, crop rotation and natural pest control methods. Nutri-Culture adds professional soil testing, mineralizing, biochar incorporation, microbe or pro-biotic inoculation and vermiculture - - - advancements not commonly used by farmers and gardeners, but which offer astounding qualitative benefits. Details are spelled out in my visual presentation.

 

Nutri-Culture is nearly synonymous with soil nutrient balancing, and as such it fits into a broader context of 10 precepts or component features I have identified for building a better future world, far more promising than current prospects foreshadow. That better future that I envision I have named The BLOSSOM Era. You can find out about those precepts by going to the BLOSSOM Consulting Services website at www.blossomera.com under “About Us”. You are invited to join the BLOSSOM Era campaign.

 

What helped me to realize the extent to which Nutri-Culture can answer the urgent necessity to overhaul agriculture is that I recently read the book The Age of Sustainable Development by Jeffrey Sachs (2015), who is a principal advisor to the United Nations. Year 2015 has been declared International Year of Soils by the U.N. Actually, I did not read major portions of the book, but was focused on what Sachs had to say about the future of agriculture. The book contains a lot of interesting and eye-opening information, but I have to say that despite my initial eager anticipation, I was disappointed in what I got out of it.

 

Nevertheless, my time and money were not wasted as the points made in the book presented me with a springboard to argue back against the tiresome and woefully inadequate “solutions” Sachs suggests in the face of immense problems and pressures facing the agriculture of the future; and for that matter, the survival of the human race. The feebleness of Sachs’ solutions presented me with a sterling opportunity to lay out the truly viable and doable solutions Nutri-Culture can provide, if a concerted effort were put into implementing them on a large or worldwide scale.

 

But, of course, if they were only implemented in your garden, you would be much better off for your efforts because it is an alternative, ecological approach that assuredly works and benefits in a number of ways you might not have recognized as being inter-connected and additive, healthwise. Nevertheless, I want to point out for Mr. Sachs and others all the impressive things Nutri-Culture can do for markedly improving our world. Because Nutri-Culture integrates a number of leading edge, complementary methodologies it elevates and equips agriculture to forge ahead to genuine sustainability and abundance.

 

Sustainable development - - - I’m not sure that isn’t an oxymoron, but I’ll give Mr. Sachs the benefit of the doubt and assume he is sincere about the sustainable part, although I know he’s paid to be a perennial optimist, which is what I think it takes to marry up those two words. Here’s what he offers (p. 5) as the definition of that odd term:

 

“Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

 

Sachs speaks (p. 5) of three independent components of sustainable development as economic development, social development and environmental protection. You’ll note that environmental protection is mentioned last, as it nearly always is. I’m perplexed as to how it can be considered development.

 

The term “sustainability” in agriculture is essentially synonymous with permanent agriculture, a term used in earlier times. In his 1940 book, An Agricultural Testament, Sir Albert Howard, whom I call the grandfather of organic farming and gardening, opened the book by saying, “The maintenance of the fertility of the soil is the first condition of any permanent system of agriculture.” Howard goes on to say, “In the ordinary processes of crop production, fertility is steadily lost: its continuance by means of manuring and soil management is therefore imperative.” This book was the opening salvo against chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Its major shortcoming was failure to sufficiently recognize the role of minerals in the nutrition of plants.

 

Writing in 1893, German chemist and agriculturist, Julius Hensel, waged a staunch campaign against artificial fertilizers and overuse of animal manures in growing food crops of low nutritional quality leading to a serious decline in the stamina of the German people. Using stonemeal (crushed rock minerals), he was able to demonstrate very persuasively the superiority of crop growth and quality from mineralization on several farms. See Bread From Stones (1893 and 1991 by Acres USA). His battle was largely confined to Germany.

 

In the chapter on Food Security, Sachs gives some useful to know data (p. 328) about the land area and limits of the planet. From these figures I estimate the surface area of the entire Earth to be 324 million square miles. Around 25% (or 81 million square miles) is the land area. About 40% of that (or 31 million square miles) is in agriculture of some sort. About 30% (or 24 million square miles) is in forests, and around 10% (or 8.2 million square miles) is farmland, leaving around 25% (or 20 million square miles) as pastureland, and around 30% (or 25.6 million square miles) that is uninhabitable desert and mountains.

 

The point to remember is that around 10% of the Earth’s land area is farmland and 30% is in pasture or meadows and there is very little area for either of those to expand because feasibly remaining lands are so marginal their production would be less than the cost to farm them by usual methods. Will Rogers famously said about land, “They’re making more people every day but they ain’t making no more dirt.” For that matter, we don’t know how much of the 40% “agricultural” land is actually farmable or has been effectively ruined and removed from productivity by past misuse and abuse. See Topsoil and Civilization by Carter and Dale (1955, rev. 1974), which paints an appalling picture of erosion, overgrazing and other land abuse.

 

Erosion is a far more serious problem than people generally realize. Sir Albert Howard said that erosion is a sign of a sick soil and that it invariably proceeds from infertility. It logically follows that if we treat our agricultural soils by incorporating humus (organic matter) and minerals in the correct fashion, erosion can’t get started. Many thousands of acres of eroded land await creative restoration programs. It can be done. A great example of generating employment and resources for daily living through reforestation is described in the 2004 book titled The Green Belt Movement, authored by Kenyian woman activist, Wangari Maathai, whose campaign earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Instead of converting every feasible acre to agricultural production, thereby causing further massive loss of wildlife habitat, species extinction and irreversible loss of biodiversity, it is encumbent on us to first recover former agricultural lands and create new topsoil.

 

The world population now stands at 7.2 billion. Ocean fisheries harvests are about maxed out. Without some means to restore marginal or exhausted, eroded and depleted lands the prospects for growing more food to feed the rapidly growing human population of the future are very bleak, unless production per acre can be increased. But, that is the conventional view. There are workable and promising options not explored by Sachs for both raising production and increasing the farmable land area that I will be alluding to.

 

According to Sachs (p. 4), “Achieving sustainable development on our crowded, unequal and degraded planet is the most important challenge facing our generation.” This tells me that civilization’s most urgent priority is establishing a reformed mainstream agriculture capable of meeting the need decades and centuries to come. In the chapter on Food Security, Sachs lays out the scope and severity of the global situation and the outlook through 2050. Here are some of the pertinent statements he makes:

 

“ - - - we [civilization] are running powerfully off course in many ways (p. 506).” “This [agricultural reform?] is among the toughest sustainable development challenges that we face because the world is in crisis [due to food shortage?] and the problems will tend to get worse (p. 349).” “ - - - today’s agricultural systems are also the single, largest source of human induced environmental change [damage?] - - - agricultural systems themselves are a source of the threat to future food production - - - [and as] currently practiced, gravely threatens the natural environment (pp. 338-9).” “ - - - food production - - - takes the dubious prize as the most important single driver of environmental harm (p. 339).”

 

Sachs concludes: “Our problem is not only about how to feed more people and how to feed the growing population more nutritionally than today. It is also the challenge of changing current agricultural practices (p. 399).” Indeed, overhauling them, not just extending them, is what’s called for.

 

How to go about it? Here are some of Sachs general proposals for change: “There is a strong need to change farm technologies and processes and patterns of land use to make the food system compatible with a sustained planet (p. 340).” Our situation, including food supply, is “in need of major technological overhaul (p. 506).” I question that the best course is to look to technological advances. We would do better to look harder at deciphering how nature works and take cues from Her. In other words, we need to go to the root of the problem and make systemic changes, not just patch-up the frayed edges of ongoing conventional agriculture.

 

Again, quoting from Sachs, “Creating a sustainable farm system around the world is absolutely vital - - - . We must reshape farm systems and create an alternative trajectory of sustainable development (p. 347).” “ - - - the kinds of responses that are needed will have to be varied, holistic in nature, and carefully tailored to local contexts (p. 349).” In my view, Sachs glosses over many problems and shortcomings with conventional agriculture (green revolution, GMOs, etc.) and basically prescribes more of the same as answers for the needs of the future. Likewise, there is a lot going on in alternative/ecological agriculture that he either is unaware of or chooses not to recognize. As indicated, Nutri-Culture is a version I formulated and advocate to replace both conventional and organic agriculture. Simply converting conventional chemical agriculture to conventional organiculture will not suffice. Organic produce is not invariably or automatically nutritious. We have to turn our whole attention to producing assuredly nutrient dense foods. Real progress can not otherwise occur.

 

I next want to review the specific kinds of global agricultural and environmental problems or threats Sachs identifies, then present some of his recommended solutions, and assess how they match up to the massive and formidable challenges he very worriedly outlines. I think his solutions are mostly not imaginative and will fall far short of the solutions needed. I then will present my slate of suggestions which amounts to a holistic, integrated system that proceeds from one central premise having multiple, benevolent ramifications that are mutually reinforcing.

 

Here is my listing, in brief, of the major agriculture related problems and threats recognized by Sachs. Most of these are incorporated in his Sustainable Development Goal number 6 on page 488:

 

A. Extreme Poverty and Hunger

B. Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Global Warming)

C. Improper and Excessive Fertilizer Use

D. Nitrogen Runoff and Pollution

E. Water Depletion and Waste

F. Insufficient Food Production

G. Increase in Non-Nutritious Food

H. Drought-Vulnerable Crop Varieties

I. Obesity Epidemic and Unbalanced Diets

J. Food Loss from Inadequate Storage

K. Loss of Wildlife Habitat and Biodiversity

 

Now I will amplify with what Sachs says about these problems and his proposed solutions and my reactions:

 

A. Extreme Poverty and Hunger – Sachs is an economist. The major part of the book is devoted to this problem. Arguably, the desperately hungry and poor will pay little attention to the environment or sustainability for future generations until their more basic material needs are met. Decent food is certainly one of those needs. So, if we can substantially increase food supply, preferably by enabling people to grow it themselves, we will make a big dent in that problem and reduce prospects of wars being set off by famines. Many other causes of strife have to be addressed, but food shortage and quality is a good place to start. I have read about a successful village industry in India making quality compost to sell from various locally generated wastes. Other such imaginative “work with what you’ve got” local enterprises need to be encouraged.

 

Some people argue there is an abundance of food but it just isn’t getting equitably distributed. Is low-nutrition food better than no food? Yes, however, it does not provide a long-term (sustained) answer. I don’t think Sachs mentioned the word garden. Why not teach and enable people worldwide to grow their own nutrient-dense food on small intensively planted plots in fully-fertilized soil? Then distribution is not a factor. Why not fund land restoration projects and create community-type gardens instead of perpetually shipping in relief rations? In addition to necessary land reform, what is called for is a well-trained Nutri-Culture Corps, in the fashion of the Peace Corps, to be sent out to third world countries and poverty-stricken areas. It would help greatly as well to have a similar program for the U.S.

 

B. Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Agriculture is the greatest contributor to global warming (a.k.a. climate “change”). Much of this is due to the conversion since around 1850 to the use of synthetic NPK fertilizers. On page 339 Sachs labels agriculture a major emitter of the three main greenhouse gasses (CO2, CH4 and N2O). Other than calling for a technology rescue and for ramping up “precision farming” to enable using less fertilizer and water, I don’t see him offering a significant solution. Biochar could have a huge offsetting impact, but it does not appear that Sachs ever heard of it. He does, however, criticize the making and use of charcoal for fuel. Why not establish village industries to cleanly manufacture biochar for use in agriculture and initiate funded projects for land restoration and reforestation using the biochar, compost and natural fertilizers? See The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change by Albert Bates (2010).

 

Agriculture is the greatest contributor to rising greenhouse gasses, but through changing methods and practices, agriculture also has the greatest prospect for sequestering carbon and thereby reversing global warming. Smarter, more careful pasture management is a major factor in accomplishing this. Biochar and pro-biotic inoculants and rock powder minerals fed to livestock can get these restorative materials spread on pastureland in their manure droppings, while at the same time upgrading their health and resistance to diseases. Overgrazed and depleted pastures can be revived with correct management. Feeding grain to cattle is unhealthy for them, as well as for meat consumers. Concentrated animal feed and fattening lots should be outlawed.

 

Despite the fact that the greatest potential for sequestering carbon is in the soil, nearly all the attention is on reducing fossil fuel emissions, a much less effective, politically contentious and controversial solution (on the basis of cost). Incorporation of biochar into agricultural soils is far more effective, longer lasting, less controversial and has the huge bonus of improving our soils, retaining moisture and nutrients for centuries to come. It certainly beats forking out money to build sea walls all around the world. What could be the objection to a way of countering global warming that pays off in vastly improved soil and guaranteeing high productivity in food for centuries to come? It makes total sense irrespective of the sequestration aspect.

 

C. Improper and Excessive Fertilizer Use – This category could also include pesticides, which are addressed later. In a vague way Sachs seems to recognize a need for better nutrient management and wider use of soil testing, but he seems ignorant of the concept of complete and balanced nutrition for more nutritious crops that would replace today’s nutritionally empty high yields. He calls for a reduction in fertilizer use to reduce pollution and states that China grossly overfertilizes, all the while he calls for greater food production. You can’t just command a reduction in fertilizer use. The Chinese, who, until a half century ago, had a permanent agriculture for 4,000 years, are doing what we taught them to do and are going down the wrong path. They and other countries (including the USA) have to be shown a better way that is better all around. Demonstration farms employing Nutri-Culture practices and materials are an impressive means of doing just that.

 

While the superior way to most closely approximate ideal soil nutrient balance is via specific, professional soil test-prescribed fertilization, in the absence of government provided soil tests, it cannot be expected that most of the world’s farmers and gardeners would be inclined or able to have this done for their site or fields. The next best option is for them to acquire and use a general, complete fertilizer formulated from organic and natural ingredients. See The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon (2013, pp. 84-5).

 

Do farmers and gardeners really have to fertilize? Can they just leave it to nature? If they do fertilize, how much difference can it make? What is the effect of using different fertilizing materials or combinations of them?

A 1960s research project on potatoes and fertilizing in Russia gives solid insight into answers to these questions. See Foundations of Natural Farming by Harold Willis (2008, p. 199). The Russian researchers grew potatoes on four fields of sandy loam soil. One field, which had grown crops for 12 years without fertilization, gave a yield of 7,930 lbs. per acre. Another field which had received 16 tons of manure per acre gave a yield of 15,325 lbs. A third field received the NPK plus calcium equivalent in minerals (probably natural) of the 16 tons of manure and it yielded 16,483 lbs. (or more than twice the unfertilized field). However, a fourth field that received a 50/50 combination (8 tons manure and the NPK equivalent of 8 tons in minerals) produced best of all at 18,265 lbs. per acre, or about 2.25 times the unfertilized field. We don’t know about the nutritional quality of any of the potato crops. However, this research illustrates the value of Mineral-Augmented Organic (MAO) growing. We also don’t know the one-time cost of the fertilizing, but the effects of doing the latter treatment should last several years, and the likely nutritional boost should more than justify the “extra” costs.

 

D. Nitrogen Runoff and Pollution – It happens that the industrial production of nitrogen was the lynch pin for enabling the quantum jump of agricultural production, which led to exponential growth of the human population and all the adverse impacts that proceeded from that. I was startled to learn this from Sachs (see p. 343). The legacy of synthetic NPK fertilizers and the simplistic NPK mentality is much more disastrous than I had imagined. This boondoggle must go as the agricultural mainstream and be replaced by a nature-emulating agronomic system if we are ever to get to a sustainable farming and gardening era.

 

After discussing the success story of partially halting depletion of Earth’s ozone layer (p. 187), Sachs raises “- - - pollution caused by excessive flows of nitrogen and phosphorus, especially as the result of the heavy use of chemical fertilizers by the world’s farmers. - - - something of profound benefit for humanity – chemical fertilizers – turns out to have a hidden and serious danger. Farmers must put nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients into farm soil to ensure decent yields on their crops. - - - Without chemical fertilizers, it would not be possible to feed the 7.2 billion people on the planet (p. 188).” Actually, these fertilizers impoverish agricultural soils while generating nutritionally-inferior food at increasingly higher cost. Chemical farming cannot long continue. The longer it does, the poorer the soil and nutritional quality of its production, which means a continued rise in malnutrition and the epidemic of degenerative diseases begun in the 1900s.

 

Here’s the crux to solving the problem, which is a quandary Sachs does not resolve. What he doesn’t know is that there are ways through correct fertilization (and other measures) to get crop plants and soil microbes to make and supply all the converted (combined) nitrogen they require, quite naturally. Indeed, certain invisible micro-organisms are capable of doing what humans need a factory to accomplish. Some kinds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are gaseous and can escape back into the air and other kinds wash into water bodies, and can be poisonous. The injection of artificially made nitrogen fertilizer into the ground causes soil carbon to gasify, putting large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. But would world leaders dare shut down the energy-gobbling and planetary pollution problem caused by the generation and unnecessary and wasteful use of artificial nitrogen fertilizers? This misuse is caused, in large measure, by a complete misunderstanding of the place of nitrogen in effective and balanced soil fertilization for feeding plants. If our national (and international) policy were to put nutrition standards first, this would all change. Meanwhile, consumer awareness and pressure are having an increasing effect as farmers and food suppliers gain awareness of the accelerating demand for more nutritious food.

 

Sachs has no substantial solution to the problem of excessive nitrogen use beyond crossing our fingers. Certainly, a halt to economic development would be an unthinkable answer, we reason, to his fertility quandary, and so we must go on using chemical fertilizers. Actually, this is not true. It is a tenet of Ecological Agriculture (and thus of Nutri-Culture) that if all other known nutrients besides nitrogen are supplied in proper balance, the soil will move to an optimum chemical and physical condition that allows for microbe proliferation and fixation of atmospheric nitrogen into natural fertilizer production. Self-regulating natural mechanisms limit nitrogen levels in the soil so that excesses do not occur. In addition, with correct mineral balance, soil pH automatically moves into the optimum near-neutral or mildly acid range best for most crops and landscape plants. But is it feasible to economically and adequately fertilize using only natural and organic materials and methods? All the costs of not employing this possible panacea have to be assessed in reaching the answer. This is not money lost; it is money invested in positive long-term outcomes that include reversing malnutrition and ending degenerative diseases. There is no other way of doing so.

 

Another example of employing nature’s lowly, free labor force is a plant/microbe symbiosis killed off by synthetic chemical fertilization and fungicides. Mycorrhizal fungi supplied in manure and compost are able to grow out from plant root associations to scavenge scarce phosphorus and other minerals and deliver them back to the plant in exchange for carbohydrates supplied by the plant. So it’s very possible these natural mechanisms can be fostered so as to supply ample nitrogen and other fertilizer with no danger of pollution. Along with plant, animal and marine waste products, various natural rock powder fertilizers and concentrated liquid sea mineral extracts are quite feasible means of supplying needed full-spectrum nutrient minerals for deficient and depleted soils everywhere. And, yes, sea salt, used in moderation, is an excellent fertilizer. See Seawater Concentrate for Abundant Agriculture by Arthur Zeigler (2012). But Sachs doesn’t know this or doesn’t mention it as an alternative to chemical fertilizers that destroy humus and soil biota and create all sorts of other soil problems in consequence. It’s the difference between soil enhancement and soil destruction.

 

E. Water Depletion and Waste – As Sachs notes (p. 140), “Agriculture is a voracious user of water.” Indeed, it is the largest user by far, with standard irrigation being especially wasteful. A number of measures can be taken to conserve water. Aside from just wishfully calling for a reduction in water usage, Sachs calls for breeding more drought tolerant crop species. Here’s what he says (p. 349), “ - - - we are going to need another Green Revolution of new crop varieties - - - . For some regions this will mean a focus on drought resistant varieties - - - because the frequency of drought is likely to become much higher.” Breeding for drought tolerance could also be breeding for poorer nutritional content. As a rule, hybridization and genetic manipulation lead to greater water requirements and dependence on human pampering.

 

Someone needs to inform Mr. Sachs that the Green Revolution was not the resounding success he heard it was. The greatest problem was that those highly bred crops, at least for rice, required much more water, pesticides and fertilizer and often this was not affordable by the poor farmers who were supposed to benefit from this “revolution”. Furthermore, the protein content is poorer. See “The Green Revolution: American Agriculture in the Third World” by Michael Perelman in Radical Agriculture, Richard Merrill, ed.(1976).

 

Sachs notes (p. 349) that “Certain plants in nature have a high degree of drought tolerance.” This is true because if they didn’t they would have been eliminated. Most plants used today in agriculture are highly bred away from their natural form and have not had sufficient time to adapt for longevity and certainly could not survive without the pampering given by humans. In some situations application of a mulch layer can reduce water loss. Adding compost to soils helps retain water in the soil. I did not come across the word “compost” in reading the section on agriculture. Also, the incorporation of biochar to soil can greatly retain water while allowing plant roots to extract it as needed. See The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change, Albert Bates (2010). With glaciers vanishing and aquifers shrinking, how much longer can humanity go without counter-measures?

 

F. Insufficient Food Production – This has long been true. Will food production ever keep up with population growth? If it does, how long will that last and what will happen to the planet if population growth is not soon curtailed by some means? Here’s what Sachs says (p. 349), “The first [action?] is to improve the ability to grow more food. We should be more productive in terms of higher yields per unit of land area.” Well, that’s a meaningless admonition. Does he plan to wave a wand or wield a club to make it happen? What about better quality crops ahead of greater yield? Actually, Nutri-Culture methods can substantially raise production per unit of land. As Dr. Thomas Barrett, the pioneer vermiculturist, pointed out, we have run out of new soil on the horizontal plane and now must build it vertically by feeding earthworms, which Darwin credited with making all original topsoil. See Harnessing the Earthworm by Thomas J. Barrett (1947, rev. 1959). In Wisconsin, farmer, consultant and author Gary Zimmer has developed a method for making more topsoil by gradually working natural fertilizers, lime and manure ever deeper into his subsoil. See The Biological Farmer (2000).

 

Aside from solutions already mentioned, Sachs almost blithely calls for stepping up GMO research and talks as if it is something new and benign and “seems very promising” that we should “experiment” with, as if it’s not already a proven disaster that should be shut down and has been in some countries. Supporting increased GMO grain production is contrary to Sachs’ call to decrease carbohydrate consumption. GMO crops have taken over in much of the world, leaving farmers dependent on Monsanto, et al rather than making them more independent. And they are at risk of litigation should their farms be exposed to genetic contamination. Instead, farmers need to be shown ways such as bio-intensive growing to ecologically produce large amounts of nutritious crops from small plots. See How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons (5th edition, 1995). Jeavons contends his bio-intensive method (which involves digging and fertilizing to a two-foot depth) produces four times as much as conventional agriculture and that it can build topsoil up to 60 times faster than nature takes. See Gardening For the Future of the Earth by Howard Shapiro and John Harrison (2000, p. 76).

 

G. Increase in Non-Nutritious Food – To his credit, Sachs does recognize that ever-increasing consumption of processed foods and carbohydrates has resulted in increased diseases and malnutrition worldwide. However, if carbohydrates are eliminated, that leaves fats and protein. Sachs does caution against trans fats, but he calls for a reduction in eating meat (protein) and he appears, contradictorily, to endorse a new (2005) food pyramid (p. 325) that has at the base grain foods and newly created vegetable oils, which are, in fact, mostly health hazards. Dairy is near the top and the peak is shared with red meat and butter and also refined white grains and sweets. Far from being unhealthy, butter and raw milk were shown to be virtual health foods by Weston Price decades ago. Certain animal fats, fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins are critical to our health. See Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price (1939, rev. 1947) and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig (2001). The latter book provides excellent nutritional guidance.

 

Sachs did say there is a need to feed people more nutritious food. After stating that we first need to grow more food, he states (p. 350), “The second step of what can be done is to make crop varieties more nutritious.” Again, you can’t simply command crops to be more nutritious and neither breeding nor gene modification are true saviors. Crops grown in different soils and regions can range from near zero to very high in minerals and vitamins. High yielding hybrid corn has been found by analysis to be nearly devoid of trace element nutrients and even incapable of picking them up. Supplying ever more empty foods won’t help. What must be done is to put the needed mineral nutrients in the soil for the plants to pick up and pass on to livestock and people. In some cases it will also be necessary to introduce microbes to activate minerals for plant uptake. This is far more simple and sensible, but strangely ignored by government and establishment “leaders”, and the U.N. Yes, it looks expensive, but continually paying for half-measures is much more so.

 

H. Drought-Vulnerable Crop Varieties – This was touched on previously (see E); however, Sachs apparently believes this is one of agriculture’s greatest problems and the creation of drought-tolerant crop varieties would be about the most important breakthrough for increasing the world’s food supply. This isn’t necessarily doable, and strangely enough, Dr. Albrecht showed that correct fertilization often can counter and prevent crop losses from so-called drought weather conditions. As Sir Albert Howard, in An Agricultural Testament, points out, the race to keep breeding new varieties is seldom won without creating new problems and drawbacks, and does not work in the absence of underlying nutritional support, which probably explains why varieties “run out”.

 

Furthermore, there are documented cases where foliar spraying of corn (maize) with liquid seaweed, liquid fish and seawater extracts has saved the crops, while all around those sprayed farms there was wholesale crop loss. See The Bio-Gardener’s Bible, Lee Fryer (1982, p. 11). These same treatments can also reduce losses from frosts by building plant resistance. See Seaweed and Plant Growth by T. L. Senn, Ph.D. (1987) and Seaweed in Agriculture and Horticulture, Stephenson (1968). To quote Australian agronomist Graeme Sait, “Nutrition Rules!” Sait has written an excellent article addressing many of these problems and given several of the same suggestions I’ve touched on. See “The Soil Solution” in Acres USA (June 2015, p. 26).

 

I. Obesity Epidemic and Unbalanced Nutrition – Sachs finds it alarming that in rich countries blessed with plenty of “food” there is an epidemic of obesity, which he rightly blames mainly on bad diet (malnutrition). On page 352 he states, “Finally, we have to take responsibility ourselves for our personal health and for the way we approach the issues of food as individuals. Massive epidemics of obesity show that something is seriously wrong with prevailing diets.” Many will assert the cause is not diet but failure to burn off excess calories by exercising. Sedentary lifestyle is far from the whole explanation. Surely nutritional health does not come down to calories, although that’s the way it is usually perceived and portrayed by relief agencies and charities.

 

According to preventative cardiologist, Dr. William Davis in Wheat Belly (2011, p. x), “ - - - the problem with the diet and health of most Americans is not fat, not sugar, not the rise of the internet and the demise of the agrarian lifestyle, it’s wheat.” He contends the rapid rise in both obesity and diabetes, beginning about 1985, is attributable to continual hybridization of wheat (now 25,000 varieties), resulting in creation of alien and incompatible proteins which stimulate abnormal fat production. The cure is to simply stop eating wheat and other grains. If everyone did that, however, it would cause economic havoc around the world; but is it unavoidable if people are to avoid obesity and the numerous degenerative diseases stemming from obesity? The choice is buying long-term health or paying for long-term sickness, which is the status quo.

 

A century ago, because there were much fewer choices of what to eat and far fewer processed and junk foods, it was fairly easy to eat a healthy diet. The question is what is a healthy diet? The subject is very confused and contentious. Our grandparents basically ate healthy, and obesity was relatively uncommon, as was heart disease and diabetes, now among America’s top three killers. Dr. Albrecht referred to meats (before the fats/cholesterol scare) as “our choice protein foods.” Albrecht also noted that bad farming practices in Kansas resulted in a drop in wheat protein content from 19% in 1940 to 10.5% in 1969, just 29 years later. What must it be in 2015? Today’s protein content for wheat is 6%. Mineral nutrition essential to the manufacture of protein has surely plummeted as well. See Soil Fertility and Animal Health (1958). Irrespective of the explanation, there is confirming evidence of the dramatic 20th Century decline in the health of Americans in the following statistics attributed to the U.S. Public Health Service. Out of 100 participating nations of the world, America was deemed the healthiest in 1900. It stayed that way until about 1945. By 1978 we had dropped to 79th. By 1980 we were 95th and by 1997 we had dropped to last place. It is noteworthy that up through WWII family vegetable gardens were common. See Healthy Living: A Holistic Guide by Susan Lombardi (1997, p. 8).

 

A number of prominent agronomists and nutritionists contend there is only one major disease, namely, malnutrition. Pathogens are seen as consequences, not causes of diseases. If environmental contaminants and genetic defects are removed from the equation, it is hard to see how that would not be so.

 

One thing is clear, if you grow your own food in correctly fertilized garden soil, you will have access to the cleanest, safest, freshest and most nutritious food there is, and you can’t be at all sure about those aspects or “issues” with food from any other source; and that goes for livestock as well. Society would save a lot of money by investing in programs to insure everyone who wished to could grow most of their own nutritious, health-giving food. Think Russia! Think Cuba! Many sectors of our current economy would not like to see such “responsible” independence and self-sufficiency. Sickness care is a lucrative growth industry. America has the highest per capita healthcare cost, yet lowest health standing over all developed countries in the world.

 

J. Food Loss from Inadequate Storage – While not usually recognized, this is really a matter of keepability quality which, again, is a consequence of nutrient content grown into food as a consequence of better or worse fertility status of the soil in (or on) which a crop or animal is raised. Sachs (p. 351) describes food loss from inadequate storage as extremely high and makes the recommendation that poor farmers form co-operatives able to buy storage facilities and thus have more crops to sell at better prices.

 

Without subsidies, this is an unrealistic solution. If they could raise the money to buy refrigeration units or other kinds of storage facilities, the farmers likely would already have done so. The real problem is lack of minerals and nutrient density. Rot happens quickly to poorly grown produce. The smarter solution is to invest in better fertilization that produces greater keepability. Plus, the higher nutritional content greatly reduces malnutrition. Again, the solution is nearly always to create friable soils of balanced nutrition yielding nutrient-dense crops and livestock. Recently, a customer at Black Lake Organic told me that since he started using our complete mineralized organic fertilizer (BLOOM) his produce lasts four times longer and is much greater in size. Customers report that our Fertile Mulching System produces bumper fruit crops from formerly sick trees.

 

High nutrient density also builds high resistance to insect and disease attacks. In Foundations of Natural Farming (2008, pp. 259-263), agronomy consultant Dr. Harold Willis gives 15 citations from several scientific journals about the causes of disease and health (disease resistance) in corn root and stalk rot, all of which were linked back to nutrient balance or imbalance. He concludes by stating (p. 263), “ - - - I would trace the real cause [of the disease] back to the soil; nutrient imbalance and poor soil structure.”

 

Yet another benefit of Nutri-Culture is near elimination of the need for herbicides via ecological weed control. Weeds have a role in rectifying imbalanced soils. A surprising and highly useful guide to suppressing hundreds of weed species by feeding them to death with natural fertilizers is Weeds and Why They Grow (1994) by Jay L. McCaman. This too is essentially soil nutrient balancing to favor edible crop plants.

 

K. Loss of Wildlife Habitat and Biodiversity – As a biologist and lover of nature, I found especially distressing Sach’s pronouncement that we have entered the sixth great species extinction event on the planet since life began. And it is clear who and what is to blame, this time; namely, homo arrogantus, and our over-exploitation of the Earth’s resources. If the real rationale for sustainable development is sustained development, wildlife and biodiversity are doomed and we shall follow them. The pressure to develop more of the remaining non-crop acres, such as in the rainforests, plus urban development, will continue to destroy wildlife habitat. Again, while he recognizes our dependence on a rich biodiversity, Sachs offers little more than warnings and wishes and an admission that the outlook is grim for the several million other species that inhabit Earth and make it worth living on. We must adopt agricultural methods that protect and foster biodiversity.

 

The pervading presumption has always been that economic growth is inevitably good and good for everyone. But I have to ask if economic development, in fact, hasn’t paid off for the desperately poor in the past, how will going full-bore result in a significant net gain in their well-being and health? I, for one, don’t look forward to the 8th billion human and the demands they/we place on the planet. We are headed for a standing room only world. If we are to avoid mass starvation and spoliation population control must accompany any effort toward planetary sustainability. Thankfully, where prosperity and education go up, birth rates go down.

 

Here’s what Sachs has to say (p. 340), “The third major way that the farm system impacts the planet is the destruction of habitats for the other species. This is not entirely surprising considering that an estimated 40% of the total land area of the planet is agricultural land. - - - There are many other ways in which the environment is damaged by farm activity. These include the pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals that are used in farm production and that are a main threat to biodiversity.”

 

Here’s my solution. Let’s make a deal with those millions of other species. We will take only half of the world and we will reserve the other half in preserves for them and be equitable about which parts they get. Otherwise, or additionally, we can implement wildlife (and fish) friendly Nutri-Culture. It’s in our self-interest.

 

Sachs talks about the damage to estuaries from agricultural pollution (agriculture being the world’s largest polluter), but does not say much here about other ocean habitats which are being devastated. Yet, he does not call for halting or reducing pesticides. Probably he sees them as indispensible to food production and thus eliminating them would threaten the number one goal of ending extreme hunger. This is a seemingly unshakeable fallacy. The ironic thing is that following ecological agriculture (and Nutri-Culture) practices can make pesticides entirely unnecessary, owing to the internal resistance built up in plants grown in nutrient balanced soils. This is a potentially huge environmental boon that Sachs likely is totally unaware of.

 

Thanks to the work of Dr. Albrecht, Dr. Carey Reams and others, we know what constitutes full nutrient balance in soils. Furthermore, using a hand-held device, nutrient density can be measured in the field and in the marketplace. The device measures soluble solids in BRIX units. See Using a Refractometer to Test the Quality of Fruits and Vegetables by Rex Harrill (1994, rev. 1998). As one small example, commonly available cheap potatoes from stores measure “poor” (around 2 BRIX units), whereas Jim Karnofski (an associate of mine), using Nutri-Culture methods, grew potatoes in large quantities that measured BRIX 12 (excellent). A not-so-small example is the Irish potato famine of the 1850s, which killed over a million people and forced another million to emigrate. It was caused by late blight disease, but no doubt was abetted by soil exhaustion and fertility depletion. Sir Albert Howard, writing in The Soil and Health (1947, p. 151), stated that “ - - - the real cause of potato disease is not, as commonly supposed, the potato blight assisted by hot, still, damp air [fostering sporulation of Phytophthora infestans fungus], but worn out soil.”

 

Most likely the disease would have been averted by soil mineralization. Using seaweed and fish carcasses could have prevented the disease, although Howard believed maintaining high humus levels with manure and compost was the answer. In The Soil and Health (1947, pp. 154-5), Howard reports that potato farmers in a district of England had to replace their “seed” after every two or three years due to fertility exhaustion. However, this was never necessary (or possible) on the remote Atlantic island of Tristan de Cunha where islanders had used seaweed to “manure” their potato patches for 100 years without bringing in new varieties or seed. Exquisite potatoes were also grown this way on the British Isle of Jersey. See Food Power From the Sea, Lee Fryer and Dick Simmons (1977, p. 12). Potatoes having a high protein and mineral content may be healthy fare.

 

According to Howard (and Albrecht), the end goal of photosynthesis and proper nutrition is the manufacture of protein. According to Steve Solomon, author of The Intelligent Gardener (2013), who wrote in Gardening When It Counts (2005, p. 249), properly fertilized potatoes can have up to 11% protein (dry weight) rather than being mostly starch. He states, “ - - - if you build your soil’s fertility so that it has considerable mineral nutrients but a rather low level of potassium, you’ll end up with a somewhat smaller bulk yield of somewhat smaller-sized spuds that have considerably more taste and nutrition.” That’s what it’s all about!

 

Nutri-Culture and Sustainability

 

The term “sustainability”, relative to agriculture, appears to have arisen around 1970 and was picked up as “sustainable development” by the U.N. in 1980, according to Sachs, following publication in 1972 of the blockbuster book, The Limits of Growth by the Club of Rome (see page 4).

 

Going back at least as far as 1982, a USDA soil scientist wrote that “Organic farming practices work - - - that is no longer a disputed fact among knowledgeable people.” In the 1991 Yearbook of Agriculture (p. 176) is the following statement: “Much of the public’s growing interest in sustainability is a reaction to the sum total of modern agriculture.” This is to say, the public is dismayed about the many negative effects of chemical or industrial agriculture. The statement continues, “The public wants an agriculture that will not only be productive and profitable, but will also conserve resources, protect the environment, and enhance the health and safety of the public.” See Foundations of Natural Farming by Willis (2008, p. 284). We don’t have that.

 

So, what to do about it all? Sachs calls for changing current agricultural practices, yet I saw no mention of organiculture or any kind of existing alternative agriculture as an option. A number of studies comparing organic and conventional farming have shown organic yield to be comparable, organics to be more energy efficient, and nutrition in the crops to be superior. Nutri-Culture takes this even further. Sachs’ solutions seem to me to be superficial, disjointed and more of the same we’ve seen or heard before that hasn’t really worked. There is no underlying, guiding or holistic principle for reshaping agriculture. He states (p. 349) that, “There will be no magic key”, and, indeed, his solutions lack interconnectedness. They do not constitute the cohesive, alternative new strategy or the reshaped system he calls for; whereas Nutri-Culture is a single, integrated and holistic option that could be that magic key, and thus I have labeled it the Ultimate Agronomic System.

 

What is needed is a pro-active health support paradigm. While maybe not magical, I think there is a controlling universal code which governs how the world, nature and agriculture are designed to operate optimally and in highest health. This theory is consistent with the Gaia balancing principle. If we crack the code and apply the secret combination throughout, problems fall away and harmonious existence reigns. That code, I submit, is balanced soil nutrition, to include the full array of nutrient minerals in sufficient amounts as well as in correct ratios. It is noteworthy that the oceans of the world have long been in near perfect nutrient balance; consequently, disease among marine mammals and ocean fishes is a rarity. See Fertility From the Ocean Deep by Charles Walters (2005) and Sea Energy Agriculture by Maynard Murray M.D. (1973).

 

Doing this one simple thing (proper fertilization), if carried out correctly and fully, and implemented all over the world (perhaps under U.N. auspices), could mend much of conventional agriculture’s ways, solve food supply shortfalls, restore general health, and alleviate many of the world’s problems, plus put civilization on the right sustainability track for the long haul, as called for in my precepts for the BLOSSOM Era. I sense a critical mass in readiness has been reached for forging ahead to an Age of Real Sustainability.

 

Our main job is to restore full soil fertility in the form of balanced nutrition and then maintain it. As previously stated, the foundation and key of Nutri-Culture as an ultimate agronomic system is soil nutrient balance. If there is an agricultural “breakthrough”, as Sachs is counting on, it already exists in biochar incorporation to soils. That, and stable humus, can extend fertility for many decades and even centuries, as the awesome Terra Preta story of the Amazon basin clearly establishes. See The Biochar Debate (2009) by James Bruges. My slogan is: “Health comes only from nutrient-balanced soil.” I will now lay out the many impressive features of Nutri-Culture, which demonstrates how a whole system, culminating in nutrient-dense foods, proceeds from the singular basis of establishing soil nutrient balance. This is the holistic system called for by Sachs.

 

Nutri-Culture: What it Can Do

 

Here are the many interconnected features that can restore human and planetary health by bringing about true agricultural sustainability that is the primary determinant of overall sustainability, enabling survival of civilization on into Century 22 and beyond.

1. Achieve ideal soil fertility and tilth through nutrient balancing.

2. Raise the nutritional quality and healthfulness of food.

3. Greatly reduce disease and insect pest losses (thereby greatly reducing the need to use pesticides).

4. Greatly extend the keepability or storage life of produce.

5. Minimize toxins, poisons and pollutants entering the environment.

6. Minimize plant nutrient losses from leaching and irrigation.

7. Maximize moisture retention in treated soils.

8. Make ample nitrogen fertilizers naturally by nitrogen fixation.

9. Greatly minimize the problem of excess applied nitrogen and losses.

10. Foster the proliferation of beneficial microbes, earthworms and other soil biota.

11. Obviate any need for GMO seeds and the endless, frantic search for “better” varieties.

12. Contribute massively and practically to carbon sequestration.

13. Reduce malnutrition and diseases through healthier food and diet.

14. Encourage organic matter recycling and stable humus production.

15. Reduce fertilizer requirements by slowed release to plants.

16. Reduce weed growth through nutrient management.

17. Encourage and protect wildlife and edge habitat.

18. Improve livestock health and longevity with nutrition.

19. Impede erosion and enable topsoil creation.

20. Insure superior taste in produce and animal-source products.

21. Enable high production per unit area and food self-sufficiency.

22. Upgrade conventional organics through mineralizing.

23. Reduce stress, injuries, worries, conflicts and insecurity.

24. Instigate real sustainability through durable methods.

25. Improve and lead land restoration techniques.

 

© 2015 Gary L. Kline

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