The benefits of consuming organic produce are so obvious that some healthcare providers offer rebates to customers who have a contractual agreement with a local organic farmer as part of their wellness programming. With what we know about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables consistently 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.
If there’s a surcharge for smokers, why shouldn’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. (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/soils/health/biology/?cid=nrcs142p2_053868)
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. Two basic laws of nature are at play here: 1) the more diverse an ecosystem is, the more stable it is; and 2) the more complex an organism is, the higher its carbon-nitrogen (C:N) ratio is.
Basically, a more complex organism consumes several less complex organisms to fulfill its carbon demand, but releases all the unneeded nitrogen back into the soil, which other organisms, like plants, need to thrive. Typical commercial salt-forming fertilizers kill these natural systems.
It’s estimated that there are 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 underground and a similar web of activity thrives above the soil as well. Since organic farmers do not use toxic fungicides, insecticides, nematicides, miticides or acaracides, 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, a pathogenic bacterium like E. coli or salmonella finds its way into the system, the multitude of good bacteria degrades and consumes this lone ranger, much like school kids running the bully off the playground.
By consuming organically grown fruits and vegetables raised in this microbially rich environment, we are feeding the flora and fauna in our digestive tract what they need to thrive. The Human 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 are 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.
The Economics of Buying Local Organic Produce
Becoming a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) gives individuals the opportunity to consume the most beneficial produce available on a regular basis. Most CSA contracts require their members to pay for an entire season of produce, before the season starts. This provides valuable capital to the farmer for inputs like seed, labor, and green house heat early in the season. It also gives the customer the feeling of “We better eat everything we get, since it is already paid for.” Many CSAs offer recipes, and customers often share their excitement of learning how good beets or dinosaur kale can be, therefore expanding their interest and desire to eat even more vegetables. By delivering the produce directly to the shareholder immediately after harvest, the freshness and quality is maintained.
Another immediate benefit to the community is that, with a contract with a local farm, money stays in the local economy.
We believe that someone who contracts with a local farmer to consume fresh wholesome 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 they have at FairShare CSA Coalition in Wisconsin? (http://www.csacoalition.org/about-csa/csa-insurance-rebate/)
You do want healthy patients, don’t you? Maybe the facility where you work would be willing to host a local CSA farm to deliver their weekly bounty for people in the office or neighborhood to pick up? Find an organic farmer in your area and improve your health. It’s not only good for you and your community, it tastes really, really good!
Mac farms with his wife, Ann Bell Stone, and extended family at Elmwood Stock Farm, their Scott County, Kentucky farm. The family produces certified organic beef, vegetables and small fruit, eggs, chicken, heritage turkeys, and tobacco. Mac was the executive director of Marketing for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, administering the Kentucky Proud Program among many others. He was appointed by USDA Secretary Vilsack to serve on the National Organic Standards Board, which he chaired last year. He focuses on farming and marketing wholesome organic foods for the family farm and working with non-profit agriculture and food organizations.