more precious than gold, soil health
Summer is right around the corner...a time of year we here in the midwest look the most forward too. Chicago especially, really shows off in the summertime with a bustling lake front, outdoor music, street festivals and groups of picnickers in every green space there is! Lastly, one cannot forget the return of our beloved farmers markets.
This spring, Kasia and I both had experiences on organic farms, Kasia in Punta Arenas, Costa Rica and mine in Ojai, California. There, our already deep love for buying the best produce the midwest has to offer at our local farmers markets, became even deeper after these immersive experiences. We got our hands dirty learning how to prep a new garden bed, laid irrigation and trapped gophers! With all of that, the most important thing we witnessed first hand was what the importance of local farms, soil health and sustainable farming practices mean for our bodies and our ecosystem.
There are many buzz words when it comes to growing and selling food; natural, organic, bio-diverse, regenerative. Just like the confusion that comes with buying eggs and meat with similarly confusing labels as grass-fed, free range, vegetarian fed, etc. it is overwhelming, even to the educated consumer.
So, let’s start with what “organic” farming actually consists of. These are holistic farming practices that “aim to improve soil health and reverse climate change by expanding biodiversity, improving the water cycle, increasing organic matter in soil structure, and transferring carbon from the atmosphere to the soil. Proponents of ‘organic’ agriculture avoid using chemical pesticides and advocate for methods like crop rotation, livestock rotation, composting, no-till farming, agroecology, and agroforestry”, says activist and master gardener, Ron Finley. This form of agriculture increases the amount of arable topsoil, which results in a healthier, better food system.
Another legend in the world of organic gardening and farming, Eliot Coleman says, “The popular press defines organic farming by its rejection of chemicals. A more accurate portrayal defines organic farming by its embrace of the soil’s biological systems”. In short, soil health is of the utmost importance when it comes to a sustainable, organic farming system. Soil health = gut health.
The more sterile style of industrialized farming today relies heavily on mono cropping, the agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land. When a farmer decides to plant the same crop in the same place each year, this method kills all the nutrients from the earth and leaves the soil weakened. Due to the weakness of the soil, it is unable to support healthy plant growth. This causes a chain reaction to the soil structure and quality, resulting in a soil so poor that farmers are forced to use chemical fertilizers to encourage plant growth and fruit production. As we reduce diversity in the system the easier it is for a predator (pest) to move in and destroy a crop. This threat (resulting from a lack of diversity) requires the soil and subsequent crops grown on mono cropped fields to need more intervention by ways of chemical pesticides and herbicides. These practices are significantly affecting the nutrients in our food not to mention wreaking havoc on our gut health and our climate. A very scary, non-sustainable, cycle indeed.
Any farming system that’s dependable on outside inputs isn’t sustainable - the only system of agriculture that is going to feed human beings in perpetuity is one that is creating its fertility from the things you’re doing. If we have any chance of having a food system that doesn’t ultimately destroy our health and the environment, we must support the next generation of farmers. The best way to do that? Buy food from the farmers who are doing it right. The best place to start? You guessed it, the farmers market.
And don’t just stop there - join a local farm’s CSA program, ask your market’s farmers questions about their framing practices, bring a new friend each time you head to the market, buy organic, local and seasonal even when you shop at larger grocery stores. This is simply a case of voting with your dinner. There is no more perfect time of year than now to make shopping the farmers markets a priority; for your health and future of our food system. For your body for and for the planet, we can all do better.
Because we can’t rant and leave you without a recipe, here’s one for all the summer days and juicy, ripe tomatoes ahead - tomatoes that you’ll buy from your local farmers market, of course ;)
Good tomatoes are the thing that matters most when it comes to making bruschetta. A mix of sizes, varieties and color is fine, just so long as they are the most flavorful you can find.
Approx. 1 - 1.25 lbs ripe tomatoes, any assortment
A small handful of basil leaves
1 teaspoon good-tasting white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
3 - 4 large slices of good country style bread, preferably sourdough, sliced at least 1/2 inch thick
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Rinse and dry your tomatoes. Halve each of them, remove the seeds and cut out the cores. Roughly cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces and place in a medium bowl. Tear the basil into small pieces, and add that as well. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, white wine vinegar and a pinch of salt. Gently toss, taste, adjust if necessary, and set aside.
Brush both sides of sliced bread with olive oil. Heat a grill to medium-high or prepare slices on a baking sheet to set under a broiler. Grill or broil until well-toasted with a hint of char on both sides. Remove from grill or broiler and rub both sides of each slice of bread with garlic.
Cut each slice of bread in half and top each piece with the tomato mixture.