Time to Remake your Soil

Current soil tests are designed by fertilizer sales groups who want you to buy more potash. We need real tests that demonstrate how good (or not) your soil is. Especially if we’re going to add sewer sludge to farms.

Microbes Will Feed the World, or Why Real Farmers Grow Soil, Not Crops

By Brian Barth on April 22, 2014

Out on the horizon of agriculture’s future, an army 40,000 strong is marching towards a shimmering goal. They see the potential for a global food system where pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are but relics of a faded age.

They are not farmers, but they are working in the name of farmers everywhere. Under their white lab coats their hearts beat with a mission to unlock the secrets of the soil — making the work of farmers a little lighter, increasing the productivity of every field and reducing the costly inputs that stretch farmers’ profits as thin as a wire.

The American Society of Microbiologists (ASM) recently released a treasure trove of their latest research and is eager to get it into the hands of farmers. Acknowledging that farmers will need to produce 70 to 100 percent more food to feed the projected 9 billion humans that will inhabit the earth by 2050, they remain refreshingly optimistic in their work. The introduction to their latest report states:

“Producing more food with fewer resources may seem too good to be true, but the world’s farmers have trillions of potential partners that can help achieve that ambitious goal. Those partners are microbes.”

Mingling with Microbes

Linda Kinkel of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Plant Pathology was one of the delegates at ASM’s colloquium in December 2012, where innovators from science, agribusiness and the USDA spent two days sharing their research and discussing solutions to the most pressing problems in agriculture.

“We understand only a fraction of what microbes do to aid in plant growth,” she says. “But the technical capacity to categorize the vast unknown community [of microorganisms] has improved rapidly in the last couple of years.”

Microbiologists have thoroughly documented instances where bacteriafungi, nematodes — even viruses — have formed mutually beneficial associations with food plants, improving their ability to absorb nutrients and resist drought, disease and pests. Microbes can enable plants to better tolerate extreme temperature fluctuations, saline soils and other challenges of a changing climate. There is even evidence that microbes contribute to the finely-tuned flavors of top-quality produce, a phenomenon observed in strawberries in particular.

“But we’re only at the tip of the iceberg,” says Kinkel.

In the Field

Statements such as, “There are 10 to the 6th fungal organisms in a gram of soil!” and, “This bacterial biofilm has tremendous communication properties!” are breakroom banter among microbiologists, but what does it all mean for farmers? The answers reach back into the millennial past of agriculture, back to the dawn of life on earth.

Whenever a seed germinates in the wild or a crop is planted by a farmer, the microbial community that helps that species to grow and thrive is mobilized. Chemical signals enter the soil via the exudates of the plant and a symphony of underground activity commences. Genetic information is exchanged; the various microbial players assume their positions on the tissues of the plant; often, one microbe colonizes another, providing a service that helps the first microbe to assist the plant whose roots it is embedded in.

Though this elaborate dance takes place without any input from humans, we have been tinkering with it for a long time.

For example, the process of nitrogen fixation in plants of the legume family (which includes beans, peas, peanuts and many other crop plants) is one of the little bacterial miracles that makes our planet habitable. Anyone who has ever observed the roots of a legume knows that they are covered in strange white or pinkish growths, about the size of ants, which appear to be an infection of some sort. Undoubtedly, ancient farmers had an intuitive understanding that these warty protuberances had something to do with the noticeable ability of legumes to improve the soil, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the mystery began to unfold.

While Louis Pasteur was discovering how to preserve milk and becoming famous as the father of microbiology, a relatively unknown colleague of his with a penchant for plants was making another discovery, of perhaps even greater historical importance. In 1888, Martinus Beijerinck, discovered that tiny bacteria called Rhizobia infect the roots of legumes, causing the swollen nodules. Rather than an infection that weakens the plant, the nodules are the fertilizer factories of the plant kingdom, disassembling atmospheric nitrogen — which plants are unable to use — and refashioning it in a soluble, plant-friendly form.

Rhizobia are key ingredients of the earth’s verdancy and harnessing the bacteria to improve soil fertility has long been one of the cornerstones of sustainable agriculture. Yet, modern day microbiologists are now aware of scores of other equally profound plant-microbe interactions, discoveries they believe will have a big impact as human populations continue to soar on a planet of finite resources.

Making the Translation

In her lab at the university, Kinkel experiments with antibiotic bacteria that suppress plant pathogens and tests various soil management strategies to see their effects on microbial communities. In Colombia, microbiologists have learned to propagate a fungus that colonizes cassava plants and increases yields up to 20 percent. Its hyphae — the tiny tentacles of fungi — extend far beyond the roots of the cassava to unlock phosphorus, nitrogen and sulfur in the soil and siphon it back to their host, like an IV of liquid fertilizer.

Though microbiologists can coerce soil to produce extraordinary plant growth in their labs and test plots, transferring the results to everyday agricultural practices is not a straightforward process.

“Connections to farmers are a weak link,” Kinkel laments, alluding to a “snake oil effect” where farmers have become leery of salesmen hawking microbial growth enhancers that don’t pan out in the field. “The challenge of [these] inoculants,” she says, “is they may not translate in all environments.”

Though researchers continue to develop promising new microbial cocktails, there is an increased focus on guiding farmers to better steward the populations that already exist in their soil. Kinkel is working on an approach she believes will help farmers sustain optimal microbial communities by ensuring they have the food they need — carbon — at all times. She calls it ‘slow release carbon’, but it’s not something farmers will see in supply catalogs anytime soon. Kinkel says she has access to resources for her academic research, but lacks a “deliberate pipeline for product development.”

It Takes a Global Village

The 26 experts from around the world convened at the ASM colloquium concluded their discussions with a bold goal for the future of agriculture: They’ve challenged themselves to bring about a 20 percent increase in global food production and a 20 percent decrease in fertilizer and pesticide use over the next 20 years.

With an indomitable belief that science will do its part to make this dream a reality, the scientists are looking to their corporate and regulatory counterparts to build a pipeline of information to farmers. They’re hoping that top-down investments in research and technology will meet directly with grassroots changes in the culture of farming — without all the snake oil-vending agribusiness interests in the middle. Ultimately, they envision a future where farmers again trust in the unseen forces of the soil — instead of the fertilizer shed — for answers to their challenges.

RelatedPlants and AnimalsmicrobesSoil

 

 

25 Healthy Foods: RealFarmacy

25 Foods That Help You Lose Weight

 

BY MAY CHAN realfarmacy.com

apples_measuring_tapeThe tendency to eat one or two large meals per day of all the wrong foods is what eventually leads us to tip the scales. You need to consume more meals, and of the right foods to weigh less.

1. Walnuts
‘Walnuts serve as a delicious-tasting weight loss food. To fully enjoy the benefits of walnuts for weight loss, it is important to remember that these nuts are a high-calorie food that should be eaten in moderation. Make sure to add only 1.5 ounces (about 20 walnut halves) for maximum benefit to your daily menu.’

Eat them on their own or add them to your salads. This is probably the best way to include them. Don’t make your own salads? Just take them out of your bag and sprinkle them over the salad at work or restaurant. You’ll feel fuller for longer and the salad will have a far more interesting texture.

2. Asparagus
When losing weight, it’s important to favor chlorophyll-rich foods, including asparagus. Asparagus is a nutrient-rich vegetable packed with folate, vitamins A, C, and K, and fiber. Asparagus also contains a carbohydrate known as inulin (not to be confused with insulin) that promotes healthy bacteria in the large intestine – which in turn promotes a healthier digestive function which ultimately results in better assimilation of nutrients and weight loss.

3. Almonds *
Loaded with important nutrients like monosaturated fats, vitamin E, folic acid, protein and dietary fibre, almonds are your answer for dipping energy levels and quick healthy snacks. These filling, snackable bites can help keep your blood sugar steady.

A study from the University of Toronto found that people who ate almonds with white bread didn’t experience the same blood sugar surges as those who ate just the slice. And the higher blood sugar levels rise, the lower they fall; that dip leads to hunger, causing people to overeat. Plus, blood sugar changes cause the body to make insulin, which can increase abdominal fat

4. Quinoa
Regarded as a sacred food by the Incas, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals. A complete protein, it has all the essential amino acids needed to build metabolism-revving muscle. Swapping refined grains for whole proteins such as quinoa is not only more nutritious, it can help you lose belly fat. How? Quinoa contain fiber, which makes you feel fuller on less food. One study, published inThe Journal of Nutrition, found that reduced-calorie dieters eating about 115 g of protein daily lost 22 percent more fat after four months than those who ate 70 g per day. Quinoa is higher in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc, and lower in sodium compared with wheat, barley and corn. It the most nutritious gluten-free grain known.

5. Apples *
Apple is one of the best weight loss foods. Apples are a sweet and crunchy snack full of all sorts of nutritional goodness, and they taste good on their own and in salads, desserts, and savory dishes, too.

A study from Penn State University at University Park revelaed that people who chomped an apple before a pasta meal ate fewer calories overall than those who had a different snack.

Research shows that just two apples a day could help protect women against heart disease lowering blood fat levels by almost 25 percent, a claim unattainable by cardiovascular prescription medications.

6. Black beans
Beans have always been the undervalued protein that could work best when used as a substitute for meat. They stay in your digestive system longer and add to the feeling of fullness and a satisfied feeling, aiding weight management. They contain soluble and insoluble fiber, protein, and a type of fat-burning carb called resistant starch. Black beans are really one of the greatest weight loss foods.

According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, bean eaters weigh less and have slimmer middles.

7. Coconut Oil
One of the healthiest cooking oils in the world, coconut oil enjoys one of the highest stabilities of all oils when heated. 50 percent of the fat content in coconut oil is a fat rarely found in nature called lauric acid. Your body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties. Lauric acid is a powerful virus and gram-negative bacteria destroyer, and coconut oil contains the most lauric acid of any substance on earth! Coconut oil is about 2/3 medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), also called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. These types of fatty acids produce a whole host of health benefits. It’s nature’s richest source of these healthy MCFAs.

Researchers at McGill University, in Quebec, Canada are now advocating the use of a MCT treat and prevent obesity. The reason most people are overweight is because they simply don’t eat enough good fats.

8. Cauliflower
The simplest way to prepare cauliflower is to boil it and add pepper and salt. But this flowery vegetable is an enemy for toxic compounds in your body. The cauliflower is rich is indoles, glucosinolates and thiocyanates that bumps off all the toxic waste in your body.

Cauliflower is low in calories while still offering filling fiber. This veggie is also super versatile and can make a great replacement for heavier foods. It is a member of the Cruciferous family of vegetables; other members of this phytonutrient-rich family include broccoli, Bok choy, cabbage, and kale. Eating cauliflower and other Cruciferous vegetables at least three times a week may significantly reduce your risk of developing all types of cancer. Eating cauliflower may also give your immune system and healing mechanisms a natural boost, as cauliflower is naturally rich in real vitamin C.

9. Cinnamon *
Everything is nice about this spice. Just 1/2 teaspoon each day can help control your blood sugar and prevent the postmeal insulin spike that can trigger your body to store fat rather than burn it. You can also use cinnamon to bring out the natural sweetness in foods, rather than adding calories from sugar. All spices help you trim down when used to add flavor to foods instead of oil, butter and calorie-laden condiments.

Valued in ancient times as currency and once considered more precious than gold, cinnamon — one of the world’s oldest known spices — has one of the highest antioxidant values of all foods and its use in medicine treats everything from nausea to menstruation and energy to diabetes.

10. Coffee *
Raise your mug to higher metabolism! The caffeine in coffee can raise your resting metabolic rate by about 15 percent, and the effect can last up to four hours–that adds up to 30 to 50 calories burned per day. Plus, people who sip 3 to 4 cups of regular or decaf coffee per day are 30 percent less prone to type 2 diabetes. Chlorogenic acid, found in coffee, may help prevent insulin resistance, which can lead to obesity and diabetes.

11. Eggs *
Eggs are a good source of vitamins, proteins and minerals. As said by nutrition experts, eggs are not only a great source of nutrition, but also very useful to help lose weight. When combining eggs with other dishes you will limit the consumption of complex carbohydrates in the body. Your hunger and food cravings will occur less frequent. Egg itself is sufficient in helping in weight loss.

The breakfast staple is loaded with choline, a compound known to help block fat absorption. Eating protein-rich eggs for breakfast reduces hunger and decreases calorie consumption at lunch and throughout the day. After eight weeks, dieters who ate two eggs, toast and jelly for breakfast five days a week lost 65 percent more weight than those who had a same-calorie bagel breakfast without eggs, according to a study in the International Journal of Obesity.

12. Raddish
Like other types of vegetables, cooked raddish contains approximately 3 grams of fiber per half cup to help you stay full and satisfied. Raddishare considered as starchy vegetables, so it is recommended to be eaten in place of rice, bread or other starchy foods.

13. Garlic
Garlic help prevent various cancers, fight cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and respiratory problems. Garlic also helps fight various infections.

Overweight people who sprinkled their food with the zero-calorie spice lost an average of 30 pounds in six months, compared to only a 2-pound loss in the control group. Strong flavors like garlic may make food more enjoyable so you feel fuller faster.

14. Avocado
Many people are shocked when they first learn that avocados are one of the best foods for weight loss. Avocado is high in monounsaturated fat. Research indicates diets high in monounsaturated fat are more beneficial for weight control because monounsaturated fat exerts beneficial effects on how blood lipid profiles, insulin function and directly affects how the body utilizes blood glucose.

Avocado contains a unique weight loss friendly carbohydrate called mannoheptulose. Mannoheptulose is a rare form of sugar which has been found to lower insulin secretion. Avocados help to reverse the problems that we see with insulin resistance, by virtue of the presence of mannoheptulose and its high content of good fats. Could Guacamole Be The Ultimate Cancer Fighting Food?

15. Lentils
These legumes are rich in resistant starch (RS), a carbohydrate that may encourage fat burning and shrink fat cells. One cup serving of cooked split peas or lentils provides up to twice as much fibre as other fibre-rich foods. When study participants enjoyed a meal with 5 g of RS-about what you get from 3/4 cup cooked lentils-they burned 23 percent more fat over 24 hours than when they had a meal without the starch, researchers at the University of Colorado in Denver say.

People who consume lentils at least three times a week reduce their risk of developing polyps — small growths in the lining of the bowel which can become cancerous — by a third, researchers say.

16. Olive oil (advisory)
Like avocados, olive oil has healthy fat that increases satiety, taming your appetite. But that’s hardly its only slimming feature. Research shows it has anti-inflammatory properties, and chronic inflammation in the body is linked to metabolic syndrome. Drizzle your salad with olive oil and you’ll increase the antioxidant power of your veggies, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition notes. Healthful monounsaturated fats found in olive oil could potentially switch on genes related to fat burning and storage. The only deficiency with olive oil is its lack of polyunsaturated fats, which contains Essential Fatty Acids (EFA). While ounce for ounce, all oils have the same calories, olive oil has a fuller flavor so less is needed for tantalizing taste.

17. Sweet Potato
Yams are packed with antioxidants (like carotenoids), vitamins and minerals. They are quite low on the glycemic scale, meaning you’ll digest them slower and stay full longer. Moreover, nutritionally-dense yams in your diet can trigger the satiety center in the brain quickly, make you feel full faster. If you want to lose some pounds, yams may be one food to include in your diet next year.

These spuds have RS, the same carbs found in lentils that may turn up the body’s fat-scorching furnace. RS may also increase production of peptide hormone compounds that signal the brain to stop eating. After a breakfast and a lunch containing RS, subjects ate about 10 percent fewer calories over the next 24 hours compared with when they had similar meals with a placebo, research from the University of Surrey indicates.

18. Chlorella
A green algae that contains 18 amino acids, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients; over 4,000 studies published in Japan and Taiwan show chlorella helps cut blood pressure and cholesterol numbers down to size, boosts metabolism, and clobbers abnormal cell growth. It’s like a tiny green magician with the power to make you feel and look 20 years younger and help many of your medical concerns simply vanish.

19. Pears *
Pears deliver a dose of fiber (about 5.5 grams per medium-sized fruit), which helps keep you satisfied long after you eat them. But that’s not where their fat-fighting power ends.

A Brazilian research team found that a group of women who included pears in their diet each day lost more weight than the group who included oat cookies–even though the pears and the oat cookies had the same number of calories.

20. Pomegranate
They look like rubies and we believe that they are as precious as them too. Pomegranates reduces arthritis, increase your immunity, and improve fertility. Long known for its antioxidant properties, the humble pomegranate is a heart patient’s best friend. Scientists believe that the superfood has the power to reduce the fat stored round the stomach — the ‘spare tyre’ in men, or ‘muffin top’ in women. While the benefits of drinking pomegranate juice have gained a lot of attention recently, you will be more likely to lose weight by eating the fruit fresh to increase your fiber intake and keep the calories down.

Using pomegranate seeds instead of nuts on salad, or eating on their own, prove to be incredible.

21. Red bell peppers *
This vegetable adds flavour whether it is baked, roasted, cooked or stuffed. Capsicums help to break down waste that is in the blood, hence a prefect veggie for those suffering with kidney disease.

These are sources of vitamin C, and adequate intake of the nutrient has been associated with having a smaller waist. Plus, C has been shown to bolster immunity and prevent cell damage.

22. Hemp
Hemp foods are expanding onto the shelves of grocery and natural food stores across North America. By definition, these are foods containing whole hemp seeds or the oil, nut (hulled seed) and/or flour (ground seed cake) derived from the seeds. Overall, hemp’s main nutritional advantage over other seeds lies in the composition of its oil, i.e. its fatty acid profile, and in its protein which contains all of the essential amino acids in nutritionally significant amounts and in a desirable ratio. This has a significant affect on metabolism allowing the body to shed fat 10% faster than those who don’t consume hemp daily.

23. Tomatoes *
Whenever you munch, your body releases a hormone called cholecystokinin, which tightens the valve between your stomach and your intestine. As a result, CCK boosts feelings of fullness–making you less apt to overeat.

Tomatoes contain oligofructose, a fiber that helps sustain the effects of CCK in your stomach. Bonus: Lycopene, a compound found in tomatoes, has been shown to protect you against sunburn and may help reduce the risk of certain cancers.

24. Millet
Millet is a beneficial and delicious staple of any whole grain diet. This non-glutinous grain is over 10-percent protein, has high amounts of fiber and B-complex vitamins, and because it isn’t an acid forming food, is easy to digest. A research team led by Charles S. Brennan at Lincoln University, New Zealand found that replacing traditional wheat and maize flours in extruded cereals with flours such as millet could lower carbohydrate digestibility, which is linked to the glycemic impact.

Millet and other whole grains are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body’s use of glucose and insulin secretion.

25. Blueberries *
Researchers found that blueberries can break down existing fat cells and prevent new ones from forming, making them a potentially powerful weapon in the fight against rising obesity. Essentially, blueberry polyphenols fight adipogenesis, which is the development of fat cells, and induce lipolysis, which is the breakdown of lipids/fat.
Blueberries also have a low concentration of glycemic carbohydrates that mildly and gradually change into sugar. This sugar does not occur in an amount that is high enough to raise insulin levels.

*Signifies sources should be organic to minimize pesticide load and maxmize nutrient content.

Mae Chan holds degrees in both physiology and nutritional sciences. She is also blogger and and technology enthusiast with a passion for disseminating information about health.