This week I’d like to write a bit about soil health. All I’m about to write is related to a new product I’m offering this week, so hang tight. 

Plants need at least 60 different elements in varying amounts to be healthy: calcium, boron, nitrogen, zinc, sulfur, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, etc. Each element has a unique role in plant health. If just one is short, or even in excess, the plant may be stressed. The science behind all of this is complex, and agronomists constantly debate, but it is very clear that plants need a lot more than the standard fertilizer that you’d find in most garden stores. 

For millennia, farmers used manure (even humanure), a complete fertilizer, all over the world. But, like everything else, this all changed with the industrial revolution and 19-20th century European science, which were focused on efficiency, simplification, and finding independent variables. People moving to cities to find opportunity meant less farmers. Population booms meant more people to feed. Imperial ambitions and total warfare meant troops had to be fed. So, scientists stepped in to solve the problem. One of these scientists, probably the most influential, was chemist Justus von Liebig, often called the “father of the fertilizer industry.” He postulated that nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K) were essential to plant health. He also postulated that other minerals were important as well. But, no one paid attention to this second part for some reason, and eventually, the NPK fertilizer industry was born. It was too expensive to be practical for a while until the German chemist, Fritz Haber, figured out a way to convert the nitrogen in the air into ammonia (mainly to get around the British blockade of Chilean nitrate to create explosives during WW1, but this was eventually applied to fertilizer). Anyway, if you go into a garden store you’ll still find many fertilizers that have nothing but NPK. 

For about 100 years, most conventional farmers have used, and still use, nothing but NPK fertilizer. It results in high yield, important for feeding a booming population. But, it also results in weaker plants that have compromised immune systems: they are more disease prone, which is why these farms spray chemical fungicides; weak plants are more likely to be attacked by pests, which is why these farms spray chemical pesticides; and if you’re going to standardize everything, might as well spray some chemical herbicide too. A typical tomato grown in a conventional tomato farm in Florida has about 100 dangerous chemicals in it that go directly into our bodies. Not to mention the terrible labor practices that make this all happen.

But NPK fertilizer doesn’t only lead to all of these chemicals, it also leads to much lower nutrient content. The more NPK fertilizer is used, the most depleted the soil gets of other vital minerals. Back when food was more local, you could measure someone’s bone density based on the amount of calcium present in that person’s local soil. These fertilizers also destroy important biological life in the soil (and to nail the coffin, these fertilizers easily run into our water supply, even making their way into the ocean where they create dead zones in which no marine life can live). Crops grown even a few decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than what is grown today. Von Liebig and Haber of course couldn’t have known all this. “Progress” unfortunately often has unforeseen consequences. 

All the vitamins and minerals that are contained in vegetables originate from the soil (well I guess they originate from rocks which were turned into soil via bacteria breaking them down, and those rocks originated from asteroids and stuff, and those asteroids from….ok I’ll stop). These minerals are essential to plant health and hence human health.

Organic farmers are obsessed with building up the soil through compost, naturally occurring minerals, bacterial/fungal life, cover cropping, etc. And another special thing, which finally leads me to the new product that I’m offering: unrefined sea salt. This is a newer development in agronomy. There is a body of research coming out of universities that suggests that adding very small amounts of unrefined sea salt to the soil, specifically Redmonds Real Salt, is beneficial. I’ve been doing it for the past 3 years. Several of the farmers in Lancaster where I get produce from are doing it too.

Real Salt is also great to use in your cooking. It’s mined from an ancient ocean in Utah, has over 60 vital minerals, and doesn’t have any of the dangerous additives found in normal table salt (dextrose, anti-caking agents that contain aluminum). It tastes much better than any other salt, and it’s more local than Himalayan Salt (from Pakistan) or Celtic Sea Salt (from France). I guess I can’t really say “everything I sell is local” anymore. I’ll make an exception for salt 🙂

That was a really long-winded post to just say “I have salt now.” haha

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