Waaay Beyond Just Organic
The following essay originally appeared on the Nutritious Food Network Website of the Olympia, Washington Chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation
The Gospel According to Weston A. Price and William A. Albrecht
By Gary L. Kline
In a nutshell, both Price and Albrecht strongly believed there can be no high quality nutrition in foods without high soil fertility where the foods are grown or raised. Almost by definition, high fertility includes optimum levels of both organic matter and a complete, balanced array of nutrient minerals. Only about 4% of the earth’s surface is suitable for agriculture. Many soil areas of the world have always had poor fertility and most of our agricultural lands today are greatly depleted of mineral nutrients as a result of erosion, chemical usage and continual removal and export of minerals along with the crops. Most of these minerals end up being dumped into the oceans rather than returned to the land. Our own health, and the very survival of our species and civilization rests on reversing this situation and restoring the minerals and other nutrients with appropriate, non-harmful or natural fertilizers to our farms and gardens.
How can it be so hard to get this concept? While concerns are often expressed over the decline of organic matter in the nation’s top soils, we hear very little talk nowadays of the critical problem of soil mineral depletion and its serious implications for food quality and for human health. Dr. Price, a prominent dentist and nutritionist, and Dr. Albrecht, a prestigious soil scientist and plant and animal nutritionist, were outstanding and prolific researchers and writers in the early to mid-1900’s. We can’t blame them for failure to make the seriousness of this problem known and pointing to soil minerals as the key to producing quality human nutrition. This issue warrants resurrection and renewed emphasis, because we have entered a worldwide health crisis and because we can and must do something about it. If only for our own individual health, we have to start insisting on nutritional quality in foods rather than waiting for it to just happen.
The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) is first and foremost about Nutrition. It was recently founded by Sally Fallon (MA), an unconventional nutritionist who formerly was publications editor for the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation (PPNF). The PPNF archives the works of those two namesake scientists (as well as those of Albrecht and other famous researchers). About half of Albrecht’s published papers appear in a four volume, 800 page set, called the Albrecht Papers. Price’s monumental book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration was published in 1939 and revised by him in 1945. The third, fourth and fifth editions were published by the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation. Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions (1999, 2001) builds on Price’s classic. It straightens out today’s nutritional misinformation and tells us how to use Price’s findings. In it, Fallon references Price 75 times and Albrecht twice (based on index entries). The book is co-authored by Mary Enig, Ph.D., perhaps the world’s leading authority on fats, good and bad. In my opinion, Fallon’s book, while having some weaknesses, is the most important book on the planet, followed by Price’s and probably by volume 2 of Albrecht’s books. Yet, most people have never heard of any of these authors and researchers.
Fallon’s organization, The Weston A. Price Foundation, publishes a quarterly magazine called Wise Traditions. The following paragraph is taken from the inside cover.
The Foundation is dedicated to restoring nutrient-dense foods to the American diet through education, research and activism, and supports a number of movements that contribute to this objective, including accurate nutrition instruction, organic and biodynamic farming, pasture-feeding of livestock, community supported farms, honest and informative labeling, prepared parenting and nurturing therapies. Specific goals include establishment of universal access to clean, certified raw milk and a ban on soy-based infant formula.
Also included in the Wise Traditions issues is a statement of local chapter basic requirements, which constitute an expectation on local Chapters to be active in education and research as well as information dissemination about nutritious foods and diet. Requirement number one states:
I have underlined the words properly produced for special attention. I’ll return to that point. It is instructive to compare the above statements of purpose with those of the Price-Pottenger group as found in the Epilogue of Price’s book (pp. 511-12), 1997 edition. Parts of the latter are quoted below:
Also, In the same book’s Prologue (p. xvii), there occurs the following pertinent statement:
Note here that soil improvement and natural farming are apparently different (or surely not identical) things. Note also that Fallon’s organization (WAPF) uses the terms organic and biodynamic in reference to farming and produce whereas PPNF refers to natural farming and to non-toxic farming and gardening. All of these latter terms can be considered reasonably inter-changeable or closely allied.
Quoting further from the Epilogue, of Price’s book:
The terms soil improvement and soil enrichment do not appear in the purpose statements of the Weston A. Price Foundation and, while they may be considered to be implied in the concept or methods of organic and biodynamic farming, these are distinct in the Price-Pottenger group’s statements. It is likely that the latter group meant something quite different in the way of soil treatment, especially given that the research of William Albrecht is held in high regard by them and Albrecht did not fall into either the organic or biodynamic camp, but rather placed heavy emphasis on mineral fertilization. Albrecht can be considered the father of the Ecological Agriculture school as described by the monthly magazine, Acres, USA. which proclaims itself “A Voice for Eco-Agriculture”.
An examination of Nourishing Traditions will show several pages (pp. 40-45) detailing numerous minerals and their importance in human nutrition. Fallon, however, seems to have missed the mineral message when it comes to soil fertilization. She makes a number of statements suggesting that soil fertilization is adequately taken care of with organic and biodynamic methods. Her few references to Albrecht also miss his main or central messages.
The following exposition of Price’s writings regarding soil fertility and the role of soil minerals from Nutrition and Physical Degeneration will reveal how crucial this is in relation to human health and nutrition. Somehow people reading the book seem to skim over or forget the mineral message, and seldom does it get implemented among the conventional organic/biodynamic community. Instead, the emphasis there has always been on humus or soil organic matter. Organic matter may be defined as derived from living or formerly living organisms. Minerals, on the other hand, are chiefly inorganic elements and compounds derived from rock.
Albrecht is the real expert here in regard to minerals and it is not clear how much Price owed his understanding of soil fertility to Albrecht or other soil scientists. It is clear, however, that Price had high regard for Albrecht’s work since he devoted chapter 23 to a 1944 speech by Albrecht titled Food is “Fabricated Soil Fertility”. I will be quoting from this chapter and largely from Chapter 20 which is titled “Soil Depletion and Animal and Plant Nutrition”, evidently written in 1939 by Price himself. In the Forward to the fifth edition
Dr. Price found that people eating fresh, whole foods, uncontaminated by additives such as sugar and salt, grown on soil still rich in minerals, grew and maintained healthy jaws and teeth.
Dr. Price’s monumental study for the first time thoroughly and convincingly linked many problems to inadequate nutrition. Among these problems were changes in the shape of the dental arches, head and face; infertility, miscarriages, difficult labor, and birth defects; susceptibility to acute diseases, and prevalence of tuberculosis, arthritis, cancer, and other chronic diseases. His discovery of characteristic animal source nutrients in the diets of all groups enjoying immunity from these problems further adds to the revolutionary impact of his findings.
With reference to the causes of dental caries, Price makes the following observations (p. 300):
With respect to human mineral needs, Price makes these observations (p. 275):
Price goes on to describe the comparative mineral and vitamin content in the diets of the other 13 primitive societies he examined in comparison to the White man’s diet, such as was reflected in the rampant dental caries observed in his Cleveland, Ohio dental practice. He started his world tour in search of peoples still free of dental caries. Rather than looking for the causes of disease, Price looked for the causes of health. By way of illustrating this contrast between primitive and modern peoples, I will quote from Price (p. 344) in the chapter on Prenatal Nutritional Deformities and Disease Types.
I caution against attributing these differences of food mineral contents and their consequences for health and disease as solely due to food processing, as I will show that much of the problem goes back to production of the civilized foods on minerally depleted soils; a correctable condition.
Price starts off Chapter 20 with this sweeping statement:
Price calculates (p. 382) that in the average unfarmed topsoil (down to seven inches) there exists only enough minerals to take off 40 good crops or 100 poor crops. He then states:
Perhaps people think the nutrients just magically reappear or are inexhaustible. I wonder.
One of Price’s information sources, listed on page 393, is a 1929 British Government publication titled The Composition of the Pasture by J.B. Orr. This refers to mineral composition. Strangely, he does not reference a second book from 1929 by Orr entitled Minerals in Pastures and Their Relation to Animal Nutrition. However, it is possible the same publication had two names. Orr had surveyed hundreds of research studies done all over the world on the productivity and nutrient content of grasses in supporting , or failing to support, large numbers of healthy cattle and other livestock. Here is what Orr said in the latter book’s Preface:
Steve Solomon, perhaps the best known food gardening author in the Pacific Northwest, had this to say in his book (p. 345), Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, (2000) about Orr’s book:
Incidentally, Solomon’s book also gives (p. 346) reviews of Price’s classic and Pottenger’s famous research on cat nutrition (see Pottenger’s Cats; A Study In Nutrition, 1995) as well as the Albrecht Papers, along with the works of Sir Albert Howard and J.S. Rodale who launched the organic movement in Europe, Asia, America and other countries. He makes some stinging remarks about Rodale. (Refer to p. 346)
Howard was the grandfather of the revived humus school of agriculture, renamed organiculture by Rodale about 1942 when Rodale published the first issue of Organic Farming and Gardening Magazine. As for biodynamics, founded by Rudolf Steiner in the 1930s, here is what Howard had to say in his 1940 classic An Agricultural Testament (p. ix):
Returning to Price, he (Price) makes some further insightful observations on soil fertility depletion on pages 383 to 385:
We are prompted to wonder what must this food-cost to sickness-cost ratio be today?
After discussing his discovery about the relationship of rapidly growing pasture grass to milk nutritional quality, Price states (pp. 384-5),
Price goes on to say (p. 385):
He adds that…
I point out, and Price surely would concur, that without sufficient and complete soil minerals, there would not be satisfactory production of the vitamins.
Price rightly expressed concern that proper farmland fertilization can be an expensive proposition. The backwards economics of agriculture in this country puts an undue squeeze on farmers to practice unsatisfactory production methods and slipshod stewardship. As Albrecht explains in chapter 23, some lands and regions are naturally fertile and mineral rich (for instance, the plains states) and some are naturally of low fertility (essentially most areas east of the Mississippi and other regions of high rainfall including the maritime northwest).
This means that minerals must generally be imported and applied to make up for the eons of nutrient leaching which has occurred if crops of high protein quality and nutrient density are to be raised. Otherwise we basically have recourse only to sea foods and they may or may not be contaminated with pollutants and pathogens.
So far as we know, carbon or bits of humus in the soil do not make it directly into plant tissue, although vitamins and other organic compounds present in soils are taken up by plants.
While it is true that soil organic matter or humus is equally as indispensable as minerals, the recycling of locally obtained organic matter (which is itself often minerally deficient) can not appreciably raise the mineral content of the land it is applied to. Up to a point, the addition of manures, ordinarily compost or other forms of organic matter can be beneficial. Beyond about 5% (by volume), however, adding more humus actually is detrimental. This fact can be attested to by Steve Solomon, who is a vegetarian who ate predominately out of his home garden while living at Lorane, Oregon. During a visit with him in November, 1997, Solomon removed his teeth (i.e. most of them are false) to make the point of what his diet and compost/organic matter overdosing had done to his health before he got the mineral message. Shades of Price’s studies! Consequently, you will see why he devoted 10 pages in fine print to an annotated bibliography largely dealing with the fertility and nutrition connection, (in addition to farming and gardening). Organic gardeners are admonished to read this section as perhaps the most important part of the book.
What Orr’s survey of pasture production throughout the British Empire revealed was that tremendous amounts of mineral nutrients were being removed in the milk and meat being exported to market and they were seldom replaced, owing to ignorance or short-sightedness. In the mid-1800s the whole empire had been scavenged for bones to turn into phosphorus fertilizer. Artificial chemical fertilizer use became common by the 1930s. Albrecht and colleagues determined that, whereas the forested and other lands of the eastern United States generally supported low numbers (or biomass) of big game animals, the short grass prairies supported huge populations of bison, elk and other large mammals even though the total amount of standing vegetation was relatively much less than on the forested lands. Because the prairies states receive less rainfall they retain more calcium and magnesium in the soils. Eastern soils retain high potassium (refer to chapter 23).
Presently, there is little incentive given farmers to grow nutrient-dense crops and livestock. They get paid on the basis of bulk rather than quality. What they may not be taking into consideration is the potential for greater yield and better food quality that could bring higher prices. Weston Price (p. 391) gives an example:
In other words, each fertilized acre was 1,000 times as productive as the depleted and unfertilized acres.
Many things have changed since Price wrote those words and since I was born (1940). Organic agriculture had not even been named by Rodale. Conventional agriculture with its simplistic and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides has gone one way, whereas organic/biodynamic/alternative/natural/biological/ecological agriculture has gone the opposite. For the same amount of N.P.K fertilizer and pesticides applied 65 years ago, the returns or pay-offs have steadily declined and the condition of the soil steadily deteriorated. Conventional farmers very recently were committing suicide at an alarming rate. They otherwise are quitting or their farms being gobbled up in droves. Today, less than one percent of the U.S. population is farmers. A century ago more people were farmers than were not.
With alternative agriculture in the past few decades the trend has been dramatically different. The number of farmers is steadily climbing rather than falling. Organic product sales continue to rise at a 20 percent increase annually. The nation’s consumers are increasingly health and diet conscious (however confused they may be about what is actually a healthy diet). Demand for organic products (whether or not of truly better nutritional value) is rapidly increasing. In some cases organic branding disguises inferior farming practices, which likely results in crops or livestock of low nutritional quality.
Organic or alternative agricultural growers, who often sell directly to consumers, can and do command higher prices than their conventional counterparts. Investment in soil fertility improvement thus should not be an impediment, but should repay handsomely. There is no good excuse not to fertilize in accordance with professional soil analyses results.
The wonder is that organic growers have been so slow to look at the possible nutritional quality advantage of their produce or animal products and to place emphasis on nutrition and the positive health benefits of their products beyond the mere negative aspect of dangerous chemicals and so forth not being present. Why not accent the positive instead of accenting lack of the negative? The knowledge now exists to cost effectively fertilize farmlands and to inexpensively and simply measure nutrient density (Brix level) results with a refractometer, as is commonly done in wine making and other food handling industries.
Too many organic growers are obsessively focused on minimizing cost input rather than maximizing sales return. Some may actually view looking at nutritional quality (that isn’t automatically there for them) as inimical to their interests, if they have nothing to brag about. This attitude, however, is likely to change when sufficient numbers of consumers start insisting on nutritional quality as an uppermost consideration in deciding whose products they purchase.
It is not only the adulteration or devitalizing of real foods that needs to concern us all. Price concludes chapter 20 Soil Depletion and Plant and Animal Deterioration with the following statement:
What real choice does the human species have? How can we be indifferent to this problem?
Sir Albert Howard and William Albrecht were the two giants in non-conventional agriculture. Howard had a special aversion to artificial or “chemical” fertilizers while Albrecht saw some as detrimental and others as acceptable and necessary. The two had very differing views of the basis and nature of fertility. Howard repeatedly said in An Agricultural Testament that fertility was the condition of a soil rich in humus, whereas Albrecht stated in chapter 23 (p. 446):
The word mineral is not even to be found in the index of An Agricultural Testament. Howard does, however, briefly discuss the role of minerals in soil fertility as being possibly as significant as humus in his 1947 book, The Soil and Health. Albrecht was able to establish that farming in Kansas had caused a substantial decrease in the protein content of wheat, making hard wheat become inferior soft wheat. By application of fertilizer, farmers were able to reverse this and restore the higher protein content (see p. 447). His studies established (p. 448) that soils high in potassium (but low in calcium) produced highly carbonaceous plants. In consequence,
Hear now what Steve Solomon says in Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades (2000, p. 27) regarding potassium and the nutrient value of typical manures and compost:
Albrecht (p. 451) conducted experiments with rabbits fed either well fertilized or unfertilized hay. Those males fed unfertilized hay became sterile and unable to reproduce. When given the fertilized hay they recovered their vitality, mated and produced offspring.
Albrecht further noted (p. 452) that hogs will select corn grains from separate feeder bin compartments without regard to different hybrids, but with particular and consistent choices according to how the soil had been treated (limed and fertilized). Rats, the researchers discovered, would make the same choices as the hogs. Problems in animal production too easily labeled disease and regarded as inevitable misfortune very often turn out to be nutritional troubles going back to the soil, he concluded.
Albrecht contended (p. 446) that:
He concluded his talk (p. 453) with the hope that following WWII the nation would turn to
Hindus believe it is man’s fate to come back to earth over and over at differing levels of reincarnation based on what we learned and attained in the previous life. As a nation we seem to have to relearn over and over that health is largely governed by diet. Sixty years ago Albrecht observed (p. 453) we had still to widely learn the connection of health to soil fertility and what I call the missing mineral message. To quote Albrecht:
So, what can we do to: 1) improve our own health, 2)reverse the alarming rise in degenerative diseases, 3) restore the nation’s health, and 4) solve the world’s problems?
My answer is: 1) buy local; 2) eat organic; 3) grow your own nutrition; 4) but first, mineralize the soil!
Gary L. Kline
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