Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Getting Mystical About Minerals

As I've gotten more serious about gardening in the past few years, I've been trying to learn everything I can about growing healthy crops. Inevitably, it gets back to the soil. Without healthy soil, plants will struggle (or not grow at all) and those that do survive to bear fruit or other edible parts will be deficient in elements that are crucial for human health.

I've had a wonderful time studying the writings of William Albrecht, a soil scientist whose career spanned the middle part of the 20th century. A lot of what he wrote has been earth-shattering for me. The main focus of his work was on the importance of soil minerals for plant health. We hear a lot about the declining mineral content of our food crops and how our soils are becoming more and more depleted, yet if you study most organic gardening manuals you'll find they almost totally neglect to mention the importance of minerals. In most organic gardening books, the advice is to build organic matter into the soil, as if that's all that's needed to grow nutritious crops. Worse are the claims that organic food is naturally higher in vitamins and minerals than conventionally grown crops. There is a grain of truth here, but the most significant fact is that any food grown on minerally-deficient soil will itself be deficient in minerals. It doesn't matter whether it was grown organically or conventionally, if it's absent in the soil it will be absent in the plant.

While much of the focus of Albrecht's work was on growing healthy feed for livestock, the implications extend to humans as well. Albrecht studied the soils across the entire US and found most to be extremely deficient, except for the nation's breadbasket. The southeastern US has the worst soils, a result of the fact that high heat and high rainfall are two very significant factors in soil depletion. Basically, anywhere you find forests growing you will find minerally deficient soils.

Here's why. Albrecht taught that there are two types of foods, what he called "Go foods" and "Grow foods". "Go foods" are made essentially from the atmospheric elements, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. These "Go foods" give us energy--they're carbohydrates after all, all starches and sugars. "Grow foods" require the elements in the earth, the soil minerals, and these "Grow foods" are necessary for growing healthy bodies capable of reaching their full genetic potential. In deficient soils, you get "Go foods" or a lot of starchy, sugary things, or rampant growth (think kudzu vines) or lots of cellulose (think forests).

Carbohydrates are precursors for amino acids and proteins. They're useful as they are, for immediate energy and stored energy (fat), but to contribute their most important benefits, they must interact with the soil minerals in order to construct proteins. Without those soil minerals, we'll eat foods that concentrate mainly starches, instead of a full range of starches, proteins and minerals. Humans (and livestock) eating from deficient soils get fat because they're eating too many carbs. Albrecht noted that those eastern soils were great for fattening cattle. They weren't so great for raising healthy cows who could reproduce with ease and maintain genetic health over generations.

In Albrecht's book, Soil Fertility and Animal Health, he showed a bunch of maps of the US, charting various aspects of soil fertility. They all show that same swath through the nation's midsection, and they all show the poor condition of the soils in the southeast.

Out of curiosity, I decided to look online to see if I could find a map of the US showing the distribution of diabetes. I was curious whether there would be any correlation between diabetes and soil health. On the one hand, this makes little sense, considering that we now bring in food from all over the country and the world. People just aren't eating all that much from their own soils. But I remember reading that diabetes rates are at their highest in the southeast. And of course, we know that diabetes results from consuming too many starches and sugars. It would be kind of wild to find a correlation.

I found this map, and good grief, it looks just like Albrecht's maps!

How can this be? Is it just a coincidence? Are we still eating enough local or regional foods so that if our soils are deficient we'll be more likely to become diabetic? Maybe so. Or maybe it's the water supply that matters more--water tends to be local, so maybe it's a factor of how mineralized the water is. Milk and dairy products probably tend to be somewhat regional, and I'm sure there are other regional products as well. Maybe it's enough.

I've only included one of Albrecht's maps because they're all of very poor quality for capturing screen shots, but if you want to check them out, go here, agree to the terms of use, then click on Albrecht, William A., Soil Fertility and Animal Health (it's the third item down the list). The maps are scattered throughout the first two chapters of the book.

All of this is so interesting to me because for the past year or two I've been having a somewhat mystical experience with minerals. Before I came across Albrecht's work, I was having weird intuitions leading to the same knowledge.

As I've deepened my experience with voluntary simplicity, I've begun to learn about the importance of place. As I've mentioned before, this is why I'm so interested in the topic of environmental determinism. On an intuitive level, I've experienced how place creates us, how we're not these isolated entities but rather expressions of the earth.

I've looked at the places I've lived, and tried to assign personalities to them. For instance, this place on the high desert plains seems to have a very practical, grounded, conservative personality. It's an understated place, not wildly exuberant, yet it's solid and healthy. Pennsylvania on the other hand (where I was raised) is exuberant, creative, and expressive. Nothing is understated there. And it's a fast-paced place.

The people in each of these two places seem to share the personality of the land. Here, people are very practical and understated. In Pennsylvania, they're artsy and expressive. Here you don't have the folk artists that you do back there. Appalachia has an energy that makes people creative. Colorado's eastern plains do not.

When we become truly naturalized to a place, I believe we begin to express the personality of the land around us. And the more naturalized we become, the stronger we express what the earth wants to express.

I intuited that each place has varying concentrations of what I call "sky energy" and "earth energy". Sky is about the mental sphere, it's about creativity and innovation, it's about doing. Earth is grounded, it's about practicalities, it's about being rather than doing. This part of Colorado seems to have an abundance of earth energy, whereas Pennsylvania has an abundance of sky energy.

After exploring these kinds of thoughts, Albrecht's writings take on incredible significance. My "sky energy" is the same thing as his designation of "Go Foods". They refer to carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Likewise, my "earth energy" is the same as his "Grow Foods".

The problems our society is having seem to be caused by too much sky energy. We are too busy doing, innovating, rationalizing--all of these sky-type activities, and we're not grounded anymore. Our actions are disconnected from the earth, so we rape and pillage the earth. We need to bring back more earth energy.

In order for us to be healthy and in order for the planet to be healthy, we need to eat from mineralized soils. It sounds kind of crazy. But think about it. We are getting physically weaker, generation by generation. We have this worldwide epidemic of obesity and diabetes. That's a sign that something is seriously wrong. I don't think it's any coincidence that we also are suffering from all these other societal woes: overpopulation, climate change (how about that sky energy!), environmental destruction, peak oil (love that carbon) and so on. It all makes a crazy kind of sense to me.

In order for us to reach our full human potential, we need first and foremost to be healthy. Health comes from eating from mineralized soils, so that our foods will concentrate the full range of vitamins, minerals, starches, and proteins, and so that earth and sky energy will be balanced within us. In mineralized soils, plants can express their full genetic potential. When we eat from mineralized soils, we will be able to reach our full genetic potential.

My theory is that we can't fully attune to the energy of our spot on earth until we achieve a balance between earth and sky energy/go and grow food energy. When we achieve that balance by remineralizing our soils and eating locally, we will be able to reach our full potential. We will be healthy in body, mind and spirit, and our actions will be in alignment with the intentions of the earth around us. We need to take in the earth (and sky) literally through the local plants, animals, yeasts, honey, bacteria and minerals that we eat. If we fuse in this way with our environment by literally internalizing it, we will be complete expressions of Gaia. I can't imagine anything but harmonious actions flowing out of us if we were so healthily fused with Gaia.