Eat your vegetables!
It's an age-old sentiment supported by nurturing mothers worldwide.
But according to proponents of the ever-growing organic food market –– and new research drawn from federal government data –– many of our nation's vegetables don't pack the nutritious punch they once did.
Bloomingdale's Ned Johnson is a founding member of Highlands Bio-Produce Farms, a cooperative effort of a half-dozen local farmers growing all-natural vegetables and fruits.
Though the retired Navy engineer used to watch his father douse produce with various chemicals as a child, he has a more conscientious approach to agriculture. The various veggies tucked in Johnson's modest greenhouse, and available at Kingsport's Good Foods Grocery, are grown without using pesticides or genetically modified organisms.
"We believe we provide good, healthy produce for people, and a lot of people seem to like it," said the grower, adding that the organic community would like the government to study and compare the nutritional value of conventionally grown produce to the all-natural process.
According to Donald Davis, a University of Texas biochemist, competition among traditional farmers to turn out the fastest-growing, biggest plants has led to a dramatic decline in the nutritional content of America's fruits and vegetables. He contends these bio-engineered plants, often laden with synthetic chemicals, are growing too quickly to acquire the proper amount of nutrients from the soil or by synthesis.
Scripps Howard News Service reports Davis presented his findings at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis. Davis said that of the 13 major produce nutrients tracked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from 1950 to 1999, six showed noticeable declines. According to Davis, American fruits and vegetables have seen a 6 percent decrease in protein nutrients; 15 percent decline of calcium, phosphorous and iron; 20 percent decline in vitamin C; and 38 percent decrease in riboflavin.
"I don't know that things in the supermarket now have a lot less nutritional value than things in the supermarket 20 years ago," counters Alice Sulkowski, a clinical dietitian at Johnson City Medical Center. "It is true they can have less nutrients after being picked and trucked a long distance. Nutritional value decreases as things sit. You have oxidative losses."
So does that mean Sulkowski is a supporter of buying local organic products, naturally grown and to the shelf much quicker?
"I know people want to support organically grown things and organic farms, but there's just not (enough scientific evidence to do so)," she said.
Sulkowski believes there's "a low percentage" of extra nutrients in organically grown produce compared to conventional means. Compound that with an all-natural price tag that in many cases is twice as much, and she hypothesizes organic consumers are maybe "not getting what you think you're paying for."
"These organically grown things are not going to harm anyone," Sulkowski said. "So if someone has a belief in their heart it's better and money in their pocket to pay for it –– money not needed for housing or other basic necessities –– then have at it. Knock yourself out."
Given the prevalence of pollutants in our environment, Sulkowski sees flaws in the very concept of organic farming. Besides acid rain on unprotected plants, she points out that a neighbor's pesticides and chemicals will be "leeched" into your garden's surrounding soil.
"You just can't guarantee that upriver, downriver, upwind, downwind, that it's truly organic," Sulkowski said.
"Your mind does play a strong role in how you think about medicine, how you think about your health. If you're convinced the food you're putting in your mouth is horrible, you're much better off eating things, psychologically, that you feel aren't harming you.
"(Buying organic) comes down to personal choice."
For those with a leaning toward the all-natural side, you can get more information on Highlands Bio-Produce by e-mailing email@example.com.
You may also call 288-4117 or (276)386-2419.