What is Biofortification?
Great question! Like humans, plants also require a healthy and balanced diet of necessary nutrients. Biofortification is the practice of making sure our plants are fully fed and happy, and it is the main focus here at Soil Friends. Through a variety of means, we ensure each food item we sell from our farm has been fortified with as much nutrition as physically possible.
What do plants eat?
Aside from the normal inputs of water, and sunlight, there is a huge range of additional nutrients that plants must have available in order to fully grow as healthy and whole as possible. In varying amounts and ratios, most plants require the same set of nutrients, and they are broken down into what are called macronutrients and micronutrients.
What are micro and macro nutrients?
Macronutrients are things the plant uses in larger amounts, and includes things like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur; and these are usually supplied in the soil. In relatively small amounts, the soil also supplies iron, manganese, boron, molybdenum, copper, zinc, chlorine, and cobalt, known as micronutrients.
- Calcium builds cell walls.
- Magnesium supports chlorophyll production.
- Sulfur builds protein.
- Boron is a regulator of other nutrients. Plants need it for seeds and fruit.
- Copper helps plants reproduce and boosts metabolism in roots.
- Chloride is another aid to plant metabolism.
- Iron assists in producing chlorophyll.
- Manganese breaks down carbohydrates, cooperating with enzyme systems.
- Zinc helps convert carbohydrates into sugars, and aids growth enzymes.
But there’s a problem..
In a healthy ecosystem, there are plenty of these nutrients in the soil to go around, but we run into a problem on our conventional industrially farmed soils – they have been drained of these vital nutrients. Over farming and unsustainable practices such as chemical use have only accelerated this trend, and it has nutritionists and scientists worried for the future. It’s clear that it’s time for a change in farming practices, for the sake of health.
Biofortification to save the day!
Back to biofortification. So how do we fix it? How do we fortify our food with nutrients? Well, we can get some of these nutrients free, from nature. Check out our recent article on cover cropping – by minimizing mechanical disturbance of the soil and ensuring plant and soil biodiversity, we can employ symbiosis to get free nutrients as waste from plants and animals sharing the same root zones. There are also fungi and bacteria in healthy soil that break down organic matter and rocks to provide some of the nutrition our plants will need. Worms and other bugs also break down soil and leave behind free plant food.
Amendments for Plant Nutrition
In most cases, however, our soil isn’t going to be enough on it’s own, and we can help our plants along by amending it with some nutritional (organic) boosts. The first step is to do a soil lab test to see exactly what your soil is lacking. These additional ingredients can be mixed into the soil or added later either by sprinkling or watering at the base of the plant with properly diluted solutions:
The importance of nutrition
These nutrients that we supply to our plants ultimately end up in our bodies, and that’s what we need to survive. All of the body’s functions are dependant on a nutrient-dense diet, and when we don’t get enough of them, a wide variety of symptoms can arise. We like this infographic from Dr. Axe:
- Fiber: lowers cholesterol, helps control blood sugar, helps with that “full” feeling and with digestion
- Potassium: lowers blood pressure, helps combat heart disease
- Vitamin A: antioxidant that fights free radicals, help with skin and eye health, fights cancer by stopping DNA mutations in cancerous cells
- Vitamin B12: helps produce hemoglobin which carries oxygen throughout the body, fights fatigue
- Vitamin C: improves immune function, prevents oxidative stress, fights cancer and common illnesses of the skin, eyes, etc.
- Vitamin D: promotes healthy bone metabolism, helps prevent depression, might help fight cancer
- Vitamin E: has antioxidant properties, protects cell membranes, protects heart
- Vitamin K: critical in blood clotting, works with vitamin D, protects against heart disease, osteoporosis, and other types of cancer
- Zinc: boosts the immune system, supports brain functioning, improves cardiovascular health
- Iodine: important for fetal development and thyroid health
- Beta-carotene: turns into antioxidant vitamin A in the body, helps with strengthening the immune system and mucous membranes
- Calcium: maintains bone strength, helpful antacid, regulates high blood pressure
- Choline: prevents fat accumulation in the liver, promotes brain development, helps prevent liver damage
- Chromium: removes sugar from the bloodstream and converts into energy, helps control blood sugar in individuals with type 2 diabetes
- Copper: anti-inflammatory, helps combat arthritis, known as a brain stimulant
- Flavonoid (antioxidants): reduce the risk of cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, help fight free radical damage, protect brain health
- Carotenoid (antioxidants): help protect eye health, fight macular degeneration and cataracts
- Folate: role in fetus development, cervical cancer prevention, antidepressant properties
- Iron: helps transport oxygen to the entire body, prevents anemia and low energy
- Manganese: improves bone density, helps combat free radicals, regulates blood sugar, plays role in metabolism and inflammation
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): helps prevent cervical cancer, fights headaches and migraines, can help with acne, muscle cramps, carpal tunnel and fatigue
- Selenium: has antioxidant properties, reduces the chances of prostate cancer, helps with asthma, arthritis and infertility
Micronutrients from food