Kay Baxter with seed from an old barley variety
Photo © Craig Mackintosh
As a life long gardener and permaculture garden designer, I have never seen a design for a food garden that actually takes into account the fats, minerals and vitamins human beings need for optimum health, according to science and history.
One of our research programs here at the Koanga Institute looks at relationships between human health, soil health, plant health, and animal health. We’ve concluded that if we wish to be eating food that nourishes our bodies and maintains our DNA for the long haul, we need to follow principles or ‘Laws of Nature’ around how energy becomes matter, how we grow and maintain health, and how our plants and animals grow and maintain their health.
Weston A Price discovered that all the indigenous people he studied were getting 10 x the fat soluble vitamins and 4 x the minerals compared to a Western diet of the same time (1930’s). He also discovered that although they all ate very differently, they all followed the same principles in their diets, and all of them were extremely healthy. They knew how to eat to maintain their DNA so that they were extremely healthy and they passed on strong genes.
These were the principles he discovered they each followed:
- no refined or denatured foods
- all traditional cultures consumed some sort of animal protein and fat
- all diets contains 4 x the minerals and 10 x the fat soluble vitamins ( A, D and K and E)
- in all traditional cultures some animal products were eaten raw
- total fat content of all traditional diets varied from 30 – 80% of daily calorie intake and only around 4 % of that was polyunsaturated oil. The balance was saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids
- traditional diets had a high food-enzyme content from raw meat and dairy and also fermented fruit vegetables and meat/fish
- seeds grains and nuts were soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened in order to neutralize antinutrients in these foods such as phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors, tannins and complex carbohydrates
- traditional diets contained nearly equal amounts of omega -6 and omega -3
- all primitive diets contained salt
- traditional cultures consumed animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin rich bone broths
- traditional cultures made provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient rich foods for parents to be, pregnant women and growing children.
The relatively new science of epigenetics (Deep Nutrition by Katherine Shanahan, Primal Body Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas) and others confirms the importance of following these principles. My understanding of the principles expounded by Dr Carey Reams, as described in Nourishment Home Grown by A.F. Beddoe lend additional support to these understandings.
I have come to the understanding that soil health, plant health, animal health and human health are intimately linked in incredible ways beyond our ability to fully comprehend at this time. My rudimentary understanding is that we have daily requirements for energy coming from the interactions taking place in our bodies between the mineral compounds in the food we eat during the digestion process.
An implication of this is that if we have long term shortage of a mineral or we have an imbalance of minerals or for some reason the plants/animals/humans are not able to absorb that mineral, that energy shortage shows as ill health, degenerative disease or premature ageing.
According to Weston Price, we need around 1500mgs of available calcium and around 10,000 mgs of Vitamin A on a daily basis so that some variation can be coped with. If we don’t get the Vitamin A we can’t absorb the minerals.
There are many other minerals and vitamins that we need but I’m finding that if we actually focus on the calcium, the vitamin A and getting daily high quality traditional fats, most everything else is basically taken care of.
If we are serious about designing our daily nutritional needs into small backyards, typical of the urban spaces where half the world’s population is living, how do we even begin to get it right? How can we be permaculture designers if we don’t at least try to match gardens up with human nutritional needs?
We’re going to give it a go! Obviously there will be endless ways to do this and we’d love feedback and ideas from you all. We will follow this introduction up with our designs and we will publish all of them on the Koanga Institute and PRI websites. This is the brief.
We have an urban, low income family in a large city who are super resourceful, have common sense and basic DIY skills, and are very keen to learn. They would like a design for their 200 sq m urban garden to produce as much as possible of the key elements of nutrition needed to keep their family of two adults and two children (aged 4 and 6) super healthy. They are concerned that high quality food is not easy to buy and is not affordable and that it is likely that this situation will rapidly become worse.
They have been given some money ($2,000) which they want to use to establish this garden, to enrich their lives in every way.
They live in a Mediterranean climate, cold in winter, maybe 20 frosts between, normally very hot and dry in the summer with free draining sandy loam soils and a water table around 1m below the surface. Rainfall average 1600mm per year.
They have every weekend to work in their garden, and, in the summer, evenings as well. They dream that this garden can be their fun, their work, their play, their connection with nature, their connection with their own ancestors.
They also dream that the skills they use and the resources this garden might produce could enable and empower them to take the skills to their wider community.
Stay tuned for more…!