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Moving Past Organic Food Into Nutrient Density

Many farmers and growers are in massive amounts of debt. Many still want to go organic but the time and red tape needed to do so will deliver them into bankruptcy. I have outlined a few steps a farmer/grower can take to move around the red tape and speed up the process of producing and selling high quality, in demand, profitable, beyond organic food called Nutrient Dense Food (the next phase of food).

1) The most time-consuming part of this process will be the first couple of steps, which are to learn as much as you can on how to build microbiological life in your soil (because this is where nutrition actually comes from) and then start to move away from current agriculture practices into a life-building, soil-regenerating growing model.

A permaculture design consultant can be hired to speed up your process of learning and implementing both steps above. Check to find an experienced permaculture design consultant near you.

2) Purchase a refractometer and use is profusely. A refractometer is a hand held tool that can be taken anywhere that will show the nutrient density in food. This is called a brix reading. Any brix reading above 15 means the plant is going to be high in nutrients, thus making higher quality food. The good news is that this cannot be faked and shows a true reading of how much nutrition is in the food. This will also make for a great marketing tool. Your permaculture design consultant should be able to show you how to use this. More can be read about conventional food vs. organics vs. nutrient dense food here, and brix reading info can be found in the video here.

3) Start selling direct to customers at farmers’ markets, preferably in larger metropolitan areas if possible.

4) Use the refractometer at your point of sale at the markets and show customers that your produce is beyond organic and of much higher quality. Don’t just say it — prove it to them by showing other produce with their brix readings next to yours. You may want/need to print out a a promotional piece that explains what a brix reading is and tell them what this means to their nutrition and health. Also a higher brix reading will yield a superior flavor that will speak for itself.

5) Make a testimonial of your success and share it online to others.

These steps have been stripped down as a guide to show how to quickly become a reputable grower and seller of highly profitable and quality nutrient dense food. If nothing is known about brix readings or how nutrition is the true cornerstone of health then education is going to be the first step. However, know that customers are yearning for higher quality top-of-the-line food for their families. And the “in the know” customers are wanting to make relationships with their local farmers and are very vocal on social media sites to get the word out quickly. We are at a point in history where we will go beyond the organic phase and into the next phase of food which is the nutrient dense phase of food. Another point to consider is to keep it simple. Just show the proof of the nutrition and invite customers to see your farm or growing site for themselves. This way it stays “open source” and deregulated. The opportunity is now.

Further Reading:

Nicholas Burtner

Nicholas is a permaculture practitioner, advocate, consultant, teacher and speaker. After a greater calling in 2011, permaculture found Nicholas and since has filled him with an endless passion that has led him to many travels, learning, spreading, and practicing permaculture and natural living ever since. Apart from consulting and designing properties across a large arena of different climates and bio-regions, Nicholas has attended internships at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia under the leadership of Geoff and Nadia Lawton. He also obtained a permaculture design certification from Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison. Nicholas has also attended the Earthship Academy for natural and recycled building construction in Toas, NM under the guidance of Michael Reynolds. After very worthwhile learning, and on the ground experiences, Nicholas opened Working With Nature Permaculture Learning, Research, and Healing Center in late 2012 which is now School of Permaculture. The school has both an urban and a rural demonstration / educational site which offer hands on experience as well as class room learning. School of Permaculture’s website offers permaculture related tips, videos, and articles on a mostly daily basis.


    1. It doesn’t correspond only to sugar content, although sugar is part of Brix. The question you need to ask is why it does have more sugar in it? It’s because it’s photosynthesis is more efficient. Why is photosynthesis more efficient? Because the plant was fed better (in one way or another)…

  1. Don’t want to be a pain in the butt, bot 15 Brix is not always nutrient dense, that’s why you need to refer to the Brix chart. Usually 15 Brix is not bad for some sort of greens, but 15 Brix grapes are a disappointment. I was getting 19 Brix black grapes in the supermarket in UK. Normal, conventional grown, shipped from Chile…

    I myself has grown 17,5 Brix Wheatgrass, well that’s something, compering to 7-8 Brix wheatgrass I deliberately grown to see how bad it can get. Well apparently it can get really bad – I had to spit out 7-8 as it was just horrible.

  2. Brix readings will be high in plants that are high in sugar and that can be achieved with chemical fertilizer. It does not give an indication of protein levels which is an important nutrient consideration. Plants that are grown in well managed chemical fertilizer regimes are going to give the same soluble solids readings as those grown in permaculture. The refrectometer is a good tool to show your plants are doing well. It is not able to distinguish between a well grown plant from different growing regimes though. If it is promoted that way then the farmer using chemicals can show that hers are as good as yours.

    1. @Sarah
      If a farmer is using artificial fertilizer and it raises plant’s Brix, that means that the plant “became” more nutrient dense thanks to artificial fertilizer. That’s the fact.
      Usually conventional farmers aren’t growing nutrient dense food., just check the Brix reading of tomatoes in the supermarket. When I was living in UK it was usually around 5,5-8,5. Excellent tomatoes starts at 12.
      Now I live in Thailand, the last time I checked tomatoes sold on a farmers market (not organic) they were 4…

      Brix is correlated with protein level in plants, as plants need sugar to create everything else, including protein. If plants don’t have enough sugar (the basic “currency” they “pay” for doing everything else, including producing proteins and plants secondary metabolites (plant goodies).

      Saying that, some plants have been bread to have higher Brix of certain part of plants. For example GMO sweetcorn if it survive to give yields, can have quiet high Brix (around 20), even on poor, almost dead soil fertilized with artificial fertilizers. Grown on nutrient rich soil it will be even better of course.

      How to measure is your plant doing well or not? Check the Brix of the part of the plant that was not bread to have high sugar content (leaf sap for example).

      There’s more to Brix than what I’ve said, that’s why its’s so fascinating – you can learn something about growing high quality food every day…

  3. Steve Solomon drew our attention to Nutrient Dense Food some time ago with his “soil and health” website and online discussion group, summarised in his book “the intelligent gardener”. His golden rule- get a soil test and amend accordingly

    1. If Brix relate to pure sucrose content then how could a lemon have any Brix reading of let’s say 10, if 100g of lemon juice has 2.4g of sugars in them?

      If you add 2,4g of sugar to 97,4g of distilled water and check the Brix it would be 2,4, not 10, so there must be something else in the lemon juice… As Brix raises so do nutrient content of the food. Also Brix is corelated with sugars level – the higher the Brix the more sugars the plant has. But what was the factor that caused sugar to be higher? Except of weather and plant’s genetics?

    2. I have been collecting BRIX readings of produce in Victoria for past 5 years. Tomatoes that are mass grow in depleted soils, picked too early, many food miles often measure below 4 BRIX on occasion.
      Tomatoes grow in your backyard or locally, in good, nutrient soil appropriate for the plant, picked at the right time in its ripeness curve, measured and eaten fresh, often surpass 12 BRIX.
      Currently in argument with Wiki regarding their definition of BRIX, probably inherited from Baume’, the French scale for grapes, where the focus is on sugar levels.
      They are scientifically wrong, and some simple layman’s arguments can refute, e.g If BRIX is just sucrose, does that mean that tomatoe’s juice is just sugar, that the tomatoe is just sugar? If you pulp tomatoe flesh (as we do with banana, potatoes, etc), and get the same BRIX reading, does it mean the flesh is just sugar or fructose?

  4. Brix levels can be raised through soluble inputs such as urea. Protein may increase but this is ‘funny’ protein, that is high in nitrates. Not what we want. Also time of day greatly alters brix levels. Early in morning we should have low brix- which means that we have adequate boron for translocating sugars down to the rhizosphere (root zone). The plant sugars feed the soil food web around the roots. Then in the afternoon we should have a high brix meaning that the plant is photosynthesising properly. But, if something like urea has been used this will push up the dissolved sugars in the plant regardless, giving a misleading reading.

    On a conventional wheat farm they had brix about 7 in morning, and about 6 in afternoon (skewed readings). The wheat looked a deeper green, was taller and to an untrained eye looked lusher than a crop of biologically grown wheat growing in the next field- side by side. However the biologically grown wheat had a brix of about 4 in morning, and about 16 in afternoon. which told us that boron was up to scratch. Also most, if not all refractometers are callibrated to a certain temperature, which from memory is a bit over 20 degrees celsius (20-24c) or so- which may also have a bearing on accuracy.

    Some artificial inputs may have a positive influence on plant nutrition, like calcium nitrate and ammonium sulfate, if used properly and judiciously. But others like urea just load the plant with nitrates, and leach out boron, silica and calcium from our soils- not at all good. All of them can raise the brix though so we gotta be a bit careful…

    1. Interesting input brett. I guess it’s more difficult to “cheat” brix reading of root vegetables and fruit as the brix of plants do not fluctuate as high on a hourly basis.

  5. Hi Suzana. Brix is the total dissolved solids, sucrose is a big part but it also includes trace minerals. I’ve done a lot of work raising brix in crops using Hibrix, I’ve never seen a DAP or MAP crop with a high brix reading.

  6. Brix is a measure of dissolved solids and CHO. It is a fallacy to believe that urea or soluble N will lift Brix. It does the opposite, the growth from N-fert creates incomplete proteins in many cases, cell elongation and increase water in the cells. Test this for yourself. I have done this on trial sites receiving increasing amounts of N, as the N goes up, the brix drops, every time. This is one reason we have seen the nutrient density of foods drop.

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