Editor’s Note: The following is part of a class project originally initiated in the classroom of Ball State University professor Adam Kuban in fall 2021. Kuban continued the project this fall, challenging his students to find sustainability efforts in the Muncie area and pitch their ideas to Deanna Watson, editor of The Star Press, Journal & Courier and Pal-Item. Several such stories are being featured in November and December 2022.
Organic. Grass-fed. All-natural. You might find these labels in the produce section or meat departments at your grocery store. Items with these food labels can provide different benefits to not only the health of humans but also to the environment.
Items receive these food labels based on the way the product has been farmed. For example, the methods and techniques of organic farming are different than farming of other kinds of foods for which consumers shop.
The owner of Shrock Family Farms, Brandon Shrock, uses organic methods such as cover crops, crop rotation and natural soil inputs.
“Soil health is probably the primary driver of the organic movement since it has started,” Shrock said. “It’s all based upon what’s in the soil.”
People are starting to make the switch to healthier-based diets because of these improved farming methods. Certified Nutrition Coach Logan Kelly explains the positive changes he’s seen in his clients who have turned to an all-natural diet.
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“I have several clients that have switched from a heavily processed diet to all-natural diets. Within a few months, they have noticed increased energy, improved body composition, and (they) generally feel better throughout each day,” Kelly said.
Kelly also said that an organic and all-natural diet helps improve the gut microbiome. This allows for better absorption of nutrients, weight loss and lower blood-sugar levels, and it helps improve immune function.
Heavily processed diets can cause health issues that could lead to death. According to an article the peer-reviewed nutrition journal “Nutrients,” dietary diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes are responsible for 11 million deaths.
People who make this switch also tend to see a higher price at the checkout.
According to a study done by the USDA, 17 organic foods were compared to their nonorganic counterparts. It was found that the organic items could be anywhere between 7% and 82% more expensive. This is due to farm-certification costs that it takes to be able to grow crops to organic standards, specialized farming, small-scale production, and supply and demand.
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Farmers also preserve the health and safety of their crops by keeping it all-natural and eliminating the use of petroleum-based products such as herbicides and pesticides.
According to “Health Benefits of Organic Food: Effects of the Environment”by Doctor Ian Givens, professor at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, there has been a demand for organic produce over the last two decades because of the impact and public concern for herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, growth-promoting agents, and feed additives in plant and animal production.
Not only do humans get the benefits of these healthier foods and farming practices but animals do as well. The owner of First Fruit Family Farms, Dave Evans, said it all starts with the way the cow is bred.
For instance, farmers breed out health issues and for a smaller-sized animal. The idea of this is designed so when cows are in the grass field, they don’t sink into the wet land when it rains. And when the animal is born, they’re fed their natural diet — grass. According to Evans, keeping them grass-fed maintains their overall health and size. The healthier the animal is, the healthier the meat that consumers buy and eat is going to be.
“A cow is not made to eat corn. They are herbivores. They’re made to eat grass,” Evans said, “but because they have bred that, then taking a cow and just putting them back on grass has a high percentage of failure in their performance.”
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Many mass-beef producers feed their cows corn because it’s easier to obtain mass amounts of it compared to the amount of grass they would need to maintain for that many cows. Because there is so much money invested at this point in corn-fed cows, it’s hard for smaller farms that feed their cows grass to compete.
“Being bred for feedlot and corn genetics creates an animal that doesn’t do well on grass. They have put tens of billions of dollars into genetics and breeding programs,” Evans said. “We have a long way to go.”
Healthier farming practices can also have a positive effect on the environment. Evans explained the process of how grass is the best way to keep a healthy cycle going. Because more than half of the plant is in the ground, grass will continue to grow after cows graze on it. The cow’s manure then puts nutrients and natural fertilizer back into the soil as well as releasing that consumed carbon back into the atmosphere.
“If you really want to save the planet (and) reverse global warming, put that carbon where it needs to go, eat healthier and have healthier animals, there’s no other way to do it than grass,” Evans said.