How does the nutritional value of food today compare to the past?

It’s pretty similar, actually.

Do we really need to consume more foods than previous generations did to obtain adequate nutrients? No, but there’s a persistent myth in circulation that there’s a difference in nutritional value when comparing today’s food to food grown in the past. It might be an interesting story or an effective sales pitch, but it’s just not true.

It’s a myth that our food is less nutritious today due to agricultural practices depleting soil nutrients.

As a farmer, I always thought this story of soil depletion was a questionable claim because we have to be very intentional about caring for the soil or it won’t be productive. On our farms, I’d say our soils are more productive than ever because of our attention to soil nutrient levels through practices like precision agriculture, no-till farming, the use of cover crops, grazing livestock, and incorporating the best methods available.

Many of our fields have been farmed for decades, even beyond a century, and keeping this soil viable into the future is a necessity. Especially after the disaster of the Dust Bowl that our grandparents and great-grandparents endured almost a century ago, it’s been instilled in us that nurturing the soil is an absolute priority.

What about growing your own? By all means, having a backyard garden is gratifying work, whether it’s admiring a well-tended plot, enjoying a meal of just-picked, homegrown veggies on the side, or canning and freezing the abundance to enjoy outside of the growing season.

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On the farm where I grew up, my mom always grew an impressive garden and kept a well-stocked cellar. She’d rotate the location of garden plants and fertilize with manure from the chicken house or the cow lot. That concept is really the simplified version of nutrient application in modern farming.

We grid sample our soils to determine exactly which nutrients are needed and apply them precisely by prescription. When available, we still fertilize with natural sources like manure from cattle, but one way or another, whether it’s naturally sourced or synthetically based, we’re still enriching the soil with nutrients only where needed.

Our no-till and cover crop practices also improve soil structure, improve organic matter, and promote earthworm activity besides providing nutritional benefits to the soil. In fact, modern conventional agriculture also has the best tools available to protect this precious topsoil from wind and water erosion. Not only do we keep building productive soils, we grow high-quality food and fiber for the benefit of society.

So, how does today’s food really compare? The truth according to Journal of Food Composition and Analysis:

• Mineral nutrient composition of vegetables, fruits and grains is not declining.

• Allegations of decline due to agricultural soil mineral depletion are unfounded.

• Some high-yield varieties show a dilution effect of lower mineral concentrations.

• Changes are within natural variation ranges and are not nutritionally significant.

• Eating the recommended daily servings provides adequate nutrition.

It might be boring to say so, but the same advice keeps ringing true: Eat a variety of foods in moderation, enjoy regular exercise, and ignore sensational food information.

If we really want to revisit food from great-grandma’s day, we can pick a recipe from a vintage cookbook with confidence that it’s going to be just as yummy and nutritious as it was years ago. And she’d probably be quick to say that a pile of chicken manure is a lot more useful than information about food that just isn’t true.

Diane Karr and her husband, Mike, raise corn, soybeans, wheat, grain sorghum and cattle with their four boys on their farm in south-central Nebraska. Between staying busy with four boys, Diane plays the organ for her church, manages the farm accounting and enjoys photography, scrapbooking and Husker and Packer football. Diane’s passion for agriculture goes way back. She and her husband both have farming backgrounds; their families’ agriculture legacies go back 125 years. Read more on Diane’s blog, Real Farmwife on the County Line.

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Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

As I prepare my backyard garden for the growing season, I check for any leftover seed from last year before I make new purchases. Among the packets for cucumbers, green beans and radishes, there were two varieties of pumpkin seeds.

While I often associate pumpkin with fall, this recipe for chocolate chip pumpkin bread is a great choice year-round. Packed with vitamin A, my kids enjoy this as a healthy afternoon snack. Try it with cream cheese, Nutella, peanut butter, or honey. — Diane Karr

Cook time: 60 mins Total time: 1 hour

3 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 can pumpkin (15 oz.)

1 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. allspice

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 cup chocolate chips

In a bowl, combine sugar, eggs, pumpkin, vegetable oil and vanilla. Set aside. In another bowl, combine flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon into 2 greased and floured 8 x 4 inch loaf pans. Bake at 350 for about 60 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

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