Aug 042011

Michael Astera reading Brix with a refractometer

What if it were practical to make certain the food you eat had the highest nutrient value possible?

For the last two years I’ve been a participant in the High Brix (now called the Nutrient Dense Project) conceived by Michael Astera of soil and includes such esteemed gardeners as Steve Solomon, author of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. The idea is that in order to produce the healthiest possible food, food that provides all the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need, our soil needs to be balanced and contain the minerals that will be transferred to us by the food we eat. So, what exactly is the Nutrient Dense Project about?

The Hypothesis:

Food grown in mineral balanced soil is more nutrient dense, thus healthier, than food grown in soil that has not been amended.

The Experiment:

Grow crops in both mineral-amended and non-amended soil, with all other fertilizers and treatments being the same and testing and comparing the results.

The Opportunity:

You can be a participant in this basic science by making a donation to the Nutrient Dense Project.

“Who are we?

We are a small, volunteer group of farmers, gardeners, orchardists, ranchers, agronomists, writers and researchers from the USA and around the world who banded together in early 2010 with the goal of finding the answers to the following questions.

1. Is it true that our food is nutrient deficient because our soils are mineral depleted? If this is so, what can be done about it?

2. Is it true that modern hybrid crops have less nutrition than the traditional open pollinated varieties?

3. If grown on the same soil, which varieties of the common fruit and vegetable crops contain the highest levels of nutrients?

4. Is it true that high-Brix crops are more nutrient-dense than crops with a lower Brix reading?

We all love growing, we all love science, we all love good food and healthy soils, crops, people, and animals. We especially love real answers to questions like these.

We are growing food using Organic, Biodynamic, Permaculture, Biological, and “conventional” methods in all sorts of combinations with one overarching goal: To learn how to grow the healthiest, best tasting and most nutritious food that has ever been grown, and to do it in harmony with Nature and the Earth.

In 2010 we did a lot of talking about the questions and how to find the answers. We had laboratory tests done for soil minerals and then amended the soils we were growing crops in. We grew vegetable gardens, pastures, and fruits and sent a few samples of the forage and crops to the lab for nutrient testing and got back some remarkable and encouraging results.

For example, Detroit Dark Red beets grown in mineral-amended soil measured, in comparison to USDA averages, an increase of
Protein: +193%
Calcium: +931%
Phosphorus: +77%
Magnesium: +122%
Zinc: +151%
Copper: +140%

These are results from a reputable independent laboratory, and there are several other equally impressive outcomes from last year.

In 2011 we are rolling, with over a dozen experimental farms and gardens planted and active members “doing science” in the states of Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Texas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Arkansas, Illinois, West Virginia, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, and Wisconsin, as well as in Tasmania, Venezuela, and Zambia.

Here is what the project volunteers are doing:

a. Having their soil tested.

b. Amending the soil according the best knowledge bases we presently have.

c. Growing crops in both mineral-amended and non-amended soil, with all other fertilizers and treatments being the same.

d. Keeping records and testing Brix levels for comparison.

e. Sending crop samples to the lab to be tested for 11 mineral nutrients, using a procedure that gives results directly comparable to the USDA nutrient charts, and can also be directly correlated to the soil reports that measured the same mineral nutrients.

f. Sharing these results with the other members of the group.

Because it is all volunteer and paid for out of pocket, the data we have to work with so far is limited, but what is important is that we are doing the work, and as far as we can tell, we are the only ones on the planet doing this simple, much needed testing.

This is exciting, inspiring, and original science and that makes it fun. However, we are running up against our personal limits. The volunteer growers don’t have the money to pay out of pocket for the hundreds of tests that need to be done in order to come up with solid, useful, scientifically valid findings. We could use some help.

We don’t need millions of dollars. $100,000 would pay for a thousand soil tests and a thousand crop analyses, and still leave a little left over for other expenses. We would prefer to get that funding from ordinary people like us who see the importance of the work rather than applying for government or foundation money. We would like this to remain a project by the people, for the people.

If this project interests you, and you would like to see it succeed and share in the knowledge yourself, please consider making a donation. $25 will pay for a soil analysis; $55 will pay for a crop nutrient analysis. All donations will go toward making this project a success, and we will share our findings and our data with all who make a donation, no matter how large or small.

If you would like to help fund the Nutrient Dense Project and be on our email list to receive regular updates as well as share in the knowledge we gather, please go to and make a donation.

Those who donate $100 or more will be sent an e-book version of The Ideal Soil Handbook by Michael Astera via email ($29.95 retail).

All who donate will have access to our data as well as our findings on:

1. The best soil mineral balance, organic matter level, and fertilizers for growing the most nutritious crops.
2. Which varieties of which crops have the highest nutrient levels.
3. What relationship there is between soil minerals and fertility, crop mineral and nutrient content, and Brix readings.

And anything else of value that we discover with your help. Any donation of any size is greatly appreciated.”

(Text from the nutrient dense website).


  One Response to “Nutrient Dense Project”

  1. Interesting. I learned from Mary Stack a while back that (at least her) island soils are deficient in selenium, so that she has to supplement her goats feed with that mineral. This is important as research showing that selenium out-competes arsenic for cellular receptor sites. Communities (in Bangladesh, if I remember correctly) with high levels of arsenic in their water have much higher levels of arsenic poisoning if their soil /diet are selenium deficient than if selenium is in abundant supply. Clearly relevant to Lummi Island. A few Brazil nuts weekly are a good food source of selenium.

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