May 19

Farm fresh: How nutritious are our crops?


When COVID-19 forced Americans to eat more meals at home, the opportunity was there at least hypothetically to switch to a healthier diet, giving the body’s immune system a much-needed boost at a time when fighting off disease is critical.

Unfortunately, many crops grown on American farms aren’t as healthy and nutrient-rich as they could and should be, said Steve Groff ( author of the upcoming book The Future-Proof Farm and founder of Cover Crop Coaching, which educates farmers and farm advisers about effective cover crop use.

Cover crops are plants that are grown not to eat, but to improve the soil. Better soil produces more nutrient-dense crops, Groff said, which in turn can provide that help to the immune system.

“Historically, farmers have not had an incentive to grow nutrient-dense food with a larger amount of vitamins and minerals,” he said. “Farmers are paid based on the quantity of their yield, not the quality. From their perspective, why enrich the soil the crops are grown in if that doesn’t lead to a greater yield? But when the soil is enriched with healthy minerals, so are the crops.”

Change is in the air, though, and there are reasons more farmers should start focusing their attention and efforts on nutrient-dense crops, Groff said. Those include:

The evolving public attitude. The attitude of indifference toward food quality has been changing as evidenced by the existence of such businesses as Sweetgreen, the restaurant chain that specializes in salads; the Row 7 Seed Company, which specializes in organic seeds; and numerous other ventures that have taken the pulse of the public in recent years. “Individual farmers who see what’s coming have been joining that trend toward better nutrition,” Groff said.

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The limits of vitamin supplements. It’s true that consumers can turn to vitamin supplements to make up for what’s lacking in their food, bolstering their immune system that way. But people also want to enjoy the taste of a good meal when they are getting their vitamins and minerals, which a pill doesn’t provide, Groff said. “Taste is also linked to the quality of the soil,” he said.

Food companies are getting on board. Some food corporations are already turning to farmers who can provide the more nutritious food that those companies want to sell to their customers, Groff said. General Mills in particular has taken an interest in working to improve the likelihood of healthy crop yields. The company has invested more than $5.5 million in initiatives to improve soil health.

“I feel strongly that people need to be responsible and boost their immune systems with nutritious foods as a strategic way to stay healthier,” Groff said. “And everyone seems to agree with the multivitamin makers who say that our food is not as nutritious as it once was. But the solution needs to directly address that deficiency in our food. It all starts with regenerating the soil. It will produce more nutritious food when we allow it to do its job.” ❖

— Groff a lifelong farmer, is the founder of Cover Crop Coaching, which educates farmers and farm advisors about effective cover crop use. He also does international regenerative agriculture consulting and is the author of the upcoming book The Future-Proof Farm. He has conducted well over 150 webinars and online training sessions, and has consulted for private companies, as well as for the USDA and several universities. To see more, go to

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