Special Interview: The KEY to Good Health - Part I
It is UNNATURAL to be sick — yet millions take sickness for granted. Why? Because the KEY to good health has been thrown away! Few know what that KEY is! You probably have been walking on it all the time and never noticed it!
THIS eye-opening article is a special report by the noted Swedish biochemist, Eric Eweson. Mr. Eweson's lecture, delivered at Ambassador College, is so vital that, with his approval, we decided to publish it in this issue. I WANT to talk tonight as a biochemist about your health — and how fertile soil affects it. Few people really know much about the very ground they walk on. If they did millions of sick and crippled would be in radiant health today. From soil we derive our food, our climate, and the pleasure of an attractive landscape. Soil has accumulated by the divers forces operating in nature. As every schoolboy should know, it consists of finely ground rock elements and decayed organic matter. FERTILE SOIL accumulates very slowly, but it can be destroyed very rapidly. Even under favorable conditions in our climate it would take three or four hundred years to accumulate an inch of it!
Why Soil Is Losing Its Fertility
It has been in the last fifty years — and, I would say, notably in the New World — that there has been greater demands on the land than the land can give without losing its natural fertility. This situation cannot be remedied by chemical — or commercial — fertilizers, as we call them, which are being used so extensively in modern times to increase the yield from the soil. As you probably all know, the theory of chemical fertilizers was born of war. It was conceived in Germany during the latter part of the nineteenth century by a gentleman whose name was Baron Justus von Liebig. He developed his theory by analyzing organic matter and noticing the predominance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. He then conceived the idea of adding those major elements to soil in the form of water-soluble chemicals to increase production. The idea seemed to work like magic and was gradually adopted all over the world. But one important fact was overlooked!
Life Was Missing!
In more recent years we have discovered that even if we add to the soil these chemicals which are the ones used in the largest quantities by plant life, we still use up the organic living portion of the soil. And the greater the quantity of chemical fertilizer that we apply, the faster is the organic living portion used up! As the organic matter diminishes, we must increase the quantity of chemicals to obtain the same yields — not to mention the loss of quality. Gradually we will arrive at the point when there isn't enough of the humus fertility left in the soil to sustain a crop, NO MATTER HOW MUCH CHEMICAL FERTILIZER WE APPLY. In common terms, the soil is then said to have "died." The death of soil is a phenomenon that has occurred from early historical times. The earliest example is probably in China, some 1000 years before Christ. Such "soil death" was also a dominant factor in the decline of the Persian Empire after 500 B.C. It was previously the principal cause of the decline of the Babylonian Empire which flourished on the rich but thin soil in the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. When the humus was used up, the topsoil could no longer resist erosion. It disappeared into the rivers. With the drastically reduced quantity and quality of food the civilization declined and finally disappeared. The same happened later in Greece. Again in the Roman Empire, which, at the time of the birth of Christ, had to go across the Mediterranean to obtain its grain. All these developments, of course, took a long time. In Greece it probably took three to four hundred years. In North Africa it took less, because by that time the Romans had introduced one-crop agriculture, growing the same crop year after year on the same land without letting it rest. The agricultural land was thus in process of death for a much shorter time than, for instance, in China, Persia and Greece.
Our Land Today
The problem has developed very similarly, but very much faster, in America! We have seen it in the Middle West where for many years we have had serious dust storms. Such dust storms are possible only after the soil has lost its humus, because it's the humus which holds the soil particles together in larger aggregates so that they don't blow away. When the quantity of the humus is inadequate to hold the soil, what little is left of organic matter blows away, leaving nothing but the dead sand and rock. The land after that is completely useless for agricultural production and the rehabilitation of it is no simple problem. For example, the Sahara desert did not extend nearly so far north even 500 years ago as it does now. Today the Sahara in many places extends right to the Mediterranean. Whereas, in the times of the Romans, the coastline along the Mediterranean was very fertile, it is now fertile only in small isolated areas and then only with irrigation. The moving up north of the desert has also changed the climate so that there is now hardly any precipitation. This was not the case when it was still fertile land that could cause the vapors from the Mediterranean to condense and bring some rain. Land in many other places has been affected similarly by drastic soil abuse. In California you have large areas that were very fertile as late as 15 to 20 years ago but which are now no longer productive, in spite of the adequate irrigation, much like in the Euphrates-Tigris valley. This is, in few words, the sad state of the soil fertility in large parts of the world today. WE HAVE MUCH LESS ARABLE LAND TODAY THAN WE HAVE EVER BEFORE HAD IN HISTORICAL TIMES. And it now has to do for a much larger population! Before we go further, let me explain what living soil is, and why good soil must have humus.
What Living Soil Is Like
Decaying organic matter is called humus. The greatest proportion of fertile soil is rock material — inorganic material — so that only a very small proportion of fertile soil is humus. Even very fertile soil may well contain as little as 5% humus in the top six inches. The rest is inorganic mineral matter. Many soils can be enormously productive if this humus is maintained in these proportions, and if this humus consists of well-decomposed organic matter. Unfortunately, the humus wears out — or is consumed — by cropping. If you take from the land more than you put back, what you remove is part of the quantity of humus. New mineral nutrient matter is constantly being made available. In fertile soil it is manufactured, you might say, by means of microbial activities and the various effects of the weather. Rock is ground in many ways by nature and can then be decomposed by microbial activities. That is the reason why humus contains mineral nutrients of all kinds. There is seldom any shortage of nutrient minerals in fertile soil because those minerals are constantly liberated by the soil microbes and incorporated in their cell tissues. In that form they are not water-soluble and thus cannot be leached out by the rain as is done with man-made chemical fertilizers. But they can be utilized by the plants that are growing in the soil. This involves-breakdown and using up of soil microorganisms and humus and is the reason why humus has to be renewed. If agriculture is not intensive — if, for instance, it is based upon letting the land rest once every three or four years in countries of temperate climate, then there is a very good chance that the soil can maintain fair productivity. That has been the case in some parts of the world, especially in the northern half of Europe. They still have some land with a fair amount of natural fertility.
Chemicals Not the Solution
What can be done to correct this situation is of course the big problem. There is a great deal of difference in opinions. There are still some people who believe that with more and better chemicals we can restore our soil. There are even those who think that by new methods of growing — producing more or less synthetic food — we can solve the problem. But there are others of us who believe this to be wishful thinking. You have probably heard of hydroponics, a method of growing roaring Plants in a water solution of the major plant nutrient elements. No doubt one can grow plants that way — I have grown some myself — but there are some very significant consequences. The plants will, for instance, not produce seeds capable of germination. They are also extremely frail and spoil quickly. The nutritional value is, however, where the changes are the most fatal, as the plants contain practically no protein! While you will find nitrogen in them, it has not combined to build up proteins but remains in the form of nitrate — or, still worse, nitrite. Our bodies can't produce protein from these simple elements. We must have the proteins more or less readymade for us as all we can do is to modify them to suit our particular requirements. The same holds true of our animals since only plants and microbes can build proteins. If plants are grown in a manner that they lack in protein, as hydroponically grown plants do, then there isn't much use in growing them! Other ideas have been proposed for producing food. Growing fungi or algae would seem both logical and sensible until you begin to scrutinize what it implies. I have considerable experience from large-scale manufacture of fungi which may help to throw light on the problem. Let me tell you the background.
Substitute Nutrients Tried
As you probably all know paper mills have a very objectionable waste that pollutes rivers and spoils the water for fishing and bathing. It has long been considered to be a useless waste product, but it isn't so at all! An old Swedish friend of mine conceived, many years ago, the idea of manufacturing baker's yeast from this very serious polluting agent. After some experiments a factory was-built in Finland it was a great success — where upon I built two similar factories in Canada. This paper mill waste, usually referred to as sulphite liquor, is a much worse polluting agent even than sewage, although the latter is probably the one that we are most generally disturbed by, since now most of our rivers are polluted by it. I am making this introduction to show you that "waste products" is really not the proper name. They should better be called "by-products" because they are seldom useless and become objectionable waste products only when we fail to use them properly. In producing fungi — or baker's yeast — to bake bread, we were not involved with its nutritional value. All we were concerned about was to produce a yeast that would raise bread, which is largely a function of generating carbon dioxide and other gases to help break down the flour and make the bread more porous and digestible. We were, therefore, not concerned about how the protein was built up in the yeast cells. In modern yeast manufacturing method's one uses cheap chemicals for most of the nutrients instead of the more expensive organic materials like malt or grain, from which yeast was originally blade in bygone days. In other words, one substitutes inexpensive CHEMICALS for expensive ORGANIC materials! This has a very drastic effect on the fungi. One effect is that they become weak arid lose much of their virility and resistance to infections, so that a yeast factory has to be conducted under sterile conditions much alike an operating room in a hospital. There must be no wild yeast or other microbes in the air, because if any such microbes — especially wild yeast which has been produced naturally and therefore is very virile — should get into a mash of synthetically fed yeast, they would quickly devour the whole batch! Another very significant point is that after a number of generations the chemically grown yeast fungi lose their power of reproduction. The yeast is then no longer usable as seed and one has to start with a fresh culture of naturally grown yeast every two or three weeks. The above is particularly significant from the point of view of plant nutrition, as we know that exactly the same thing occurs in modern agriculture in respect to corn. Few farmers today can use their own as seed. They have to buy seed because their own grain, if grown many years on poor, chemically fertilized soil, won't germinate. This may be looked upon by many as comparatively unimportant. But it is of basic importance for understanding that what we produce as food and what man has been accustomed to existing on for so many thousands of years cannot suddenly be changed without serious consequences to man's health. By not giving back to the soil the by-products of life, like our city wastes, and by soil not deriving any benefit from the "droppings" of tractors and other machinery, there is a new situation in modern agriculture which necessitates a drastic change in point of view. We have to find some way of returning our organic by-products — not waste products to the land. In our urbanized civilization, with the greater part of the population living in cities and only a very small part on the land, it is becoming simply a question of "to be or not to be."
Composting an Ancient Solution
In manuscripts from the 8th and 9th centuries, we find descriptions of the methods they used to convert their byproducts into soil. They had seen that organic matter would disappear if it was put in the soil and they took the hint from that and developed it in a very efficient and a very systematic way. In densely populated countries they could not well afford to conduct the process of by-product conversion on the crop land. Thus they always built their compost Piles away from the productive fields and not until the compost was ready did they put it on the land. This was quicker and more efficient than our ways. When our farmers do have a fair supply of manure, it is put directly on the land to let it slowly decompose there. Naturally that is a good method, too, but if productive land is short in supply, it is well to prepare the fertilizer Away from the field and not put it on the land until it has been fully converted into humus and thus is immediately available to plant life. It is to be noted that as long as the ancient agriculturist used his "wastes" in the described manner, as was done in China, Persia and Babylonia over long periods, his soil would not lose, but increase, in fertility. It was" usually as a result of prosperity gained through wars, conquest and commerce that neglect of the soil and its "law of return" developed and the land gave out. Coming back now to this fermentation process whereby organic waste materials are converted into humus by soil microbial activities: Pasteur was first to teach us what was going on in those old compost piles. Today, we know better how to process garbage and sewage and how to inoculate with the right kind of soil microbes for the best utilization of these materials to produce a high-grade natural compost or humus that looks and knells like very fertile topsoil. It will be startling to many to learn that this process can now be completed in less days than it formerly took months. It can be done on a very large industrial scale to suit any size of community. Costly-to-dispose-of-city refuse and sewage now causing serious air and water pollution can thus be the means of rehabilitating our abused soil! I shall stop here to have the rest of the time for questions. Through such questions we'll probably get in on other helpful aspects of this problem. [Following are some of the questions Mr. Eweson answered during the latter portion of his lecture — Editor]
QUESTION: "How are you planning on educating the people about the need for soil improvement?" ANSWER: Well, look what I'm doing now!! You are going to do the same thing, I hope. This is a slow process and if I were impatient, I would probably have succumbed from disappointment by now. QUESTION: "How can you tell when you are 'pushing' the soil or overworking it?" ANSWER: The yields go down and the pests increase. QUESTION: "You mentioned a while ago that the key to a healthy nation is a healthy soil. Does this explain modern degenerative diseases?" ANSWER: You may be surprised to hear that the death rate from degenerative diseases — cardiac and liver trouble, cancer and mental deficiencies — is alarmingly high in this country and that no nation in Western Europe has as high a rate. But you do enjoy an exceedingly low death rate for infants, so that when the death rates for all causes are combined — which are the more widely published figures — this country is still a little better off than others. The question is how will this situation develop in the future. Especially disturbing is the increase in mental diseases in America. I believe, and most physicians agree that malnutrition is the basic cause for ALL disease! But malnutrition is not primarily an inadequate quantity of food, but inadequate QUALITY! In this country we need to be concerned solely with the latter.