Once Kay Baxter began to research, she learned the secrets to health lay beneath her feet.
The energetic and passionate co-founder of the Koanga Institute has spent 30 years saving seeds and teaching people to grow their own nutrient-dense organic food.
Generations of industrial agriculture have left most farm soils depleted of vital minerals. Farmers have used nitrogen and phosphate fertilisers to promote lush plant growth. But as Kay points out, "a plant needs 84 minerals to be a strong, healthy plant".
Many farms have harvested crop after crop without giving the full suite of minerals back to the soil. That simple fact has far-reaching consequences. As Kay puts it: "If you haven't got the minerals in the soil, they can't be in the food. And if they're not in the food, they're not in our bodies."
It's not merely an academic point; medical science is finding many known human diseases have some link to nutrition. Many nutrient-dense food advocates now argue that current human disease patterns are linked to missing nutrients in food.
After years of reading and research, Baxter now teaches people from around the world how to grow nutrient-dense food at the Koanga Institute in Hawkes Bay. In May and June, she and the Koanga team will embark on a national speaking and workshop tour to teach New Zealanders how to eat and grow in nutrient-dense ways.
The surest way to guarantee your food's nutrition is to grow it yourself, or buy organic.
For starters, Kay recommends everyone simply get enough calcium and vitamin A: "If you get your vitamin A right and your calcium right, everything else will be right."
Calcium must come from food, rather than supplements, to be well absorbed. Without it in the body, "there's not enough energy to do anything well," Kay says.
Vitamin A is likewise essential, she argues: "If you haven't got vitamin A, you can't absorb the minerals or the other vitamins."
Many commercial vitamin A supplements are ineffective. The richest food sources include organic butter from pastured animals (two tablespoons satisfy your daily vitamin A needs), lard, bone broth and animal livers.
A healthy diet is possible without animal products, but as non-organic vegetables often lack nutrients, Kay recommends that vegetarians grow their own food on well-mineralised soils to nourish themselves.
A booklet on growing nutrient-dense food ($10) and gardening guides are available on Koanga Institute's website. "Probably one of the most important things we can do is learn to re-mineralise the soil in our own backyards," Kay says.