Yesterday’s post had the first part of a two-part series on American soil deficiency in 1936.

The source material, at the request of a US Senator at the time — Duncan Fletcher (D – Florida) — was included in the 74th Congress 2nd Session, Senate Document #264, 1936.

The original document is on the US Senate website. (An HTML version is here.) It is an article from a family news magazine, The Cosmopolitan, which much later became the title we know today.

The article is called ‘Modern Miracle Men’ written by Rex Beach about Dr Charles Northen, a physician who went into soil replenishment to better nourish man and beast. He was based in Orlando, Florida, and could have been resident in Fletcher’s constituency. The article says that Northen was considered

the most valuable man in the State.

Yesterday’s post excerpted and summarised Northen’s findings about the poor mineral quality of America’s soil in the 1930s. It had significantly declined since the 19th century and, in many parts of the country, food and meat had little nutritional value.

Today’s excerpts and summary discuss the second half of the article. Emphases in bold are mine.

I cannot help but think we are in no better shape today with regard to the food we consume.

Why no one cared — or cares?

Northen was decried for his research.

The article points out that the medical establishment had been wrong before: in the late 19th century, the Medical Society of Boston condemned the use of bathtubs!

Similarly, physicians and other experts were — are? — wrong on ignoring soil deficiencies. In the 1930s, textbooks kept using outdated analyses from a bygone era decades before when soil was still rich in nutrients.

Although Northen was able to demonstrate that soil samples can vary greatly even in a local area, his peers scoffed: ‘So what?’

Northen’s work on various farms and orchards was exemplary. By carefully mineralising the soil, grass was better, fruit trees pest-free and abundant whilst livestock were healthier. All those fresh products then went into the human food chain, improving the lives of the lucky Americans who ate them.

Northen’s wisdom — interview

Beach, who owned a farm, ended the article by redacting part of the interview Northen gave him.

Although Northen was elderly at the time, he was a goldmine of statistics, experience and knowledge. As we’ll find out, Beach turned around his own soil with Northen’s help.

Sick soils mean sick plants, sick animals, and sick people. Physical, mental, and moral fitness depends largely upon an ample supply and a proper proportion of the minerals in our foods. Nerve function, nerve stability, nerve-cell-building likewise depend thereon. I’m really a doctor of sick soils.”

Do you mean to imply that the vegetables I’m raising on my farm are sick?” I asked.

Precisely! They’re as weak and undernourished as anemic children. They’re not much good as food. Look at the pests and the disease that plague them. Insecticides cost farmers nearly as much as fertilizers these days.

A healthy plant, however, grown in soil properly balanced, can and will resist most insect pests. That very characteristic makes it a better food product. You have tuberculosis and pneumonia germ in your system but you’re strong enough to throw them off. Similarly, a really healthy plant will pretty nearly take care of itself in the battle against insects and blights –and will also give the human system what it requires.”

“Good heavens! Do you realize what that means to agriculture?”

“Perfectly. Enormous saving. Better crops. Lowered living costs to the rest of us. But I’m not so much interested in agriculture as in health.”

“It sounds beautifully theoretical and utterly impractical to me,” I told the doctor, whereupon he gave me some of his case records.

For instance, in an orange grove infested with scale, when he restored the mineral balance to part of the soil, the trees growing in that part became clean while the rest remained diseased. By the same means he had grown healthy rosebushes between rows that were riddled by insects.

He had grown tomato and cucumber plants, both healthy and diseased, where the vines intertwined. The bugs ate up the diseased and refused to touch the healthy plants! He showed me interesting analysis of citrus fruit, the chemistry and the food value of which accurately reflected the soil treatment the trees had received.

There is no space here to go fully into Dr. Northen’s work but it is of such importance as to rank with that of Burbank, the plant wizard, and with that of our famous physiologists and nutritional experts.

Healthy plants mean healthy people“, said he. “We can’t raise a strong race on a weak soil. Why don’t you try mending the deficiencies on your farm and growing more minerals into your crops?”

I did try and I succeeded. I was planting a large acreage of celery and under Dr. Northen’s direction I fed minerals into certain blocks of the land in varying amounts. When the plants from this soil were mature I had them analyzed, along with celery from other parts of the State. It was the most careful and comprehensive study of the kind ever made, and it included over 250 separate chemical determinations. I was amazed to learn that my celery had more than twice the mineral content of the best grown elsewhere. Furthermore, it kept much better, with and without refrigeration, proving that the cell structure was sounder.

In 1927, Mr. W. W. Kincaid, a “gentleman farmer” of Niagara Falls, heard an address by Dr. Northen and was so impressed that he began extensive experiments in the mineral feeding of plants and animals. The results he has accomplished are conspicuous. He set himself the task of increasing the iodine in the milk from his dairy herd. He has succeeded in adding both iodine and iron so liberally that one glass of his milk contains all of these minerals that an adult person requires for a day.

The article goes on to say that lack of iodine causes goiters.

Goiters were a huge health problem then. My maternal grandmother, who was raising a large family in that era, was preoccupied by goiter, even though no one in her family had any, thankfully. But she always impressed upon us grandchildren that eating enough iodine-rich foods and using iodised salt was essential.

She was not wrong. As the article states, the Great Lakes Region, the Northwest and South Carolina had significant numbers of people with goiter. Milk was a good way of supplying iodine. The aforementioned Mr Kincaid raised a Swiss heifer calf, taking care to mineralise her pasture and provide her with a balanced diet. She went on to become the third all-time champion of her breed, supplying 21,924 pounds of milk and 1,037 pounds of butter in one year!

Illinois farmers then began following Kincaid’s example. Fertiliser companies were quick to promote the mineral content of their products. Minerals were also made into colloidal form for inexpensive yet efficient soil correction.

Dangers then and now

The article concludes with more ailments caused by depleted soil. Some of them, such as heart disease, can be fatal. Others, like arthritis, can be debilitating.

On a wider scale, without these essential minerals in our food, we become increasingly susceptible to infection.

Northen suggested that the American populace of the 1930s clamour for food from good soil that would naturally supply their nutritional needs. He also urged them to insist that doctors and health departments establish standards of nutritional value.

He said that farmers and growers would eagerly respond to higher soil nutrition because it would mean better quality crops, better yield and happier customers.

After all, he reasoned, it is easier and less costly to cure sick soil than sick people.

It makes sense. Yet, is that what happened?

Tomorrow: ‘Sick soil’ in North America and the UK