Health Benefits of Peaches (It’s All in the Dirt)

Health Benefits of Peaches (It’s All in the Dirt)

Writing about the health benefits of peaches, I could focus on so many things. I could tell you that one medium sized peach has about 60 calories, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 17% of your daily value of Vitamin C, 10% of your Vitamin A, 8% of your Potassium, 6% of your Niacin, 5% of your Vitamin E, 5% of your Vitamin K and so on.* Sure.

But the thing is, those numbers aren’t universal. And personally, I don’t really understand what they mean in the grand scheme of my diet. Really, what I find interesting is how the health benefits of every peach depends on how it was grown. 

At Frog Hollow Farm, we’re thinking about nutrients throughout each peach tree’s life: from what it needs when it’s a tiny baby, all the way into adolescence and adulthood—the maintenance required, the care for the soil, the water, the time, and the energy we must put in. Not only can you taste the difference, but the extra work we do here makes each resulting peach  better for you. Here’s why.

Calories vs. nutrition

To understand the nutrition in a single piece of Frog Hollow fruit, we have to start back in 1999. That was when scientists discovered that the nutrient levels in US-grown food had gone down over the previous 50 years (ranging from 9% to 38% lost!)* That’s in large part because of how industrial farmers farm now. But there’s also a cultural element. We have an obsession with calories over nutrition and the food industry has followed suit. The FDA’s “2,000 calories per day” recommendation (based on a 6ft, 180lb male body by the way!) misses the point. The quality of those calories, the nutrients we’re taking in, is ignored here when it's actually more important for our health. “Hidden hunger” (getting enough calories but not enough nutrients) is a growing problem affecting two billion people worldwide.* The negative health effects that show up over the course of a lifetime can be harder to recognize than an ache in the belly.* Given that food is less nutrient-dense than it was 50 years ago, a single person would have to eat 2-5 times the amount that they would have had to in 1940 to get the same good minerals (twice as much meat, three times as much fruit, and 4-5 times as many veggies).*

Healthy soil = healthy food

But wait! Not all is lost. And a solution, you may be surprised to hear, is DIRT.

Whether or not you were that kid who was told not to eat dirt on the playground, you’re well aware that it doesn’t do much good for the human body. At least not when you eat it. It turns out it  does  do a lot of good for your food. “Healthy” soil makes the food that grows in it healthier.* And fruit and veggies grown in “healthy” dirt don’t show that same loss in nutrients that most food suffers from nowadays according to that 1999 study.* 

So what makes dirt “healthy”? You can break it down into a few terms:  fertility,  structure,  and water-holding capacity.* 

When plants photosynthesize, they convert light energy into good sugars and minerals. The better the soil, the better the plant can photosynthesize.* And the more the plant can photosynthesize, the less prone to pests and diseases it is.* Crops need particular nutrients in order to grow. Either the nutrients are in mineral form in the soil already, replenishing themselves via natural biological processes, or you add them through fertilizers. Fertilizers only address one aspect of soil health, however. They don’t help the soil soak up more water nor do they necessarily protect plants against disease. Plus fertilizers cost money! Most farms aren’t suffering from a lack of enough fertilizers, says soil scientist Dr. Christine Jones.* Unhappy soil runs deeper. 

Undisturbed, healthy soil contains tiny, tiny microbes that have a positive effect on crop nutrients. Scientists like Dr. Jones have found that leaving the microbes be (i.e. letting nature do its thing) is the real way to strengthen soil and therefore produce better food.* But many farmers till their land, turning the dirt back onto itself to make way for planting new crops after harvest. While tilling can move planting season along quickly, it destroys microbial life in the soil, releasing heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air in the process.* Those microbes could have protected plants against pests and diseases, transported nutrients, and helped fight against drought and frost.* (Microbes are  great.) But instead, because of tillage, they’re lost. It’s true that modern farming techniques allow our generation of farmers to produce way more food than their grandparents could.* But we lose a lot along the way. The regenerative agriculture movement says,  Actually, we can have  both:  nutrient-rich food  and  lots of it.*

Soil as a solution to climate change

One of the biggest parts of regenerative farming (as opposed to conventional) is a focus on dirt and carbon. When you hear the word “carbon” it’s probably most often in the context of our warming planet. That’s carbon dioxide, which in too high quantities in the atmosphere creates a lot of problems. But carbon itself isn’t “bad.” It’s the building block of all living things. It’s in the atmosphere, it’s in the dirt, it’s in us, it’s in food. It makes up carbohydrates, protein, and fat. And plants need it to grow and make nutrients. Soil soaks carbon up and so do plants and the ocean. They in turn release carbon back into the atmosphere and soak it up again in a continuous cycle. The more carbon that soil can absorb, the more nutrients it can give to the plants that grow in it and the more water it can hold during a drought.* Carbon sustains life. 

The benefit of this “carbon sequestration” for food systems (and therefore humans) is huge. We want carbon to be absorbed back into ecosystems, soil, and oceans at an equal rate that it’s produced. Otherwise, things get out of whack. This balanced cycle is at the center of the Drawdown Framework's scientifically-backed solutions to climate change. Nature does a great job of rebalancing itself, but it can’t keep up with just how much carbon humans release. Reframing our agricultural practices to absorb that excess carbon and avoid releasing more helps. Healthy soil, healthy planet.

What we do at Frog Hollow Farm

We try to leave our soil better than we found it. We take great care to nurture its microbial life, we apply homemade compost in our orchards, and we plant cover crops—which helps fix nitrogen, retain water in the ground, and promote biodiversity (the bees love it!).

Rachel doing soil tests

Farming Assistant Rachel Sullivan doing soil testing in the orchard

A whole year’s worth of work goes into making that single peach you’re holding. And we think about that peach every step of the way: from maintaining the soil health throughout a tree’s life to knowing exactly when to harvest during peak season. Our highly experienced picking crew goes through each orchard, identifies ripe fruit by color and size, and picks only what’s ready. Sometimes, the team will go through the same orchard a couple times over, which takes longer but produces sweeter results. With some fruit gone, the fruit that’s left on the tree has a chance to absorb more nutrients than it would have if we had picked everything at once. The more time there is to ripen, the more good sugars that can develop. The more good sugars, the better the taste and the benefit. We have to be careful though! Leave the fruit on the tree too long and its sugar levels actually go  down, interestingly enough.

This is all to say that there are lots of health benefits to peaches (and in particular the peaches we grow here!). And we’re not just talking human health. We’re thinking about the health of ecosystems, of food systems, and of our planet. And we hope you can taste what you’re supporting, what you’re a part of, when you bite into that one, delicious peach.
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