Value subtracted food and farming

I have added a new book to my recommended reading list. Grain by Grain by Robert Quinn and Liz Carlisle is an exceptional read on how our food and farming system has gone askew, and one farmer’s path to reversing the trend on a local level. You can find the entire reading list here.

Enter Bob Quinn ~

If farmers were shafted by such a system, I began to realize, eaters were not much better off. On the supermarket shelves of their local grocery stores, they had little choice outside of standardized commodity wheat, crushed between colossal steel rollers to strip it of its nutrient-dense bran and germ. Processors did their best to package this white flour into creative forms, giving the appearance of an abundance of culinary options: vitamin-fortified white bread, fiber-added breakfast cereal, omega-3 enriched energy bars – all packed with sugar and a host of unpronounceable ingredients meant to increase shelf life and make the stuff taste like food. The processors even had the audacity to call such concoctions “value-added products.”

To me, this definition of value-added is completely backward. Many things have been added to our commodity wheat, but value is not one of them. We would never have needed nutrient fortification in the first place if we had removed so many nutrients in the course of industrial breeding, production, and processing. When we look at the net movement of value in the commodity system, it’s pretty clear that it has been moving steadily away from our food. What we have now is essentially value-subtracted wheat. Not only has much of the embedded value been literally stripped away – no bran, no germ, no soil health, often no net profit to the farmer – the ability to even assess value in such terms has been removed too. The purveyors of value-subtracted products deliberately concealed the nature of their production and processing: as the saying goes no one wants to know how the sausage is made.

In contemporary American society, we see many such value-subtracted products. Commodity wheat, corn, and soy, aggressively refined and transformed into soda and burgers and cookies, greet you in nearly every aisle at the supermarket. The car you probably drove to get there runs on value-subtracted energy: commodity petroleum. The clothes you’re wearing? Value-subtracted fiber or commodity cotton, or perhaps a blend of synthetics.

Back to John ~

A lot to contemplate here. The foundational question that comes to mind is: Are my activities adding value or subtracting value from the crops we are growing?



2020-03-16T13:42:36-05:00December 23rd, 2019|Tags: |

John’s Recommended Reading List

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I believe constant learning is an imperative, and should be enjoyable. I find learning something new about life and living processes to be exhilarating and exciting. I have read hundreds of books and thousands of papers that relate to agriculture and living systems in some manner. Of course, the areas of science that touch agriculture in some way are so large it seems certain we will never run out of new things to learn.

I find it intriguing that much of the emerging foundational science which promises completely different approaches to agronomy and agricultural management is not coming from people who are closely connected to agriculture but in other life sciences. Very often, the implications of their work are not directly spelled out, but when we connect the dots, we realize how powerful this new information will be in the future.

Our present mechanistic approaches to agriculture since the “Green Revolution” have been based primarily on chemistry and genetics. I very strongly believe the agriculture and agronomy of the future will be based on biophysics and a very different understanding of the organism. This is an area that all growers and agronomists should have a working knowledge of the concepts and principles since it will be the foundation for the next agricultural revolution happening now.

Many people have asked me for a recommended reading list of the most pertinent and valuable books I have read. This list is a live list of books that I continue to update.

I have divided them into different (somewhat arbitrary) sections based on how accessible they are and their general topic area.

My preference is to have post-it flags within easy reach as I read, and mark each page with a flag that I want to use as a reference in the future. It is easy to observe how useful a book might be based on the number of flags it has. Most of the books who made it onto this list have hundreds of flags. For the very few which have fewer, they are still on the list because of the importance and relevance of their message.

Foundational Soil & Plant Science 

This group of books is very accessible, from my perspective any serious grower will have at least half of them on his shelf. These are pretty much in the must-read category for farmers who want to begin thinking differently and prepare for the agriculture of the future.

Eco Farm – Charles Walters 

Science in Agriculture – Arden Andersen 

Life and Energy in Agriculture – Arden Andersen 

Foundations of Natural Farming – Harold Willis 

Soil Grass and Cancer – Andre Voisin 

The Organic Method Primer – The Rateavers 

A Soil Owner’s Manual – Jon Stika

The Biological Farmer – Gary Zimmer

Nutrition Rules – Graeme Sait  

Humusphere – Herwig Pommeresche

How Soils work – Paul Syltie

From the Soil Up – Don Shreifer

Agriculture in Transition – Don Shreifer

The ideal soil handbook – Michael Astera


Exceptional Peer-Reviewed Soil and Plant Science References

The books in this group are written by and for academics, rather than for growers, but the information they contain is gold. How much is it worth to you to have a reference book that can tell you precisely why a certain disease organism is showing up, and how you can create an environment so that it is no longer present? If you are an agronomist or a consultant, each of these is a must-read. Reading these books will change how you approach managing soils, crops, and pests.

Soil Microbiology and Higher Plants – NA Krasil’nikov Free PDF Here, This second PDF contains more figures and illustrations.

Mineral Nutrition of Higher Plants – Marschner 

Mineral Nutrition and Plant Disease – Datnoff, Elmer, Huber 

Organic Soil Conditioning, Humic, Fulvic, and Microbial Balance – William Jackson Or Here.


The Biophysics of living organisms, with strong agricultural implications

The coming agricultural revolution which will supersede the “Green Revolution” will be a revolution of biophysics. We are reaching the limits of chemistry. The information contained in any one of these books will require us to shift our thinking and approach to growing crops. Some of these are more accessible than others. Any one of them will have you on the edge of your seat as you understand the implications.

Bioelectrodynamics and Biocommunication – Ho, Popp, Warnke

The Rainbow and the Worm – Mae Wan Ho

Living with the Fluid Genome – Mae Wan Ho 

Cells, Gels, and the Engines of Life – Gerald Pollack 

Gravitobiology – Tom Bearden 

The Body Electric – Robert Becker 

Cross Currents – Robert Becker 

Tuning in to Nature – Philip Callahan 

Paramagnetism – Philip Callahan 

Biological Transmutations – Louis Kervran 

Morphic Resonance – Rupert Sheldrake

The Universal One – Walter Russell 

Report on Radionics – Edward Russell 


The Biophysics of Water

Water is THE fundamental in agriculture. The information here is so valuable and important, it deserves a section of it’s own.

Living Rainbow H20 – Mae Wan Ho

Living Water – Olof Alexandersson 

The Fourth Phase of Water – Gerald Pollack 

Nature as Teacher – Callum Coats 

Living Energies – Callum Coats 

The Water Wizard –  Callum Coats

The Fertile Earth – Callum Coats


Plant Communication 

The most successful growers are those who connect with their plants, much the same as producers connect with livestock or horses. Stephen Buhner is perhaps my favorite author for his writing style. These books are very accessible and read like a thriller. Many people have said they couldn’t stop reading when they began because the information is so captivating. I have gifted these books a lot.

The Lost Language of Plants – Steven Harrod Buhner 

The Secret Teachings of Plants – Steven Harrod Buhner 

Plant Intelligence – Steven Harrod Buhner 

The Secret Life of Plants – Christopher Bird


The ‘culture’ of Agrarian Culture

“People laugh at me because I am different. I laugh at them because they are all the same.” ~ Gabe Brown

The present model of commercial agriculture has adopted a very mechanistic worldview and ethos, with little room for ‘culture’. As we implement more regenerative models our cognition changes. We are present with our plants and livestock in a different way. We begin thinking about the ecosystems we work within, and how we can enhance them. This culture of caring is what consumers associate with farming culture. There are many good books that would fit into this category. Some are exceptional. Here are a few of the exceptional ones.

The marvelous pigness of pigs – Joel Salatin  (A must-read)

Folks, this ain’t normal – Joel Salatin 

Grain by Grain – Bob Quinn

Growing a revolution – David Montgomery 

Dirt to Soil – Gabe Brown

The unsettling of America – Wendell Berry 

Call of the Reed warbler – Charles Massey

Nourishment – Fred Provenza

What books do you think need to be added to this list?

2021-03-02T17:50:57-05:00December 6th, 2019|Tags: |


Go to Top