What Does Soil Have To Do With Your Health? - Dr. Michael Ruscio, DNM, DC

What Does Soil Have To Do With Your Health?

The Importance of Growing Nutrient-Dense Foods with Farmer Lee Jones

While the nutritional value of vegetables continues to go down, Farmer Lee Jones is dedicated to bringing it up. On a mission to naturally enhance the flavor and quality of food, his farm is focused on “working in harmony with nature rather than trying to outsmart it.” To him, that means steering clear from the use of GMOs, rotating crops, testing the soil for mineral deficiencies, and ultimately creating nutrient-dense produce. Listen in to hear him discuss his process and passion for making a positive impact on the health of the people and the environment.

In This Episode

Intro … 00:08
Introducing Farmer Lee and the concept of nutrient-dense soil … 00:44
The decline of nutrient density in vegetables … 09:56
How to use plants (not manure) to enrich soil … 15:33
The new, innovative method of crop rotation … 19:13
Farmer Lee Jones’ novel approach to insect defense (or offense) … 28:06
Where the new farming methodology came from … 29:38
Where to find Jones and order his nutrient-dense vegetables … 34:34
Outro … 40:19

Subscribe for future episodes

  • Apple Podcast
  • Google Podcasts
  • Spotify

Download this Episode (right click link and ‘Save As’)


Hey everyone. Today I spoke with Farmer Lee, who is a farmer, and is with Farmer Jones Farm. They had this very interesting sustainable agriculture and soil-health-forward farming model. And this was a topic I’ve actually been meaning to expound upon on the podcast for a while. So I’m glad that we had a chance to discuss things like soil health and how farming methods that optimize solely for output can really shortchange the nutrient density of the soil and therefore the food and therefore the health of the individual. So this is a very important conversation. There’s a few things here that are different than, I guess the model that I’m accustomed to, which is your traditional sustainable farming model as advocated for by Robb Wolf and Diane Rodgers in their great documentary “Sacred Cow.” And I plan on having one of them on to discuss their model in juxtaposition of this model, just so we can all learn, because there were a few things here (as you’ll hear in the recording) that were a little bit different than what I’m familiar with. But nonetheless, a very interesting model that is attentive to soil health.

And this is obviously a very important facet of making sure that you have nutrient-dense soil, therefore nutrient-dense food. And also so that we preserve and hopefully improve soil health over time instead of eroding it. And this is definitely a problem that we seem to be confronting, which is these agro farming fertilizer and pesticide and insecticide-heavy models are not healthy for soil. And so they’re eroding the very thing that we’re living from: the soil. And whether you’re eating the plants that grow out of the soil or the animals that eat the plants, this is really important source material that we need to keep as healthy as possible. So with that, we will go to the conversation with Farmer Lee.

➕ Full Podcast Transcript

Intro:

Welcome to Dr. Ruscio radio, providing practical and science-based solutions to feeling your best. To stay up to date on the latest topics, as well as all of our prior episodes, make sure to subscribe in your podcast player. For weekly updates visit DrRuscio.com. That’s DRRUSCIO.com. The following discussion is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. Please do not apply any of this information without first speaking with your doctor. Now let’s head to the show.

Dr Ruscio:

Hey everyone. Today I spoke with Farmer Lee, who is a farmer, and is with Farmer Jones Farm. They had this very interesting sustainable agriculture and soil-health-forward farming model. And this was a topic I’ve actually been meaning to expound upon on the podcast for a while. So I’m glad that we had a chance to discuss things like soil health and how farming methods that optimize solely for output can really shortchange the nutrient density of the soil and therefore the food and therefore the health of the individual. So this is a very important conversation. There’s a few things here that are different than, I guess the model that I’m accustomed to, which is your traditional sustainable farming model as advocated for by Robb Wolf and Diane Rodgers in their great documentary “Sacred Cow.” And I plan on having one of them on to discuss their model in juxtaposition of this model, just so we can all learn, because there were a few things here (as you’ll hear in the recording) that were a little bit different than what I’m familiar with. But nonetheless, a very interesting model that is attentive to soil health.

Dr Ruscio:

And this is obviously a very important facet of making sure that you have nutrient-dense soil, therefore nutrient-dense food. And also so that we preserve and hopefully improve soil health over time instead of eroding it. And this is definitely a problem that we seem to be confronting, which is these agro farming fertilizer and pesticide and insecticide-heavy models are not healthy for soil. And so they’re eroding the very thing that we’re living from: the soil. And whether you’re eating the plants that grow out of the soil or the animals that eat the plants, this is really important source material that we need to keep as healthy as possible. So with that, we will go to the conversation with Farmer Lee.

Dr Ruscio:

Hey everyone, welcome back to Dr. Ruscio Radio. This is Dr. Michael Ruscio and today I’m here with Farmer Lee who is legitimately a farmer and he is going to help us better understand, what I feel to be a very important topic of, sustainable and/or regenerative (and maybe you can even help us clarify those titles a little bit more) agriculture or farming. Which again, I believe is something very important. I, myself, should probably be better about this. So I’m hoping that Farmer Lee is going to give me a little kick in the butt today in terms of motivating me to do better. But Farmer Lee, great to have you here and really looking forward to this conversation.

Farmer Lee Jones:

Hey, thanks for having me on. Really appreciate it. Look forward to having a visit with you.

Dr Ruscio:

Yes. And I and (I’m assuming that most of) our audience is also probably looking forward to learning a little bit more about this. You know, this is something that Robb Wolf and Anthony Gustin and Diane Rodgers have put on my radar screen. Also some of the early work of Paul Chek. Really, the importance of soil health, amongst other things. And how we farm can either parasitize the soil and depleted it or potentially keep it healthy and, in some cases, even replete it. So, where did you begin with this whole conversation? And maybe we can even go back to your backstory. I mean, I know you’re a farmer, but is there any kind of backstory—a little bit about you—you want to paint for us before we expand a little bit more upon the topic of agriculture?

Farmer Lee Jones:

Well, you know, I’ve been on the farm all my life and we’re in an amazing microclimate. We’re about 2.9 miles inland from Lake Erie. And Lake Erie is the shallowest of all the Great Lakes. Consequently, it’s the warmest. And the soil that we’re on is all old lake bottom, about 11,000 years ago. [It’s] some of the richest sandy loam in the world, but not any different than any other parts of the country. We’re certainly seeing soil depletion in the way that we’re farming. And it’s really only been in the last 70-80 years that we’ve changed the way that we were farming. And consequently, we have some history in place to see that it was not a good move. My dad was in commercial vegetable production. He went to work for a very progressive farmer, when my father was 14, and ended up buying that farm from him and was shipping truckloads of produce every place east of the Mississippi River.

Farmer Lee Jones:

And of course the universities were all (as we’ve all heard) financially strapped and the chemical and pharmaceutical companies were eager to give them grants to, “help the farmers” by doing research. And of course there were strings attached and the research needed to include their chemicals in how they could help the farmers. And of course, Earl Butz (secretary of agriculture in the 70s), his famous message was to get big or get out. [That] was his message to farms. And that’s really what happened. The small farms discontinued and the large farms got larger. And we farmed chemically and we could control weeds, we could control insects and pesticides and diseases through a chemical.

Farmer Lee Jones:

And we liken it very much to similarities in Western culture medicine—it’s always treating the symptom. And ultimately my dad’s business failed. When I was 19 years old, I stood shoulder to shoulder with my mother and father, my brother and sister, all of our neighbors, all of our competitors, everybody that was there to celebrate our failure. And they auctioned the entire farm off one piece of equipment at a time, right down to my mother’s car and our home, including the whole farm and every tractor. Every piece of equipment was gone. And desperate for way to be able to survive in agriculture, we weren’t smart enough to know that we couldn’t start over. We had a lot of people that said that we couldn’t and we didn’t have any money and nobody would loan us any money.

Farmer Lee Jones:

But we started back at farmer’s markets, which were interestingly at a historic low at that time in the United States, in the early 80s. And we met a European-influenced chef. Her name was Iris Balen, now Iris Brody. And she had been in Europe and she had seen the way that they were eating. They’d go and get their bread every day, and their fish and their vegetables or their poultry every day. And then they would go back and do it again. And they knew where the product was coming from. They knew the growers, they had a relationship. And it was a beautiful thing.

Farmer Lee Jones:

And we had lost our way in America. And you know, the people that were buying the food didn’t know where it was coming from because it all became about who could produce it the cheapest and the most efficient. And so one by one, those small family farms went away. One by one, those small grocery stores went away. Of course, my dad’s farm went away and we started back over. But Iris’s message to us was, “grow for the quality, grow for the integrity, grow for the flavor.” Grow for the flavor, grow for the flavor. And she felt that there would be enough chefs that would support us.

Farmer Lee Jones:

And so we really started over working and focusing on the top end of the market—growing for the elite people because there was margin there for us. If we could grow quality, they would be willing to pay for it. I’m talking about folks like: the Ritz Carltons, the Four Seasons, the St. Regiss, the Mandarin Orientals, the Charlie Trotter in Chicago, Thomas Keller at the French Laundry, Daniel Boulud in New York City, Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York City, Alain Ducasse (who was the only chef that had six Michelin stars at the time). So we just really focused on the top end of the market and started back over. And for the last 37 years, we’ve been working directly with chefs and really looking for ways to be able to focus on the flavor and the quality and the integrity of the vegetable, but doing it naturally rather than chemically.

Farmer Lee Jones:

And we were so interested in the cause and effects of what we were doing. We felt like we were on the right track. We were able to improve flavor. But we really wanted to be able to have a more scientific answer to what we were doing and what we weren’t doing. But if you can imagine, when you’re using genetically modified seeds, a farmer puts a genetically modified seed in, and what that means is the seed’s been modified so that when they spray it, it kills everything other than the genetically modified seed. Not only is it killing the weeds that compete for light and for moisture and for space. So the yields are increased, but it’s also killing all the biology in the soil. And so what’s happening is, and I’m sure you’ve seen it and your listeners have, from 1930-2020, the nutritional level in vegetables has gone down by over 50%. And the alarming part is, or the most alarming part is, it’s continuing to go down at an increasing rate.

Farmer Lee Jones:

The nutritional level in vegetables from 1930-2020 has gone down by over 50%. And it’s continuing to get down at an increasing rate. That’s pretty alarming. So also, if you can keep that graph in your mind and then think about the occurrences in kidney, liver, heart, cancer, disease, attention deficit disorder, autism, childhood obesity, allergies, diabetes—a 3000% increase in the same period of time. It’s not a coincidence. We believe there is a direct correlation with the way that we’re farming today and the health, or the lack thereof, of our nation. So all this biology that should be…There’s more life below the earth than there is above. And it’s dead. There’s no biology in the soil. We have a saying here on the farm, “healthy soil, healthy vegetables, healthy people, healthy environment.” And that’s really the core of what we’re trying to do here on the farm at The Chef’s Garden. So in a lot of ways, what we’re trying to do, and my dad always had a saying that the only thing we’re trying to do is get as good as our grandfathers or our great grandparents were at farming. All the technology, all the knowledge, all the resources we have available today, and the nutritional level in vegetables has gone down by 50%? And continu[es] to go down at an increasing rate? It’s crazy, isn’t it? Just crazy.

Dr Ruscio:

Yeah. I mean, gosh, there’s so much there to unpack. Okay. So my view on this is we probably meandered our way here as we often do where we didn’t have the right confines around science. Right? You know, sometimes we have the ability to discover a lot about a small facet of biology. So in this case, maybe I believe the, the initial fertilizers were NPK-based (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium based). Right? And that seemed to—and I think this is the early work of Baron Justus Freiherr von Liebig (I remember Paul Chek cites him as the guy)—get us on this path of industrial farming because of these high yield fertilizers. And so, this is a discovery. And it helps us increase yield. But only years and years later, perhaps our scientific analysis capability catches up to the fact that that’s leading to increased yield, but decreased quality.

Dr Ruscio:

Is that fair? Do you think part of this was a mistake in how we’re looking at things and optimizing—as you said, “get big or get out” optimizing—for yield, trying to feed more people, but maybe taking a shortcut. And now we have to pay the piper and that piper is essentially us. And we are getting this lower quality food. Is that a fair assumption of some of the intention and the reasoning why we got here?

Farmer Lee Jones:

Well, I think it really is. You know, agriculture was the economic engine, or it was the driver in the economy in the United States. The automobile industry couldn’t compete because of the unions. And now those automobiles come from other countries or at least the chips, and we can’t even buy a new car. But […] we produce food cheaper—as it relates to our income in the United States—we produce food cheaper than any other country in the world. Yet we have the highest healthcare. And it’s a pretty alarming statistic. You can talk about going to the grocery store and that’s your whole check, but as it relates to our income, it’s the cheapest food source in the world and the highest healthcare.

Dr Ruscio:

Maybe we could say cheap food equals expensive healthcare.

Farmer Lee Jones:

Yeah.

Dr Ruscio:

Loosely. But, yeah.

Farmer Lee Jones:

So it’s been really exciting. If you go back a hundred years, a large farm was 100 acres (more like a 50 or 75 acre farm because that’s all one family could take care of). And to break that down even smaller, a third of it was in pasture, a third of it was sitting fallow, and a third of it was growing product to take to market. And so each year they rotated. Now farms today, rotate. Now I’m not trying to knock the farms out there. They’re good people. And they’re stuck in a model. That’s all driven around producing tons per acre rather than the quality per mouthful. So I’m not faulting the farms. They’re very efficient. They do a great job. They work hard. So this is not about knocking other farms. That’s the wrong idea if anybody takes it that way. But they’re rotating between soybeans, wheat and corn. Soybeans, wheat, and corn. Where back in the day, you were rotating and letting land sit fallow. You can go back to biblical times…

Dr Ruscio:

Sorry, let’s explain this for people. Because I didn’t realize the extent and, I guess, the art and the restorative capacity of this rotation until I went through the documentary “Sacred Cow.” And gosh, what a beautiful explanation of how, literally, what one animal poops other animals eat. And if you can, I guess, organize this in that rotation, you can replete the soil and keep it healthy. And also not have all this waste and manure that has to be thrown away and sewage. It’s really a beautiful closed system. But I’d love for you to explain this for someone who maybe hasn’t of this concept before.

Farmer Lee Jones:

Well, and we don’t use any animal manures. I do believe that they can be safely used, but ours is vegetables that are being grown either for restaurants or since COVID now we’ve opened up to home delivery where individuals can buy product and we harvest it here on the farm and ship it directly to their homes. And you can go to FarmerJonesFarm.com and be able to order boxes that are curated specifically for you. And we have best of the season. But, we don’t use animal manures. We actually use plants. And, you know, we’ve all jokingly talked about, “hey, I need some vitamin D, I’m going to go out and get some sunshine.” My guess is that everyone of the listeners has either said it or heard it. And we talk about the fact that we need some vitamin D and going to go out and get some sun. Well, there’s a reality of that. And it’s more true than people really understand.

Farmer Lee Jones:

And what’s really cool about this is that we put a laboratory in on the farm to be able to get a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not. What the cause and effect is. And we can test and find out what the deficiencies are in the soil. Just like if you were to go and have blood work drawn, and you find that you’re high in iron [or] low in iron, high in calcium [or] low in calcium. What are the mineral levels and what are they deficient in? And what’s really neat is that based on those deficiencies in the soil, we can plant crop specific. Different types of plants will harvest different types of energy from the sun. So it may be clover, alfalfa, buck wheat, rye, fetch, sedangrass, even mint, cowpeas—all of those will harvest different types of energy from the sun. It’s not rocket science.

Farmer Lee Jones:

It’s about working in harmony with nature, rather than trying to outsmart it. And we are seeing unbelievable results. 150/300 acres is committed to harvesting the sun’s energy every year. It’s an unprecedented commitment to harvesting the energy. Nobody’s doing it. They might do a third. We’re doing half. In some cases, even more. In some cases you’ll put a cover crop in, you’ll plow that back down or mow it in, and then put another crop back over it to get another type of the mineral back into the soil. What’s exciting is you can rebuild the soil. We’re seeing some numbers as high as 300-500X higher than the USDA average. And it’s exciting. We say, eat the rainbow and eat it raw.

Farmer Lee Jones:

And this gut health thing is—and you know way more about this than we do—but we know as farmers that there’s a correlation between getting that biology alive in the soil. Because when you’re using the synthetic fertilizers and when you’re using the genetic modification and you kill the biology, when you put the synthetic fertilizer on the biology is not there to be able to break the synthetic fertilizer down into a form that the plant can pick it up. I’m sure you guys have heard and read about all of the algal bloom problems in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes supply 80% of the world’s fresh water. And this fertilizer is not being broken down in the fields on the farms. And it’s running into the tributaries, it’s going into the rivers, and then into the lakes. Then the biology is breaking the synthetic fertilizer down into a form that’s growing beautiful algal bloom. But it’s all racing off. So when we can get rid of the GMOs, we don’t use the synthetic fertilizer, we feed and rebuild and feed the biology with the plant-based materials, it is profound to see the results of this. I mean, it’s huge. And I think we can really make a difference in the people’s health by growing and feeding the soil. Really, healthy soil, healthy vegetables, healthy people, healthy environment.

Dr Ruscio:

So take us through this rotation, because I think it’s a little bit different than what I had learned about in the model. And I’m sure there’s probably a few different models that are used, but the one that Diane Rodgers, Robb Wolf in the “Sacred Cow” documentary advocate for might be a little bit different than this. So help us understand how this rotation looks and how closed of a biological system that is. And I mean, certainly you’ve articulated that the output is higher, which is great. And that’s one of the main, I think, counterarguments by some of the agro-farm proponents. So that is great to hear. But help us understand the overall system. How does the rotation work and what are the inputs and outputs?

Farmer Lee Jones:

Yeah.

Dr Ruscio:

You know, high level. I mean, I’m sure you could probably give us like a three hour…If we went deep. But give us kind of the bird’s eye view for the beginner on this. If you can.

Farmer Lee Jones:

You know, again, we’re testing this soil, we’re finding out what those deficiencies are. And one half of the acreage in any one year is being planted. We even planted some of those cover crops last fall for this spring, we can eliminate some of the wind erosion, even during the winter time. But even in the winter, you can even harvest some of the energy from the sun. You wouldn’t think much. I mean, we had, seven degrees here this morning, but even in the winter, you can start and harvest some of that energy. And it builds the roots and the rhizomes in the soil. And then comes spring…

Dr Ruscio:

Sorry, how is it that just by growing plants you’re harvesting the energy? Or is there some other technique that’s being used?

Farmer Lee Jones:

Yeah, no, it’s through the plant. Yeah, the plant accepts the energy from the sun. And based on the deficiency we find in the soil, we will plant crop specific because different types of plants will harvest different types of energy from the sun. We know that our bodies will harvest vitamin D from the sun. You can take that a step further through research, and we know that different types of plants will harvest different types of energy from the sun. So based on those deficiencies, you’re building your mix of what you’re going to plant. And if you’re not getting enough, then you’re going to come back at it. But half of that acreage in any one year is in cover crops. So you may plant in the spring, a rye, and then when that gets up to a certain height, you’re going to mow it down or plow it in. And then come back and put a buck wheat in and let that grow out, harvest the energy, roll that back in, and then come back with another crop. Then we might put a vegetable crop in. And you’re constantly rotating and rebuilding the energy in the soil based on what the deficiencies were and what you’re harvesting from the sun.

Dr Ruscio:

Okay. And that makes a lot of sense in terms of being strategic. Now that may run counter to [maximizing] yield. And I think this is probably, and you probably know this obviously far better than I do, but that seems to be where the industry has gone. Just, you know, yield, yield, yield. And there hasn’t really been thinking about some of the other consequences. So that’s really insightful. So there’s this rotation of cover crop on the one plot and what’s going on in the other two plots? Because you, I think you said there was this three-component rotation or did I get that wrong?

Farmer Lee Jones:

Well, in the old days it was three. It was pasture, it was fallow, and then it was a crop to take the market. We’ve gone beyond that and said half. Half of the acreage in any one year is in cover crops. So when you come and visit this summer, you’re going to see half of the acreage in a cover crop of some sort in varying stages. When one is up to 8/10/12 inches, we’re going to roll it in and then go back and replant it again. And so it’s just like a giant puzzle. And when one field is ready, then you’re going to put a vegetable crop into it. We grow about 700 different types of vegetables and no large mass quantities of any of them. We can’t do it in our head anymore, it’s all lined up on a computer. So it tells us how many rows of what plant each week. So there’s like a mini marketing plan per crop per week. But there’s also a planting schedule for the cover crops. And it gets really complex. So it’s constantly rebuilding.

Farmer Lee Jones:

It’s almost like a relationship. You know, if it’s always a take, take, take, take from the relationship it’s not sustainable. So it’s a give back and it’s a take and it’s a give back and it’s a take. And it’s just profound results that we’re seeing by working in harmony with nature and trying to get that balance back. It takes us about three years to clean a field up. If we start going into a field that’s been farmed chemically or synthetically or with genetic modification, it takes us some time to clean it up and to rebuild it. And it’s very, very exciting. Yeah. I think that it is about yield and tons per acre, but we’re measuring for a different type of performance. We’re looking for the nutrient per mouthful. Nutrient, nutrient densities. We’re just really excited about what we’re seeing in the results. Do we have this all figured out? Nope. My dad had a saying that we have to continue to make mistakes at a faster rate than the competition.

Dr Ruscio:

I like that.

Farmer Lee Jones:

So it’s very exciting. We have a centrifuge on the farm, in the R&D lab. It’s from the medical world. It’s probably not new technology in measuring nutrient densities and other things. [For] soil health it’s pretty cutting edge.

Sponsor:

Hi everyone. If you are in need of help, we have a number of resources for you. “Healthy Gut, Healthy You”, my book and your complete self-help guide to healing your gut. If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer there is the clinic—the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine—and our growing clinical and supporting research team will be happy to help you. We do offer monthly support calls for our patients where I answer questions and help them along their path, health coaching support calls every other week, and also we offer health coaching independent of the clinic for those perhaps reading the book and/or looking for guidance with diet, supplementation, etc. There’s also the store that has our Elemental Diet line, our probiotics, and other gut health and health-supportive supplements. And for clinicians, there is our FFMR—the Future of Functional Medicine Review—database which contains case studies from our clinic, research reviews, and practice guidelines. Visit DrRuscio.com/resources to learn more.

Dr Ruscio:

One of the other things that comes up in this conversation is (and my understanding here is periphery, so please correct me if I have any of this wrong) but the agro-farms kind of paint a bullseye for: if an insect X likes crop Y and you plant a whole bunch of crop Y, you’re just going to have an infestation of insect X because there’s just so much of it. And there might be, let’s say with crop Z, a critter that hangs out on crop Z that actually eats the insect that likes to feed on crop X. And when you have this appropriate balance in the community, there seems to be almost this kind of self-policing, so to speak, that really, I suppose you could say achieves this natural insecticide function through competition. Therein vastly decreasing, or perhaps even generally eliminating, the synthetic insecticides or herbicides that need to be used. I suppose the same thing applies for both herbs and insects. But curious, you know, is my loose recapitulation of that accurate? And how does that map onto what you guys are doing?

Farmer Lee Jones:

Well? I think that that’s what you’ve said and described there is very true. Though we’ve kind of taken a different approach to it. When I was a kid, you know, on the farm, we had not had much exposure to the rest of the world. And Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom [would air] on Sunday night (Mutual of Omaha is an insurance company and it would sponsor this show) and it was really interesting to us because it showed places over in Africa and different parts of the world that we had never seen other than our national geographics books. You can tell how old I am, and you would see a cougar or a tiger or a lion attacking a herd of gazelle. Which one would it go after? It would go after the weakest one or the oldest one or the sick one. And it would thin out [the herd].

Farmer Lee Jones:

What’s interesting is that if we get the soil in balance, if we put a healthy seed into it, you can actually make the plant—if it’s healthy—it actually tastes too sweet for the insect. And they won’t go to that plant because it’s too healthy. The insect will attack a weak plant. We have actually two different systems that we use. When we buy seeds in, we use gravity and we use a wind turbine and we’ll dump, let’s just say hypothetically, five pounds of carrot seeds into the wind turbine. And there’s approximately 150,000-200,000 seeds in five pounds. They’re pretty small. And what it does is sorts by weight. And we sort into five different weight classifications. And then we’ll put a sampling from each classification into a petri dish and then germ it out. And 99 times out of 100, it falls out this way, but there’s a correlation between the heavier seed and it’s vigor. And the healthier that seed is, the better it’s going to take off in the soil. And it gets a good start. And if the soil’s imbalanced, then the healthy seed can pick up the nutrients from the soil and it takes off growing. And it’s so healthy that the plant doesn’t go after it. So the best defense against the insect is good offense, if that makes any sense in that explanation.

Dr Ruscio:

Interesting. No, it sounds like you have a novel approach and I’m wondering, are these things that are (as you alluded to earlier) secrets from grandpa? Or are these things that you guys have innovated yourselves and are pioneering some different methodologies?

Farmer Lee Jones:

Well, I think that, you know, we’re picking up stuff every place we can. Rodale, Cornell… I mean, so many places. My dad, we lost dad August 4th, 2020, but he was really the brains behind his, we called it, the curiosity gene. And, you know, really trying to figure this thing out. He was part scientist, part farmer, part psychologist, part… There are lots of parts to him. My brother and I got to work with him for 40 years. And we learned something from him every day. [He was a] voracious reader. There was a fellow by the name of Dr. Scow that he partnered up with. Dr. Scow interestingly enough was a veterinarian of large animals. And he kept noticing occurrences in the animals. And he was so fascinated by what was going on, that he found that the occurrences in the animals— you know, we have the old cliche saying you are what you eat—you are what the animal eats.

Farmer Lee Jones:

And the issues in the large livestock was really being traced back to deficiencies in the soil. So he completely abandoned [being a] large animal veterinarian and became a soil scientist. And boy, to get the two of them together was just incredible. I could listen to them for hours. But it really is, in many ways, going back to the way that we nurtured soil. And trying to use technology today, that’s available that wasn’t available back in the day. So it comes from a lot of different places. We, again, don’t have it all figured out. We have three folks that are in that R&D lab. Juda Inder came to us [through] a world exchange program; students come from all over the world and Juda came to us as a student. She mentored under my father and she runs that laboratory. And some of the work that they’re doing [out of the lab] is just unbelievable. It’s exciting.

Dr Ruscio:

It’s very exciting. So, you have a lab where you’re essentially analyzing the nutrient profiles on, I’m assuming, the soil health. You have the farm where you’re obviously growing the food. And is there an educational component to this also? Are you pairing up with and trying to spread this other farms? Or is there, you know, something going on there?

Farmer Lee Jones:

Not so much. It’s not that we’re opposed to that. You know, we’re surrounded by farms that are farming the same way that they have for a long time. And it’s a system that works. They’re good growers, they’re stuck in the model. If the demand was there for the food grown in a particular way, they would perhaps change the way they were farming. In our area, they think that we’re about half crazy for the way we farm, not farming half of the acreage for production and just growing cover crops in that. So, our tentacles go out in a lot of different ways: conferences and food conferences and farming conferences. And we’re seeing more and more doctors show up at these agricultural conferences than ever before. You know, I kind of liken the way that we used to farm and the way a lot of farmers are farming as more like Western culture medicine: it’s always putting the bandaid on the problem.

Farmer Lee Jones:

It’s always treating after the fact. When you get the strep throat, then you get the penicillin or the amoxicillin or the viacillin. Where the Eastern culture is: get the body in balance to defend against the disease in the first place. And I think that, you know, there’s very little time spent in training with doctors in Western culture medicine in a holistic or a plant-based approach to balance. And I think that they’re finally starting to see that and kind of move the other direction. And obviously you’ve been on to this for a long time. And we’re measuring the biology in the soil. They know the names of all of the biology and counting how many in a square foot of land. And we test that to see one of our successes, “is that biology alive and growing?” I mean, you can watch we have a theater set up so when we have visiting chefs come, we can actually put up on the screen and show the biology consuming the plants and parts of the plant. [Which we can then] break that down [further] into a form that the [next] plant we put in to harvest can pick it back up. Healthy soil, healthy vegetables, healthy people, healthy environment. And, you know, that’s really the crux of what we’re trying to do.

Dr Ruscio:

And in terms of how people can learn more about you, I just popped over to your website, which is very well done by the way. It looks like you have your e-commerce offering for people fairly well mapped out in terms of if people wanted to order from you. Do you have a URL or some place or places you’d like to point them to online?

Farmer Lee Jones:

Well, FarmerJonesFarm.com. You know, for 37 years, we were focused just on chefs. And when COVID hit, the restaurant scene just stopped. And we have 150 families that are really part of our extended family here at the Chef’s Garden. And we chose not to close up. We chose to stay open. You don’t furlough a farm and we wanted to keep the farm going. And we wanted to keep our team employed and safe and healthy. And so we pivoted very early on in this COVID because the restaurants were really struggling.

Farmer Lee Jones:

And so we opened a home delivery opportunity for people to be able to get a box of vegetables grown the right way from somebody conscientious, growing it the right way. We pick it and we pack it the day that we get that order and we ship it directly to people’s homes. There was a period, not that long ago, here a year or so ago, where we were afraid to go to a grocery store. But it gives us a reconnection with where our food source is coming from. And, so folks can go online at FarmerJonesFarm.com and order. The restaurants, we’re pleased to see, are returning and recovering. And so we’re excited to be supplying the restaurants again. On Instagram, certainly you can follow us @TheChefsGarden and @FarmerLeeJones on Instagram to keep us posted on what’s going on. I’d love to offer up Dr. Amy Sapala, who has just joined us. She was at the Mayo clinic and she’s joined us here full-time and can talk way more intelligently than an old dirt farmer like me can about this. And she might add a whole different perspective for your listeners than I could. And my brother has done way more studying on this than I have, he’s handled the production end of it. And I’m the guy that got the short straw and works with the chefs. And I’m the front guy.

Dr Ruscio:

The farmer’s perspective is actually really the one that I wanted. I think maybe the way I’m looking at this is, we start with helping consumers understand the importance of a different method of farming. And, you know, the follow up on that would be maybe getting into some of the nitty gritty from the medical perspective. But I’m hoping anywhere our audience appreciates that healthy farming equals healthy soil equals healthy food equals healthy people. So, it’s been great to pick your brain and get your perspective and congratulations on pivoting so well. I’m sure that could have easily gone the other way if you didn’t pivot. So I’m happy to see that one less farm got taken out by what I’m assuming was probably fairly devastating. Was that something that was devastating to the farming community? COVID? I’m not even really sure. I mean, people are still eating. But from your perspective, was COVID as hard on farms as it was on many other types of business?

Farmer Lee Jones:

I don’t think that it was in general, in grain farms because that demand continued. We were selling directly, 100% of our revenue was tied to restaurants. And so it hit us hard, really hard. I mean we were really nervous. One of the things that’s helped is right during the middle of COVID in March of ’21, we came out with a 700 page vegetable book with recipes. We’re excited about a plant-based, plant-forward future. [The book is] a modern guide to common and unusual vegetables with recipes. 700 pages, two and a half years of work. I jokingly say it was 40 years of our mistakes and trials and tribulations.

Farmer Lee Jones:

But chef Jamie Simpson at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, which is an extension of the farm here, him and his team worked on over a 100 recipes that are in the book that are totally [vegetable] driven. It’s not a book that you’re going to put in your backpack and take home with you or take to the farmer’s market with you. But I will guarantee…have the creativity, have the fearlessness to pick up the celery root, to pick up the rutabaga, to pick up the black radish, or the parsnip, or the salsify that you were afraid to cook with before and bring it home because I’ll guarantee there’s a recipe in the book for it. And, you know, it’s so exciting to see us really starting to take hold with plant-based plant-forward future.

Dr Ruscio:

Well, that’s all great stuff, Farmer Lee. And thank you for your dedication to soil health and taking some time to speak with us today. And there you have it, folks. Take care of the soil, be choosy where you get your produce from. And, hopefully we can turn the tide on, what does seem to be, a very similar messy medical system and messy agriculture system. And hopefully conversations like this, and the work like you’re doing Farmer Lee, will help improve awareness and start diverting where people are putting their dollars. That really seems to influence industry more than probably anything else, is just how one allocates their funds. So great stuff, Farmer Lee. Thank you again. Really appreciate it.

Farmer Lee Jones:

Thanks. Thanks so much for having me on. Remember, eat your veggies.

Outro:

Thank you for listening to Dr. Ruscio Radio today. Check us out on iTunes and leave a review. Visit DrRuscio.com to ask a question for an upcoming podcast, post comments for today’s show, and sign up to receive weekly updates. That’s DRRUSCIO.com.

 

➕ Resources & Links

Sponsored Resources

Hey guys, Dr. Joe here, medical director of the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine, and I’d like to thank Athletic Greens for making this episode possible. It’s sometimes difficult to optimize nutrition during either long days in the clinic or when traveling, and that’s why I’ve added AG1 to my morning routine, either by itself or in a smoothie.

It tastes great and helps ensure I’m getting high quality vitamins and nutrients for the day. I particularly like their combination of greens powder, antioxidants, and adaptogenic herbs. One scoop of AG1 contains 75 vitamins, minerals, and whole food sourced ingredients, including a multivitamin, multimineral probiotic, greens blend, and more. I also appreciate that Athletic Greens continues to improve their formula based on the latest research, totaling 53 improvements over the last decade. I highly recommend AG1 one as part of your daily routine. Right now, Athletic Greens is offering a free one year supply of vitamin D and five free AG1 travel packs with your first purchase when you visit athleticgreens.com/ruscio.


Need help or would like to learn more?
View Dr. Ruscio’s additional resources

Get Help

Discussion

I care about answering your questions and sharing my knowledge with you. Leave a comment or connect with me on social media asking any health question you may have and I just might incorporate it into our next listener questions podcast episode just for you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *