In 2016, the Rodale Institute initiated the Vegetable Systems Trial (VST), a long-term side-by-side comparison of biologically-based organic and chemically-based conventional vegetable production systems. The goal for this project is to develop economically viable vegetable production systems which improve soil, plant, human and planetary health through the application of regenerative organic management techniques. The duration of this project is expected to go well beyond 20 years with the intention of monitoring soil health, vegetable nutritional quality, environmental impact, agroecosystem resilience, and the economics of vegetable production over time while assessing how management practices directly or indirectly affect human health.
Nutrient densities (concentrations of minerals, vitamins, and proteins) of fruits and vegetables produced in the U.S. and United Kingdom have declined in the past 50-70 years (Davis 2009; Davis, Epp, and Riordan 2004). Organic management practices that re-mineralize and improve the health and life of the soil are expected to increase nutrient densities in the crop. Rodale Institute recently launched an initiative to explore the connection between agricultural practices and food quality. Studies designed to compare the nutritional quality of organically and conventionally grown foods have had mixed results. There is no refuting that organic foods are lower in pesticide residues compared to conventionally grown food. While several studies have shown higher mineral, vitamin, protein, or phytonutrient concentrations in organic foods, others have challenged this claim, either finding no difference in separate studies or questioning the methodology of the research. No studies to date have compared the nutritional quality of organic and conventional vegetables grown in the same soil, under the same set of environmental conditions in a replicated, side-by-side trial until now. The Farming Systems Trial at Rodale Institute, a side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional grain production, now in its 37th year, has begun to analyze the nutritional quality of oat grain produced in all systems. The VST, similarly designed, will provide irrefutable data comparing the nutritive quality of organically and conventionally grown produce and investigate the human health benefits of eating an organic diet.
The specific crops grown in the trial will be: potato, butternut squash, lettuce, green beans, and sweet corn. The systems are designed to replicate labor intensive production that includes tillage and the use of black plastic mulch, and lower labor, mechanized production that integrates reduced tillage technology.
Stay tuned for updates as crops will be planted the first time in this trial in 2017.
Davis, Donald R. 2009. 'Declining fruit and vegetable nutrient composition: What is the evidence?', HortScience, 44: 15-19.
Davis, Donald R, Melvin D Epp, and Hugh D Riordan. 2004. 'Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999', Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23: 669-82.