The Vegetable Systems Trial is a side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic methods for growing produce.

VST is specifically designed to analyze nutrient density in the finished crops. It’s the first of its kind—no other crop comparison study has been focused on exploring the links between soil health and human health.

What We’re Researching

The Vegetable Systems Trial analyzes root, fruit, and leaf crops including potatoes, butternut squash, lettuce, green beans, and sweet corn.

The crops are grown in 3 different systems: conventional, organic manure-based, and organic legume-based. Each system is further divided into tilled plots, no-till, and rotational tillage plots. Read more about the specifics of these systems in the Farming Systems Trial.

Data collected will measure:

  • Differences in nutrient density of vegetables
  • Differences in soil health over time
  • Drought resilience
  • Resilience to insects, diseases and weed pressure
  • Profitability

Why does it matter?

The nutrient density of fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. has declined in the past 50-70 years. That means many people today are struggling with “hidden hunger”—they’re getting enough calories but not the vital nutrients necessary for health.

We know organic systems create healthier soil. We know healthier soil means healthier plants. Now we need to know, are those healthier plants more nutritionally dense? Can they improve human health? Begun in 2017 and intended to run for more than twenty years, the VST is aimed at answering these important questions.

rodale potatoes

Did You Know?

Potatoes account for 10% of all pestcides used in the U.S. by weight.

Changes in the soil

In our Farming Systems Trial, the land started as conventional. Over time, we observed that the organic systems in that trial had improved soil health. The site of the Vegetable Systems Trial, however, has been managed organically for more than 40 years. We expect to observe a degradation of soil health in the conventional systems that are a part of VST—similar to what has happened in much of global food production since the advent of chemical agriculture. Our controlled experiment gives us the unique opportunity to see if and how degraded soil health affects the chemical composition of food.

Webinar: Nutrient Density

Learn how farming practices impact the nutrient density of our foods and ultimately the health and well-being of human populations and the planet.

Watch Now