How to Grow (or Buy) Healthy Food – Chapter 10

The [Grow] Network is pleased to publish Colin Austin’s 10 part series, How to Grow (or Buy) Healthy Food. This article is Chapter 10 of 10. You can read the other chapters here:

Chapter 1 – Diet and Health, a Personal Experience
Chapter 2 – Statistics and the Diet Controversy
Chapter 3 – Eat Right, Not Less
Chapter 4 – Finding a Diet by Self-Experimentation
Chapter 5 – Essential Nutrients for Good Health
Chapter 6 – The What and Where of Minerals
Chapter 7 – The Rhizosphere
Chapter 8 – Transferring Nutrients and Biology to Growing Beds
Chapter 9 – From Garden to Kitchen
Chapter 10 – Community Action

Chapter 10 – Community Action
colin-and-xiulanWe have talked about the technology of growing plants which are healthy for us. But we are not finished.

What’s to Come in Chapter 10
Only the super human can grow all the plants they need on schedule, and some people cannot grow at all, so we discuss the social issues of health and buying and sharing food.

Buying Healthy Plants

I refuse to believe that I am the only person on the face of the earth who is disorganized and fails to produce a continuous stream of plants just ready for picking. I also refuse to believe that I am the only person who has a finite brain and just does not have the expertise to grow all the range of plants and herbs, each with their own specialist horticultural protocol that they would like to eat.

But the current imbalanced diet – too much energy – not enough nutrients – is causing the number one health problem globally and many people cannot even think about growing food as an alternative.

The obvious solution is simply to go out and buy what you can’t grow – but where to go?

Supermarkets are very good at what they do – which is to make money. There is no secret on how to make money – buy as cheap as possible (which they can do by squeezing the grower) and sell at as high a price as you can get – which they do by high pressure advertising and branding. And they sell as much as they can.

I am not saying this is criminal or unethical – their job is to make money. If they don’t maximize profits they will be penalized by the financial establishment who have zero concern for my health – these are the rules of the society we live in.

I live in a horticultural area and I have gotten to know many of the local growers. I prefer shopping in the local market rather than the hassle of a supermarket.

I feel moderately comfortable with what they have to offer. They are also pretty straight dealers. I once just mentioned in passing that the watermelon I bought last week was a bit overripe – just chatting really – so he knew he needed to pick a bit earlier. He immediately gave me a new one; no receipt, no argument – that does not happen in supermarkets.

Xiulan loves markets; they are a form of entertainment for her. She demonstrates her Chinese heritage by being a master bargainer – sometimes embarrassingly so – I tell the stall holder to raise the prices when they see us coming so she can bargain them down.

Buying at the local market is a good start and I guess I am luckier than most – but I want to go further. I am convinced that the root to healthy food starts in the soil (excuse the pun) so I ask myself how I could solve the problem of wanting to buy plants knowing for sure that they been grown in nutrient-rich soil.

I don’t think I am alone in this, although I am better placed than most people because I have a large block and don’t have to go out to work. There must be millions of people around the world who for reasons of time, space, and knowhow simply cannot grow the food they would like but would still like to buy nutrient-rich plants which means they are grown in nutrient-rich soil.

Another twist to this problem is that eating fresh is so much healthier and tastier. If food is picked and eaten straight from the plant it just taste so much nicer.

Peas are the classic example. Eating a pea straight out of the pod within minutes of picking is just a totally different experience that unfortunately many people just don’t have.

Wicking Baskets

My aim in developing wicking baskets was to give people the benefit of eating fresh home grown produce without having to do all the work of growing everything themselves.

Wicking baskets are just like a small wicking bed. They are simply filled with nutritious soil (Wickimix) which sits in a bucket which acts as a water reservoir.

However the idea behind wicking baskets is much broader than a simple wicking bed. A commercial grower could grow plants to maturity either in multiple wicking baskets or in a mother bed.

When mature, the basket can then be passed on to a customer who can then pick fresh vegetables as needed. I use the chop and chew method, just pruning the outside leaves and letting new leaves shoot. A plant can be a productive source of food for many months with this system.

However when the plant is finally exhausted the customer can get a refill basket from the grower.

I use wicking baskets extensively, even though I have a large block. The reason stems from my state of disorganization.

I am daily surprised that at night time it gets dark (some people are very slow learners) and realize that I have forgotten to go down the block to pick my vegetables for dinner. Having a few wicking baskets sitting on my veranda gives me an immediate source of vegetables without having to run down to the garden in my underpants (or worse – it gets hot in Queensland).

Of course wicking baskets could be used as a primary source of production, but the quantity of vegetables that can be grown all the way from seed is limited. However they can provide a valuable source of nutrients, growing plants like water cress and herbs.


I have put a great deal of effort into studying diet and particularly how to grow healthy food. Obviously helping Xiulan has been the primary motivation, and thankfully her health has improved dramatically as she eats a more healthy diet.

The rate of increase in diabetes is just staggering. It’s not just the numbers of people who are already diabetic – the really scary statistic is the rapid increase in the number of people who are pre-diabetic. This is not just a problem for Xiulan and me – there are already nearly a billion people around the world that are already diabetic – and the number is going up daily.

I have the technology which I know can help – at least for Xiulan and me – but how do I spread this technology? I feel I need to do what I can to help – but how?

I realise that many groups are already cooperating with growing healthy food – but only on a small scale. I would like to see this expand across the globe in the way that wicking bed technology has spread simply by people spreading the word on the internet, whether by websites, blogs, or social media.

The system of Creative Commons gives us a mechanism for this to happen, but in a much more controlled way than happened with wicking beds.

The Punch Line

We can take some things as undisputed scientific facts:

1) The body needs energy or fuel, it gets this from sugars and carbohydrates, generating energy by burning carbon and hydrogen.
2) The body needs certain chemicals, which it cannot manufacture itself, so we must eat. These are vitamins, 13 of which are undisputed (but up to 27 have been reported in the literature).
3) Plants produce a whole range of phytochemicals which have been scientifically identified, but we are not sure exactly what role they play in our health – but they seem critical.
4) Our bodies need various food in addition to fuel to regenerate our body parts.
5) The world is suffering from a major health crisis as a result of poor diet.

Despite any negative comments I make – the modern food industry actually produces an abundant quantity of energy food at low cost – but it is lacking in vitamins and phytonutrients.

I built a successful career based on examining scientific evidence and where scientific evidence was lacking or debatable still coming up with practical solutions that worked. This is called a ‘working hypothesis.’

My working hypothesis is that these phytonutrients are essential for health, if they are not in our diet our bodies senses the lack – we feel hungry and tend to pig out on high energy – low nutrient – food. Diabetes here we come!

This is what I call the hungry beast inside.

This may be a working hypothesis, but I have tested it out using myself as a guinea pig – I eat until I feel full and generally feel satisfied between meals – I feel my energy level for my age is good and although my weight may be marginally above ideal it is stable.

Working on the basis of a considered evaluation of available data (as opposed to undisputed scientific fact), I feel confident in promoting this approach to diet as the best available solution to the global metabolic syndrome problem.

My solution is that people should supplement their diet with a variety of plants grown in nutritious soil with a full range of minerals and trace elements and with an active soil biology to make the minerals available to the plants.

I have tried to illustrate the basic principles that I use to grow plants with these essential phytonutrients.

While is does take more effort in growing, I can see this being practical for some people who have land and time to grow their own high nutrient food with these essential phytonutrients. I see this as practical because they only have to grow enough additional food to supplement their diet. I see no point in them trying to replace the high energy food which forms the bulk of food intake and which can be readily purchased.

However I realise that many, if not the majority of people may find this impractical because they lack space, time or skills. There needs to be an alternative solution for these people.

I cannot see the traditional massive food system – dominated by short term profits – producing this high nutrient food – they are the cause of the problem.

But I can see a community action developing where people are motivated by ethics and providing a genuine service, rather than dominated by profits. Naturally, members of the community need to cover their costs if they are volunteering their efforts, but there is an opportunity for businesses to make reasonable profits – but it should not be the dominating motive. I am still naive enough to believe in ethical business.

This would need appropriate awareness within the community of the importance of phytonutrients, and the cooperation of home growers and ethically orientated commercial growers to supply the food.

A Community Project

One of the first jobs in creating this community action is getting the message out.

Before Xiulan was diagnosed with diabetes I really did not know much about it – I was ignorant. When it got the point that she looked as though they may have to amputate her foot I realized what a terrible disease it is. Diabetes is the most common cause of amputations and blindness and a poor diet lacking in nutrients is a major part of the problem.

I should at least make an effort to get the message out – but how? I know the number of people googling ‘rhizosphere and diabetes’ is going to be pretty small so I am not going to achieve that much by myself. Simply putting these – and the many articles I write – up on the web won’t have the needed impact. It just gets drowned out by the noise on the web and the desire for a three second sound byte.

But I look back to the wicking bed story. Probably very few people using wicking beds are even aware of my web site, they have just learned about it second, third or fourth hand. It is a little unfortunate that the message got a little scrambled but it is great that they at least got the basic message.

Since my original publications, the system of creative commons has evolved. I am not sure whether people really appreciate the significance of creative commons but it is a major development allowing people who have creative ideas to cooperate with others on community based projects.

I cannot do it myself but I can ask people reading this to take action. This could be as simple as telling friends and referring them to my website, putting the message on Facebook or whatever social media they use, if they run a website to put it on their site and if they are master filmmakers to put it on YouTube or similar sites. This cost virtually nothing and all I ask is to follow the principle of creative commons.

Let us learn from experience with wicking beds – many people have been involved with wicking bed technology – members of our Eco-community and all those people who send me emails often with excellent ideas and information. The ideas are not all mine but I accumulate information and use my website as a central source of information. I am happy to adopt a similar role in centralizing information on growing healthy food.

Delivering the Goodies

Once we have got the message out there – people are going to ask, “where can I buy this high nutrient food and how can I be sure that it really is high nutrient and not some marketing scam?”

Home Growers
I know from my experience that I often end up with surplus food that I would prefer to pass on rather than put back into my composting system (however much I love it). This must be happening all over the world so why not benefit from this by selling (or giving away if you prefer) this surplus produce.

I know that this happens already – when I have a surplus, I often just give it to my friends and they give to me when they have a surplus. But this is the age of the internet – why not do this on a bigger scale – using the internet as a medium for creating new contacts.

Commercial Growers
But I do not see this as limited to the home gardener. I live in a horticultural region and I know that many of these growers are decent honest people trying to earn a living by selling healthy food. I know that many of these growers are being squeezed by the big supermarkets and would welcome an alternative.

Again the internet provides a mechanism. Even if they are selling at the local market, it is more convenient for both customer and grower to have orders placed online for pick up at the market. Additionally there are growers’ groups who are already running a home delivery service.

What is currently missing is a way for the customer to be sure that the plants are grown in nutrient-rich biologically active soil. This would require some system of certification but would undoubtedly benefit customer and grower. If there is the interest from growers I can set up such a system.

The Community Bulletin Board at healthyfoodassociation.com

The internet has changed the world we live in by providing a global means of communication.

I have set up a website which is essentially a free bulletin board. At this moment it is just a trial to learn peoples’ reactions but it can be refined as needed. The idea is simply to create a free bulletin board where growers and buyers can post and make contact.

Growers producing healthy food can post that they have their product available, this is a non-trading non-commercial web site – anyone interested in buying the produce can then contact the grower directly and arrange whatever commercial and delivery arrangement suits them. This could be either direct contact or at a local market.

This is a totally free website where growers can post information on the produce they have available and promote their expertise in growing healthy regeneration food. It aims to bring consumers and growers together free of commercial hype so people can avoid the drama that Xiulan and I have been through.


I anticipate that customers will be looking for some sort of assurance that the plants really are grown in nutritious biologically active soil. At this moment I am waiting to see how these ideas float with growers but I see that a system could be set up where growers could use a name such as ‘Grown in Wickimix®’ so they can promote that the produce is grown in this nutrient-rich soil.

This would be a system somewhat similar to organic produce. Many certified organic growers may use this system but there would be an additional emphasis on the nutritional value of the soil in addition to avoiding the use of toxic sprays.

Author’s Plea

fad-diets-dont-workIn this series I have tried to give useful information about diet and health – I hope this benefits the home grower and dedicated growers. However there are billions of people around the globe who are suffering from poor health from eating unhealthy highly processed foods – high in calories but low in critical nutrients. I make a plea for community action to make healthy food readily available to anyone concerned about their health – whether they are gardeners or not.

If you are sympathetic to this aim, please contact me at colinaustin@bigpond.com.

Chapter 1 – Diet and Health, a Personal Experience
Chapter 2 – Statistics and the Diet Controversy
Chapter 3 – Eat Right, Not Less
Chapter 4 – Finding a Diet by Self-Experimentation
Chapter 5 – Essential Nutrients for Good Health
Chapter 6 – The What and Where of Minerals
Chapter 7 – The Rhizosphere
Chapter 8 – Transferring Nutrients and Biology to Growing Beds
Chapter 9 – From Garden to Kitchen
Chapter 10 – Community Action

© 28 July 2015 Colin Austin – Creative Commons – This document may be reproduced but the source should be acknowledged. Information may be used for private use but commercial use requires a license.

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This post was written by Colin Austin


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