February 1, 2021 at 1:49 a.m.

Connecting soil, animal, human health

Abel-Caines presents for Minnesota Organic Conference virtual session

By Danna [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Dairy farmers know the intimate connection between the soil, crops, animals and humans well. According to Dr. Silvia Abel-Caines, Organic Valley ruminant nutritionist, this connection holds the power to alter the health of an entire population. 
“Dairy farming can achieve very high levels of production by focusing on nutrition,” Abel-Caines said. “By focusing on the longevity of the animal, we can ensure high production as well as a healthy animal and healthy product.” 
Abel-Caines is from the Dominican Republic, a small nation that shares an island with Haiti. The difference in vegetation is stark on the shared island, the Dominican Republic lush and green while Haiti is brown and dry. The impact the vegetation had on the soil, animals and people of the island inspired Abel-Caines to research the connection deeper.  
“We’ve seen the effect of this (poor animal nutrition) reflected in human health, but the concepts have been vague,” Abel-Caines said. “I’m going to try to highlight how much of this connection can be traced and connected to ecosystems and formulate a plan moving forward to benefit everyone involved.” 
In her training to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Abel-Caines was disappointed that the primary solution to correcting and treating disease was clinical. 
“When good goes in (the body), good will be the result,” Abel-Caines said. “We shouldn’t fix the body as a machine when something is off. Instead, we should treat it like an ecosystem, because each part is intimately, functionally entwined with the rest of the body.”
Abel-Caines believes nutrition can be an alternate solution to treating disease. 
“Growing up in the Dominican, when cows were forced to graze on pasture with little to no diversity of plant life, they showed signs of deficiency as a result,” Abel-Caines said.
Starting with a diverse foundation, Abel-Caines looks at soil for variety.
“The more activity we have in the soil, we know the crop will be more diverse as well,” Abel-Caines said.  
She quoted Wendell Berry from his book, “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture,” by saying: “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it, we can have no community, because without proper care for it, we can have no life.”
Abel-Caines cited farm visits and pasture walks she has been on that have focused on the connection between feeding and nutrition and how that is reflected in animal behavior, production and the lifespan of the animals. 
“Farmers who take good care of the land see interesting results in the soil and plants, and see significant difference in their cows’ health,” Abel-Caines said. 
As a healthy cow consumes a highly nutritious diet, they will produce a highly nutritious product. 
“In nature we cannot isolate different factors (like when a cow is grazing on natural pasture), so we can see the connection between what cows consume and the quality of meat or milk that come from that as a result,” Abel-Caines said. 
She noted the priorities most farmers and nutritionists have for their cows. 
“Typical rations focus on high production rather than the longevity of the animal,” Abel-Caines said. “Dairy cows can achieve high production by focusing on nutrition and overall health.” 
While healthy soil is foundation for a healthy input of a cow’s diet, a healthy cow’s output is the input for a healthy human diet. 
“The average American’s diet is very imbalanced with a high tendency of consuming high omega-6 levels,” Abel-Caines said.
She indicated this unbalance comes from an imbalanced agriculture industry. Her proposition is to alter the food we grow and eat.
In a study performed by the Rodale Regenerative Health Institute in 2014, people were scored on the diversity and variety of food in their diet. Their findings exposed people who eat food with low variety highly correlate with having a pre-diabetic condition. 
Abel-Caines noted Time Magazine’s study on inflammation in humans today. Inflammation is a body’s way of fighting things that harm it, such as infections, injuries and toxins in an attempt to heal itself. While much of the article focuses on stress, overwork and lifestyle habits, two pages discuss the nutrition of a population.  
Abel-Caines related the intricacies of the human body’s balance to soil. Because there is a general understanding of how an environment works and therefore how a human body’s ecosystem works, translating that to a soil-plant-cow-milk-human ecosystem becomes clearer. 
“Small nutrient differences in both cows’ and humans’ diets can make a big difference overall,” Abel-Caines said. “(There are) studies with conclusions that validate longevity, better grazing and more production (in cows with a diverse, plant-based diet. There’s also a high likelihood these products are more nutritious for human consumption.” 
Overall, Abel-Caines believes that focusing on the system as a whole, rather than isolating pieces, is what will be the key to a healthier human race.


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