Farm Horizons, May 1998

It's time to stop treating soil like dirt


Premenstrual syndrome. What could PMS and farming possibly have in common? When you listen to Mabel Brelje of Glencoe, you find out a lot.

Brelje is a retired obstetrician/gynecologist, who has an organically certified grain farm near Glencoe.

Her farm is a direct result of her conclusion of what causes PMS, that premenstrual syndrome is an environmental disease, caused by chemicals we put in our bodies.

"I found if you change people's diet (to organic) 75 percent of the symptoms clear up," she said.

Brelje said she had treated PMS from the hormonal side, and wasn't satisfied with the results. That was when she started to look at environmental factors.

Now, looking at the environmental connection is called environmental medicine, but 20 years ago it was unheard of, and did not receive the blessing of the medical establishment.

Brelje said she tried not to be a rebel with her cause, instead she worked within the prescribed medical system and found she was more effective if she did not cause too many waves.

The two factors that are the most important to women's and men's health are the quality of the food and water, she said. This is where many chemicals are introduced into the body.

"Fifteen thousand new chemicals are introduced each year and these are chemicals that the body sees as abnormal," she said.

Consequently the immune system tries to fight the chemical off, and it pushes the system into overdrive. "Something is going to give," Brelje said.

In treating PMS, Brelje said the first step was to get women to change their diets, prepare more things from scratch, reducing chemical intake and eating organic foods to increase nutrient intake.

"Food producers will add anything they can to increase shelf life," she said.

Another step is to avoid all yeast products, as wheat and corn allergies are common in women with PMS.

"It's not just men," she said. "Men can also have yeast overload and be chronically depressed."

When Brelje was in Denver, she tried to encourage her brothers to stop using chemicals, because she saw what they were doing to her patients.

"In typical fashion, my brothers said they couldn't do it," she said.

Brelje now operates the farm her brothers once did, and has shown that organic farming can be done.

Brelje's farm is certified organic by a private organization. Minnesota does not have a state standard or certification for organic, but Brelje said there are several private organizations that do have organic standards, certify farms, and are recognized worldwide.

Good healthy food starts with good healthy soil, from which the growing crop can extract nutrients. In turn, the food eaten has a better supply of the vitamins and minerals needed by the body.

Many of the inputs used in modern farming are detrimental to the soil, Brelje said.

"We have to stop treating our soil like dirt. It's a living organism," she said.

"Right now we see a lot of anhydrous ammonia tankers, and anhydrous is detrimental to the soil. It kills the bacteria in the soil that do the work."

This, she said, changes the soil, which changes the resulting crop. It also affects the animals that are fed the corn.

"Are (their systems) ready for the change?" she said. "If the soil is deprived of minerals, the plant is deprived and the animal that eats it is deprived," she said.

Brelje said the fertility rate of the beef and dairy industry has dropped from 80 to 90 percent to 40 percent. She believes this is directly related to the cattle's feed.

"The pasture at my brother's didn't have minerals. We started to feed the cows a good mineral blend and they became fertile," she said.

Inputs are used in traditional farming to increase the crops, but Brelje noted that last year a Howard Lake area farmer harvested 50 bushels per acre of soybeans off his fields. He sold them at $18-$20 per bushel to the Japanese market.

It takes education to successfully farm organically, not just deleting inputs.

"You have to know about soil, soil life, minerals, and fertility," Brelje said.

One also has to have patience. Although one only has to stop using chemicals for three years to be certified organic, it could take five to 10 years for the soil to become healthy again, she said.

In the end, with all businesses, including farming, the goal is to make money. Brelje said she contracted to sell her organic soybeans at $19 per bushel.

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