Merin Porter is a freelance writer and editor with special interests in the areas of sustainability and education. Before taking the plunge into freelancing, she worked for 15 years as a full-time marketer and communicator.
In her free time, Merin enjoys gardening, reading, hiking, skiing, and spending time with her family and animals on their beautiful homestead in Southwest Colorado.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away—or at least it might have 60 years ago. Today, you’d have to eat two or three apples to get the same benefits.
That’s because one raw apple in 1951 contained 41 percent more vitamin A, 75 percent more thiamine, 30 percent more niacin, 66 percent more riboflavin, and more than twice as much iron as its equivalent at the turn of this century, according to analysis conducted by The Globe and Mail and CTV and confirmed by a handful of scientific studies in the early 2000s. [1,2]
Around the same time, Texas real estate investor Marjory Wildcraft started looking at the business models of the largest mortgage providers—and believing that an economic crisis was inevitable.
“One day, I started wondering where all the money for those mortgages was coming from,” Wildcraft said. “When I realized that the source was unsustainable, I did two things: Pulled those commodities from my investment portfolios, and went into survival mode.”
For Wildcraft, “survival mode” meant trying to ensure her family would have enough food if it turned out that economic collapse shut down the food supply chain for any length of time.
“Initially, I tried to organize all the local farmers in hopes of providing fresh produce to our public elementary school,” she said. “We had lots of grant money and plenty of interest from parents and students alike. But when we put pen to paper on who would provide this food, we realized that there were not enough farmers in our county to provide even part of the food we would need for one elementary school.”
It was an awakening for Wildcraft, who says the realization that agricultural producers were so scarce in her area—and that the local grocery store, if not replenished, carried at most three or four days’ worth of food—left her literally shaking.
It was also the beginning of a homegrown food movement thats popularity has skyrocketed over the past few years.
Through local and online communities, people who noticed Wildcraft’s efforts to grow food for her family began to feel empowered to grow their own.
Wildcraft created workshops and videos that taught people how to produce half their food in their backyards in less than an hour a day.
The homegrown food movement grew.
As she sought to hone her own skills as a food and medicine producer, Wildcraft spent countless hours researching and testing ancestral—even paleolithic—methods for food production. She also delved deeply into the current state of the commercial food supply, including the inverse relationship between increased production and decreased nutrition. The more she learned, the angrier she became.
“My initial motivation for trying to establish a community of likeminded people was deep concern about the economic collapse. I wanted us to be able to eat! But since then, my motives have shifted. I’ve gotten in touch with the anger I feel about commercial agriculture and the way it’s contributing to the destruction of people’s health and our planet.”
Wildcraft isn’t alone in her frustration.
In his 2007 report “Still No Free Lunch,” author Brian Halweil noted that U.S. production of strawberries has increased eightfold since 1960, and its yields of corn, wheat, soybeans, and tomatoes have doubled or tripled. But, Halweil said, “as yields increased, something else happened … a narrowing of the human diet, greater dependence on chemicals and costly farm inputs, and degradation of soils.”
However, soil degradation is only one factor behind the decline of vitamins and minerals in grocery store produce.
Scientists point to the use of fast-growing, high-yield crops, which contain fewer nutrients than their slow-growing counterparts cultivated at the same time, in the same soil, and under the same conditions. 
These cultivars are harvested before they are fully mature, in an effort to extend shelf life and help fruits and vegetables resist damage from the rigors of transport—another detriment to nutrition, since nutrient profiles tend to improve as crops ripen. For example, bell peppers that are harvested when red and thus fully ripe have 30 percent more vitamin C than their unripe green counterparts. Tomatoes experience a similar boost in nutrition when left to ripen on the vine. 
Compounding the problem is the effect that light, oxygen, and improper temperatures and humidity— all concerns during transport and storage—have on vitamin content.
Water-soluble vitamins such as vitamins B and C degrade when exposed to air and light.  Light also deteriorates the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. 
In an article detailing how temperature and relative humidity affect the texture, nutrition, aroma and flavor of temperate fruits and vegetables,  Dr. Robert E. Paull, researcher in the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, said that one size does not fit all when it comes to produce storage.
“The distribution chain rarely has the facilities to store each commodity under ideal conditions and requires handlers to make compromises as to the choice of temperature and relative humidity,” he wrote. “These choices can lead to physiological stress and loss of shelf life and quality.”
The result is that supermarket produce—already less nutritious because of its variety and harvest schedule—is further degraded during transportation and storage.
Widespread pesticide use and the rise of GMOs are additional factors that reduce the nutritional value of supermarket produce, Wildcraft said.
And organic produce, she added, is not that much better.
Even though it helps you avoid the question marks of GMOs and pesticides, the organic fruits and vegetables found in your local chain supermarket are still likely to be high-yield, fast-growing cultivars that are harvested early and shipped far.
“Organic standards have deteriorated so much,” Wildcraft said. “Buying organic food is a step in the right direction, but it’s not a total solution. Unfortunately, it’s not really possible anymore to be healthy eating only from the grocery store.”
To overcome the vitamin and mineral deficiencies brought about by low-nutrition, high-yield fruit and vegetable cultivars; early harvesting; and relatively long transport and storage times, some people visit local farms and produce stands, or join Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.
Others, like Wildcraft, have chosen to further secure their food supply by growing some or all of their own fruits, vegetables, and livestock.
Lots of others.
Wildcraft’s video series on backyard food production, which she initially struggled to sell, took off and is currently being used by more than 500,000 individuals and organizations worldwide. Her online community of people who grow their own food and medicine has more than 150,000 members.
And, as interest in personal food production grows, the movement’s positive impact on the environment keeps pace.
More than just a path to food security and optimum nutrition, Wildcraft said, personal food production also helps solve two of our society’s major food paradoxes—the facts that, even though 795 million people worldwide are undernourished, one-third of agricultural cereal crops are used for fuel and 1.3 billion tons of edible food is wasted each year.
When a person or community grow their own produce and raise their own livestock, they not only help eliminate food waste since “any excesses or scraps are turned into compost or local animal feed,” but also they use up to 95 percent less fuel than large-scale commercial operations.
“Really, it’s common sense,” she said. “If I buy a head of lettuce from the grocery store, it might have traveled 1,500 miles and been refrigerated the whole time. That uses a lot of fuel. But if I walk outside and grab some lettuce out of my garden, the only fuel involved might be what was used in buying that packet of seeds. And if I grow my lettuce from seeds I’ve saved from a previous crop, the environmental impact will be even less.”
Backyard food production further improves the health of both the public and the planet by helping people gain inexpensive access to fully nutritious foods and reconnect with time-tested, sustainable food production methods.
“Humanity has engaged in this big experiment with centralized food, and we now know that it just doesn’t work,” she said. “Commercial agriculture has been destroying the mineral wealth of the planet, and I want to help stop that destruction. Ultimately, I believe, the solution is homegrown food on every table.”
She added that she still thinks of herself as a real estate investor—but this time, she is investing in land across the entire globe.
“I used to define ‘riches’ in dollars and cents,” she said. “Now I know that producing your own food and medicine—and the way it improves your health and that of the Earth—is its own form of prosperity. I’ve come to realize that all true wealth comes from the ground.”See other Finalists