By John T. Alexander
Summary: A bittersweet newspaper account of a man who remineralizes soil using special organic composts, developed with the help of nutritional and agricultural scientists, to grow crops for concentration into whole-food supplements. On the one hand, the story is exciting and inspirational, revealing the difference that well-mineralized, well-bacterialized soil makes in the nutritional quality of foods grown in it. On the other hand, this is a sad reminder of the path industrial agriculture in this country did not take, opting instead for producing nutrient-deficient plants from sapped soil propped up with artificial fertilizers. Includes the famous quote by Dr. C.W. Cavanaugh of Cornell University: “The fact is there is only one major disease—and that is malnutrition.” From The Kansas City Star, 1952. Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research reprint 55.
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He Enriches Soil for Crops That Go into Vitamin Pills
Platte County Farm of E.H. Pratt Produces Grasses That Are Rich in Bodybuilding Elements…Leaves from Kansas City Streets Used in Basic Compost Piles in Half-Million-Dollar Enterprise
Ever hear of a vitamin farm? Yes, vitamins may now be added to the varied agricultural production in the Kansas City area.
Upon first glance at the 472-acre establishment in Platte County, you would know that it is not the usual layout for producing cattle, hogs, wheat, corn, or other familiar crops. You wouldn’t recognize anything, perhaps, except pale green rye fields—under irrigation via an elaborate system of overhead aluminum pipes.
A surmise that somebody is putting money into this project would be correct, and if you wanted to add some other things, you might mention eggshells, manure, and no end of enthusiasm. You’d see the eggshells and manure—tons of the stuff—adorning the hillsides in strange windrows. You’d detect the enthusiasm as soon as you talked to the operators of the farm.
Milk and Honey—And Grass Juice
Your nose would catch strange chemical aromas, fresh from chemical and bacteriological laboratories, and in a nearby farmhouse, at a restaurant-type counter, you would be invited to sample a greenish drink compounded of honey, milk, and powdered grass juice.
If you drink enough of that beverage, the operators of the Hillcrest Nutritional farm would tell you, your body will get a special feast of vitamins as well as some extraordinary mineral elements for which your mute inner tissues have been yearning for years and years.
And then an odd, giddy feeling (not due to an overdose of vitamin “X” from the chlorophyll cocktail) would come over you when you discuss the potentialities of the fragrant grass juice powder with E.H. Pratt, one of the owners of the farm, and his son, L.D. Pratt, general manager.
The Pratts may mention, all in the same breath, a series of seemingly unrelated things. There was the speechless surprise of Kansas City street officials a couple of years ago when Pratt asked whether they’d mind if he hauled away several hundred truckloads of the beautiful autumn leaves littering the streets. [And there was] the garbage of Oakland, California, that Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s bacterial conversion turned into 100–proof soil-building humus. [And they might bring up] the appalling scarcity of strontium and other trace minerals in Midwestern soils.
What does it all add up to? To find the answer, you would have to backtrack to E.H. Pratt’s retirement in the spring of 1949 from the active management of the Accessories Manufacturing Company at 705 McGee Street. Pratt, at 46, felt that he was a tired man, getting old before he should. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with his health, but after talking to several Kansas City physicians, he began to wonder whether dietary deficiencies were at fault.[Photo of man and woman examining the content of two flasks, with caption:] These experts aid in standardizing the vitamin output. They are Dr. Charles F. Schnabel, chemist, and Dr. Ann Koffler, bacteriologist—shown examining a flask of test solution.
An Idea for Rejuvenation
Studying the subject of nutrition, Pratt was particularly struck by a pronouncement of Dr. C.W. Cavanaugh of Cornell University: “The fact is there is only one major disease—and that is malnutrition.” If certain elusive elements were missing from the soil that grew our food, Pratt discovered, persons depending on that food for sustenance might suffer from seemingly mysterious ailments and might be subject to infections that would be thrown off by a well-nourished organism.
Mostly as a hobby, Pratt pursued his nutritional studies by growing his own food in a large garden at his home at 4401 College Avenue. He built up the soil with a compost made of various types of manure, leaves, seed cleanings, lime, seaweed, granite dust, and rock phosphate. The garden reacted by growing crops of noticeable vigor and quality. After eating the products of the enriched soil, Pratt was astonished at his recovery from whatever had been troubling his health.
In the fall of 1950, Pratt felt so much better that he decided the enriched compost could be produced on a large scale. He sold a 5,000-acre ranch in Colorado, purchased the Platte County farm, and started building his compost piles. In addition to the fallen leaves in Kansas City, Pratt made use of many other organic materials, even lettuce.
His first idea was to sell the compost—also known as organic fertilizer—to farmers, who would be shown how to use the material. Then, according to the initial plan, Pratt would purchase the farmers’ products and sell them at premium prices. The theory was that people would be glad to pay extra for corn, oats, beans, tomatoes, and so on, if they knew they were getting a product that contained all the known nutritive elements.
Then the compost plant came to the attention of a Milwaukee man, Dr. Royal Lee, head of the Vitamin Products Company, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of natural vitamins. (Editor’s note: The term “natural vitamins” is usually used to apply to food concentrates rich in vitamins, in contrast to synthetic vitamins prepared by chemical processes.)
The Idea That Grew
“What we were starting to do, Dr. Lee told us, was something he had advocated for years,” Pratt said. “Then he told me, ‘Why, you have one of the best men in the country—in the very work you’re interested in—right there in Kansas City. Why don’t you look up Charles Schnabel?’”
Pratt, losing no time in locating Dr. Schnabel, found that he is the chemist who attained fame ten years ago in discovering that the maximum vitamin content of grasses is attained after eighteen to twenty-one days of growth—just before the tender grass shoots form joints. That discovery resulted in the formation of Cerophyl Laboratories, Inc., a Kansas City firm that sells high-vitamin grass concentrates, dehydrated alfalfa, and pharmaceutical preparations.
Dr. Schnabel told Pratt that he could think of no enterprise more interesting than utilizing scientifically compounded composts to build up the soil to a point where it would produce grasses containing, along with the vitamins, a complete range of the minerals—including the trace elements—that are needed for maximum nutrition.
The men began to study the complex factors involved in preparation of a compost that would contain every macromineral and trace element. They learned that one ingredient of the compost would have to be a seaweed, which contains the entire range of rare and unusual elements, including those that are either absent or present in inconsequential amounts in most cultivated soils.
Pratt, Schnabel, and Lee also turned their attention to the accomplishments of Dr. Pfeiffer, a biochemist in Spring Valley, New York. Pfeiffer, through long experimentation, has produced types and blends of bacteria that, when sprayed on organic material, reduce it to a rich, black “humus” within a few weeks. The Pfeiffer method has received wide attention from its application to the garbage in Oakland.
What Makes Better Tomatoes?
Another question faced Pratt as he considered the complexity of the contemplated compost production: Would a housewife spend 20 cents a pound for tomatoes grown in soil enriched with this compost when she could buy tomatoes that looked just as good for half as much money?
“That brings up an interesting point,” Pratt said. “Tests at Rutgers University have shown that in two tomatoes that look exactly alike, the iron content in one may be as low as one part in a million, while in the other tomato [it may be as high as] 1,938 parts in a million. In effect, one tomato is solid gold, and the other is cheap gilt. Yet a truck farmer would have trouble selling one of those tomatoes for more money than the other!”
The net result of of Platt’s compost-making plans led him to a new decision: to utilize the compost to enrich the soil on the Platte County farm, raise cereal grasses on this super-fortified soil, and convert those grasses into natural vitamin concentrates.
Two years were spent building up the soil of the Platte County farm. Dr. Schnabel joined the staff, along with Dr. Ann Koffler, a bacteriologist who helped set up Dr. Pfeiffer’s laboratory. Dr. Koffler, who holds a doctor’s degree from the University of Vienna, was a student under Dr. Selman A. Waksman, who was awarded the Nobel prize last month for his achievement in isolating streptomycin. Koffler was also on the biology staff at the University of Kansas City.
Dr. Pfeiffer and Dr. Joseph A. Cocannouer, a soils man formerly at Oklahoma Eastern A&M College, are advisers in the work.
The first large-scale harvests of the tender grasses took place this summer and fall, and a few tons of the greenish grass juice concentrate have been produced in powder and tablet form.
“We’ve put more than a half million dollars into the farm,” Pratt said. “We earned our first penny sixty days ago. Our primary interest, however, is to learn more about food and nutrition. If better health results, we figure the money part will take care of itself. In any event a large share of the profits will go toward setting up a soil science center as an important part of our operation.”[Photo of E.H. Pratt holding a sample of vitamin concentrate, with caption:] A sample jar of the vitamin concentrate [from Hillcrest Nutritional farm] is inspected by E.H. Pratt, the Kansas City manufacturer whose studies of nutrition led him into the compost experiments conducted on the Platte County farm. He is one of the owners of the vitamin-yielding acreage.
With Scientific Process
Almost $225,000 has been invested in farm machinery and special equipment. Installed last week was a 10-ton stainless steel machine that will give the grass concentrate production fifteen times more capacity. This machine, similar to those used to concentrate orange juice for frozen packaging, evaporates the water from the grass juice under a high vacuum and at temperatures low enough to prevent damage to vitamins and enzymes.
“As a sideline we’ll be in the distilled water business,” Pratt commented. “The concentrator evaporates a ton of water every hour. An acre of rye [measuring] from a foot to eighteen inches high yields five tons of fresh greens. They’re 85 percent water, 7.5 percent fiber, and 7.5 percent solids. It’s the solids that we produce in the food concentrate. We don’t add anything, and we don’t take away anything.”
The resulting green powder requires special handling. It may be stored at 8 degrees below zero. For the ultimate consumer, it is packed under nitrogen in tin cans or bottles. There is no bragging about production figures, for the material has reached the general public only in limited quantities. One commercial customer, however, is making half a million tablets a week and is behind in his orders. Dietitians at universities and hospitals are experimenting with the green powder.
One thing that Dr. Schnabel and Dr. Koffler would like to have ascertained is the amount of the various trace elements that move from the compost-treated soil into the grasses and from the grasses into the final green powder and the effect of these as they are assimilated in the body.
“It would take many scientists much money and many years to figure out the answers,” Schnabel said. “But I can’t think of a more important project. The surface has been scratched on a few of those trace elements—manganese, cobalt, copper, iron, molybdenum, zinc, and boron. But there are sixty-some others, everything from antimony to zirconium. Where do they fit into the nutrition picture?”
One hint of the many indications of the importance of trace elements, Dr. Schnabel said, comes from the findings of an independent Danish investigator, Ottar Rygh. He said Rygh discovered five elements that are concerned with the body’s use of calcium—strontium, vanadium, zinc, barium, and thallium, the first two tending to promote calcification, and the latter three aiding decalcification.
Much Research Needed
“The trace element field in nutrition studies is wide open,” Schnabel said. “On the farm here, we already have reason to believe that these elements are also needed by the soil bacteria, including certain nitrogen-fixing agents.”
Throughout the discussions a visitor has with the soils and crops experts at the farm, there runs a vein of thought indicating the health-through-nutrition philosophy—of the value of natural fertilizers, as contrasted to chemical fertilizers, and the benefit of natural foods as opposed to super-refined foods. Unbleached sugar and [raw] honey adorn the farmhouse table. A better bread, these experts say, is baked from freshly milled whole grain. There is a good deal of talk about the vigor of crops raised on compost-enriched land, such as that of the Ohio farm of Louis Bromfield, which produces such hardy plants that sprays and insecticides are not necessary.
The recurrent theme is health—for example, not fertile soil but healthy soil. After all, didn’t Dr. Pfeiffer’s Bang’s disease ridden herd recover almost magically after his soil had been built up to the proper high level? Human beings, too, will be much more vigorous and less prone to disease, Pratt and his associates are certain, if their food intake contains a greater assortment of nutritive elements.
A visitor to the Platte County farms will learn that a Kansas City farm manager, using some of the seaweed compost on rather poor land, brought his corn yield up from twenty-seven bushels an acre to sixty-seven, at a cost of $7.50 an acre. Wouldn’t a man be able to get a few pounds of that [seaweed] stuff for use in his garden? The answer is no—all the compost production will be used on the vitamin farm.[Photo of L.D. Pratt standing next to a pile of eggshells, with caption:] Tons of eggshells ready for use in compost are in this stockpile on the vitamin farm. Other ingredients, including seaweed and manure, are added to the compost and worked into the soil to ensure grass crops of maximum vitamin and mineral content. Looking over the shell heap is L.D. Pratt, general manager of the farm. [Photo of low-temperature vacuum evaporator, with caption:] Making vitamins from grasses requires the use of special equipment such as the machinery shown here in the process of installation. This device, on the Hillcrest Nutritional farm in Platte County, evaporates the water from grass juices under a vacuum and at low temperatures that do not harm the enzymes and vitamins. The new equipment will make it possible to produce fifteen times as much of the vitamin concentrate.
By John T. Alexander, member of The Kansas City Star staff. Reprinted from The Kansas City Star, November 9, 1952, by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research.
Reprint No. 55
Reprinted by Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research
Milwaukee 3, Wisconsin
Note: Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research is a nonprofit, public-service institution, chartered to investigate and disseminate nutritional information. The attached publication is not literature or labeling for any product, nor shall it be employed as such by anyone. In accordance with the right of freedom of the press guaranteed to the Foundation by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the attached publication is issued and distributed for informational purposes.