Robert’s Farm (VII)

Posted: 1 November 2010 in Robert's Farm

It has been a while… Been going to the farm and leaving summer behind and preparing for the winter has meant some of the hardest work I have done in a long time…

Butternut Sqaush from the Farm

Last week we harvested–by hand–over 2800 lbs (nearly 1300 kgs) of butternut squash.  This hard-skinned squash holds up well once it’s picked; it can be loaded into large bins; it doesn’t bruise or get crushed when piled up; and most importantly perhaps,  provides an astounding 457% of the US recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A per serving!

Packed in the flesh, within the light brown shell of this robust vegetable is a mega-dose of what I learned many years ago is something of a “wonder-micronutrient”.  As I was picking up the squash and loading it in bins I reflected on the first time I had heard of Vitamin A.  My first public health assignment in the sands of Mauritania was a harrowing one: cholera, severe and acute malnutrition, malaria–all exacerbated by the worst poverty I had ever seen.  Kids were dying of diarrhea, withering away like the dry grass that lasted about 3 weeks after the rainy season ended.

Underlying so many of the problems–in nutritional terms–was the fact that people’s immune systems, especially the first lines of defense in all the linings of the body–skin, stomach walls, surface of the eyes, intestines–were compromised due to a lack of Vitamin A.  Who knew that this little nutrient could be so important?  A compromised immune system meant the ubiquitous pathogens had an easy route into the depths of a child’s body where they could wreak the worst kind of destruction.

We worked with communities to help them start gardens in which Vitamin A-rich vegetables could be grown–all the orange and red flesh things like beets, squashes and carrots and a variety of green leafy vegetables.  Some thought it would never work–nomads wouldn’t mix that stuff with couscous.  And yet, after several years and lots of hard work, gardening took off and carrots and beets and other strange things started showing up in the daily food of lots of people and, people made some money selling the surplus in the surrounding regions.

Standing in Robert’s field I was transported back to the sands, the palm groves and the markets in which Vitamin A made a difference in the lives of so many people.

I give you the simple (but tasty) butternut squash.  Bake and drizzle honey on top; mash it and mix in a little butter; make a stew with red lentils (write to me for the recipe!) and, as you do, think about how happy all the linings of your body are.  How capable they become to ward off the attacks that come from all the things that float in our air, water and food.  Think about how such a small thing can make such a big difference.

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