Funghi are amazing critters. They form the foundation of our food system and the health and strength of our bodies. They function underground as intermediaries in a two-way trade that drives both the nutritional quality of our food and the life of our soils. And we can interrupt this process almost with the blink of an eye. It’s really easy. All we have to do is add artificial fertiliser, and bingo, it’s done. The fungi wilt and die, our food quality diminishes and our soils start to decay.

How’s that for a storyline!! And it’s not a fictitious story either – it’s all true!

An Australian soil scientist, Dr Christine Jones, alerted me (and several hundred other listeners) to this extraordinary piece of information about five years ago.

Here’s a photo of fungal hyphae attached to the mycorrhizal fungi.

Iimage #1 mycorrhizal-fungi-on-plant-root

This gem of a discovery forms part of the story line in Eat … Think … Heal. It made so much sense when I heard it. Our family had been farming on the same land for fifty years, and every year we had to add more fertiliser to get the same results. I could never work out why that was the case. Now I know.

The mycorrhizal fungi attach to the roots of plants. In simple terms, to survive they need carbon. That’s their food. They obtain the carbon from the plant, which has absorbed it from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. The plant sends the carbon down to the roots because it wants something in return. The mycorrhizal fungi repay the favour by gifting the plant a collection of minerals and nutrients that it has gathered from the soil. Those minerals and nutrients are the natural fertiliser for the plant, and also provide us with food rich in those same minerals and nutrients.

The photo below of two tomato plants, is a graphic illustration of the difference between root systems from plants with and without mycorrhizal fungi.

Image #2 plant with and without MF

Both plants grow but only one provides us with the minerals and nutrients that we needs – as only one is accessing mycorrhizal fungi.

This chart shows the changes in nutritional quality to our fruit and vegetables since 1940.

Image #3 mineral depletion in fruits Image #4 mineral depletion in vegetables

Correlating with this reduction in nutritional density of our foods is an increase in the use of artificial fertiliser worldwide. Artificial fertiliser consumption has increased from less than 20 million tonnes in 1950 to 180 million tonnes in 2013.

This explanation helped me to understand so much that is important about our health and our food system.

Do not despair! All will be well I am sure. The mycorrhizal fungi can come back to life and they will. I think we are starting to wake up to our folly. (It may take a few generations though. I’ll write about that in a later post.)

In my next post, I will share with you some of the good news stories that are happening in a few parts of the western world. Nature is amazing how it can recover. Underground trading can come back to life!

With love and appreciation,

Margaret Bridgeford