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Vegetables and vitamins, plants and people

Philip W. Simon

U.S.D.A., Agricultural Research Service, Vegetable Crops Research Unit
Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI 53706, USA
e-mail: psimon@wisc.edu

With the development of agriculture more than 10,000 years ago civilizations were able to be established and grow. A more complete understanding of the complex interplay between humans and the plants they eat became apparent in the last century as human nutrition became an established science. With this, many specific health attributes of foods came to be known and the human dependence on plants as a source of certain dietary requirements was realized. Today, applied biologists working in agriculture, including plant breeders, physiologists, and biochemists, have worked together to develop crops that are more nutritious than any time in history. For example, the common carrot is a horticultural crop which has been improved to become a significant source of vitamin A in temperate regions of the world. As human societies progressed, food has assumed a dual role in modern societies: both a source of nutrients for everyone, and a source of income for those production of more nutritious crops, it takes fewer people to feed society. Consequently the general public has little understanding of the history, complexity, and day-to-day activities of agriculture. This reduced appreciation for agriculture may contribute to low prices for farm products. While agriculture researchers make significant progress in improving food quality and quantity, success in feeding our growing world continues to be a challenge. Informing that world about the agriculture that feeds them remains a significant challenge in science and in education.

Simon P.W., 2003. Vegetables and vitamins, plants and people. Folia Horticulturae 15/2: 3-12.