It is not easy looking back for me. Like anyone going through trauma and depression, looking backwards can instantly bring painful memories or regret that you will carry forever. I was 22 years old when it happened. I cried, I couldn’t sleep. I searched the internet for any information that I could get. I wondered was it my fault? I was asked to do valve calculations on the valves in that area. Was it my mistake? Was I just being too emotional? I get that criticism a lot. There’s no crying in baseball and apparently no crying in engineering either. Most engineers do not show their emotions like I do. For the longest time I saw my emotions as a burden but now I am starting to see it as the source of my passion.
In high school chemistry class, I saw the movie “Lorenzo’s Oil” and I was instantly mesmerized by the parents’ dedication to finding a cure for their little boy suffering from ALD. The movie was based on a real life story of a boy named Lorenzo Odone, whose parents never gave up helping him live a longer life. Lorenzo suffered from what is referred to as an orphan disease which is a disease very few people suffer from. Cures and treatments are not ‘profitable’ and don’t substantiate the time and cost so no one works on them. This is heartbreaking for those that have these diseases because they are all alone. Hence was the dilemma for Lorenzo’s parents. Their unwavering love for their son propelled them onto a path they never expected. With no medical background, the father and mother spent hours in the library looking for answers and experimenting with concoctions that could help their son. Through passion and motivation, they were able to create something now known as “Lorenzo’s Oil”. Their discovery helped extend Lorenzo’s life another 20 years. When I saw this movie, I was so moved by the actions of the parents it stirred in me a passion to help others and pursue a career in science.
This begs the question: Are Doctors and Scientists the right people to cure diseases? Or is there another answer.
I know, I know… What does this have to do with farming?… Back to my story…
After watching that movie, I was inspired to go into research. I chose Chemical Engineering to study in college because my parents are engineers and there was a lot of positive work being done in Biological Engineering on diseases and cancers within ChemE departments. I wrote my college essay on the movie “Lorenzo’s Oil” and cited it as my inspiration to want to cure diseases. I wanted to be that girl that dedicated her life to helping others. I had the best intentions going into college but those years ended up being the hardest years of my life and here’s why.
I got accepted to the University of Akron. I was in the Honors Program and got nearly perfect grades during my first two years. My second year, I did some drug delivery research. I worked under a PhD student synthesizing nanogels for drug delivery. The nanogels would use pH as a mechanism for identifying cancer cells. When the nanogel would approach a highly acidic environment (more likely cancerous) then, it would biodegrade and help deliver the drug. This was fascinating to me. Find the article here.
At the University of Akron, there is a co-op or work study program during two semesters within the Chemical Engineering program. After my second year, I was looking for opportunities to apply what I was learning in my chemical engineering classes. I thought real world examples would also help me understand the material better. My brother’s girlfriend (now wife) was working for DuPont making herbicides in La Porte, TX. She managed to help me get an interview with one of the hiring managers in the Insecticide Unit within the same plant. I got the job and within a few months, I travelled to Houston about to start my job as a co-op student at DuPont.
I was so excited to be able to contribute to a company and see how an actual chemical plant functions. I got to apply my knowledge directly and learn about valves, fluids, and other important things that helped make what I thought of as important chemicals. One of my main jobs was to re-evaluate the pressure relief valves to make sure they were sized correctly for the piece of equipment they were protecting. I was also introduced to an intense safety culture which I took very seriously. I went through some road blocks but I considered it normal. I took my job seriously as I invested my time into these valves.
After the co-op experience, I wrote an essay about my experience and the importance of insecticides to the crop protection industry. I thought we were helping to feed the world. Insecticides were necessary and they helped farmers mass produce food. (Yes, I actually thought that…)
I went back to school the following year for my Senior year of college. I took my experiences with pride and knew they were going to help me get through Senior year. But everything changed on November 15, 2014. That morning I got a call from my mom and she told me to turn on the news. There was a chemical leak at the DuPont insecticide plant that killed four technicians in my area … See an article here.
Early reports blamed the valves. While I worked for them, I was responsible for these valves. This changed everything for me. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand. I was overwhelmed with emotion and sadness. What is this?? Some of my experiences at the plant became blocked… I didn’t want to think that perhaps I was partially responsible. Was it something I didn’t do? I didn’t want to kill, I wanted to cure. As the weeks passed more information came to light. The Chemical Safety Board came in to evaluate the plant and they recommended that the plant be shut down. This is exactly what happened the following year.
The weekend that I found out, I didn’t even know what to do. It was painful to even look back at my experiences since I remember things happening that made me question the safety of this 90 year old plant. I trusted that DuPont knew what they were doing and I trusted that the Chemical Engineering Industry knew what it was doing. This was when I ‘woke’ and started to question everything. I wanted to understand how Insecticides actually help us if they can kill us so easily. So I did what any troubled engineer would do – research. I was obsessed with figuring out WHY we needed insecticides and pesticides… Surely there must be an answer. What is happening with our farming practices?
So I dug deep into soil health (pun intended). As it turns out, our farming soil has been depleted of minerals over the years. NPK fertilizer became popularized in the US after World War II due to the high amount of nitrogen sources from leftover TNT. The war machine decided to use Ammonium Nitrate as fertilizer on the crops to feed the mass amount of people coming back from the war. NPK was already used and it was theorized that crops only need three minerals to grow healthy. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Once NPK fertilizer started to be used, bugs and insects began to invade the plants due to mineral deficiency in the crops. Basically, we are growing sick plants that could not defend themselves against invaders which brought about the “need” for insecticides and pesticides.
These discoveries made me curious… Is there a solution out there to can get rid of this mineral deficiency we are seeing on the plants?
In February of 2016, I scrolled through Twitter using the hashtag “mineral deficiency”. I was still looking for answers. I came across an old article entitled “Feeding the Hidden Hunger” and I became obsessed. The article was an interview with a man named Don Jansen who was a farmer living in Florida and growing his food with diluted ocean water also known as sea solid fertilizer. He took over Dr. Maynard Murray’s farm and continued his research. Dr. Maynard Murray is a nose, ear and throat doctor that looked at the ocean for answers to help treat disease and cancer in plants and animals. I read Dr. Maynard Murray’s book “Sea Energy Agriculture” and was hooked.
I found my passion! The ocean contains 90+ minerals in inorganic and ionic form that is bioavailable to the plants when used as a soil amendment. This helped farmers grow plants that are healthier and more pest resistant. Also ionic minerals create a more “basic” environment which helps circulate oxygen. I knew this was important due to my college research experience in drug delivery and how an “acidic” pH was used to identify cancer cells. These minerals help get rid of the need for insecticides and pesticides when used as drench or foliar spray on plants. Dr. Murray also explains in the book how plants thrive on inorganic matter while humans and animals absorb minerals through organic matter or plants. If you grow healthy plants that are more resistant to disease, those consuming those plants will become more resistant to disease as well. You are what you eat.
The theory behind this solution is the following. Mineral deficiency is rampant in farming practices because of soil erosion and rain runoff. When you grow plants outside, rain washes away minerals from the soil. Also, plants uptake minerals from the soil which displaces them from the soil as well. When the minerals are carried away through rain runoff, it is carried into rocks and rivers which eventually lead to the ocean. Recycling minerals from the ocean would replace those depleted minerals and keep the plants healthy with vital trace elements that are necessary for proper nutrition of the plant.
There are several studies already establishing the ocean as a source of minerals to help fight disease in crops. A study from Italy found an increase in antioxidants to cherry tomatoes when diluted ocean water was used as irrigation. There is also research going on in Hawaii where ocean water is abundantly available and they have found some success in mitigating disease. Lastly, China approved an Alzheimer’s drug last year which is derived from extracts of seaweed. They found that seaweed has powerful properties to help reverse memory loss according to their clinical trials. Ocean grown food has the potential to help so many people and it is time farmers across the world started using it to help rid our food of mineral deficiency.
The potential is endless with the ocean. Could this be the answer to getting rid of not only insecticides and pesticides but also disease for good? I believe that it will not be doctors or scientists that cure disease and cancer but it will be the farmers. Farmers have the power to create nutrient dense food or to perpetuate this concept of “hidden hunger” which deprives plants and consumers of necessary nutrition to combat disease. Which would you prefer?
To me, an emotional engineer that cares too much, the answer is obvious.