The unexpected life lessons learned from a root vegetable



Is it true that carrots can help my eyesight?


A single serving (1 medium-sized carrot) is a source of 204% of the average daily value of vitamin A.(8)


Vitamin A is especially good for eye health (which doesn’t necessarily mean eyesight). Vitamin A is also good for skin and other tissue regeneration, immune system health, reproductive organs, and general growth and development.(9) It is absorbed into the body best when accompanied by healthy fats.(10)


Vitamin A comes from fruits and vegetables, and it comes from animal products. The two are very different from one another, as vitamin A from fruits and vegetables (coming in the form of carotenoids) is absorbed into the intestines during digestion. With a steady intake of vitamin A from fruits and vegetables, observational studies showed the change in diet to decrease the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers and smokers alike.(11)


When it comes from animal products, vitamin A is already active upon ingestion. This form of vitamin A is called retinol and has been shown to cause disease when consumed in excess.(12)(13)(14)

Oregon State (2015), Vitamin A

When consumed as a supplement in the form of both beta-carotene and retinyl palmitate, patients showed a significant increase in lung cancer risk.(15)(16) It is possible that an imbalance of complimentary vitamins (such as vitamin K) cause confusion and irritation in the body.

So, supplements can have adverse health effects, animal products don’t carry vitamin A into the body well, and the sky’s the limit when it comes to consuming vitamin A in the form of fruits and veggies.

Lesson #4: The way that you take in your vitamins (and perhaps people, places, media, etc.) will effect how they interact with your body and health.

Fresh carrots spend up to 9 months in storage


With more delicate vegetables spending weeks in storage, 9 months for carrots is a mammoth amount of time by comparison and one of the longest stored food commodities we have, alongside apples and potatoes. The average storage time is 4 to 5 months, which is still a very long time.(17)(18)


There good news is that carrots are resilient. While lettuces can lose more than half of their nutrients before hitting store shelves, carrots can actually experience a 50% increase in vitamin C after 7 days of refrigeration and a 10% increase in beta carotene after 14 to 16 days of refrigeration.(19)


If you’re interested in storing your own carrots for long periods, here’s what you need to know:


Washing and cooling carrots upon harvesting are most vital for keeping the vegetable from sprouting or decaying. Carrots are stored just above 0°C in raised humidity, which keeps the vegetable cool and hydrated. In these conditions, topped carrots will remain fresh for up to 9 months.


For fresher produce, bunched carrots with the leaves still attached will only store for 8 to 12 days before being shipped to stores. To keep these carrots lasting longer at home, remove and eat the greens first.



Do I have to worry about GMO seeds with carrots?


Bayer, which owns what was previously Monsanto, has been expanding its range of vegetable seeds, and carrots are a part of their production.

In the most natural cultivation of carrots, plants will re-seed every two years. So luckily (technically) you don’t have to buy seeds more than once.(20)


Unless you’re working with genetically modified seeds, food cultivation is as natural as it gets. As of now, genetic modification is not as much of an issue with carrots as are the harmful chemical additives to the process.

When tested for their nitrate levels, organic carrots did not contain any nitrates, while conventional carrots did.(21) An excess of nitrates are linked to cancer risk in adults and are dangerous for babies, as they debilitate the oxygen flow into the blood stream in a way that causes “blue-baby” syndrome.(22)


The following sources have pledged to supply organic, heirloom, and non-GMO seeds to the best of their knowledge and ability:


Johnny’s Selected Seeds 

Hudson Valley’s Seed Saver’s Exchange

Baker Creek Seeds


Seed Savers

High Mowing Organic Seeds 

Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply

Territorial Seed Company

Main Street Seed and Supply

Botanical Interests

The Natural Gardening Company


Through conventional processes, our soil is depleted of its most vital nutrients. In order to get optimal natural nutrients back in the soil, this is where compost comes in.


Did you know that about a third of the U.S. municipal waste stream could be used to revitalize the soil?(23) Find out more…


[1] Heldman DR (2011) Encyclopedia of agricultural, food, and biological engineering. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, p. 1803.

[2][3][4]Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (2019) Carrots.

[5] World Atlas (2018) Where Are Carrots And Turnips Grown?

[6] WITS (2018) China trade statistics.

[7] SARE Nationwide (2011) Video Series: Efficient and Safe Food Handling Processes.

[8] Nutrition Value (2020) Carrots, raw.

[9] International Centre for Eye Health (2013) What is vitamin A and why do we need it? a href=

[10] National Cancer Institute (2017) Prostate Cancer, Nutrition, and Dietary Supplements (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version.

[11][12][15] The Nutrition Source (2019) Vitamin A.

[13] National Institutes of Health (2020) Office of Dietary Supplements — Vitamin A.

[14] Oregon State (2015) Vitamin A.

[16] US Preventive Services Task Force (2014) Final Update Summary: Vitamin Supplementation to Prevent Cancer and CVD: Preventive Medication.

[17] Heldman DR (2011) Encyclopedia of agricultural, food, and biological engineering. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, p. 1803.

[18] Cornell (2005) Storage Guidelines for Fruits & Vegetables.

[19] UC Davis (2007) Maximizing the Nutritional Value of Fruits and Vegetables.

[20] Pleasant B, Mother Earth News (2010) Self-Seeding Crops You’ll Never Need to Replant.

[21] Bender I, Ess M, Matt D, et al (2008) Quality of organic and conventional carrots.

[22] EWG (1996) Health Effects of Nitrate Exposure.

[23] EPA (2016) Municipal Solid Waste.

Mom, How Are Carrots Made?


Ok, listen…you’re old enough to hear this now, so we’re just gonna get straight to it.

Carrots can be grown all year round in the U.S. and have an incredible storage capacity (some will be stored for up to 9 months between harvest and hitting the grocery shelves!(1) We’ll get back to that.), yet the U.S. exports 151 million and imports 427 million pounds of carrots in a year.(2)​


You might be thinking…this…seems…ridiculous. There is no reason to import carrots at all, and considering that they are resilient enough to withstand below freezing temperatures, there is little reason to export carrots either.


Lesson #1: It may be no surprise that humans do ridiculous things to meet our most basic needs. When it comes to even the simplest of cultivation, humans have a tendency to really complicate things.


In one year, a person in the U.S. will eat an average of 8.3 pounds of carrots.(3) When it comes to meeting that demand, the U.S. produces more than 85% of its annual 1.2 million tons in California.(4)


If 1.2 million tons of carrots seems like a lot of carrots, hold onto your seat, because you have yet to meet the 1% of carrot production in the world.

China produces nearly 17 million tons of carrots, supporting around a third of the total global production.(5)


While the majority of carrots traded in the U.S. are coming to and from Canada and Mexico, the U.S. is still the fourth largest importer of vegetables and the second largest importer of food products overall from China.(6) Essentially, we’re packing up and sending products halfway across the globe in order to digest them in a matter of hours (…ideally).


While foreign trade is not inherently bad, the nature of such trade and continued reliance on out-of-sight-out-of-mind production systems open us vulnerably to a lack of regulations on both labor and ecological farming practices. Farming at scale opens us to these vulnerabilities, whether local or international. However, regulations are much more easily established locally.


Lesson #2: When animal instincts for efficiency (or minimal effort for maximum reward) meet today’s technologies, the out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality has no bounds. We are like little kids playing peek-a-boo. At a young age, our cognition is not developed enough yet to let us know that a person removed from our view has not really disappeared. As we age, we learn more, and while knowledge is power, not everyone uses their power wisely.

Before this all gets more head-y than it’s already been, let’s get back to the basics.

Ready to grow your own carrots?


Ok, let’s learn how to plant some vegetables now:

Step 1 —Preparing the bed: Carrots like full sun exposure with neutral or slightly acidic, sandy soil. Compost and worm castings throughout the soil provide good nutrients for growth. The sand ensures that the soil remains unclumped, which allows the carrot to grow straight and keeps the root from knotting. The soil supports the crop best when tilled or loosened at least 12 inches deep.​

Step 2 —Sowing: Plant the seeds 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) deep and 3 inches (8 cm) apart (as the seeds are small, many people simply sprinkle seeds in one row and weed out excess later). Seeds may be planted 2–5 weeks before the last frost for spring planting and 10–12 weeks before the last frost for summer planting. For fall harvest, plant carrots 2–3 months before the first fall frost. Find out the dates of your first and last frost by location.


Step 3 — Watering: Keep the soil moist for at least 10 days during germination and water the soil at least 1 inch per week during dry weather.


Step 4 — Harvesting: When the shoulders of the carrot are 1/2” to 3/4” wide, the root is ready to be pulled from the ground and share its beauty with the world!
Fun Fact: carrots can be left in the ground through the winter and will come out tasting sweeter!


Lesson #3: Perhaps enduring the colder, darker times of life make us come up sweeter too.

Written by Emily Kichler

Technical designer and writer exploring supply chain roots, learning the origins of food and sharing the process.