Did you know peas are one of most Earth-friendly crops? What makes them so "green"? Peas, from the species Pisum Sativum, are most commonly known as the green and mildy sweet, round seeds found inside pods. But this type, the "garden pea," is just one out of dozens of varieties available.
"Field peas" are the kind used to make pea protein and the kind harvested for food in early times. They are harvested when they are dried and mature (yellow or green) and must be cooked before eating. Garden peas (which don't require cooking) were actually a breeding innovation developed later in Europe.
Field peas are highly nutritive and naturally high in protein (approximately 22%) compared to their garden variety (<5%). As part of the legume family, field peas in particular have the ability to retain nitrogen from the air within all of its plant parts. Nitrogen is one of the main substances needed for proper plant growth. This contributes to peas' high protein content but most importantly, this means they don't require any (or very little) chemical fertilizers which can potentially runoff and pollute the environment.
But the benefit doesn't stop there! Once the peas are harvested, the remains (stems/stalks/roots) are chopped up and mixed into the soil. Once the microbes decompose the plant material, this becomes a viable source of nitrogen for the next cycle of crops. Farmers commonly rotate crops with "cover crops" (like field peas or legumes) to naturally restore the nitrogen content in the soil. Rather than planting the same crop back-to-back, farmers have long since recognized that rotating with cover crops like field peas can enhance the yield of the subsequent crop.
They can produce peas for worldwide consumption while nourishing the soil and sustaining the environment at the same time. As such, field peas are an integral part of any farming system that can ultimately increase farm profitability and environmental sustainability. Now don't you feel even better about your pea protein shake? Cheers!
- Magdoff F, et al. Building Soils for Better Crops. 2001. 2nd ed. Beltsville, MD: Sustainable Agriculture Network. www.sare.org/publications/soils.htm.
- Clark, A. Managing Cover Crops Profitably. 2007. 3rd ed. Beltsville, MD: Sustainable Agriculture Network.
- O'Leary M, et al. "Providing proper N credit for legumes." University of Minnesota, Agriculture Extension. 2013. Available at: http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/nutrient-management/nitrogen/providing-proper-n-credit-for-legumes/