Dan Kittredge – Making farmers focus on nutrient dense food

Koen van Seijen: This interview is about quality nutrient density and flavor of food and their connection with soil health and human health. I think it’s safe to say that if Dan and the team at the Bio Nutrient Food association get it right, they will change the entire food and agriculture sector for the better. The Bio Nutrient Food association is working hard to demonstrate the connections between plant health, soil health, carbon sequestration, crop nutritional value, flavour and human health.


Dan Kittredge: Our basic idea is that plants have evolved to grow and the more we can manage our soils in a way that the plants are able to do what they do, the better it is for everybody involved.

Dan Kittredge: We have with our organization tried to really tease out the wisdom from the organic community as well as from the permaculture community and the agro-ecology from bio dynamics from conventional agriculture.

Dan Kittredge: For one I think if a crop is being attacked by a flesh eating fungus that’s usually a sign of poor health. Let’s acknowledge that and say we may have organically approved fungicides, but that does not mean that we’re producing high quality food. It just means we’re not using certain synthetic chemicals.

Dan Kittredge: So the conclusion we’ve come to after a number of years is that really the nutritional value of the food is what matters, the flavor, the aroma, the need to value correlates with the health of the person and that eats it, the health of the plant, the health of the soil and the ecosystem.

Dan Kittredge: In our research last year we sampled 600 carrots from around the country different stores, farmer’s markets, farms organic conventional and the nutritional variation in polyphenols was twenty thousand percent. This is not a small number. There is a massive nutritional variation in food which correlates to the health of the plant, correlates to the health of the human that eats it.

Dan Kittredge: Let us be assessed by the actual health of the food we produce and let that be the real market, not the label or the marketing scheme.

Dan Kittredge: To do three basic things. One is to build a tool that a consumer can use to test quality in real time as in flash a light like a smartphone camera flash at a carrot and then get a reading out which says relatively how good this is.

Dan Kittredge: The second step is to identify the variation in quality and to your question. There does not seem to be any database anywhere globally that I’ve been able to find at least in 10-12 years of looking and asking people who would know. There’s no database which identifies the variation in nutrient levels within a crop.

Dan Kittredge: There’s a third step to the campaign, which is what are the environmental conditions: which management practices, which soil types, fertility, programs, varieties of crops, microbiome dynamics. What are the environmental conditions which cause, which quality results.

Dan Kittredge: And so our long term hope is to be able to give growers the ability to shift their management practices during the growing season.

Koen van Seijen: Is that a rock solid connection like we know this is a very nutritious carrot that had to be grown in a very healthy soil?

Dan Kittredge: I’m sure there are ways with hydroponic systems to produce carrots that are much more nutritious than what’s on the shelf right now. But if money is a factor, if cost of production is a piece of the puzzle, we’ll never be able to do it as economically as within collaboration with microbes in the soil. That is the most efficient way to produce crops that are highly nutritious.

Dan Kittredge: Foundationally, it seems to be an assumption and unquestioned assumption in the general public which is that all food is basically the same, that all carrots have the same thing in them, that all milk has the same thing in it etc. It’s basically uniform like plastic or steel.It’s a uniform material and that is just absolutely not true.

Dan Kittredge: And so while I think that the climate angle is important, I think that visceral selfish interest of your child is sick and a really good way to help your child not be sick anymore is to feed your child food that is most nutritious.

Koen van Seijen: Do you see like in a supermarket in the United States if you choose one orange over another one, is there already enough supply of nutrient dense ones or are most of them relatively the same?

Dan Kittredge: I gave you the number: 20.000%. That’s the full variation that we found. But within any grocery store there’s easily 100 percent or 200 percent variation within the crops that are available. They may all still be relatively poor. They likely are still relatively poor. But our thought is if you think of a carrot, the most nutritious carrot, is one hundred and something that is basically empty is 1. Most carrots are between 15 and 35. That’s what they’re at. Or maybe it’s you know 8-15. They’re relatively low. But there is still a significant variation. And so our thought is that this is going to be an evolutionary process, whereby people start buying the 30s and start leaving the 15s on the shelf. And the people that are growing 15s realize they have to up their game so they start to produce 35 and 40 and then their crops start to move off the shelf. Then the people who are doing 30 start to you know up their game with a 50.Our thought is this is a competition to the top. If we can establish incentive, a visceral economic incentive, to inspire people to compete to do better then we have succeeded.

Koen van Seijen: What does it mean for investors that are maybe already invested actually in agriculture and food or are looking at that and want to basically unlock the potential impact? What does this movement mean for them?

Dan Kittredge: We expect that this will be fairly disruptive to the food supply chain.

Dan Kittredge: So our thought is that: farmers are going to be able to understand how to grow crops more. Which means they’re not going to be using synthetic fertilizers and toxic chemicals. You cannot produce high quality food while you’re killing life.

Dan Kittredge: In fact many of the old open pollinated heirloom varieties of crops are the ones that have a better inherit potential there.

Dan Kittredge: You know I think it was Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, who said let food be thy medicine.

Dan Kittredge: But our strategy is to work with anybody who wants to work with us. We’re not opposed to Monsanto. You know they’ve got an amazing global supply chain. And if they want to understand the data that we’re collecting and support farmers in producing better crops so be it let them. We need to transition agriculture globally in short order so we’re not against anybody. We’re for life and for vitality and we’re happy to work with anybody who wants to engage.

Dan Kittredge: So anybody who’s working with us to engage in data collection is going to know more than their competitors. They’ll be more well established and in success, you know, if you’re in the supply chain and you’re in your purchasing crops and you’re processing them etc. working with us will help understand the variation, so that you can choose which crops are better. It means that you’re going to be well-positioned when this whole thing hits. 

Dan Kittredge: We are an NGO a non-profit educational organization. Everything we’re doing is in the commons, which means it can’t be controlled or owned, so the engineering for the tool, the algorithm for the definition of quality, the app, the data set. All that stuff is in the Commons.

Dan Kittredge: If I could ask for anything to change tomorrow a wave my magic wand, it would be that there is an understanding of variation in food quality that food is not uniform. If we understood the variation and the implications of it, all the rest of these shifts would follow, would flow very naturally.

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Thank you so much and see you at the next podcast!

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