Jill Clapperton, a 25 years learning journey on nutrient density, healthy soils, food and people


Co-founder of Rhizoterra Inc. and scientific advisor of chef Dan Barber, Jill Clapperton has been focussed on the connection between healthy soils, healthy food and healthy people for the last 25 years.


In this interview with Jill Clapperton talking about measuring the nutrient density of food. 

Jill Clapperton’s Twitter profile 

‘The Tracer’, a photon gun that profiles the elemental composition of foods www.instagram.com/p/B4VwlZKnImv/

The Third Plate book

Chef Dan Barber’s Instagram profile



Jill Clapperton is founder of Rhizoterra an international company based in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. that is devoted to creating information and knowledge to assist farmers, ranchers and land managers in their quest to create healthy, productive soils. And it’s all for the love of food, which obviously I enjoy. Welcome Jill.

Jill Clapperton:  So my background is: I started my career with Agriculture and Agrifood Canada as the rhizosphere ecologist. So the rhizosphere is the rooting zone. So it’s the root. The soil attached the root and the soil that’s actually influenced by the root. And what I love about that it’s a whole system look.

Jill Clapperton: Well, we showed. OK. So we showed that when we put a cover crop ahead of wheat, for example, we could double zinc.

Koen van Seijen: Wow, zinc deficiencies. It’s a huge issue around the world.

Jill Clapperton: Measuring quality is really, really hard. I mean, it is outstandingly hard. And they will tell you that again today that measuring quality, nutritional quality is like something, you know, it’s sort of like measuring, soil health and soil quality. So you need a proxy, basically.

Here are the important elements, zinc and you know, from a malnutrition standpoint in the world, zinc, iron, beta carotene. So vitamin A. So he said, if you focus on those three. You know, that will make a huge difference.

Jill Clapperton: So we were measuring nutrients and we could see that in our four year rotations. Like even when we took the fallow out and just added a legume for one year, we doubled the mineral nutrient density in the grain, in the wheat, we doubled it. And so we could say at that point, and I have said this publicly, that if you were growing a weak fellow wheat fellow, your grain is rubbish.

Koen van Seijen: And this is the central I mean, you were mentioning 2020 a new year, and I think it’s gonna be one of the central themes in ag and food in this decade. This wheat although it seems the same, or this tomato is not the same as its neighbor.

Jill Clapperton: No, it’s not. 

Koen van Seijen: It could be fundamentally different depending on obviously even variety, etc. but let’s say they’re are the same. It depends on management’s soil health and what happened underneath.

Jill Clapperton: Totally. It totally depends on your management and my grape growers that I’ve worked with in South Africa will tell you that when they started growing cover crops between the vines, they knew it was going to change everything. I mean, they knew, right? It changes the terroir.

Koen van Seijen: You are working with Chef Barber, the scientific adviser of chef Barber which most people know from the Third Plate. I actually know quite some listeners of this podcast are in the space because of the Third Plate. So how did that happen?

Jill Clapperton: That was magical. So I was at Climate Underground. I’m sitting on a panel and Dan was chairing that panel. So he was the moderator for the panel. And he was really challenging me. Like, you know, I all these amazing chefs in my kitchen and we can tell you what tasty food is. And he said, if it’s any good. He said, I think that if it’s tasty, it’s really good for me.

Jill Clapperton: And he said, so, you know, he challenged me. He said, well, you’re measuring this like, you know, what’s the correlation? I said, you know, I said, I don’t know. And and he said, well, can we measure it? And I said, well, I think, you know, we we’d have to work together because I need to have a tasting panel and they’d have to say, you know, we’d have to have a few things out and they’d have say, OK, this is the best tasting. And then we have to go and analyze it to see if there were differences between them to try and understand.

Koen van Seijen: So how did that happen? So you’re in the kitchen of Dan Barber with all these amazing chefs, including Dan Barber discussing nutrient density. And you have your tracer which is this nutrient density measuring ‘gun’ between brackets. What was that experience like when you can see some pictures?

Jill Clapperton: It was an incredibly exciting time. It was so fun to be with people who cared so much about food and really, really love food. So first of all, we just started with the grains. Okay. Barber Wheat.

Koen van Seijen: Yeah. Because what’s barber wheat for anybody who didn’t read, definitely should the Third Plate.

Jill Clapperton: So anyways. Barber Wheat is just that. It’s Dan Barber’s wheat. It’s a variety of wheat and but he’s also been having it grown in four different places. So we had wheat in the bakery that had been grown in four different places. And so we took that grain. We ground it up in my coffee grinder because I need to have it ground a little bit because we want to measure the whole density.

Koen van Seijen: So the same variety, the same but very different climate management, maybe even different rotations. You could see significant differences between those four types.

Jill Clapperton: Yes, we could. In calcium and potassium and zinc and some of that in an iron and some of the other trace elements. So we’re like, wow, OK. So, you know. So that’s where you say, OK, maybe we blend it all or maybe we just have it grown here or maybe we talk to the people who are growing it somewhere else and then actually look at, well, how they’re growing it and maybe we change that.

Koen van Seijen: This tracer is a device just to explain for people who haven’t seen it. It’s basically about, let’s say, half a meter high, maybe with less on us basically sticking up so up from the table and you put every your measuring, which could be a powder of weed could be the mixed meal on top. And basically it’s connected to this because your laptop. And that’s where the magic is, because that’s where the calibration software is to actually understand when it comes out.

Koen van Seijen: Then we get to the fundamental discussion as food, as medicine, which, yes. it has been thrown around a million times. But we’re finally, it seems like and correct me if I’m wrong, getting to a place we can actually start having a serious discussion. I think about John Kempf in a number of his interviews for example. We can have a serious discussion for food as medicine, which we couldn’t have until now.

Koen van Seijen: You have the power to change one thing into food and agriculture system. And overnight with your magic wand, you can change one thing. What would it be?

Jill Clapperton: I think I would do the last thing I would actually create a bank much like the micro-loan system. I would create a bank that allows farmers that are doing regenerative practices. To be free to innovate, be free to try things. Be free to do what they thought, you know, to brainstorm and do the wildest idea, I would support that. I would still want to see some data on it and I would support them to keep records on it.


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