David LeZaks and David Strelneck – Why the USDA gave a $600K grant to figure out how to pay farmers for quality

A conversation with David LeZaks of The Croatan Institute and David Strelneck of Nourish about regeneration and the nourishing economy space, nutrient density and diversity, the connection of soil health and human health and more.


This episode is part of the Nutrient Density in Food series!
This series is supported by the A Team Foundation, who support food and land projects that are ecologically, economically and socially conscious. They contribute to the wider movement that envisions a future where real food is produced by enlightened agriculture and access to it is equal. The A Team are looking to make more investments and grants in the space of bionutrients. You can find out more on ateamfoundation.org.

The Croatan Institute and Nourish, plus other partners, recently got a USDA Grant to figure out how to pay farmers more than for yield. A check in interview was due with David and David, who have been working in the regeneration and nourishing economy space for many years. What are they seeing and why did the USDA fund their work with $600K?


David Strelneck worked, about 10 years ago, with a lot of social entrepreneurs from different countries, and they began to see a pattern of success while linking the health of the land with the health of people. David Strelneck and David LeZaks have been on a path for a long time, through different organizations and projects towards a shared goal, a better world where the life of people and the life of the Earth itself are thriving, based on relationships with each other.

“The systems thinkers amongst them were really turning that value into phenomenal enterprises and initiatives and approaches. And so I launched my current organization coming out of that body of work to try to help spread that economic model in the world. I met David LeZaks about 10 years ago in the course of this work before words like regenerative agriculture were being used. I was interviewed by Ozy seven years ago, with him saying, ‘What do you think of this term?’, and I was like, ‘Well, it’s interesting. It sort of describes some of what we’re doing, you know.” – David Strelneck


They are looking closely in conversation with new entrepreneurs that are bringing intersting products to the market. David Strelneck argues that is taken many years of trying to convince some funders to put attention on this, but it has started to change in more recent years, ‘they’ve taken up that mantra’.

“I think that there are a number of new entrepreneurs who are using the messaging around nutrients and nutrition, and health that are bringing products to market that I think is very interesting.” – David LeZaks

“I think there’s a firehose of data that is just getting turned on, which some of those entrepreneurs are using. […] I think there’s this broader market question around how we began to transact around these quality metrics of food in ways that is different than how we have in the past.” – David LeZaks

“If you take that 10-year frame is that we even have language to discuss this. We can now argue about it. I mean, five years ago, we would convene people and they would look at each other and because we didn’t even know how to talk to each other about some of these ideas. Now we do, that’s real progress. We may not be agreeing, we may not have reached conclusions, but we now have language and ideas to think critically about and argue about. And that’s what’s going to spark some of the innovation in progress.” – David Strelneck


David and David are tracking not just the entrepreneurship side, but also the companies, investors and the insurance companies. They see some opportunities to refine the food-as-medicine approach to not just work for people who are already sick but work as a preventative medicine approach. David Strelneck argues that if there was a number that indicated the nutritional quality of food, people would start buying and selling based on that metric.

“Where there used to be a siloing of agriculture and food and health, we’re now seeing them being drawn closer and closer together. One of the things that we’re looking for and are hoping are more actively engaging in is how do we begin to get the capital that’s flowing into healthcare, and into food and agriculture, not see themselves as being different.” – David LeZaks

“We do now know that certain farming practices do create different health attributes in the foods, higher antioxidant levels, different micronutrient profiles in some cases, different fatty acid profiles in some cases. And it’s early, but it’s evidence, it’s clearly true.” – David Strelneck

“So, we began to think about not only from a food perspective, but from a landscape perspective, and again, from a quantity versus quality notion of how we began to manage for nutritional landscapes and nutrition from landscapes, as opposed to quantity from landscapes.” – David LeZaks

“If there were a transactable metric that clearly indicated the nutritional results of farming in different ways. I think it’s possible because of what I said about big data and AI in the way the science is headed, we’re gonna get to a point where there is a number.” – David Strelneck


How do we move from a food system based on quantity to one based on quality? What if we see the many different quality aspects of food, including ones that are related to short and long term health issues, and how those can play a role on the transactions that happen every day around food.

“From the perspective of USDA, they’re interested more on the production side, they do have some consumer facing parts of that government agency, but, you look at the health side, and that’s in the Health and Human Services Division, and many governments and even many markets are really siloed in this way.” – David LeZaks

“Have we gotten as far as we need to as it relates to this relationship between how we do agriculture, what the damage or repair to our landscapes, how that’s shaping up, and what’s happening to people in all of this. Fundamentally we do agriculture to feed people. And thank you, David, for this terminology and to nourish them to stay healthy. And I think that role of food in society more broadly, I think we’ve lost some of that […] We spend, the least amount on food than we have throughout most of history, at least in the US and in many other Western nations, and spend the least amount of time working with that food. And there’s been severe implications for that.” – David LeZaks


Koen, David and David also talked about

  • The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s primary objective
  • The companies and the investors in the space
  • The true cost of food
  • The impact of organic farming on the local economy




Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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