News From the Field

New Definition of Nutrient Density Goes Beyond Labels

June 2021

As a child in elementary school I remember telling my science teacher that I was an Organic Farmer. The disdain with which she responded in front of my peers by saying "organic means contains carbon, so all farmers are organic farmers" sticks with me to this day. It was not actually that long ago that a group of back-to-the land homesteaders took a word that meant one thing in the world of science and redefined it to create a cultural touch point that now has a significant meaning globally.

In much the same way, food scientists have defined nutrient density differently than have those in the broader food movement. Specifically, they determine the nutrient density index of a crop by its average level of nutrients per unit calorie. For example, kale has on average a relatively high level of nutrients but a low level of calories. By this metric then kale has a high nutrient density score. Rice has many more calories in it per unit and so would have a low nutrient density score.

For the broader food movement, however, nutrient density has to do with quality, with how nutritious one bunch of kale is in relation to another. Or one bag of rice to another. Among food scientists there is an implicit assumption that all kale or rice is relatively nutritionally uniform. This assumption is foundationally flawed.  Read the full article

Nutrition per acre - a new measure of farming success

March 23, 2020

Towards the end of last year, whilst listening to an episode of the Regenerative Agriculture podcast, I was fascinated to learn about a prototype handheld spectrometer being developed by the Bionutrient Food Association in the US, which uses the signature of reflected light from food samples to give a potential indication of their nutritional density.

Although this technology is still in its development phase, and a significant amount of data needs to be collected to calibrate the readings from each food type, it has the potential to enable any farmer or grower to measure the nutrient density of their crop (be it grass, grain, fruit, vegetables and potentially also meat and dairy products further down the line). On top of this, it could also allow consumers to make a quick assessment the quality of the food they're purchasing.

But in nutrition terms, what makes one field of carrots different from the next? It's an important question, particularly as we're constantly being told that we all need to eat more veg - it's now not just 5, but 10 portions a day. But which 10? And where should we be getting these from? This question extends far beyond vegetables and is something more and more people are starting to think about. Read the full article

Healthy soils lead to healthy food and added value for all

Feb 21, 2020

It's been said that America has the most plentiful, safe and nutritious food supply in the world. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service reported that 89.9% of U.S. households were food secure throughout the year, with 11.1% of households reporting some food insecurity at least some time during the year, an improvement over the prior year. On a global scale, the ERS published its annual International Food Security Assessment in November. Given projections for increasing per capita incomes and lower food prices, food security is expected to improve in all 76 low- and middle-income countries studied over the next 10 years. And the share of people unable to reach the nutritional target is projected to decline from 19% in 2019 to 9% over the next decade of the regional populations. That's a decline of 45%.   Read the full article...

Growing Food for Nutrition

Winter 2020

Imagine a future where your food's nutritional profile was available at your fingertips. Not via a simplified, back-of-pack label, but a real-time snapshot of the nutrient density within the vegetable in your hands. It's a future where our understanding of what is in our food can tell us how well it's been grown. Most of the food that is grown and eaten today is linked to the abundance of wealth not health. In the last 70 years, food production has measured success by external factors such as yield and appearance. In this same period, soil fertility has reduced (Arsenault, 2014), food has lost its nutrients (Mayer, 1997) and the prevalence of diet-related, non-communicable diseases continue to rise (Branca et al, 2019). These trends are associated with a reductionist approach that attempts to dominate nature and, therefore, does not recognise the links between soil, food and healthy ecosystems.   Read the full article...

Empirical Nutrient Testing

November 2019

I've been waiting a decade to write this column. I'm always squeamish about touting something too early. Like friend and fellow pastured poultry enthusiast Andy Lee always said: “I don't want to hear ‘I'm gonna;’ I want to hear ‘I did.’” How many times have businesses or well-spoken visionaries described "gonna" and everything falls off the rails before it happens? Or it runs out of steam or out of money or the concept doesn't work. The point is I'm pretty conservative about making announcements too early, so I've sat on this one almost to the point of embarrassment but it was worth the wait. Do I have your attention now? Good.   Read the full article...


We Can Solve These Problems

May 12, 2017

The Bionutrient Food Association is working with producers to establish growing practices that yield more nutritious crops, while developing a standard for nutrient-dense foods and a handheld tool to measure those nutrient levels. The idea behind the tool is to use existing technology, like the camera in a Smartphone, to scan produce right in the grocery store, measuring the nutrient-density of the consumer’s food options. The Association’s mission is to empower consumers to choose the most nutrient-dense foods, ultimately rewarding farmers for their improved growing practices. Read the full article...

Taking a Community Back, One Plant at a Time

August 2016
Chicago BFA Chapter and friends have been working on revitalizing a blighted vacant lot in their neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. Combining various approaches including hugelkultur and permaculture principles, co-leaders Annamarie Leon and Dr. Shemuel Israel have helped guide the creation of a bountiful garden space, as just as importantly a community gathering place. Where once there was an empty lot in a rough part of town, now amidst verdant edibles one might find a hot game of chess, or an older couple on a lunch date. And gathered around raised beds, a group of kids are learning about plants, about growing, and starting to think about where there food comes from.  Read the full article...