Sometimes making a choice about what is best for ourselves is actually what is best for the planet.
That is underlying philosophy which guides the BioNutrient Food Association (BFA), a non-profit organization that is seeking to improve soil health, mitigate climate change through regenerative agriculture and help farmers grow more nutrient-dense crops.
“We are using people’s self-interest to enact global change,” said Dan Kittredge, founder of the organization.
The key to accomplishing this is through the BioNutrient meter, a handheld spectroscopy tool that was officially unveiled last week at the BFA’s 8th Annual Soil & Nutrition Conference in Southbridge, MA. The ultimate goal is for consumers to be able to use a BioNutrient meter in a supermarket to identify the nutrient density of a number of crops, including carrots, kale or wheat.
Given that consumers will act in their self-interest and buy the most nutritious food possible, farmers will then be financially motivated to grow the most nutritious food possible. This will be accomplished by using farming methods and soil management techniques that maximize soil health and help sequester carbon from the environment.
Without question, what the BFA is trying to accomplish is quite ambitious, and it has three main objectives:
1) To build a consumer hand-held tool at an affordable price point.
2) To determine quality — the score or rating that the meter gives out. This requires a very big data set and creating an empirical, multi-factor definition of quality using things such as carbohydrates, proteins, antioxidants, minerals and secondary metabolites.
As of now and with a very limited data set, the meter can predict with 74% accuracy whether a carrot has high nutrient density or low nutrient density by measuring antioxidants, polyphenols and proteins, said Greg Austic, who is leading the development for the meter. This winter, the organization expects to produce a final report about this with “more concrete and confident conclusions.”
3) To gain an understanding of what causes quality — environmental conditions, tillage, inoculants, epigenetics, etc. This will help create an open-source database — available to all farmers — which will help them understand best practices in order to grow the most nutrient-dense foods.
At the conference, BioNutrient meters were delivered to farmers and other organizations who had pre-ordered them and will help with data collection over the next year. The collecting of this data is one of the major challenges that BFA faces, the other one being money.
Dan Kittredge believes that the organization needs to raise $10M over the next 3-5 years in order (a) to have a fully finished product built into smartphones and (b) to achieve mass adoption. If everything falls into place over the next 12 months, he hopes to have some version of a consumer-ready tool available at the 2019 conference.
Several scientists that I spoke with at the conference were skeptical about the one-year timeline for having a device that will be able to provide data or information that is meaningful for broader consumers to shape their buying decisions. Nevertheless, they remain very enthused about BFA’s mission and possible applications for the meter.
“I am excited for there to be an accessible way for farmers and consumers to measure quality (nutrient density). While portable spectrophotometers already exist, this tool promises accessibility in terms of price point and user-friendliness. I see the most immediate use being for farmers to measure innovation in their production systems by comparing produce grown under different management practices,” said Selena Ahmed, PhD, an Assistant Professor in the Sustainable Food & Bioenergy Systems Program at Montana State University.
Thalia Sparling, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Tufts University and the University of Heidelberg, has applied for a grant to pilot the meter and contribute to the validation process in Bangladesh, India, and Burkina Faso. Her goal is to work with farmers in these countries to address malnutrition, create more nutritious crops in a very tangible way, and embrace practices that improve soil health.
In attendance were not just scientists and farmers. Organic food executives are looking at this technology as well.
“As an organic company, all of the topics at the conference were very relevant to our business and mission — to always leave the earth better than we found it. We are always searching for tools to help us improve agriculture and deliver the highest quality of food for people and planet, and we look forward to following the progress of the BioNutrient movement,” said Dag Falck, Organic Policy Manager for Nature’s Path.
For those of us in the industry, the BioNutrient meter is an opportunity to improve the quality of organic food — which can be quantified by consumers. Right now, there is an inherent expectation that organic does provide superior quality but this cannot be validated when shoppers go to the market and make purchases.
With climate change deteriorating the nutrient quality of the food we are growing around the world, BFA’s mission is to reverse that, and there may be a strong business case for organic companies to become involved sooner rather than later.
“We want to work with anyone in the supply chain to help them empower the farmers to do the right thing. The availability of high quality, nutrient-dense crops is limited, and brands who wait may not have access. We want to support leaders in this space, and early adopters will have a clear market advantage,” said Dan Kittredge.
Have a great day!
Max Goldberg, Editorlivingmaxwell
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