South Dakota Grassland Coalition

by Garnet Perman

Nov 2019

We recently attended a session of “Edible Landscapes,” a two-day Soil Health Summit held at Bismarck State College. The ND meetings are always very informative and usually include a human health component. This meeting was designed to include urban agriculture producers as well as farmers and ranchers. John Stika, author of A Soil Owner’s Manual, an urban farm designer from the Twin Cities area, a local farm to table grow-er and a scientist researching heavy metals in soils were on the program. Lyle also presented management techniques used on our ranch. We found what Dan Kittridge, an organic farmer from central Massachusetts is going to be most intriguing.

Kittredge grew up on an organic farm and eventually returned to it following college but struggled making a living. Disease and pests ate into profits. As often happens, an aha moment generated new ways of thinking about his farm management and goals: he realized that larvae eating plants alive, which was “normal” in the garden, is not usually seen in nature. Healthy plants resist pests. He delved into soil health principles which led to an interest in the nutrients present in the food we eat. One of the first changes was a switch from tillage which he now describes as “genocide” to no-till.

He compared the uptake of nutrients in plants to a newborn baby’s need for colostrum. Just as colostrum enables the establishment of healthy gut flora in mammals, plants also need the right minerals and microbes for the most efficient nutrient cycling. “Our focus should be on producing nutrition,” he said, “We need life in our food because we live in symbiosis with many microbes.”

As he studied nutrient density, he discovered that almost no information was available on the nutritional variations within foods and no simple way to determine it existed. He envisioned enabling consumers to choose the most nutritious food in the produce aisle figuring that would bring about change in the current model of food production that tends to focus on yield rather than nutrition. Bionutrient Food Association was born. The organization’s focus has been three fold: First, develop a user friendly tool that enables consumers and producers to determine nutrient content of a variety of food items. A first generation hand held scanner, ala Star Trek, using spectrophotometry to reveal mineral content and other nutritional compounds such as phenols has been developed. The vision is for a simple tool for consumers and a more sophisticated one for farmers and wholesalers to be available in the near future.

Second was to determine what exactly is quality? Data was needed to document variation in nutrition for vegetables, fruits and meats. Tests on carrots and spinach in the northeast quadrant of the US have been completed. Vegetable samples from many sources including backyard gardens to supermarket produce were tested. Each type of food needs a data set of its own and costs about $75,000 to test. Money is the limiting factor, but with interest in what they are trying to achieve increasing, they hope to test enough foods including meat products to have a comprehensive set of data within five years. Interestingly tests so far have found no connection between labels and quality. Organic carrots don’t necessarily have the higher nutrient levels than inorganic. Walmart spinach may contain higher nutrient levels than Whole Food spinach because of transportation times and conditions and shelf turnover.

Widely varying nutrient levels led to the third focus: How is quality achieved? The indication is that the healthier the soil, the higher the nutrient content. The most effective production method will vary with location so they are gathering information to understand which environmental conditions contribute to quality.

Kittredge is adamant that the data they’ve collected be open to the public. They are also very interested in forming partnerships with food producers and stakeholders nationwide. The opportunity to contribute to their research by being a “citizen scientist” is explained on their website, The organization also has a Facebook page.

Source: SDGC Newsletter

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