Dan Kittredge is passionate about raising the quality of nutrition in our food supply.
For the past half century at least, the goal of most plant breeders and agricultural practices has been to improve traits in our fruits and vegetables such as size, productivity, growth rate, transportability, and pest resistance, with the dominant effort being toward higher yields. Little attention has been paid to the nutritional content of these foods.
In the last decade, however, a number of scientific studies have found an actual decline in the nutritional value of some of our foods. For example, a study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, found “reliable declines” from 1950 to 1999 in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorous, iron, riboflavin, and Vitamin C in 43 different fruits and vegetables. Similar findings are reported in studies by the Kushi Institute and in Great Britain.
Various explanations have been put forward to explain these declines, from natural cycles to improved testing procedures, new transportation and storage methods, and food irradiation. Dan Kittredge, though, believes the explanation is to be found in a decline in the health of our soils.
Kittredge, executive director of the Bionutrient Food Association (BFA), has been an organic farmer since childhood, when his parents purchased an organic farm in Barre, Massachusetts. He grew up on that land and in his adult years managed it. In 2008 he launched the Real Food Campaign, the forerunner to the BFA, to empower and educate farmers toward the production of quality food for the improvement of human health. Kittredge’s experience managing organic farms and developing sustainable agriculture techniques has connected him to farmers in Central America, Russia, and India in addition to the United States. Explains Dan, "For me, it’s about looking at food and plants in a new way – providing the ideal environment for a plant’s genetic potential to manifest itself.”
Kittredge started the BFA, he says, because he wanted to be a better farmer. “The crops I grew regularly succumbed to pests and diseases. A crop that gets the nutritional compounds it needs can flourish and resist pests and diseases. A crop that doesn't will get sick. If nutrients are not in the plant--because they aren't in the soil to begin with or because the plant cannot access them due to agricultural practices-- then we humans aren't getting them either.”
There are 65 different elements in the human body that are necessary for our bodies to function, Kittredge points out. Humans evolved to get these elements from our food, and our food only gets them from the soil. Most soil tests only report out about three of these elements--nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, or NPK. The Bionutrient Food Association is helping farmers address the full spectrum of elements and build a biological system in the soil, so they can grow healthier crops for healthier food.
Kittredge will speak on "Bionutrient Food: Increasing the Quality of Our Food Supply,” at 7:30 p.m. in room 101 of the Joe Rosenfield Center at Grinnell College. His presentation, sponsored by the Center for Prairie Studies, is free and open to the public.