Soil health = human health. PING#3

Did you know that one nutrient dense spinach leaf has the same mineral content as 14 industrially produced spinach leaves? Or one nutrient dense carrot has the same polyphenol content as 200 industrially produced carrots? This opens up exciting prospects for how we can bring highly nutrient dense food production into all kinds of urban spaces and communities with wonderful impacts on health.

On 2nd March, a wide range of policy influencers came to our third PING on the connections between soil health and human health, focussing on where these two things meet – in the provision of nutrient-dense food to all.
We explored the right to nutrient dense food and why we make do with such low, and even harmful standards of quality in mass-produced foods. We explored research showing how people don’t want affordable food to be empty of nutrients, we drafted the kinds of clauses we’d like to see in a Soil Health for Human Health type policy, and saw how policy makers are innovating at the County level, with an eye on their wider landscapes as sources of nutrient dense food.

Labels like Organic or Regenerative or Local or non-GMO etc do not correlate to the inherent nutrient quality of the crop and are effectively process standards, not quality standards

Dan Kittridge. Founder of the Bionutrient Association. ‘New definition of nutrient density goes beyond labels’. Agrarian Journal. Summer 2021.

<<< Please watch the recording of the session

In our policy drafting activity we asked:

What would I like to see included in a deliverable, cross-departmental policy that championed the production of nutrient dense food?

Here’s what we said…

Here’s our co-created list of 43 policy must-haves and considerations – I have tried to put them into helpful categories, some of them belong in more than one category. What would you add? Please use all of these in your own policy thinking, making & influencing…

More land made available for community farmsSecure access to land to upscale food growing for community and social enterprise modelsPrioritise applications for new land use / new business start ups to deliver nutrient dense food
Planning policies that are supportive and enabling of local food infrastructure. Including for housing developments to provide food growing land and affordable landworker homesThe sure fire way to get children eating nutrient dense fruit and vegetables is to create a welcoming community food project on land close to where they live and get them involved in growing it
Highlight food’s role as an enabler to link all different departments.Linking up where food comes from, how it is produced, requirements / complications of the supply chainSchemes that link emergency food providers with local farms for direct sales
Nutrient density is useful for Public Health who often will understand it. How do we make it appealing to planners and the other ‘silos’?Link soil health, crop health, animal health, food quality, and human health and nutritionHave a co-design process that includes target audiences (e.g. people experiencing health inequalities and/or food/nutrition insecurity)
I’d like to see a joined-up / interdepartmental approach to engaging with landowners, farmers, communities – getting people round the table to understand challenges and opportunities to realising the upscaling of community-based food productionSchool rankings to include their access to food growing and eating fresh, nutritious food. Food champions being funded to deliver across multiple council areas to promote sharing of best practice and cross cutting policies
I learnt that growing nutrient dense food can sequester more carbon (see Elizabeth Westaway’s presentation in the recording)Start with a goal of high quality food then get everyone to produce food using regenerative / agroecological practicesWe need to start using food as medicine – instead of prescribing a cocktail of medications
Taste is linked to nutrient density, soil carbon is linked to nutrient density. There are multiple benefits off nutrient dense food. Growers, farmers talking with distributors, wholesalers, retailers, chefs doctors, GPs talking about nutrient dense food.Reference the right to nutritious food

Evidence-based latest research – that soil health and Nutrient density are completely linked – coming out from Bionutrient Food Association (USA) David Montgomery

Write policy to support food production practices that enable greater nutrient density
Lets focus on food environments that prioritise food quality
There’s definitely a need for a food quality standard based on nutrient density (see quote above)Put health, wellbeing and justice at the core of all policies
stop talking about food poverty and food insecurity, let’s talk about nutrition securityAs someone who, with the support of Elizabeth (GRFFN) is exploring ways of talking about nutrient density in relation to productivity of urban agriculture, we need to be clearer and better at definitions and clarity around the notion of valueLabelling in plain English

In nutrient dense food, every mouthful matters and is beneficial. No land is degraded or wasted, no health degraded or wasted.
Right to nutritional food (important for language & framing)Healthy food = healthy for people, ecosystems and animals.
Let’s use optimal health as the root of decision-making for seed-varieties, food production approaches and food processingCreate and use a lay-persons glossary of agroecological speak to enable other people to understandWe need a food systems approach that prioritises health – soil health, plant health, animal health, healthy food, soils and people
Fresh, nutrient dense food tastes better and has better shelf life so less food loss and less food wasteAccess to affordable, healthy food as a social justice issueNutrient dense means grown as close to the plate as
Building and using a different narrative around food affordability – one that centres on good quality food and improved financial situations for people (see FFCC presentation in the film above)
Investment in local skills, local produce that improve the quality and availability of nutrient dense foodRates relief for first 3-5 years for regenerative food enterprisesGrant funding for start ups championing nutrient dense food provision
Food champions being funded to deliver across multiple council areas to promote sharing of best practice and cross cutting policies
Firstly, give people enough money to buy sufficient food. To begin with, many people cannot afford food, it’s not that they’re not eating nutrient dense food, they’re often not eating any kind of 5 a day. Many people regularly skip meals.Next, work on more of the least well nourished eating some kind of fruit and veg (/nutrient dense preferably where available). There’s a lot of research already about what works.Shift from a fixation on food production based on yield to food production based on nutrient density
Regulation of food retailers and processors to make sale of unhealthy food less profitableRegulation and reduction of destructive farming

This Policy Influencers Network Group session was shared by people from:

UK (reach) organisations: The Food Farming and Countryside Commission, Growing Real Food for Nutrition CIC, Our Food (Monmouthshire & Brecon), Social Farms & Gardens, Cranfield University, The Real Farming Trust, Sustain, Royal Agricultural University

Place-based organisations: Nottinghamshire County Council, Leicestershire County Council, Northamptonshire, Foodwise Leeds, Bristol Food Network, Cambridgeshire & Cambridge CoFarm, Lancaster/Lancashire, Peterborough,