As founder and Executive Director of the Bionutrient Food Association, Dan Kittredge has been leading a global charge to build a nutrient dense food supply for over a dozen years. Recently, we visited with Dan to learn more about his work and his upcoming, pre-Expo “Principles of Biological Systems” course.
Your history and upbringing resonates with those of AERO members. Tell us about yourself.
I grew up on a homestead organic farm in a passive solar house with a root cellar in western Massachusetts. We had a milking cow, mixed animals, vegetables, and orchard, and started our local farmers market in 1984. My parents were community organizers who met working in inner city Boston and Dorchester in the 70’s. So it was in their nature—and it helped pay the bills—for them to engage with and run NOFA, Northeast Organic Farming Association, a seven-state organization, which they ran for 35 years out of the house. In addition, my mother was ED of the Massachusetts chapter for all those years, and my father was editor of NOFA’s quarterly journal, The Natural Farmer. Plus they ran the organization’s annual conference. So I grew up in that environment—on the land and in the movement.
What got you thinking about food nutrient density and how did that evolve?
I got married and started raising a family on the land, with the intention of earning a living farming. But my plants were not healthy. So, about 2005 I started researching—reading, attending conferences, taking courses, asking questions, and applying what I was learning to my own land, testing and developing new practices. Here in the East, lack of soil minerals is a big issue. Remineralizing my soil had a huge positive impact on my plants’ health. I actually became ED of the nonprofit Remineralize the Earth, and worked with ACRES USA for a number of years, always learning.
We founded the Bionutrient Food Association in 2010, building on the Real Food Campaign we created in 2008, because we wanted to go beyond mineralization and focus on whole system function. Identifying deficiencies and issues and balancing them is just a piece of the puzzle. It’s really about the quality of food as a center point that connects to human health, soil health, and global viability. And for food to have high nutrient quality, you have to understand it as part of a biological system. Air, water, minerals, carbon: life itself. Focus on that, and nutrient-dense, healthy food follows.
What’s the skinny on the bionutrient meter?
The question we asked was, ‘How do we transform the food supply to one that puts nutrient density first?’ If our agriculture system does that, it will dramatically improve environmental health through changing practices in agriculture and provide systemic benefits to human health globally, simply by increasing the nutritional value of food. So, we came up with a device that gives consumers the ability to make purchasing decisions based on the nutritional value of food. Few things change a system faster than consumer demand. We began implementing the concept in 2016, to create an open-source, consumer-priced, hand-held spectrometer that gives the user meaningful, non-invasive, real-time readings with a flash of light.
Today we’ve got a functioning, first generation device that’s calibrated to 10 crops, currently bok choy, chard, lettuce, mustard, carrots, beets, zucchini, oats, and wheat berries. Right now, there are hundreds of nutrient meters being used and tested in a couple dozen countries around the world—you’ve got a few of them here in Montana. That being said, the device is still a work in progress. Tell folks to come to AERO Expo, and I’ll answer everyone’s biometer questions and give a real world update on the project. There’s a lot to share!
On Thursday, September 29, the day before Expo, you are teaching a course called “Principles of Biological Systems” at Arrowpeak Lodge. What’s unique about this class?
I like to say I start with photosynthesis and end with consciousness. My goal is that, by the end, you see everything as being part of a biological system and use that to inform your choices. For farming, a thriving system is one where microbes flourish. And, while we might cover topics related to management and logistics, it’s really about learning to see what’s going on through the perspective of the microbes. Then you can make intelligent management decisions accordingly.
Anyone can get value from the course: 20-year regenerative farming practitioners, nutritionists, students, researchers, chefs, advocates. You don’t even have to be part of the food system community to get value from the course.
In your opinion, where is it important for us to focus these days?
I think the opportunities for having a profound positive effect are massive right now. To do that though, we humans need to behave as biological systems—be systematically collaborative, with sustained implementation. The opportunity goes beyond food production, it includes cultural and environmental revitalization. Revitalizing our relationship to land, each other, and ourselves. Sometimes I call “Principles of Biological Systems” a spiritual covert op. We’re coming through nutrition, but we’re really talking about consciousness.
The time is ripe for doing amazing things. It’s what excites me about all this work—especially the bionutrient meter work. We’ve got an amazing global network of people – scientists, companies, growers, and consumers that are wanting to plug into this thing, in a collaborative, inclusive way. And it keeps growing. I think it is an extraordinary time to be a nutrient-dense food grower.
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Dan is offering his signature course on “Principles of Biological Systems” in the days leading up to Expo, September 29-30th, at the Arrowpeak Lodge. To learn more about the course and to register, please visit: aeromt.org/dan-kittredge-workshop/. To learn more about AERO’s Expo 2022, visit: www.aeromt.org/event/expo-2022/.