Despite daunting challenges, technology and communities have evolved to a level where we can better communicate data and insights about food and farming practices. In addition, consumers have demonstrated their influence within the food marketplace.
Proven consumer influence
Although the organic movement has not significantly improved nutrient density, it clearly shows the power of point-of-sale information and a strong market demand for healthy food. In only 15 years as a USDA-certified label, organic food is now a $43 billion industry in the U.S. (5 percent of all food sold in 2015), with 10 times the market growth of conventional food.
Advances in technology
Advances in hardware have brought within reach low-cost sensors to measure nutrient density. Mini VIS-NIR spectrometers, handheld Raman, and decreased costs and complexity of all electronics are making lab-quality equipment accessible to anyone.1
This means the potential exists for consumers to non-invasively measure nutrient density in the store to find the best produce. Growers could also track the nutrient density of produce from their farms to the store – optimizing production, storage, and shipping practices to ensure the consumer receives the highest-quality product.
In addition, inexpensive, open-source software for collecting, sharing, analyzing, and validating agricultural data now exists, including FarmOS, and Our-Sci.net (built on open-source code created for PhotosynQ.org). These platforms allow producer and consumer communities (farmer cooperatives, BFA, NOFA, and nutrition advocates, etc.) to organize large-scale experiments, develop and implement new methods and sensors, and track farmer practices and nutrient density. Using existing, open-source software saves millions of dollars and years of development time.
In turn, these advances may enable nutrition researchers to build studies on a mountain of public farm and consumer data to track health outcomes at a scale not currently possible.
Collaborative food community
At the same time, the BFA has built a membership and network capable of catalyzing this vision and is ideally positioned to bring it to reality. Founded in 2010, and a 501c(3) non-profit educational organization, BFA’s goal is to improve food quality through agricultural methods that build soil vitality for better crop nutritional quality, vigor, flavor, and yields.
Growing to a membership of more than 800 in eight years, the BFA communicates to an extended network of more than 5,000 farmers, concerned consumers, researchers, academics, and experts in food and soil quality. Members include academicians at major universities (Cornell, Penn State, Michigan State, and others) private-sector actors (Health Research Institute) and public-sector actors (USDA-ARS).
In short, the BFA has a passionate, cohesive community with the tools to collaborate efficiently – capable of producing scalable results and influence large, primed markets.
There has never been a better time to transform our food system and to:
- Give consumers more choice for nutrient-dense foods with better health outcomes.
- Support producers to get a premium for their products by improving food quality without the overhead associated with certification programs.
- Enable researchers to create new tools, methods, and knowledge relating to human health and nutrition by using a new wealth of publicly available information.
Putting food testing in the hands of consumers and increasing awareness of food crop variations will encourage farmers to focus more on quality with the potential to radically transform agricultural practices and ecosystems:
- When consumers can choose crops based on qualitative metrics, supermarkets and food companies have an incentive to purchase more nutrient-dense crops from the supply chain.
- As demand increases for high-quality crops, the market will respond by rewarding farmers with preferable practices.
- As farmers begin to change their practices to achieve quality standards, the need for and application of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides will decrease.
- As crops become healthier, their net effect on the ecosystem will become positive, increasing microbial biodiversity and carbon sequestration.