Soil to Society is not just a grant, but a strategy of thinking that addresses gaps in current knowledge and between research disciplines. The pipeline strategy traces the flow of nutrients from agricultural systems and food production to human consumption, culminating in the synthesis of more sustainable agricultural management strategies and healthy, affordable food products to meet the needs of diverse individuals and communities. It is a novel way of thinking, especially within traditionally separate research areas in academia. For this reason, one of the main objectives of this Soil to Society grant is to move forward this strategy of thought by introducing students, teachers, and farmers to the pipeline strategy in an educational setting.
We are halfway through our Soil to Society series, so let’s do a quick recap. Following along the Soil to Society pipeline, this grant is working to identify soil-conscious cultivation practices with the Soil and Cropping Systems team, breed varieties of wheat, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, lentils, and peas with the Plant Breeding team, and engineer products that utilize these nutrient rich crop varieties with the Food Science team. Now, we must determine whether the more nutritious varieties correlate to better health outcomes in human consumers.
Over the last three months, we have discussed the groundbreaking scope of the Soil to Society grant and ongoing work by our Soils and Cropping Systems and Plant Breeding Teams. But what is the point of breeding better grain and legume varieties if farmers have nowhere to sell their harvest? Crops must be marketable in order for farmers to integrate these varieties into their current rotations. For this reason, our Food Science Team is working to develop a diverse and innovative suite of flavorful, affordable, and nutritious food products accessible to consumers from all income levels.
What makes food better? Through the Soil to Society grant, we believe that breeding for increased health and nutritive value while improving agronomic and end-use qualities creates better food and a foundation for an accessible food system. Currently, WSU and USDA plant breeders are developing new varieties of barley, wheat, peas, lentils, quinoa and buckwheat with enhanced health and nutritive value through the Soil to Society grant. Each plant breeder is working on one or two of the above crops, with nutrition goals specific to the crop.
Though we are what we eat, there is minimal research available on how different players within the food system interact to influence food availability and human health. Noted barriers to this research and to a broader understanding of agriculture’s role in societal health include a historical separation of the involved scientific disciplines, and an economic incentive to focus on crop yield rather than nutrition. Reducing those barriers not only improves future research, but also the robustness, affordability, and accessibility of our food system.
While many scientists, producers, and consumers recognize the importance of quantifying the carbon footprint of agriculture, most efforts focus on on-farm activities. The journey food takes before it lands on a consumer’s plate is complex and requires looking beyond the farm gates: as it turns out…
Efforts to quantify the carbon footprint of agriculture are often focused on the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from on-farm activities, mostly from fertilizer production and the energy required for use of farm implements. While you, as a climate change-conscious consumer, may place your attention on the environmental impact of…
Consumer interest in blueberries as part of a healthy diet has exploded in recent years. Blueberries are considered one of the “superfruits”, full of antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. They are also easy to use, especially in breakfasts, where the breakfast smoothie has become a standard way to start the day for many. This new […]
There have been four progressively rigorous meta-analyses published since 2009 focusing on differences in the nutritional quality and safety of organic versus conventional food. The latest comes out July 15, 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN). I was the sole American scientist on the mostly European research team that produced the BJN paper: […]
An April 19, 2014 blog post by NPR correspondent Dan Charles discusses Wal-Mart’s plans to develop a substantial new line of organic food products that will be sold at a 25% lower price than other organic brands. The story quotes individuals who question whether Wal-Mart will be able to deliver on the idea without hurting farmers […]