Basil’s Harvest began the Regenerative Agriculture in the Heartland initiative to bring healthcare and agriculture systems together to reduce fragmentation, create champions for regenerative agriculture, and develop regional institutional supply chain opportunities for regenerative/organic farmers.

Renergerative Agriculture and Human Health: REPORT EXCERPT

November 9, 2021
3
 Min Read
An excerpt from The Regenerative Agriculture and Human Health Nexus: Insights from Field to Body Report. Read the full report here.

As part of the broader regenerative agriculture movement, there is increasing attention around the idea that agriculture practices and soil health have a connection to human health.

Basil’s Harvest began the Regenerative Agriculture in the Heartland initiative to bring healthcare and agriculture systems together to reduce fragmentation, create champions for regenerative agriculture, and develop regional institutional supply chain opportunities for regenerative/organic  farmers.  As part of these efforts, Basil’s Harvest partnered with David LeZaks, Ph.D. and Mandy Ellerton to explore what the research says about the connections between agriculture and human health.

The assertion that agriculture practices and soil health have a connection to human health is an exciting proposition that is gaining energy and attention. Exciting enough that a movement connecting agriculture and nutrition is emerging—a movement that envisions transforming our agriculture systems in order to transform our health. The implications are staggering. If the connection between agriculture and human health is borne out, it could help engender massive transformations across food, agriculture, health and the broader environment.

The possible human health benefits of more nutrient dense food, grown in healthy soil will only ever be one part of a larger, holistic case for transforming these systems. There is already robust discussion of the broader climate, environmental, human rights and economic benefits of regenerative agriculture.* While we exclusively examine the human health dimensions of regenerative agriculture in this paper and wholeheartedly champion a greater focus here, we are under no illusions that the human health dimensions alone are the full story.

But what does the evidence tell us about the connection between agricultural practices and human health? Despite growing assertions that regenerative agriculture,1 in particular, benefits human health, as the Rodale Institute “Power of the Plate” paper put it, “this link between soil health and human health is largely unexplored and must be advanced.”** The reality is that the connection between agricultural practices and human health is infinitely complex and dynamic.

We like to think of the journey from field to body as containing a series of metaphorical “levers” and “dials”, each of which can be flipped or dialed to improve the chances that food can arrive in the hands of people in a maximally nutritious state and perhaps sustain or improve someone’s health. There is evidence that suggests which levers and dials need to be flipped and moved to improve human health. And there is ample opportunity to learn more in further research.

What follows is an exploration of the research connecting agriculture practices and systems and the relationship to human health outcomes. It is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis, but an opportunity to spark further conversation.We start by outlining some of the leaders and organizations who are asserting that soil health is connected to human health and what, exactly, they are asserting. We offer a framework for categorizing and better understanding different levels of nutritional interventions: from the most basic level of replacing “unhealthy” foods with “healthy foods” all the way to considering nutrient density and interventions that tend to human microbiomes.

The bulk of the paper explores the state of the evidence using a framework that organizes the journey from field to body.Our exploration actually begins at the end of this journey,by discussing our ultimate goal: human health. We then skip back to outlining what the evidence tells us about nutritional dimensions of food and nutrient density. Next we look at the evidence surrounding how food harvesting and processing impacts nutrition. We then spend time examining what the evidence says about food access, purchase and preparation, with particular time spent discussing race and gender equity dimensions and time spent looking at methods to make nutrients more bioavailable. Finally, we look at evidence regarding the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients.

After reflecting on the evidence about this journey from field to human body, we are left with a number of summary reflections. First and foremost, we are left with the conviction that growing more nutritious food does influence human health. And that this nexus of regenerative agriculture and human health calls for an inclusive movement made up of a diverse group of organizations and leaders working in concert to improve the human condition. But crucially, this movement must center race and gender equity in order to be successful.This movement also needs a new vocabulary, because how we talk about nutrition and nutrients does not yet adequately capture the complexity and dynamism of food. That very complexity and dynamism also means that despite a collective commitment to science and data, we will never definitively understand exactly how nutrient density influences human health. Not in any Western scientific sense, anyway. And yet, in embracing the unknowns, we must also have the conviction to say that we still know a lot. And we know enough to act.

It is our sincere hope that this paper engenders a deepening of the discussion about the connections between agriculture, food, human health and environmental health. Now let’s dig in.

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