The Value of Nutrient Density with Matt Kleinhenz
Play • 1 hr 5 min

In this episode, I interviewed Dr. Matt Kleinhenz, a professor at the Ohio State University in vegetable crop physiology who has done research in many areas of horticulture and crop sciences. We talk about high quality food production, how growers and consumers view nutrient density, how farmers can influence the market, Matt’s views on nutritional yield, and how growers can stay up-to-date on the latest crop breakthroughs.



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Episode 5 - Dr. Matt Kleinhenz - Highlights

[0:03:20] - Matt’s memorable moments that have brought him to where he is today 

  • Matt’s interactions with growers bringing him questions, especially focusing on “how to produce more of a better quality product?” 


[0:04:10] - Where is the demand coming from for growers who want to produce a higher quality product?

  • Some demand comes from grower’s ethics who see themselves as part of a larger picture.
  • Business wise - maybe coming from complaints or questions of the quality of their product.


[0:05:00] - What defines quality for growers? What are they seeking to produce?

  • What does quality mean in the eyes of a particular group? Shape, size, texture, aroma, flavor, etc.


[0:07:00] - What has Matt observed in terms of nutrient density? Will there be a demand for “nutrient dense” foods?

  • Nutrient value/density is a complex topic, and we need to be specific when discussing it.
  • Will there be a time when more people are paying more attention? Matt thinks so, but we aren’t there yet.


[0:11:00] - Is there evidence we have lost nutrient density in our food supply? 

  • Matt thinks it’s possible.  
  • The market is not demanding nutritional value, so it makes sense farmers are not focusing on it.
  • How does a farmer display nutritional value?


[0:19:00] - Organic industry confusion


[0:20:40] - What has been the one thing that has really puzzled Matt for a long time?

  • Matt has seen some farmers have a lack of understanding around the basic biology of the crops they grow.
  • You can’t be as effective as possible without a firm grasp of the basics.
  • People are following a process, not understanding the crop they are growing.


[0:23:40] - What are the important pieces growers should study?

  • Understanding can come from many different places.
  • Study the process of farming: Take notes, take pictures, and review these. Install ways to record information such as temperature and rainfall. This information is good for farmers themselves, and when getting outside help.
  • Read, listen, watch videos.
  • Keep a healthy skepticism, but not to the point of being close minded.
  • Implement as many ways of knowing as possible, and start with the simple ones.
  • How do other professions describe nutritional value?


[0:30:00] - One characteristic of the most successful growers

  • They seek to understand “How do we make money?” They seek to understand the specific characteristic to their crop that is most desired by the market, and how to manage it.
  • Repeat sales come from quality. Improve the value of the transaction by improving the product.
  • BRIX has little bearing on nutrition


[0:34:54] - What does Matt believe to be true about agriculture today that most don’t believe to be true?

  • One area Matt hears about less is asking what role growers play in society and our daily lives?


[0:36:35] - How to remedy underappreciation for growers?

  • Matt thinks growers need to ask more of themselves, and they could be more assertive about what they do, how, and why.


[0:38:50] - What makes growers who make an impact stand out from the rest?

  • Growers need to be able to see their product as the buyer sees it, not as a farmer.


[0:42:50] - John’s story of farm with hail damage with an interesting crop response


[0:48:05] - What is the job the buyer wants from food?

  • Growers should be as informed as possible about what their buyers expect from the product, and what they aspire to.
  • The different perspective of food of cancer survivors, for example. Are growers knowledgeable about what these people are looking for?


[0:52:20] - Where is the greatest opportunity for growers today?

  • Continue to do what they’ve done, but better!
  • Be a partner in the process of enhancing the social component of what they do; be connected.
  • Use natural resources well.
  • Be a student of the farm and all aspects of the business.


[0:54:20] - Matt’s single recommendation for growers to learn more

  • Learn something new. Challenge yourself to learn new things about your crops or your farm.
  • Get an alternative point of view, and don’t become too comfortable with what you “know” to be true.
  • Get exposure to research if you have none.
  • Be aware of some of the newest trends


[0:57:30] - What technology or ideas is Matt excited about for the future of agriculture? 

  • Grower-friendly technology for monitoring environment.
  • More computing power to take advantage of data


[1:00:10] - What is the question Matt wished he was asked? What would Matt like to discuss the most?

  • Nutritional yield = yield x nutrient value
  • Can we move the needle on nutritional yield?
  • What are growers hearing from people in terms of quality?


[1:02:00] - Should we measure crop production in terms of carbohydrate or protein production per acre?

  • Some of this is already being done.
  • It’s hard to ask farmers to fully understand this, but getting an understanding is important.
  • Growers need to create the market, not just respond to it


[1:02:40] - How can a grower shift perspectives in the market?

  • Be as informed as possible.
  • Be conversant with this information to be able to showcase nutrient density when it isn’t obvious
  • Being able to understand what contributes to making better color and flavor, for example, and how these characteristics relate to the nutrition of the food.



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