The High Cost of Cheap Food with Bob Quinn

The Dandelion Effect

Feb 27 2022 • 1 hr 9 mins

Bob Quinn is a scientist, farmer, out-of-the-box thinker and savvy businessman who has dedicated his entire career to regenerating food systems and educating the public on the connection between land and soil preservation, nutritious food, robust rural communities and human health.

With a PhD in Plant Biochemistry from University of California Davis, Bob returned to his hometown of Big Sandy, Montana—a population of 600 people—where he took over the family farm and was among the first farmers in Montana to go organic. He served on the National Board of U.S. Department of Ag to create a USDA organic standard, started a grain cleaning plant, flour mill and Montana’s first wind farm.

His book, Grain by Grain with Liz Carlisle, lays out the recent history of farming in the United States, how the rise of  “Big Ag” has pushed small farms out of business and turned rural communities across the country into ghost towns. In a rush to produce higher yields to keep up with the small margins of the global commodity market, farmers have drowned their soil and crops in synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that have lasting consequences for the land and the people who eat the end products.

What Bob has done to organize organic systems and revive ancient grains is incredible. In 1988, he converted his entire 2,400 acre farm to organic and hasn’t looked back. Over five decades, he started several projects and businesses: Kamut International, a company specializing in organic Kamut khorasan wheat; Montana Flour and Grain, which processes his grains into flour for bakeries, pasta makers and distributors; Big Sandy Organics; and The Oil Barn, an operation that presses organically-grown safflower into cooking oil then returns the used oil to his farm to replace diesel fuel.

In this conversation, he makes the case for eating ancient wheat varieties versus modern wheat, which has been continuously bred for high yields, at the detriment of nutrition, diversity and flavor. We discuss the research that his team has carried out in Italy among patients with diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and heart disease, and how switching to a diet of Kamut in place of conventionally-grown modern wheat lowered inflammation, cholesterol, cytokines and other markers that lead to chronic illness. Ancient wheat could be part of the answer for the 12-20% of people who experience symptoms of gluten sensitivity or intolerance.

This talk scratches the surface of the high cost of cheap food, but my hope is that it will help you rethink our industrial agriculture system, choose organically-grown foods, experiment with ancient wheat varieties like Einkorn, farro and Kamut, and begin to understand why we can’t talk about farming without talking about human health and planetary healthy. The three are inextricably linked, and if we don’t start to make different choices, we’re just continuing the race to the bottom.

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