Reflections on the ORFC: from soil health to gut health
Tuesday, 2nd March 2021 by Warami Jackson
Warami at Springfield market garden

This blog post was written by Warami Jackson, one of our new EcoTalent interns, based on a talk at January's Oxford Real Farming Conference presented by Jonty Brunyee, head of regenerative and sustainable food systems at FarmED, Alexis Sinclair, food and nutrition coordinator at FarmED. and Dr Sally Bell, an NHS GP and functional medicine practitioner. 


Jonty Brunyee emphasised the importance of diversity in the soil relative to animal gut health, his area of expertise, by quoting Newman Turner on how maximising your sward acts as an all-in-one fertiliser, manufacturer of food and vet for animals. The practicality of this has been proven on his farm through a 75% reduction of gut worm, which ultimately reduced the costs of worming, foot and metabolic issues.

All these improvements stemmed from inclusion of diverse nutritious species in the sward used for animal grazing and led to a cycle that feeds itself: it has improved soil health thereby increasing tastiness and freshness of crops without nitrogen fertiliser use. Farmers can provide the nutrients and structure to protect the gut lining starting from the soil into diversity. The topic sparked a curiosity leading him to question his colleagues on how we justify gut health for soil health as a lifestyle, good gut bacteria, measure nutrient density of foods, and communicate all this relative to human health.

To answer that, Alexis Sinclair said “We are nature”, so proper nutrition should be integrated in our lifestyle. We need to start from the basics, by eating fresh produce to build gut microbiome. A healthy biome is associated with more energy, sleep and less hunger. The more diverse your food, the more nutrients are absorbed to fight pathogens, the same way a more diverse soil allows plants to absorb more nutrients. She added that new spectrometers are being designed to measure the nutrient density of food. But she reminded us the food should be an experience not experiments!

Dr Sally Bell gave a medical perspective on the importance of a thriving gut microbiome. She shared a personal experience which led to a realisation of the grand effects of nutrition on genetics. The loss or disruption of a robust colony of gut bacteria is linked to every disease and the relationship between this loss and poor nutrition is irrefutable. Gut bacteria love to eat; giving them diverse food, plants and animal produce positively impacts our metabolic controls.

Soil health is related to gut health as chemicals from artificial fertilisers leave residues on food we eat. These confuse the hormones in the gut by mimicking them and sending the wrong messages to the brain, causing cancers and other health problems. The diverse nutrients in a healthy organic soil will be infused into the foods we eat, benefiting our gut. Therefore, the story of the farmer and the medic are the same – diversity!

So what small changes can we make? She advised that we need to go beyond the ‘5 a day’ UK food guidelines to ’10 a day’, accessing about 50 different plant-based fruits, vegetables and grains within a week. Make small changes towards sustainable food, get present! Try a new vegetable, try a plant-based diet, cut down refined carbs, destress, sleep and keep moving towards real food diet. The key to the health of our nation is eating real food, but taking people there is the struggle. As a system, we need to focus on treating the people and not the disease. The gut is where the healthy happy hormones are produced, so start there.


Warami, one of our two new EcoTalent interns, is working with Sophie on our Hackney sites learning how to grow food, as well as exploring other work across GC and the Better Food Traders. She is studying agriculture at Cirencester, so we hope we'll be able to learn from her, just as she is learning from us! The EcoTalent programme is managed by Feedback and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund as part of the Our Bright Future programme.


Author name: 
Warami Jackson