He who has never envied the vegetable has missed the human drama (E.M Corian)

So we know that vegetables are good for us but the consumption in the UK has been decreasing over the last 20 years of the 5 a day campaign.
The proportion of people in the UK with obesity now stands around a third but we have low vitamin D status, consume too little fibre and have low iron, folate and selenium levels in certain groups of the population.

Clearly, eating more food hasn’t been working for us. We are not just getting bigger but the quality of our health is reducing, mainly due to the nutritional quality of our diet, amongst other factors.

Vegetables do hold the key to this problem and using the right approach that fits in with increased personalisation of food, convenience, plant based trends and wellness an improvement in the nutritional quality of the UK diet can be achieved.

I saw in Shanghai and in South Korea that vegetables are plentiful and cheap. Food is often consumed outside of the home although there are also dishes of limited nutritional benefit.

Chi-Maek (Chicken and beer)

Bucket sized instant noodles in Shanghai and Chi-maek (Chicken and beer) in South Korea spring to mind.

The fast food is generally composed of rice or noodles with a meat and vegetable accompaniment.

Stir fry

Food can easily be bought through e-commerce channels and especially in Shanghai, prepared meal components can be delivered home within an hour of ordering. These increased efficient ways of shopping reduce the time spent on meal preparation but allow the same types of food to be consumed.

Online shopping Shanghai
Prepared food online order for home delivery

Western style outlets exist such as MacDonald’s and Starbucks but rather than being a daily habit, they are frequented more as a treat.
The food guides for both of these countries specify the quantities and types of vegetables that people are supposed to eat.

Korean Nutrition
Korean Dietary guidelines

The dietary survey carried out in South Korea shows that levels of micronutrients consumed is generally acceptable with the exception of calcium which is slightly below optimum. The Koreans have different dietary issues and bio-fortification of vegetables there is not a consideration due to the high consumption of variety of volume of vegetables, however, reduction of salt in foods is an issue.

The Australasian neighbours have similar dietary patterns and issues to the UK.
Vegetable consumption is not great and in NZ the 5 + A Day message is recognised by 80% of the population but consumption is not actually increasing.
The NZ Plant & Food health does work on improving the nutritional density of food through products such as Vital Vegetables and the green kiwi. A joint project with the Australians the Vital Vegetables range was created with a focus on products that could deliver a substantiated health claim such as bone health, eye health, immunity etc.

Vital Vegetables
Vital Vegetables range

Using a team including researchers, nutritionists, growers, retailers and the manufacturing and marketing company the result is a range of bagged salads and slaws which look both colourful and attractive. The green kiwi has been promoted for its digestive health benefits and the marketing around this includes the health claim but additional softer messaging about great quality of life. Zespri has proprietary use of the claim.


Another collaboration which has worked well is that of the Ministry of Health, chip oil manufacturers, food service providers and Potatoes NZ. Consumption of fried chips in the country is high and one of the main sources of fat and salt in the diet. Realising that it would not be successful in telling the population to eat fewer chips, the Ministry of Health looked at a chip nutrition project with Potatoes NZ to improve chip quality and reduce the amount of oil and salt through training the food service staff. All the stakeholders supported the measure and the small changes that the cooks have been able to make around choice of oil, cooking temperature, portion size etc are now resulting in a reduction of fat and salt in the national diet.

The Chip Group NZ website

Mushrooms are a crop which deliver a range of vitamins but the NZ consumer doesn’t necessarily know how to cook them. In order to get consumers to pick them up, Meadow Mushrooms looked at the barriers to purchase and then categorised their range to fit with popular menus. For example button mushrooms for pasta, Portabello mushrooms for burgers and additional themed menus based on recipes from other countries. The nutritional information is still present but on the packaging it is shown as an info-bite rather than a health claim which doesn’t particularly speak to an individual consumer need.

Meadow Mushrooms -
white sliced mushrooms for pizza – photo from Meadow Mushrooms

Te Mata mushrooms take a different approach and treat their mushrooms with a shot of UV light to enhance the vitamin D levels. Labelling is focused on the health claim and the supermarket sells the product at a higher price to differentiate them from the standard product.

The Ministry of Primary Agriculture launched the latest labelling regulations in 2016 and had the advantage of being able to look at the EFSA documentation and improve on it for the Australian and NZ fresh produce growers. The result is a list of pre-approved claims which lend themselves to fruit and vegetables, a proprietary system which enables people who have done their own research to have exclusivity on a claim and a self-certification system avoiding submission in advance if a standard claim is being used.

New Zealand has a range of initiatives, a regulatory support system and a collaborative way of working across research, crop production, manufacture and marketing that enables the fresh produce industry to promote the nutritional quality of the crops, despite limited finances.
Whilst vegetable consumption may not be increasing, there are small steps being made in the right direction.

Tasmanian country life

A last minute change of plan and I bought a ticket from Melbourne to Devonport to spend a weekend with the family of a fellow Nuffield Scholar who grows vegetables in Penguin.

I quickly learnt that vegetable production is one of the region’s strengths and took advice from Dr Hazel Mctavish-West aka The Veg Doctor to take a look around. The island is passionate about agri-tourism and heavy promotes a taste trail which stops at various businessess including fruit farms, cheesemakers and wineries.

I fell in love with Tasmania but sadly couldn’t extend my stay.

Here are some of my thoughts


South Korea, a tale of two cities

I divided my time in South Korea between the capital Seoul and Daegu in the South where I stayed with my friend Hyeon and her family.

My timing could have been better, as my trip coincided with Donald Trump’s and the heavy security only added to the challenges of a foreigner trying to get round Seoul.

I persevered and had some good meetings. I had wonderful hospitality in Daegu and was impressed with the beautiful landscape and the delicious food.

Here are my thoughts on South Korea



How do you solve a problem like nourishment?

I visited the Royal Welsh Show at Builth Wells last month and took the opportunity to catch up with fellow Nuffield Scholars and talk about my study topic ‘vegetable production for specific nutritional need’.

The food hall was buzzing with activity and it was interesting to see the growth in plant based food products, which leads me to my latest video.

Here I talk about what led me to my current career path and the problem that we have of low nourishment due to our food system. How can it be solved though?

I would like your help to identify vegetable products which have successfully been sold as ‘nutritious foods’ for example beetroot juice as a recovery drink for athletes, and vegetable products with specific high nutrient levels for example; mushrooms with enhanced vitamin D levels or spinach enriched with selenium.




What makes a good business?

Nuffield Japan GFP – what makes a good business?

Japan GFP
Japan GFP

I spent 46 days travelling as a group of 11 international Nuffield Farming Scholars through Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, Israel, UK and USA.

I saw that the successful businesses share certain key practises and I have shared them in this video.

Click on the link at the top to find out….

Live. Create. Tell the story. Repeat

I spoke in my GFP video about my key take home messages from the whole trip which were the importance of good relationships, communication with your consumer and collaboration across different disciplines.

The 10 days that we spent in the USA learning about USDA policies in Washington and visiting agricultural businesses in Wisconsin, were a good reminder about the importance of a story.


In the land where Big Ag, Big Data and Big Cola rules, the smaller producers really work hard to ensure that their story is heard.

The Cates family run a grass-fed beef cattle business selling directly to their consumers who are restaurants and households. We paid a visit to their farm in Spring Green, Wisconsin where we saw the trout stream, beautiful countryside and a type of agriculture practice that promotes well being of the animal and the surrounding environment. No growth hormones or antibiotics are used and the family have won awards for conservation,  sustainability and water quality. Ron and Dick have moved from an intensive, high volume, low margin system and found that they have been able to reconnect with the people who cook and eat their product.


Vermont Valley Community Farm is a CSA,  Community Supported Agriculture business near Madison where members pay an annual fee to receive weekly or bimonthly vegetable boxes from the farm from May to November. Barb and David Perkins run the farm with their family and Cambodian workers and in addition to providing a wide range of vegetables to complement a family’s weekly diet, they hold events on farm where members can take part, learn about the farm or get involved. The farm ethos is focused on the environment, nutrient density and marketing the produce. Barb and Dave both worked in the city before setting up the farm and the goal was to do something meaningful rather than just move to the country and commute to the day job. It is refreshing to see that they are strong believers in both the importance of the quality of life and keeping the farm a financially successful. It will soon be time to hand over to the next generation and see how the veg box thrives in the changing landscape of convenience meal boxes.

DSC_0808 The Farmer’s Market is another place where perception and the value of story are essential. I spoke with one lady at the Madison Market who says that she spends no less than $80 at the market each time but wouldn’t dream of spending that much in the grocery store! The quality of the produce is not necessarily better than in the supermarket and some growers do not participate in certification schemes, but what the consumers love is the story behind the product. People are making buying decisions based on provenance and what they believe is the best way of producing food for the environment. The Grow Local,  Shop Local,  Eat Local branding is splashed all over, prices are robust but government food vouchers are redeemable at higher than face value.DSC_0843

We visited other businesses with excellent communication with their consumer, for example, the Wollersheim Winery perfectly placed on the market with mid-priced wines tailored to the local palate and a new range of gins and whiskeys for the growing market in spirits. Blue Moon Community Farms who are a CSA not only providing food to paying members but find ways to get their food to food banks, distributors to low income groups and also educating minority groups about agriculture

Getting sales might be about consumer perception but the story has to be genuine.

Adversity introduces a man to himself

Another country better known for it’s bad news rather than the good, Israel was the 4th country on the Nuffield GFP tour.

From the cherry farm next to the Syrian border in the north from where we could see plumes of smoke rising in the distance, the Palestinian restaurants in the West Bank, to the Moshav villages in the Arava in the south, there is one overriding feature.

The Israelis embrace risk and failure at a level that is truly breathtaking. The country is 4th in a table of innovative countries to startup a business. Relations with their neighbours may be difficult but under this environment the communities of different religions seem to thrive against the odds.

According to the Israeli head of SOSA, an organisation sponsored by the Australian government to support start up businesses, their secret is the attitude of living life to the maximum.  The high risks may create failures, but they also reap rich rewards.

We travelled to Ofaimme Farm in Arava, in the North Negev desert where we met Inon.


Over a delicious breakfast at his farm cafe, he told us how he used to grow capsicum peppers for export to the UK and Europe. The business was labour intensive and he had 50 temporary workers from Thailand working in the crop and the packhouse. The profit margin was quite small and the business had to grow constantly to be viable.


Every 7 years, land in the Arava has to be rested for a year under the Jewish religious law. Inon used this ‘gap year’ to travel the world with his family, visiting friends and farms as far away as New Zealand. He brought back many new ideas from his travels as he realised that his business was neither sustainable nor satisfactory for a good work/life balance.

Pepper production was stopped and Alpine goats, poultry and vegetable crops were introduced to the farm. The goats are fed with a combination of grain and barley which is grown hydroponically on site.OneNote_20170601_1496300495195

The feed helps keep the animals cool in the desert heat without the need for washing them with cold water. Solar panels on the roof of the goat shed run the fans and lighting for the goats and chickens. Manure from the livestock goes into compost which can be used on the farm. Not only is the system sustainable, it is also organic and Kosher certified.

Ofaimme maximise their profitability by having an additional business of cafes and a delicatessan, managed by Inon’s brother who is a chef and food writer.

The eggs are sold to local farmers who run organic vegetable box delivery scheme. Eggs with a poor or dirty appearance are used by the kitchen and delicatessan in the meals and baked goods.

The goat’s milk is used for labneh and cheese which is also used in the cafes and delicatessan.

The remarkable thing is that these goats were stolen from the farm last year and took several weeks to get only some of them back. Once back on farm they realised that the goats had been so badly handled, that the business would not be viable unless new goats were sourced. This was certainly a setback for the business especially as in their first year the goat dairy products were under development and nothing was sold until the ideal product had been created.

The Ofaimme brand now includes 400 products from honey to olive oil and dates, sourced from local organic farmers. Inon treats the theft of their livestock as a bump in the road and have built a stable and profitable brand that is not dependent on one key customer. There are now 5 Israelis workers supported by volunteers from the Woofer scheme.

It was truly inspirational to see how this business has been revamped from a classic export business of high cost low margin to become a sustainable, organic business serving the local community with local product.