Let's Talk Farm to Fork

Elle Astrup from Foods That Love You Back

December 01, 2021 Season 1 Episode 15
Let's Talk Farm to Fork
Elle Astrup from Foods That Love You Back
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of "Let's Talk Farm to Fork", we're joined by Elle Astrup from Foods That Love You Back, who we will be talking to about how their AgTech microgreens farm enables them to grow sustainably exceptional produce every week, all year round using 95% less water and no nasty chemicals.

https://foodsthatloveyouback.com/

Voiceover:

Welcome to let's talk farm to fork, the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people, making an impact in the fresh produce sector. We'll take a deep dive into what they do and find out how they're helping to reduce the amount of food lost or wasted along the farm to fork journey. But before we get started, did you know that according to the UN's food and agriculture organisation, around 45% of the world's fruits and vegetables go to waste each year? If you would like to learn more about how you can practically play your part in maximising fruit and vegetable supplies, whether you're a part of the industry or simply a consumer. Visit PostHarvest.Com and try out their free online course library today. Now time for your host Mitchell Denton.

Mitchell Denton:

Hi there and welcome to "Let's Talk Farm to Fork". The PostHarvest podcasts that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain. Today on our show, I'm joined by Elle Astrup from Foods That Love You Back, who I'll be talking to about how their AgTech microgreens farm enables them to grow sustainably exceptional produce every week, all year round using 95% less water and no nasty chemicals. So with no further delays, let's get started. Hi Elle, how are you? Thanks for joining me on the podcast today.

Elle Astrup:

Hi, Mitch. I'm really well. Thank you. And, uh, thank you so much for having me on your show.

Mitchell Denton:

Oh, no worries. Thanks for joining us. So before we get into it, I just wanted to give you the opportunity to tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do, and while you're at it, maybe a fun fact about yourself that most people don't know.

Elle Astrup:

Well, I am the foundress and the CEO of Foods That Love You Back, which launched in June this year in Byron Bay, Australia. So we are actually an AgTech farm revolutionising the way food is grown, used, and distributed. So we work with the science of food and we grow one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, which are microgreens. They can have, uh, between 40 to 70 times more nutrients in them than any other vegetable or leafy green. So just to give you an idea of what that looks like one punnet or my broccoli microgreens, which is approximately a hundred grams, has the equivalent nutrients of about seven kilos of store bought broccoli. So they, yeah, they're super, super dense and super full of nutrients and garner immense potential to use as medicine. So we grow one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, and we are offering our consumers a selection of the most powerful living foods sustainably grown, to promote health, prevent and reverse chronic disease.

Mitchell Denton:

Yeah, wow. 40 to 70 times more nutrients, that's quite an increase. And what about that fun fact of yours?

Elle Astrup:

Oh, yes. A fun fact about myself. That would be that until I was 30, I smoked a million cigarettes and drank a lot of alcohol and lived a really, really fast-paced, adrenaline driven life, working in the media industry. So I'm probably doing the complete opposite now for the past 20 years.

Mitchell Denton:

Wow. That's quite a change of pace. Yeah wow. Well, on that note, let's talk farm to fork. So continuing on from you telling us what you do, would you mind just telling us about your journey and what led to you establishing a food health company in Byron bay?

Elle Astrup:

Yeah. So my journey actually working with food and actually working with microgreens, that journey started seven years ago when my mum got the diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer, stage three to four. And that was the starting point for Food That Loves You Back, although, I didn't know that at the time, of course. When my mother got sick, I quickly realised that I did not want to see my mother go down the traditional route with her treatment. And I started looking for alternative ways of dealing with her cancer. So to cut a long story short, uh, I did a lot of crying for about three or four days, and then I started researching really, uh, intensely around the world, looking for alternative ways of dealing with cancer. And while I was researching, I came across a, a Institute in Miami, Florida called the Hippocrates Health Institute, where they use food as medicine and work with the science of food to reverse and prevent chronic disease. So this method seemed like something we could do, and it seemed doable, and I also knew I could get all those foods in Norway that she needed to use to do this. So these protocols are really extreme, it's not something you would do unless you had to, but what would you rather choose? We you do, you know, go raw vegan for a year and a half, or would you take chemo and radiation? So my mother didn't really know what we were doing, so I traveled from the south of France. I was living in the south of France at the time and I traveled up to Oslo, and I basically bought everything we needed on the ride from the airport to her house, and this was on New Year's Eve in 2015 slash 16. And on the 1st of January, 2016, we started her protocols, and we hadn't actually seen her oncologist yet at that time because it took a while to actually determine exactly what cancer she had. So it took three weeks before we went to the hospital and in those three weeks, she felt so much better. And so much more in control of her life. And she really sort of trusted in what we were doing, you know, already in three weeks she could feel the difference of what she was doing and she was having noticeable effects of what we were doing. So we basically went raw vegan overnight, eating only activated and living food. So living microgreens, activated nuts and seeds, wheat grass, and you know, a whole heap of natural supplements, yeah, so it was pretty intense. So at our first meeting with the oncologist, uh, you know, we let her do her thing and she explained this and that, and we want you to do so and so, and then I just said, "Is my mom going to die in three months?", and she said, "No, she won't because she's so old, and her cells are dividing much slower". And I said, "Well, we're going to come back in three months. We just want to try something else first. Is that okay with you?", and she said yes, and so we did. So when we came back, four months later, her tumors were down 40%. Uh, I, I started crying. My mom started crying and we knew what we were doing was actually working. So that was, you know, one of the best moments in all our lives and a year and a half later, she was completely cancer-free and she's literally never been in better health ever since. And she still, she still lives on a living food diet, but it's more normal now, you know, she has wine and coffee and chocolate and you know, some carbohydrates and yeah, she has a really good life and she is 77 now.

Mitchell Denton:

Wow. That's incredible. And so obviously you've got this living case in front of you, and so from there, you were like, "There's a future in this, there's a business in this"?

Elle Astrup:

No, no, no, it didn't happen that quick at all. So at the time I was living in the south of France with my then husband and four children. And I went on the same protocols as my mum because, you know, if she was going to do it, I had to do it. So in the beginning it was a full-time job to actually just keep us alive. And then after six weeks, she traveled to the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida and she spent three weeks there and I went back to France. And at that time I was going to continue being on the protocols because I said, "I'm going to do this for six months with you mum". Or, or longer if I need to. So I came back down to France and I just brought lots of microgreens with me from Norway, and lots of wheat grass in my suitcase, and a juicer. And you know, there was no microgreens in the south of France and I thought, okay, what do I do? So I started growing. So that's how I started growing, but just to keep myself alive in those stints, when I was down with my children and my family. So I would stay in France for two weeks, and then I would go up to Norway for a week and then I'd go back down to France for two weeks. And I kept going like that for the first year, until she was, you know, really felt, you know, inspired to cook herself and do everything herself. And, you know, she, she was really on board with her journey and what she was doing. So I, I traveled less and less up there, but I had to grow all my own food, yes.

Mitchell Denton:

Yeah wow. That's incredible, that's a quite a journey. So we've previously had Paul from InvertiGro on this show to talk about their end-to-end indoor growing solutions. And now I see that you've actually partnered with InvertiGro to innovate your microgreen growing method. Would you mind expanding on what that partnership looks like?

Elle Astrup:

Yes. So partnering with InvertiGro has been a win-win for both of us. I started actually outsourcing my growing to another farmer here in the northern rivers. And then COVID hit and because of that, he couldn't offer me the space anymore, and that's when I realised that I needed to own the whole process and own my whole business. So at that time I was actually a little bit worried. Is this going to work? Is Australia going to welcome this new product? Will they understand what I'm talking about using food as medicine, et cetera, et cetera? So, uh, when that happened, I started looking at hydroponic systems that was accessible for me to run as a one man band at the time, and I stumbled up, upon InvertiGro. At the time they weren't really ready, I think, to, to go live and, uh, their website wasn't that established yet. And, you know, they hadn't actually started delivering any of their systems, but I traveled down to Sydney and I met the team. I met Paul and Ben and everyone else, and they showed me what they were doing, which I thought was absolutely amazing. And I asked them, "Can you deliver a system for me?", and they said," Yes, yes we really want to work with you and we love what you're doing". And I said, "Great, how about the 21st of January?". And that's when they all just laughed and said, "No, no, no, no, there's no way we can do that. That's much too soon and we're not ready". And I said, "Well, you know, come on, can't we just do it? Can we do a Beta version and I can do R and D for you, and then we put a cube up in Byron Bay?" And anyway, the end of the story was that they said, yes, and we did launch the first cube ever out of house here in Byron Bay on the 21st of January, So that's super exciting. So we're doing a lot of R and D research and development for them, which has been, um, a challenge as well, but it's also really exciting to know that we are part of innovation and driving innovation and also, developing new ways of growing food sustainably. So, you know, that's amazing to be part of that.

Mitchell Denton:

No, that's incredible, that's really cool. I mean, from that episode, it sounds like they have a great vision for what they want to achieve and what they want to do. So it's really cool to hear someone who's really gotten alongside them and helped out with that R and D and just really kind of seen that vision kind of come to life, so that's awesome.

Elle Astrup:

Yeah, and now we've come to a stage in the business now that I've launched and you know, everything is going really well, we are ready to expand. So as soon as we get out of lockdown, we will have more cubes come up here to Byron Bay. We will have a much bigger production. Uh, we will scale up the production and we will also be servicing a much bigger, bigger markets. So, you know, with the increase of risk of climate change on Australia and also on the world's agricultural industry, our AgTech technology is really at the forefront and there's so much we can do with this, we're realising now.

Mitchell Denton:

No, definitely. It says on your website that you can sustainably produced nutrient rich microgreens on a weekly basis. Would you mind expanding on all the reasons why this is a big deal compared to more traditional vegetable growth?

Elle Astrup:

Well, it's intricate this question about food, because how we grow, distribute, produce and promote food is very corporate. So we can't look at these entities in our food system separately because everything is kind of interlinked.

Mitchell Denton:

Yeah.

Elle Astrup:

So also the way we look at our health, you know, that's also corporate. So the crisis that we're seeing today is I think cultured within our social fabric. And, you know, the drivers of that is money. So when we look at food production, we need to understand that we need to eat food that has been grown sustainably, and I think that's really the first step, for the consumers to understand that they need to buy food that's grown sustainably because I don't think change can happen unless we understand what's happening in the food system, and how it's, that it's corporate. A great example of this is that if we look at the great barrier reef, a study by Griffith University and the Worldwide Fund for Nature Australia just released a report. Which is called the "Rivers to Reef Turtle Project" in 2020, where they detected 4,000 different chemicals and compounds in the coastal green turtle, which lives on the Great Barrier Reef. Now we know that these toxins are very much linked to the farming and the industry practices along the Queensland coastline. So a lot of these contaminants are brought onto the reef as runoff through the river systems, and having said that, Australia just avoided having the Great Barrier Reef now listed as an endangered world heritage site by UNESCO. And it should be, but despite extensive climate change activists and people highlighting the damage to the ecosystem, and what's going on with the coral reef. Because earning money is now more important than the longevity of the reef. So we know that there's been, you know, extensive lobbying in Canberra for UNESCO not to put it on the protection list. Because, the farmers want to keep going, the industry wants to keep going, and they also want the Great Barrier Reef to be completely open to tourists and that those practices couldn't continue if it had been put on the protection list.

Mitchell Denton:

Yeah.

Elle Astrup:

You know? So that's what we need to understand. Everything is governed by money. No matter how you twist and turn to look at it, everything is governed by money, always.

Mitchell Denton:

Yeah, that's crazy.

Elle Astrup:

And that's why it needs to start with the consumers. That's why we need to create change because that's the only power we have as consumers. That's our dollars and where we spend them.

Mitchell Denton:

That, that kind of leads me to ask. What do you think is the biggest challenge society has with food health right now? And how do you think we can overcome it?

Elle Astrup:

So, the human body is truly amazing. It's an interconnected system with the most advanced structures in the known universe to us, it's a marvel of biochemical engineering and it's powered by food. It's powered by our lifestyle, it's powered by what we eat, and what we drink, and what we do. So food is our fuel and we are what we eat. We've known that forever, we are what we eat. And today's doctors, they have to give an oath when they become doctors and that oath was written by Hippocrates, 400 BC. And what he said was, "Let thy food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be thy food". But, you know, in those days, food was completely different to what it is today. So I believe personally that food is the nexus of the environmental, climate, and the health crisis we are seeing today. The food we see in our supermarkets and through the fast food outlets are driving inflammation and chronic disease, like never before. Especially hard to witness for me as a mother, is what it's doing to our children. It's literally killing us really, really slowly, but it's also killing our planet. So just to give you, I know this is depressive, but you know, this is what we've got to take on board otherwise we're not going to have any change. So just to give you guys some perspective, in Australia, 400 people are diagnosed with some sort of cancer every day, 50% of the population, including children has one chronic disease. 65% of the population over the age of 65. So all the people over the age of 65 has two or more chronic diseases. That's a lot, huh?

Mitchell Denton:

Yeah, that's a lot. That's insane.

Elle Astrup:

Yeah, and then to top it all off 829,000 prescriptions are written every day in Australia, 829,000 prescriptions a day. And that's actually 300 million every year.

Mitchell Denton:

I had no idea that is ridiculous.

Elle Astrup:

Yeah, well, that's, that's the problem, you know, that's the problem we are facing. And I think when you have this amount of chronic disease and this amount of mental health problems, it's in our social fabric, it's who we are and that's because of our food system. So you can look at the Great Barrier Reef and what's happening there to the climate, you know, we all know that AgTech is driving climate change and we also know that the food we eat is driving the health crisis. So another interesting fact is that 42% of our calorie intake is from something called Ultra Processed Foods. So ultra processed foods is basically non-foods foods. So because it's actually non-foods, it's derived from food substances and it's gone through various chemical processes. They actually had to create a new food system called the Nova system, which is a new classification system to where they can group all these non-foods food. Into groups because they aren't actually foods anymore. And this is where the problem lies. And that's why we're getting sick because this is what we're eating all of us.

Mitchell Denton:

Would you actually be able to give examples of these non-food foods?

Elle Astrup:

Well, actually I did a workshop the other day on non-food foods, so I've actually got a lot of them in my bedroom. So let me just go and get them because then I can count and then you can see how many ingredients are in them.

Mitchell Denton:

Yeah. Go for it.

Elle Astrup:

So I'm back. Here we actually have a packet of Uncle Toby's Cheerios. Which have got, uh, in Australia, we also have something called the health star rating, so five stars is the best and one star is the worst. So these Uncle Toby's Cheerios actually have a health star rating of four.

Mitchell Denton:

Okay.

Elle Astrup:

And it's basically got, you know, over 25 ingredients in it. And it's basically just full of fat, sugar, and chemicals and it's ultra processed and it's got nothing to do with food. So all those cereals, all the biscuits, all the cakes that last for months on the shelves, then you have a lot of the new vegan food, which has also got really high star ratings. which are also just ultra processed and really, really bad for you. Then you have all the Nature Valley and all the food bars, you have all the pre-made cakes mixes, you have all the lollies and all the sweets. You have all the pre-made dinners, all the pre-made puddings. I mean, all of it, I don't know how many percent, but you know, everything that's made and it's all readily available on the shelves and the supermarkets are super toxic. I mean, health educators and doctors and people that are into health, say as a standard rule, "Don't eat anything with more than five ingredients", because you know that there's going to be things in there that's going to make you sick. And it actually alters how our genes or how our genome is expressed. So it goes into our genetics basically. And what that means is that the food we eat can actually disturb the way our genes work and switch certain things on and off. So that's how bad it is. And that's why we need to use food and not chemicals to, to repair the body and to get back into health.

Mitchell Denton:

Yeah. Wow. That's very interesting. Very daunting, but very interesting. I had no idea about the star ratings. That's, that's crazy.

Elle Astrup:

Well also, I can also say about UPS that evidence now suggests that diet heavy, an ultra processed foods cause over eating and obesity, because it doesn't tell the body to stop eating because the body is not getting the nutrients it needs. And it's also disturbing the messaging from the stomach to the brain and from the brain to, to us that we shouldn't eat any more now because, uh, those messaging services doesn't work because of what the food does to us. So it's, it's really, really bad. They're they're designed to create addictions. They are, you know, they're spending millions and millions and millions of dollars on food research to create foods that they can sell, which will addict us. And then they have, you know, the health star rating, which also, you know, the health star rating is rating the food on what ingredients went into the food before they were processed, not what the food looks like after it's come out.

Mitchell Denton:

Sure, wow. So from where you stand, what would you identify as being one of the biggest pain points or blind spots when it comes to food loss and resource waste? And what practical measures do you think could combat this?

Elle Astrup:

I think, uh, production of food and distribution of food is where we could get a lot a lot better. We need to produce a lot more food locally and we need to develop a whole new distribution system, so food doesn't have to travel across the whole country up and down and in and out of the big cities, we need to keep as much produce as possible in the local areas. We have to embrace sustainable farming practices. I think that's really important.

Mitchell Denton:

Definitely. Definitely.

Elle Astrup:

I also think that we need to work towards a much bigger percentage of a plant-based society. We need our governments. So all these changes can't happen by themselves, I think it needs to happen with a push from the governments and the governments need to support a change for a healthier population, whatever that looks like. But, you know, you can look to other countries, for example, in Mexico, they've banned all those cartoons, on all the ultra processed foods and all the cereals, that's one thing they've done in Mexico. They've banned all the cartoons. So it's not so attractive for children to eat those foods. In Brazil, they've actually brought in a sugar tax and a, and a tax on soft drinks, I think. And if you look at Canada, they've gone even further, I mean, they are super progressive, they've said no to dairy and less or no to meat in their food pyramid. This is what they are advising their population. Uh, and this decision, they based on the science of food and not lobbied by industry and money.

Mitchell Denton:

Wow. That's a revolutionary change to the food pyramid.

Elle Astrup:

That's a revolutionary change, and that was in 2019. So the director general of health Canada's office of nutrition, Dr. Hasson Hutchinson is really keen to let people know, we were really clear that when we were looking at the evidence base, we were not going to be using any reports that had been funded by industry. So, that's how they got to that solution. And that's why they decided to say no to dairy, and less meat and, you know, a plant-based ideology for their people.

Mitchell Denton:

So interesting. So has the COVID pandemic for better or worse, had any effect on your day to day operations? And if so, how?

Elle Astrup:

So launching in Byron Bay with its high end organic restaurants and five-star health resorts is normally the perfect fit propel a business like mine. COVID has been traumatic of course, because everything is changing every single day, pretty much every week and especially every month. Uh, but having said that I've been really supported by all our local, uh, organic shops and businesses, and also some of the local restaurants and juice bars. So my sales have been consistent here in Byron Bay. Getting out of Byron has obviously been quite impossible because the border to the gold coast, which is a much bigger market for me and also Brisbane is closed. But, having achieved what we have achieved here in Byron, I'm really hopeful for Gold Coast and Brisbane, because we've had such great response with our products. So it's been great. It's been great. I mean, you just have to think of new ways of doing business and do other things and um, not let it get you down.

Mitchell Denton:

No, totally. But it sounds like you've really managed to make the most of your situation. And it sounds like there's brighter days ahead, so that's exciting. When it comes to food loss, waste and sustainability, what's the biggest area you're most curious about and why? Or to put it in another way, what are some of the things you're researching the most right now?

Elle Astrup:

Well, after, after I started with my farm, obviously when I started growing, I was growing in soil and it took a lot of space and it was very. Labour-intensive, but the farm operating now is only one and a half by one and a half metre, and it's three point three metre tall. So it actually resembles a massive fridge. It's easy to run and very accessible. I use hardly any water, 95%, less water than traditional farming. And I use very little energy and soon I'll be running my farm on solar cell panels as well. So this house inspired me to look at other ways and other products to use my farm for. So we use no nasties of any kind and we only use light and clean water. To be more sustainable, we grow on an organic hemp mat and all our packaging is compostable and best of all, we are actually delivering a product that is still alive. So when I go to market, I go to market with a product that's still alive and it will stay alive in the consumer's fridge for up to seven to ten days. So we don't have any waste and nothing, nothing is wasted. And then all my packaging is also compostable, so once you have eaten all your microgreens, you can just put your packaging and the scraps, the compostable hemp mat in your compost. And It will help aerate and bring nutrients back into to your soil. I also want to point out the reason I have put so much effort and time into developing this product and delivering a living food product to the consumers is that once you harvest the microgreen, you lose 60 to 70% of its nutrients. So, if you look at all the other microgreen products that are out there, a lot of them are in clamshells, harvested in clamshells, harvested in plastic bags. So they are not only driving the use of plastic, they're also selling a product that it's hugely depleted of its nutrients.

Mitchell Denton:

Hmm. Yeah. Wow. I love the full circle of your operations. Just finding a way to continue that cycle and keep it as sustainable as possible. So on the end of that question, is there a particular group or innovation within the industry that you're excitedly keeping a watchful eye on?

Elle Astrup:

I am personally really excited about microgreens obviously because of the health benefits that they have. Each microgreen has their own health benefits and we know that for example, broccoli has a lot of sulforaphane in it. So sulforaphane is something that is actually developed in your mouth when you eat the broccoli microgreens. So when you chew the broccoli microgreen, it sets off an enzyme which mixes with your spit and you create sulforaphane. And we know that sulforaphane is anti-cancerous, there's been thousands and thousands of studies on that. So sulforaphane is a really amazing enzyme because it has the ability to attack cancerous cells, all kinds of cancerous cells, but it also has the ability to restructure and repair cell damage. So, um, sulforaphane is a really, really interesting compound that I really want to work with more. And, um, we are doing a lot of research now on working with one of the universities here in Australia. The Department of Horticultural Science, on looking at how we can use the different nutrients and compounds in microgreens to create an extract. So you can create a shot, high nutrient dense living food shot that has a shelf life of up to a year. So that's really, really interesting. And also looking at nano technology, how we can deliver this and how we can put different nutrients together so they can enhance each other and, and work together. And, a lot of work has to go into this, but, uh, some has already happened and some extraction has also been really successful, so we know it's possible. So this is something we are working with now on the side of everything else that we're doing.

Mitchell Denton:

Yeah wow, the Nanotech sounds really interesting. So what's one thing you wish you had known when you first began Foods That Love You Back?

Elle Astrup:

Well, that's a great question, Mitch. Uh, I am constantly learning. Constantly learning every single day I'm learning new things about food, I'm learning new things about farming, I am learning new things about marketing and sales, and also learning new things about people. So I guess this journey of learning, it's just going to keep going. It's great. I love what I'm doing and the more I learn, the more I can give back and I guess that's what it comes down to. I'm just passionate about helping people and teaching people so they can make better choices and have better lives.

Mitchell Denton:

Yeah, definitely, definitely. So, unfortunately Elle, we're coming to a close, but as we come to a close, I just wanted to ask you, what is the number one takeaway you really want the listeners to absorb from this episode?

Elle Astrup:

I really want your listeners to understand that their lifestyle and food choices will shape their future. And also the future of generations to come. My takeaway message is that food is medicine. So what you eat governs the quality, and indeed the longevity of your life. Living microgreens is not a fad, and I'm hoping they will be a constant presence to enable a healthy future and to help people reverse and prevent chronic disease. Microgreens are the most nutrient dense food available and can help reset your body clock quite quickly, if you start using protocols and you see them actively and they taste amazing and they're so easy to eat, so it should be easy. I want everyone to have them and I want them to be affordable. I want them to be like salads or greens everywhere, all over Australia.

Mitchell Denton:

I tell you what you've definitely opened my eyes to the concept that food is medicine. And I definitely wanna look into microgreens further. Well, that's all for today's episode of "Let's Talk Farm to Fork". Thanks for listening, and thank you Elle for joining me today. If you'd like to know more about Elle and Foods That Love You Back, check out the link in the description of this episode. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast that you never miss an episode, and don't forget to leave a review and share with your friends. Until next time you've been listening to "Let's Talk Farm to Fork", a PostHarvest podcast.

Voiceover:

We appreciate you joining us for this episode of let's talk, farm to fork, be sure to rate, review and subscribe. Also, if you would like to learn more about how you can practically play your part in maximizing fruit and vegetable supplies, whether you're a supplier, consumer, or anyone in between the farm to fork journey, visit PostHarvest.Com and try out their free online course library today.