How Innovation is Making the Food Business More Environmentally Friendly
What a brilliant display of food innovation at the September 24, 2020 Thrive Environment & Sustainability (E&S) Community and Social Impact Advisory Group (SIAG) co-sponsored panel – Sustainable Food for People, Planet, and Profits: How Innovation is Making the Food Business More Environmentally Friendly. (More info on future E&S meetings.)
The event featured four amazing for-profit start-ups right in our backyard – Full Harvest in San Francisco, Impossible Foods in Redwood City, Ouroboros Farms in Half Moon Bay, and Plenty Inc. in South San Francisco. (See speaker names and bios below.) Additionally, cross-sector audience members — from business, government & nonprofit — added their perspectives and discussed their organizations’ sustainable food solutions including Acterra, Food Shift, San Mateo Resource Conservation District, and TomKat Ranch.
How lucky are we to have all these great ventures, and how can we help them succeed?
Food Systems Challenges
After intriguing speaker intros, the four got right to the problems facing today’s food systems:
Animal Farming. Responsible for one-seventh of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, one-third to one-fourth of water use, and totally unsustainable given rising emerging market demand that requires devastating high-impact land use.
Farm waste. Described as “the world’s dumbest problem.” One-third of harvested produce, too imperfect for picky U.S. consumers, never leaves the farm, yet one-sixth of our country is hungry. Causing more GHG emissions than cars or cows, distribution doesn’t exist for farm food waste including 75 percent of all lettuce.
Farm locations. As urban populations grow, rural farms lock in supply chain risk and nutrition loss. Small independent farms with current methods struggle, while large one’s overuse and permanently destroy the soil.
Farm subsidies. Federal money is maintaining unsustainable farming, not supporting research and development of innovative solutions.
Solutions & Benefits
Our speakers then painted a canvas ripe with tasty, healthy, planet-friendly foods, and showed how innovation attacks these challenges. Importantly, their solutions are ready now. And scalable, but requiring private public partnership, to meet huge demand. Here’s what the panelists proposed.
Low-impact, plant-based meat — to satisfy demand
With no compromise, plant-based meat satisfies consumer needs – delicious and nutritious – with minimal harm to the planet. Reversing animal farm harms, new solutions from Impossible Foods and others, can shift mature market demand, while fulfilling growing emerging market desires. Furthermore, slaughterhouses have shown to be vulnerable to worker’s health, most recently, but not exclusively by the Coronavirus. Adding to decreased animal harm and increased human health, is this another reason to transition?
Food recovery — to stamp out hunger
A focus on the farm level, versus supermarkets, magnifies the food recovery movement. Food manufactures and restaurant will use imperfect produce when the supply chain is developed. That’s what Full Harvest does. Not 75 percent harvest or less. No tomato left behind. But more can be done with government support including regulating food waste and providing tax incentives for donations. Food recovery, and all the panelist’s sustainable solutions, can benefit significantly from public support. These partnerships can also address racial injustices and increasing disease rates. What are our leaders waiting for?
Urban farms — as a just transition to sustainable food for all
Is food a public good? If so, putting farms close to those who need it, or directly into food desserts, addresses racial injustices. Urban farms generate better food and more of it and can respond quickly to people’s needs. Ouroboros Farms has one in Half Moon Bay that serves local consumers and Michelin star restaurants. Plenty has one in South San Francisco and another under development in Compton, California. Both companies have proven that urban farms’ produce tastes better and maintains more nutrition than their rural counterparts. But it does require government partnerships to obtain permits and profitably scale.
Thank You Speakers!
Ken Armstrong — Owner and Founder, Ouroboros Farms — has been living the commercial Aquaponics dream for the last 8 years. Ken’s enthusiasm and passion for Aquaponics and sustainable food systems comes through in the presentations and tours, as he relates his experiences running the longest continually operating commercial farm as well as one of the largest Aquaponics facilities in the United States. He has shared his experience as the Keynote Speaker at the 2016 Aquaponics Association conference, as well as presentations at Google, Etsy, Air B&B, Sandisk and NetApp helping to inspire the Tech world to invest in sustainable agricultural systems.
Rebekah Moses — Head of Impact Strategy, Impossible Foods Inc. — leads impact strategy at Impossible Foods, a company addressing climate change and sustainable food futures through plant-based meat. Her work focuses on how product innovation and consumer behavior can maximize environmental outcomes and business growth. She works with Impossible Foods teams to integrate environmental and social mission into core strategy. She has worked at the intersection of ecology, agriculture, and international development in the Middle East and domestically. Rebekah’s research contributions can be found in journals like the Public Library of Science (PLOS) and Journal of Applied Ecology, as well as via the USAID Water and Livelihoods Initiative online.
Christine Moseley — Founder and CEO, Full Harvest — is a passionate serial social entrepreneur. Currently, at Full Harvest, she is solving the massive food waste problem at the farm level. Full Harvest is the first B2B marketplace for surplus and imperfect produce, connecting food & beverage companies directly to farms with produce that would otherwise go to waste. Christine has over 15 years of experience in the logistics and food industries at both Fortune 100 companies (Maersk, P&G) as well as high-growth food start-ups. In her last corporate role, she assisted Organic Avenue, an NYC healthy food + juice start-up, in doubling in size as Head of Strategic Projects and Business Development. Christine holds an MBA from Wharton Business School and a BA from the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. She was recently recognized as Inc.’s Top 100 Female Founders and Fortune’s #2 ‘Most Innovative Woman in Food & Drink.
Dr. Nate Storey — Co-founder and Chief Science Officer, Plenty — is the co-founder and chief science officer of Plenty, an AgTech business with a mission to improve the health of people, plants, and our planet. Nate has extensive experience in plant production and equipment design. Prior to Plenty, he founded Bright Agrotech, an agriculture company that created hardware, software and services to advance the indoor and vertical agriculture industries. Nate received his PhD in Agronomy from the University of Wyoming with an emphasis in vertical plane hydroponic production.
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