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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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Nearly 250 Gather at UCLA to Discuss Economic Opportunity In Sustainable Agriculture

Nearly 250 Gather at UCLA to Discuss Economic Opportunity In Sustainable Agriculture

October 28, 2012 |

If ever there was doubt about the interest, desire and motivation to develop economically viable and sustainable farming solutions to repair a broken food system, it was allayed at the Seedstock Sustainable Agriculture Innovation Conference that took place at the UCLA Anderson School of Management on October 24. A diverse array of nearly 250 investors, farmers, entrepreneurs, distributors and researchers were on hand to hear from some of the most innovative thinkers, agripreneurs and practitioners in the growing sustainable ag marketplace.

The day began with an introduction by Jason Reed, founder of Seedstock, that emphasized the need to look for sustainable farming solutions that not only improve the environment and benefit local communities, but that also result in economically fruitful businesses. He was followed by a keynote from Colin Archipley of Archi’s Acres that touched upon the challenges that farmers face and will continue to face from constrained water resources. Archipley also impressed upon the audience that it is vital for the survival of your farm or business to insure that you are keeping tabs on the desires and demands of consumers in the marketplace.

The day continued with a panel on scaling sustainable agriculture solutions that examined the issues and challenges faced by commercial scale operations trying to grow and expand their sustainable-oriented businesses against a tide of outmoded regulations and government agencies fighting them every step of the way. The panel moderated by Jason Reed of Seedstock, featured Casey Houweling of Houweling’s Tomatoes, Dan Gibbs of Home Town Farms, Miguel Jardine of VermiSoks and Thaddeus Barsotti of Farm Fresh To You. A panel on urban agriculture moderated by Dan Allen of Farmscape followed with panelists Rachel Surls of UC Cooperative Extension, Jesse DuBois of Farmscape, Rickey Smith of Urban Green LA and David Rosenstein of EVO Farm delving into the fundamentals of why businesses and individuals should engage in urban agriculture.

A panel on sourcing sustainable agriculture followed that was moderated by Dwight Detter a Southern California forager for Whole Foods Market and featuring Martin Anenberg of FreshPoint, Don Nishiguchi and Erik Oberholtzer. The conversation turned toward how each company finds the farmers that it sources from and the standards that are applied to determine product suitability for the destined point of sale. The digital technology panel moderated by Danielle Gould of Food+Tech Connect followed with panelists Erika Block of Local Orbit, Melanie Cheng of FarmsReach, Jamie Kantrowitz of Shared Earth and John Bailey of Top 10 Produce. The panel touched on topics such as the ability of digital technology to provide small farmers with tools to increase traceability for their products and take advantage of turnkey software platforms to facilitate distribution and direct sales.

The day concluded with a panel on investment in sustainable ag moderated by Matthew DeBord of 89.3 KPCC in Southern California, which featured Paul Matteucci of U.S. Venture Partners, Adam Dell of Austin Ventures, Nicola Kerslake of NIREC and David Jeromin of Golden Mean Capital. The conversation looked at whether VCs will come around to investing in this sector and many of the panelists noted that if one successful investment and exit occurs, other VCs would follow like lemmings. The focus also fell to the lengthy time horizon of agriculture investments and how they might not fit the typical VC investment fund criterion.

The proceedings concluded with the agripreneur pitch competition moderated by Robert Puro of Seedstock and judged by Adam Dell of Austin Ventures, Nick Grouf, founder of Firefly Network and Spotrunner among others and Sam Earle of Local Food Systems, Inc. The pitching companies included Project Alba, a project to create an innovative and efficient Social Enterprise for sustainable economic development of rural areas in Southeast Asia; VermiSoks, a company creating a closed loop growing system that takes advantage of the vast amount of food waste generated worldwide;, a cloud-based and e-commerce marketplace for pairing buyers and sellers of fresh food; and Indoor Harvest, a developer of aeroponic growing systems. After convening, the judges announced that VermiSoks had won the competition with Project Alba coming in a close second.

And, if you weren’t able to make it, don’t fret; the entirety of the conference proceedings were recorded and will soon be available for your viewing pleasure.

See you at the next event!

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