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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Hundreds Gather at 4th Annual Seedstock Conference in San Diego to Discuss Innovation and Rise of Local Food

November 8, 2015 |

Pay the farmer, or pay the doctor. The responsibility of the consumer to vote with his fork. Utilizing imperfect produce in order to increase local food buying at institutions and universities. How technology gives underrepresented groups the tools to empower themselves. Indoor agriculture is on the rise, but will people let go of their love of dirt and the traditional farm image?

These were just a few of the many topics that hundreds of attendees from across the Southern California region and beyond showed up to discuss and debate at the 4th Annual Seedstock Sustainable Agriculture Conference: Innovation and the Rise of Local Food at the Rady School of Management, UCSD on November 3-4, 2015. The sold out audience was treated to lectures from the foremost experts, entrepreneurs, advocates and business minds in the sustainable and local food system space. As in previous years the conference provided ample opportunity for growers to network with buyers, entrepreneurs to connect with potential business partners and for the local food champions in the host city, in this case San Diego, to continue to strengthen their base of support to meet the demands of a thriving local food marketplace.

Day one of the conference featured the “Future Farm Field Trip” on which attendees paid visits to urban and indoor agricultural operations in the San Diego area to bear witness to the innovative local food endeavors that are stimulating community and economic development in San Diego County. The field trip kicked off with a stop at Seeds@City Urban Farm, the one-acre working farm located on the campus of San Diego City College that serves as the college’s classroom for its Sustainable Urban Agriculture program. Damian Valdez, farm coordinator, discussed how the program is helping to educate and create the future urban farmers in the region, whose endeavors will help to create new jobs, impact communities in need and strengthen the local food infrastructure in the city of San Diego. Then it was on to Solutions Farms where attendees ate lunch provided by Veggie Grill and learned from farm manager Kevin Gorham about how the expanding farm operation is utilizing aquaponics to solve homelessness, create jobs and contribute measurably to the local economy and community.

Attendees visit Seeds@City Urban Farm on the 4th Annual Seedstock Conference’s ‘Future Farm Field Trip’

The tour then moved on to the 67 1/2-acres Leichtag Property, the former home of the Ecke Ranch floriculture business where attendees were treated to tours of Coastal Roots Farms, a nonprofit community farm and education center to nourish the land, grow healthy food and seed new ideas around sustainable farming and Jewish life in Encinitas, and Go Green Agriculture, the five-acre hydroponic organic family farm operation run by Pierre Sleiman, which provides locally grown lettuce to markets, retailers, wholesalers and restaurants throughout the region.

Sleiman of Go Green Agriculture kicked off day two of the conference with a keynote address focused on entrepreneurship, the future of indoor agriculture and local food system innovation. “Most farming is multi-generational. You don’t typically find new entrants into the marketplace,” noted Pierre, a computer scientist who turned to farming because he saw the opportunity to use his engineering skills to serve his community, fix a broken food system and turn a profit. Pierre discussed the evolution of his company from an idea hatched in a garage to a thriving five-acre organic hydroponic greenhouse. Pierre hit upon the themes of developing a market, doing one thing really well (growing lettuce) and utilizing resourcefulness and his core skills in engineering and computer science to develop a sustainable (economically, environmentally and socially) farming enterprise. “The farmer is becoming a hero again, coming back into the community,” concluded Pierre, who hopes to inspire future generations to start locally-focused farming endeavors that can benefit the local economy and community.

Pierre Sleiman, founder of Go Green Agriculture delivering the keynote at the 4th Annual Seedstock Sustainable Agriculture Conference: Innovation and the Rise of Local Food

Gus Schumacher, co-founder and vice chairman of Wholesome Wave, a Bridgeport, Connecticut-based nonprofit working on nutrition incentives for diet impacted vulnerable families, followed with a presentation entitled, “Farms and Farmacies”. Schumacher, the former Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at USDA (1997 – 2001) and Massachusetts Commissioner of Food and Agriculture (1985 – 1991), discussed his organization’s efforts to create a fruit and vegetable prescription program that would provide families affected by diet-related diseases with a prescription to be spent at participating farmers markets and retail outlets. Schumacher called for “nutrition advocates and farm leaders” across the country to educate hospitals on community food needs. He also noted that nonprofit hospitals advocating and serving healthy local food can claim the help that they provide to “ensure adequate nutrition” as part of federal tax exemptions.

Schumacher’s address was followed by a panel focused on the State of the Local Food System in the Southern California region. The panel was moderated by Dwight Detter of Food Centricity and featured panelists Lauren Blacker of SodexoUSA, Ed Glebus of San Diego State University’s Dining Services, Bob Harrington of Specialty Produce, Erik Oberholtzer of Tender Greens and Catt Fields White, CEO of San Diego Markets. The panel focused on the efforts of buyers and local food champions – from restaurants and hospitals to universities and farmers markets – to stimulate and support the growth of small farmers and meet the escalating demand for local food being driven by consumers.

A farm-to-fork networking lunch with organic greens served up by sponsor Tender Greens followed. The afternoon sessions, which followed, featured panels on indoor agriculture and the pursuit of market demand, the role of technology in local food systems, urban agriculture and the expansion of local access and an address on the benefits of community farming from Daron ‘Farmer D’ Joffe of the Leichtag Foundation.

Daron ‘Farmer D’ Joffe of the Leichtag Foundation discussing Coastal Roots Farm and the benefits of community farming

The indoor agriculture panel was moderated by Chris Higgins or Hort Americas and featured panelist Colin Archipley of Archi’s Acres, Milan Kluko of Green Spirit Farms, Erik Oberholtzer of Tender Greens and Danielle Horton of Urban Produce. Archipley of Archi’s Acres spoke about the pursuit of new niche markets through focusing on innovative types of produce such as living basil, which Archi’s Acres grows organically and sells year-round to local retailers and restaurants. Oberholtzer spoke of his company’s desire to maintain its local sourcing model in cities and states across the country through partnering with local indoor growers that can provide the company with leafy greens, herbs and other produce that go into its eponymous salad offerings.

Urban Agriculture and the Expansion of Local Food Access panel featuring N. Diane Moss of Project New Village, David Rosenstein of Our Foods, Rishi Kumar of The Growing Club, Anchi Mei of IRC San Diego and Damian Valdez of San Diego City College

A discussion of technology in local food system and how it is helping to fuel and facilitate the growth of the local food marketplace and food access, was moderated by Robert Puro of Seedstock and featured panelists, Lucy Norris of Ag Innovations, Amy McCann of Local Food Marketplace and Robert Tse, California State Broadband Coordinator for USDA Rural-Development. The discussion looked at the responsibility of tech in the advancement of local food systems as well as its ability to give underrepresented groups the tools to empower themselves to link their communities with local farms and sustainable food.

The day concluded with a panel focused on urban agriculture and food access. The panel was moderated by Rishi Kumar of The Growing Club and featured panelists Anchi Mei of the International Rescue Committee in San Diego, N. Diane Moss of Project New Village, Damian Valdez of Seeds@City Urban Farm and David Rosenstein of Our Foods. When asked to define the urban agriculture the panelists exclaimed in turn its manifold meanings from “education, food justice and urban renewal to locally grown and a connection to the land and community.” The conversation touched upon how to increase food access to communities in need, create new farmers and teach people not only how to grow their own food, but also to advocate for and pursue healthy foods by any means necessary.

Attendees then connected over beer and hors d’oeuvres at local eatery, Draft Republic.

Seedstock plans to bring the conversation and opportunity around the economic and community development potential of local food systems to cities and counties across the country, so if you weren’t able to attend the conference, sign up for our mailing list to insure you don’t miss out on our next event.

See you soon!

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