Posts By Nicola Kerslake
Rhonda Killough’s path to sustainable agriculture was an unusual one. While pursuing a career in performing arts in Las Vegas, her life was abruptly stalled by a motorbike accident in 2002.
“I was physically broken, I couldn’t move very much so I mostly listened to NPR,” she recalls. Two news reports in particular caught her ear. One described Las Vegas as the most wasteful city in the country, and the second outlined the impact of a lack of fresh produce on the incidence of diabetes in underprivileged communities.
As part of her recovery, Killough started taking brief walks around her neighborhood and got chatting with the groundskeeper at a neighbor’s large home.
Sanjay Rajpoot, founder of hydroponic nutrient control system firm Sustainable Microfarms, was an early starter when it came to sustainable agriculture. Fascinated by Singaporean rooftop gardens at an age when most of his peers were more interested in X-Boxes, Rajpoot began researching his business at the age of 16, and was spending time with greenhouse automation expert Dr. Heiner Lieth at his UC Davis lab by the age of 19.
“One of my mentors growing up is an embedded systems researcher, so I was fascinated by the idea of creating better, cheaper controls for hydroponic systems,” says Rajpoot.
Sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs have a new fundraising option. AgFunder, an equity crowdfunding platform launched its beta site on Sept. 23, the same day that the Securities and Exchange Commission lifted an 80-year old ban on general advertising and soliciting for private investments.
AgFunder combines the business, scientific and agronomist acumen of its three founders to create a true crowdinvesting platform for agriculture startups. For each project listed on the site, AgFunder creates a fund, which in turn holds a stake in the project. This differs from the crowdfunding model of sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, as investors actually own a piece of the project instead of just preordering a product or making a donation to a worthy effort. AgFunder makes money by charging a listing fee to each project, and by taking a cut of the profits paid to investors.
Nowadays, there seems to be at least one hackathon per hacker. Even in the notoriously tech-adverse sustainable agriculture world, we’ve seen events ranging from the software-focused Hacking for Good (Food) to the policy-oriented Farm Bill Hack to the National Young Farmer’s Coalition’s Farm Hack, which adapts commonplace farm equipment to innovative uses. Yet, there are still plenty of food chain issues that could use innovative approaches.
This past weekend, Stanford University hosted the Hack//Meat SF, the second of a series of meat supply chain hackathons organized by New York-based Food+Tech Connect. The event brought together in excess of 150 coders, ranchers, chefs, and designers to create better solutions for the meat supply chain over a rainy weekend, a particularly tough challenge in light of the complexity of the issues involved.
When Las Vegas-based sustainable agriculture enthusiast Jessica Penrod decided to begin learning about permaculture, she sought out local study courses in vain. Permaculture is the branch of sustainable agriculture that reaches back to pre-industrial times for inspiration as to sustainable uses of land; it combines horticulture, design, architecture and engineering in a philosophy which encourages followers to treat each landscape as a waste-minimizing ecology. As such, it’s well suited to Nevada’s desert environment, where water and soil are inherently scarce resources.