Food is food because it’s meant to be eaten. But all too often, what’s intended for the table ends up in the dumpster. To address the issue, a growing movement of developers is creating easy-to-operate tech tools to help people produce volumes of food with less surplus and rescue food that would typically go to waste.
Farmers just received a bit more help from the technology sector with a new app created by George Lee, founder of FarmPlenty, located in San Mateo, CA.
With credentials as a software engineer at both Google and Twitter, Lee quit his job at Twitter to focus on consulting and technology development in sustainable agriculture.
According to Lee, more focus is needed on pressing issues of public health and climate change. Although agriculture is topping his list right now, Lee also cares deeply about education, the environment, health and poverty alleviation.
Press release – WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2016 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Microsoft officials today announced the winners of the USDA-Microsoft Innovation Challenge, in which contestants used USDA agriculture production open data to develop online tools that can help make the American food supply more resilient in the face of climate change.
“In yet another example of how public and private resources can be leveraged together to address significant global concerns, the winners of the USDA-Microsoft Innovation Challenge have used open government data to create an impressive array of innovative tools to help food producers and our communities prepare for the impacts of climate change and ensure our nation’s ability to provide plentiful, affordable food,” said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. “For more than 100 years, USDA has compiled data on the farm economy, production, and the health of crops around the country, and it is exciting to see such modern, useful tools spring from these information sources.”
A company in California is using technology to engage people in local agriculture and support the local farming economy. Ag Link, based in the San Joaquin Valley, has created a website and smartphone app, Ag Link Connect, for consumers looking for local food and farms, as well as fun local activities and agriculture related events. By partnering with other agencies, Ag Link hopes to create a statewide network that will increase the reach of local agriculture organizations.
Ag Link Connect was created by Rob and Jana Nairn, native Californians who grew up on farms and have degrees in agricultural marketing. Their business started as an e-commerce platform to connect schools to local farms in support of farm-to-school programs in California.
“As we were developing a business model of connecting growers to schools, we came across a lot of growers whose products didn’t fit into this market but were interested in what we were doing,” Jana explains. “We started looking for opportunities to fit their needs.”
A farmer’s livelihood depends on keeping track of records.
Records of rainfall, commodity prices, fertilizer applications, seed planting rates, when pesticide was applied last, and more. Without accurate records, the business suffers.
Yet the farming sector has been slow to adopt new technology–farmers often opt to keep much of their files with them in the front seat of the pickup or in office filing cabinets.
When Giulia Stellari was seven years old she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up: a sheep farmer in Australia.
“I was really into animals and have always been into growing things, but lived in a very urban setting and so didn’t really have the opportunity to do that,” says Stellari.
Even though she didn’t pursue this dream, she eventually got back in touch with her agricultural leanings in a very different capacity. In 2009, Stellari cofounded AgSquared, a software company focused on small-farm planning, management, and record keeping.
The movement to grow the proportion of local food on our plates is gaining momentum across the nation.
But progress is uneven. While 89 percent of Vermont schools engage in some type of local food program, only 44 percent do so nationally, according to USDA. Large food service providers and institutions are, for the most part, still getting their food from the big guys. The military, one of the largest food markets in the country, gets most of its food from large agribusiness, according to the New York Times.
The demand is there. As compared with the 2007 USDA Agricultural Census, the current 2012 Census shows an increase of 8 percent for the number of farms selling directly to consumers and 5 percent for the sales in dollars of directly marketed agricultural products.
The challenge for innovators, entrepreneurs and growers is securing the investment necessary to start and grow their companies in order to meet this market demand.
Seedstock’s upcoming “Reintegrating Agriculture: Local Food Systems and the Future of Cities” Conference on November 12, 2014 at UCLA Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles, CA will look at the innovations and business models that have the potential to help expand local and regional food systems as well as the funding routes that entrepreneurs and new growers can take to start and grow their operations.
The discussion will be led by moderator Wilton Risenhoover of the UCLA Venture Fund and feature expert panelists Nicola Kerslake of New Bean Capital, Rob Trice of Better Food Ventures and The Mixing Bowl, and Robert TSE of USDA Rural Development.
It might seem that to purchase locally-produced foods, one must take a two-lane county road to the nearest farm stand or visit the local farmers’ market. Even though it may seem that the big-box grocery store is an embedded part of modern life, modern technology increasingly is empowering the buying and selling of local foods on an larger-than-ever scale. From radio frequency identification tags to online food hubs to mobile phone apps, technology is taking agriculture “back” to the future.
The following are nine cutting-edge examples.