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.
Farming has gone high-tech. With the convergence of science and technology, as well as no-till methods and increasing concerns about soil composition and fertilizer use, growers can now access information and tools unheard of twenty-five years ago.
Robert Yoder, Purdue Extension Educator based in Marshall County, Indiana, believes that farm innovation is leading to better environmental stewardship as well. “Farmers themselves are better educated about environmental issues,” he says, “and new technology is enabling better soil management practices.” With over 30 years as an Extension agent working in the areas of agriculture and natural resources, Yoder has seen a great deal of change in his career span, and he notes at least five innovations in farming equipment that did not exist before 1990 in common use now.
How Do We Reshape Our American Food System? A Q&A With Union of Concerned Scientists’ Ricardo SalvadorSeptember 30, 2014 | AJ Hughes
Ricardo Salvador is the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food & Environment Program. He believes agricultural systems must change for the health of the Earth and its inhabitants, and was the first professor to teach about sustainable agriculture at a land grant university at Iowa State.
Seedstock had the opportunity to speak with Salvador about the future of agriculture, the role of land-grant universities, and the developing science of “agro-ecology”.
Seedstock: For years, our nation’s land-grant universities have focused on crop yields and profitability. How do leading agricultural research universities need to shift their energies to adapt to a rapidly evolving agricultural industry?
Local Food Marketplace provides a software platform for food hubs that allows them to reach customers, aggregate production and compete with traditional distribution.
“We help food hubs all the way from the planning process and working with their producers to figuring out what their availability will be on a weekly basis,” says Amy McCann, who co-founded the business in 2009. “We also help with writing sales sheets, creating invoices for customers and managing the distribution to the food hub’s customers.“
McCann says her personal experience working in the food hub environment helps her offer more than just tech support to her customers.
Seattle-based farmer, chef and blogger Janelle Maiocco founded Farmstr in September 2013 as an online marketplace centered on sustainability. Through its web site, customers can purchase food and produce directly from sustainable farmers, ranchers and fishers. The young startup announced a $1.3 million capital raise in May, 2014.
Through Farmstr, customers benefit because they can buy high-quality, locally-produced food for (often) less than its retail price. And producers benefit, as local farmers who largely operate on a small scale are able to sell their offerings in a timely manner.
Maiocco, a Seattle resident, has roots in dairy farming, and agriculture played a significant role in her growing-up years. A self-professed foodie, she is a trained chef and writes extensively about food and agriculture on her blog, “Talk of Tomatoes.”
Many of Detroit’s urban agriculture ventures have a down-on-the-farm feel to them, but not the CDC Farm & Fishery. If anything, with its tubes and tanks, the business seems downright futuristic. You see, the Farm & Fishery is among the first aquaponic operations to set up in Detroit following the passage of an urban agriculture ordinance last year.
Aquaponic is a term that describes enterprises where aquatic creatures are raised and their wastewater is recirculated to help grow plants that in turn filter it for reuse. Located in a two-level building in the North Central Woodward area of the city, the grow station is now raising tilapia fish and cultivating herbs and microgreens to sell to area businesses.
One of the most tech-savvy areas of the sustainable agriculture revolution is indoor agriculture – growing in warehouses, containers and greenhouses using hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic systems. The industry has seen a wave of new technology commercialized of late, here’s some of the coolest:
The cynical view of the LED lighting that many indoor farms use to encourage plant growth is that it’s too expensive to buy and run, and too tricky to adjust the lighting to your plants’ needs. Yet, LED prices are forecast to halve by 2020, according to market research firm Lux Research, and tech geeks are now making lights cheaper and easier to run.