Sustainable Agriculture Startup Profiles
It all started with a Facebook post.
Nick Papadopoulos was working as acting general manager of Bloomfield Farms, his wife’s parents’ 45-acre organic vegetable farm located in Northern California. One day, he found himself alone in the cooler after a farmer’s market, sipping on a beer and observing all of the unsold food that would soon become part of the farm’s chicken feed and compost bins.
Suddenly, he had an idea. Instead of giving premium organic produce to the chickens, why not give it to hungry people? So, he went online to Facebook and started typing. The original Facebook post offering leftover produce that started the cropsourcing website known as CropMobster can still be seen on the site today.
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.
To meet world food demand in the future, agriculture productivity must increase by a factor of 1-2% per year, more than doubling total output by 2050, according to the Global Harvest Initiative’s 2012 GAP Index report. At the same time, global demand for biofuels is projected to increase by 133% by the year 2020, according to Hart Energy’s Global Biofuels Outlook Report.
Intensification of unsustainable agricultural practices to meet these competing needs often harms soil, causing nutrient depletion, erosion, salinization, and chemical, and allows the introduction of crop pests. The result: significant amounts of land are removed from production indefinitely every year. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates 1-2% of global cropland is removed from production annually due to salinization alone.
That statistic got the attention of Naveen Sikka, Founder and CEO of TerViva, an Oakland, CA-based sustainable agriculture startup aimed at developing new crops for marginal or underutilized farmland.
In 2007, Dan Merchant of Vancouver, British Columbia went fishing with David Suzuki, Canada’s most famous sustainability advocate, and had a life-changing conversation about fish food.
Aquaculture feed, to be more exact.
Commercial fish farming has long been criticized for its sustainability challenges; the fish feed produced from wild-caught fish, corn and soybeans is resource-intensive and competes for other uses, such as human consumption and biofuel. Grain-based animal feed faces the same sourcing and production challenges.
The conversation with Suzuki got Merchant thinking about methods of producing fish food more in harmony with nature’s design, noting that a staple food of many fishes is insects and their larvae.
What if growing your own food was as convenient as running out for your morning cup of coffee? SeedTabs co-founder Wyatt Roscoe hopes to make it just that easy by selling organic seeds at popular locales like coffee shops, bookstores, and grocery stores.
According to Roscoe, SeedTabs owes its existence to a several pound seed order that was a bit excessive for his small garden. Roscoe and his brother Will decided to share their abundance of seeds and began passing out small bags of seeds to all of their friends. At first glance, says Roscoe, people were hesitant to accept these small bags of seeds. “These drug-like baggies of seeds received confused looks that quickly morphed into smiles of appreciation.”