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.
For generations, the face of farming in America has been the face of a sun-baked, hard-working man. Even with record growth in the number of female farmers, men still make up approximately 70 percent of primary and secondary farm operators, creating a collision course between entrenched gender biases and taboos and the realities of farming’s changing demographics.
Annie’s Project, founded in 2003 by University of Illinois Extension educator Ruth Hambleton, is one organization pushing to help the new generation of female farmers and ranchers over those hurdles to access the tools they need to be competent, successful growers, farm business managers, and business partners. The 18-hour curriculum combines an introduction to the five traditional risk areas of farming–farm risk management, production, marketing, legal, and financial and human resources–with lessons learned by Hambleton in more than two decades of field support.
“In my first 25 years of extension work, I listened to the many concerns and requests that farm women had,” Hambleton says.
A prominent university in Southern California is utilizing aeroponics to challenge the food systems status quo on campus. The University of Southern California (USC) Teaching Garden was established this spring to supply fresh produce to the university’s on-campus restaurants, dining halls, catering services, and hotel, while also teaching students and staff about flavor and sustainability.
The garden utilizes aeroponic towers to produce chemical-free fruit, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers without traditional soil growing media. Instead, plant roots are sprayed with nutrient-rich water at regular intervals to provide nourishment. The aeroponic towers at USC’s facility come from LA Urban Farms, which utilizes patented Tower Garden technology.
Each aeroponic tower is made with food-grade plastic, has room for a nutrient-rich mineral solution at its base, and holds up to 44 plants. Using this method, the project is able to raise more than 2,640 plants in just 1,200 square feet with 90 percent less water than a conventional produce operation, a boon for a drought-prone megalopolis like Los Angeles. And since growing takes place vertically, land use is kept to a minimum.
Food hubs are financially viable forces for good in their communities providing locally grown to institutions, wholesale buyers, grocery stores, restaurants and other retail outlets. They also offer much needed infrastructure, aggregation, and marketing to enable small and mid-sized farms to achieve and maintain economic sustainability.
These conclusions were among the results of the 2015 National Food Hub Survey of more than 150 food hubs across the U.S. The report was released on May 12 by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. Seedstock recently spoke with the center’s director, Rich Pirog, to learn more about the report’s findings and the future of food hubs.
Seedstock Announces CDFA Secretary Karen Ross as Keynote for November ‘Future of Urban Food Systems Conference’June 23, 2016 | seedstock
Presented by Seedstock in partnership with the Orange County Food Access Coalition, the conference is scheduled for November 10-11 at California State University, Fullerton, and is designed to foster the growth of a sustainable local food and agriculture system that benefits the community, environment and economy within Orange County and serve as a template for communities across the country.
Growing up in the corn and soy fields of rural Indiana, Andy Schwartz has seen first-hand what large-scale farming can do to soil quality. But it wasn’t until he managed farms of his own and made his own compost that Schwartz realized the role large-scale composting could play in keeping the quality of soil high and protecting the environment.
“When I made enough compost for myself and the food waste kept coming in I realized that I had to come up with a plan,” he says. “The plan was and is to keep valuable organic materials out of the landfill and use them to create a healthy growing medium for plants. Heirloom tomatoes and peppers from my garden are a much better outcome for food waste than producing methane gases and harmful leachates in a landfill.”
Determined to “feed the food that feeds you,” Schwartz studied successful composting projects around the country and launched Grow.Eat.Repeat, a compost pick-up company in Savannah, Georgia. With more than 300 restaurants, 100 hotels, and 50-plus schools in the city, Schwartz had no trouble identifying his primary market.
A public school district in Southern California is enhancing its curriculum with an interactive learning center known as “Farm Lab.”
The Encinitas Union School District is rolling out the mixed-use educational space on a donated 10-acre plot of land in the prominent horticultural hub of Encinitas, California. Central to the plan is a roughly five acre educational garden that will produce fresh organic produce for the district’s school lunch program. The lunch garden will eventually be complemented by a nutrition lab, a science lab, a maker’s lab for visiting students, an educational space for local organizations, a one acre community garden, and a one acre hands-on educational garden. The site is also bordered by a food forest that will be used to grow other organic produce for the community.
Farm Lab has been in the “pilot phase” since the end of the 2014-2015 school year and has so far leveraged its space as a tool for offering hands-on lessons and experiential learning to students at all nine elementary schools in EUSD. Farm Lab Director Mim Michelove says Farm Lab is using a “D.R.E.A.M.S.” approach to education that focuses lessons on Design, Research, Engineering, Arts, Math, and Science. The hope is that students can spend an entire day in a centralized location and experience a variety of educational activities that require more time than typical classroom lessons.
Sponsored Story – The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is accepting applications to the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems online graduate certificate program.
Students in this 3-course program earn graduate credit while gaining a 360-degree perspective on the food system – from farms to supply chains to the consumer. Courses include:
- Sustainability on the Farm (fall semester)
- Supply Chains and Food Markets (spring semester)
- Sustainability and the Food Consumer (spring semester)
This program, in its third year, is ideal for professionals engaged in a variety of food-related businesses and organizations, as well as others interested in implementing sustainable practices for their organizations, partners, and communities.
Growing up in Manhattan, Dina Falconi foraged her food at the grocery store. But when she relocated to Marbletown, New York, in the foothills of the Catskills, she discovered a powerful fascination with food harvested from the earth, particularly from the wild.
“How amazing it was for me to discover that many of the ‘weeds’…surpass cultivated plants in nutrient content while also possessing additional therapeutic properties,” she writes in her book Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook.
The crowdfunded book, illustrated by botanical artist Wendy Hollender, walks would-be wild cooks through the entire plant to plate process for 50 wild plant species. And yet, as delicious as these wild plants can be, Falconi maintains an approach that also emphasizes foraging’s less tangible rewards.
Growing produce isn’t a cakewalk—and selling greens? That’s not easy, either. That’s why Local Line wants to simplify communication between growers and sellers.
The idea for this streamlined company that bills itself as “a commerce platform to build your brightest future in food” was sparked in October 2013. That’s when Cole Jones met the company’s other co-founder, Cole McLay, at a pitch competition. McClay and Jones were both undergrads at the time—McLay was a fourth-year environmental studies student at the University of Waterloo, and Jones was a third year philosophy student at Wilfrid Laurier University. The original concept behind Local Line was to distribute local food from farmers to consumers, but the young, budding business partners soon changed their focus to supplying chefs.
In January 2014, Local Line was accepted to the Laurier Launchpad program. “The program taught us to talk to potential customers before trying to build or sell anything,” Jones says.