In honor of the 2020 World Food Day, Emerging Leaders in Food & Ag spoke with some leaders from our August inaugural event about their vision for the future of our food system.
Allison Kopf is the founder and CEO of Artemis, the market leading Cultivation Management Platform serving the fruit, vegetable, floriculture, cannabis, and hemp industries. Artemis won the highly coveted Disrupt Cup at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Kopf was recently named one of Forbes 2019 30 Under 30. Allison is an Investment Partner at XFactor Ventures and serves on the boards of Cornell University’s Controlled Environment Agriculture program and Santa Clara University’s College of Arts and Sciences. She is a Techstars Farm to Fork mentor and holds a BS in Physics from Santa Clara University. Allison is a visionary young leader who has built and led successful agricultural companies while also fostering the growth of other leaders in her sector.
Megan Cornish provides leadership in regulations, policies, and industry affairs that characterize the food ecosystem and oversees corporate communications. She has over a decade of experience in government affairs including legislative work in two congressional offices and a congressional committee. Before coming to FoodMaven, Megan was a federal and state lobbyist. She has a MA in Global Security from Johns Hopkins University and a BA in Political Science from Colorado College. She wrote her master’s thesis on global food security. Megan is also a founding board member of the Upcycling Food Association.
What’s the biggest barrier that we, as an industry, need to overcome to move us toward a healthier food system? How do we do this?
AK: In the United States, the government is a force that dramatically swings the balance of supply and demand for agricultural crops, and therefore farm economics. Farm policy in the United States has pushed toward a massive overproduction of certain crops, namely corn and soybeans. Unfortunately, that’s only driven cost down and limited the ability for farmers to introduce more sustainable practices or to test out different crops. It’s not just the government that affects our decisions in agriculture however. Consumer demand, declining farm ownership, generational shifts, climate change, capital expenses are all factors steering toward the status quo. That status quo is focused on quantity, not quality. What’s needed is more collaboration across the supply chain and more transparency. Imagine if we had real time visibility into consumer demand and could produce, process, and provide the best, highest quality products to consumers all the time. If we paired that with government regulation meant to support farmers in their transition to more sustainable, higher quality production, it could begin to really shift the paradigm. I like to imagine new policies driven by the government, farmers, and agribusinesses that alleviate the pressures that make it an impossible choice for farmers to do something radically different. If those risks are reduced, it would allow innovation to scale.
MC: Misperception about imperfects or #2s. Just because something doesn’t look perfect doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have the same great nutritional value. Reducing our consumer expectations on the appearance of our food can drive increased usage of the food we grow in the US.
What is one thing individuals can do to help us “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together” (this year’s World Food Day theme) ?
AK: If they can, consumers should educate themselves on how food is produced and how it gets to their plates. It’s an incredibly complex system involving lots of stakeholders and we often oversimplify and over-romanticize agriculture in a way that is a detriment to real progress. I would love to hear more stories directly from the farm. If anyone is interested in a great podcast, check out The Business of Blueberries.
MG: Ask where your food is coming. Whether that is from the grocery store, a restaurant, or online, you can ask where your food was grown and processed. The more information you have the better choices you can make to participate in a system that aligns with your values.
Who are your food heroes?
AK: Karen Washington absolutely is one of my Food Heroes. I had the pleasure of working with her about 10 years ago to explore an urban greenhouse project that would focus on producing fresh produce for communities located in food deserts. It’s so important to think about food justice, food insecurity, and pricing when we think about some of the new innovative ways of growing, and the work Karen is doing is such an inspiration.
Another one of my Food Heroes is one of our customers, Jeff Stigter. He’s a fourth generation farmer and is constantly thinking about how to innovate on the farm. His passion and energy around learning new things all the time lights such a fire.
MC: Ron Rabou just published a book this year about his journey as an American farmer. We need farmers to tell their stories. We need a younger generation of farmers to be interested in growing healthy nutritious food.
What gives you hope that our food system is getting healthier, more equitable, and/or more sustainable?
MC: There have been more public conversations this year about the food system than any other year in the four years FoodMaven has been in business. I love that people want to engage and ask questions about what’s working and what’s not working. That is how we will move forward toward a more sustainable and equitable food system.