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How we grow, harvest, move, sell, and consume food is changing at an accelerating clip. Meanwhile, the world’s population is growing quickly, putting mounting pressure on our food production industries to keep pace with swelling demand. By some estimates, unless we increase output, our world may succumb to major foot shortages as early as 2030.
Across America, innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders are stepping up to the challenge.
“Today, in Newark, New Jersey, in a former steel mill that had been hollowed out, vertical farming is happening, with greens growing on racks 36-feet high, completely indoors,” said Carolyn Cawley, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, during the group’s recent FOOD FORWARD event. “In Virginia, we have a different kind of modern-day farmer, who’s using innovative technology in machines and in his crops and seeds to grow a small family farm into a bigger and more successful family farm, as well as other innovators at the forefront of shaping the future of food.”
Here’s a closer look at five of the innovative ventures featured at FOOD FORWARD that are rethinking the way we eat, and in the process, addressing some of the world’s most urgent food-related challenges.
The Future Market
Mike Lee, founder of The Future Market, likes to look at the future of food with positivity and determination. The Future Market is a project focused on the production and consumption of food for future years to come.
“Better innovations in food today starts with more ambitious thinking about tomorrow. Part of having a strong food future means changing the way food is distributed. The future food market has the potential to be a customized zone for all to enjoy good food in a simple manner,” said Lee.
Andy Kennedy, is a co-founder of FoodLogiQ, the company that works hard to ensure the world food supply chain is connected. Kennedy and his team create solutions to promote food safety through traceability and sustainability. FoodLogiQ Connect is an app that makes food shopping a little less stressful by allowing consumers to see what goes on behind the scenes with the food they’re about to eat.
For example, simply scanning the bar code of an item on the FoodLogiQ Connect app shows consumers the ingredients used, date and location of creation, and nutrition information.
Kennedy says, “Information technology allows the food supply chain to connect up and down.”
After working for years on his family’s dairy farm as a young child in Wisconsin, Tyler Wegmeyer’s dream of opening a strawberry farm came to reality. Wegmeyer Farms in Hamilton, VA now attracts many northern Virginia and D.C. families looking to pick strawberries in the spring and pumpkins in the fall. It is also a major supplier for wholesale markets in the region.
Despite operating a small family farm, Wegmeyer says he uses technology for everything from nutrient management and data collection, to interacting with customers via their smartphones.
“Technology is huge, and we have to adopt it. I have to adopt it on my small farm,” he says. “We don’t have any more land and we have all these people we need to feed, so it’s important that we accept all forms of agriculture and all ways of technology to make that happen.”
Wegmeyer says he works to make sure his products are safe and fresh, and he also enjoys educating and interacting with those who come to his farm.
“What really drives me and my wife is, we want to educate people on agriculture, the realistic approach to it.”
AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg and his team practice indoor “vertical farming” techniques to grow leafy green vegetables without any soil or natural light for the plants to grow. The company takes great pride in avoiding the use of pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, and using a smaller environmental footprint than traditional farming methods. The vertical farming approach also allows crops to be turned over more quickly, potentially increasing overall food output.
“Vertical farming is going to be a trend not a fad,” Rosenberg says.
Up Top Acres
Co-founded by Washington, D.C. native Kathleen O’Keefe, Up Top Acres is a rooftop farming company that has been plotting agriculture into city life. The spaces used for the farms are typically underutilized spaces. In total, they have an acre of space on four city roofs.
Up Top Acres is now working with the owners of up-and-coming buildings in Southwest D.C. on possible new locations.
“We want to establish agriculture as a fixture of city life,” O’Keefe says. “We don’t want DC kids to have to drive two hours out of the city to go see a real farm.”