While agriculture innovations are certainly at the forefront of industry talk, it’s important to note some other happenings affecting this portion of the food industry.
From working with big businesses and education to climate change, here are some thoughts Food Dive collected from interviews at the recent Food Tank Summit in Washington.
'Big business' collaborations
"Big business" isn’t going anywhere, and Helen Dombalis, the policy and strategic partnerships director for the National Farm to School Network, talked about the need for teaming up. “We can’t just suddenly start growing all food in school gardens or in urban settings and get rid of big business as some people like to call it. I think what we need is to develop partnerships with businesses that supply school food that don’t just write sustainability and food education into their criteria but really live it. Actions speak louder than words.”
John Buchanan, the senior director of food security and agribusiness at Conservation International, discussed strategies the company uses when working with businesses. ‘“Part of what we do is help them understand what are the issues within their supply chains, what are the impacts of products that they may buy on the environment, on communities - so what are the sustainability challenges and how do you prioritize those? And then more important, what can you do about those? And in some cases it might be a certification program, or it might be a supplier engagement program...How then if you are using a certification program, verification program, is it having the effects that we think it should or that we want it to, and how do you change your approach based on that.”
He mentioned the importance of “transparency by companies” as well as Starbucks as one of the companies it works with.
The education effect
Dombalis also said, “So, I think having businesses that supply schools where they help set up school gardens, or they do classroom education where kids get to do taste tests for different kinds of cheeses so kids can say: 'I care about eating cheeses that taste like this more than this.'”
She added that the National Farm to School Network focuses on “experiential food education” to get kids more knowledgeable about the food system.
Another piece of the puzzle is may be to keep educating kids about urban farming, which has been underestimated, as noted in both a Food Dive article and by Jahi Chappell, the director of agroecology and agriculture policy at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
Chappell spoke of another type of testing with children when discussing the future of urban agriculture. “I work with a non-profit called Growing Gardens in Portland, Oregon, and they had these sort of before-after tests they do with kids, and the kids were drawing what they thought of as a garden, and before they had been in a garden they just drew some dirt, a flower and afterwards there was basically all this biodiversity,” he said. “There were animals and plants and people and it was just a much more ecologically complex picture. And so it’s another way also I think for us to start to understand our own environment, and be able to change it in a more knowledge-based way by giving that hands-on experience and it’s going to continue to be a significant source of produce I think, and food for people.”
Soil: 'an unsung hero'
Another facet brought up regarding agriculture was the importance of soil - in fact, as Diana Donlon, the director of the Center for Food Safety's Cool Foods Campaign, told attendees of a panel at the Summit, the U.N. named 2015 as the year of soil.
Donlon discussed soil as “an unsung hero,” providing “a story of hope and a story of opportunity for the food and climate movements,” re-asserting one of her panel points during an interview with Food Dive. She added, regarding the climate movement, “This narrative is almost always, ‘the glaciers are melting, the sea level’s rising, famine’s coming,’ and people aren’t empowered to act because they aren’t given that sliver of hope, and once you provide people with some hope, then they are going to act. And they’re not going to act if they feel like the situation’s hopeless.”