Fertile topsoil is a lively ecosystem, teeming with microorganisms and worm life. It has robust soil structure that retains water well and allows plant roots to penetrate, to breathe, and to forage for nutrients.
But there’s a problem. We’re running through our supply of fecund soil in the U.S. at an alarming rate, with an estimated 996 metric tons of soil erosion over the past century. Conventional agriculture enables—and the tight margins of the farming industry incentivize—short-term bounty to the detriment of sustainable practices. Annual tilling, monocropping and chemical inputs promote an abundant harvest in the near term but ultimately catalyze soil erosion, cause the atmospheric release of stored nitrogen and carbon, compromise the soil structure, decrease water retention capacity, destroy the delicate microbial ecosystem, and make minced meat of the worms. Fostering healthy soil requires playing the long game.
Nobody panic, but honey bees are lousy pollinators.
They get a lot of credit for keeping our crops afloat, and an entire industry has evolved around trucking hives across the country to pollinate plums and almonds in California and tangerines in Florida, but it’s the 4,000 species of native bees who are the heroes of our produce aisles. From teddy bear bees and tickle bees to mud bees and squash bees, the diverse world of wild pollinators is critically important to our farms. In many cases, native pollinators do the heavy lifting while the honey bees get the glory.
With the growth of these aggregator models, we are reaching a tipping point. Now that there are more than 400 food hubs around the country, we have the beginnings of the physical infrastructure needed to support a new, alternative supply chain that sources exclusively from regional, sustainable producers with technology-enabled transparency every step of the way – once again putting a face and a voice to our food. As food ports scale, the next generation is emerging: food ports. These aggregate the smaller regional hubs and include processing, production, and distribution functions so that good, small, and mid-scale food can finally make its way into the institutional and large wholesale supply chains.
In the last two years, we’ve witnessed celebrity chefs transform vegetable trimmings, damaged apples, and otherwise wasted food into ‘Dumpster Dive Vegetable Salad’ and other artful dishes for New York City diners. Denmark opened its first food surplus supermarket selling expired food with Princess Marie of Denmark in attendance. We may even soon be saying goodbye to the confusing “sell by” date labels that have caused consumers to throw out perfectly good and nutritious food.
Fighting food waste may be the trend du jour, but with almost 1 billion people malnourished, another 1 billion going hungry every year, and a third of all food produced globally (1.3 billion tons of food) going unused, we are still facing a serious food waste crisis.
From drones to PrecisionAg, America’s amber waves of grain have never been so decked out in 21st century tech. Yet for the past half century, the story of technological innovation in agriculture has progressed lockstep with the consolidation of the industry, loss of biodiversity, and depletion of soil nutrients and natural resources.