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.
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.
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.