Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s right in front of you. For many individuals and institutions, the problem with switching to local food purchases isn’t that people are unwilling or unenthusiastic, it’s that many just don’t know where to look. With our daily lives moving at breakneck speed amidst a flurry of tweets, emails, and texts, we often find ourselves paying more attention to the screens in front of us than the world in which we live. Organizations around the country are taking advantage of this period of technological innovation by developing virtual tools to help open our eyes to the bounty of our local food systems.
One such organization is Ecotrust based in Portland, Ore. Two years ago, they launched FoodHub, a social networking tool that revitalizes regional agriculture by helping farmers and buyers find one another online, often in a matter of minutes. Read more
What if we could use technology-based products or services to grow local food systems ten-fold or even twenty-fold in the next few years–from one percent of the current food production in our country today to 10 to 20 percent in the next decade? Our new company, Goodeggs, seeks to do just that. Our hypothesis is that some technology-based product or service will be an important enabler of that future. Read more
As antidote to those who argue that the future of food is all about technologies like genetic engineering and new pesticides, I refer you to entrepreneur Ali Partovi (full disclosure: Ali and I are acquaintances) who has an Earth Day post over at Silicon Valley’s Techcrunch, one of the most influential tech-entrepreneur blogs around. Partovi, a former Microsoftie, is a cofounder of the music recommendation service iLike and was an early-stage investor in such online successess as Zappos, Dropbox, and that social network site a few folks use, Facebook. And now, as evidenced by the title of his post–”Food Is The New Frontier In Green Tech“–he’s discovered the investment possibilities of food: Read more
In his Foreign Policy essay “Attention Whole Foods Shoppers,” Robert Paarlberg paints the movement for sustainable food production and security as a Western elite preoccupation. He writes, “From Whole Foods recyclable cloth bags to Michelle Obama’s organic White House garden, modern eco-foodies are full of good intentions… Food has become an elite preoccupation in the West, ironically, just as the most effective ways to address hunger in poor countries have fallen out of fashion.”
In the same breath that he criticizes these “Western elites” who support sustainable food production, Paarlberg espouses the very Western, elitist argument that the only definition of “good,” “modern,” or “improved” agricultural inputs are the ones created, patented and sold by big Western biotech companies such as Monsanto, where Paarlberg serves on the Biotechnology Advisory Council (PDF).
Paarlberg seems to believe that the only two options for global agriculture are dirt poor subsistence farmers barely eking out a living or mass biotech production on the Green Revolution scale. But between these two extremes is a middle ground: A diverse and robust rural sector that includes small and medium farmers serving local communities and nations along with appropriate technologies that help re-balance the mix between locally sourced and imported food options. Read more
Often the sustainable food movement gets a lot of flack for what some perceive as insisting “we go back to 19th century” agricultural methods. (this time the speaker was Nina Federoff*, GM food proponent and current adviser to Secretary Clinton). But this black and white approach to agriculture is a straw man. There are no absolutes: It is neither true that all technology is good nor that all technology is bad. It seems the real dichotomy that exists in this discussion is whether we follow a linear or cyclical version of agriculture, and by extension, live to tell the tale. Read more