Hey everybody! Happy almost-weekend! Do you have any plans yet on Saturday? If not, why not join up with foodies in your area for a TEDx Viewing Party? Or – alternatively – go to their website and watch the livestream!
Why, you ask? Well, it’s a whole day of the most inspiring speakers in the sustainable food and ag movement, sharing thoughts on how to change the way we eat (which is the theme of the yearly conference). It’s a day-long event with 17 talks overall, but I took the liberty to highlight the five speakers I am most interested in:
FoodCorps isn’t created just to exist. We’ve been created to accept the challenge. And as we grow, we’re growing leaders and hoping that they’ll build within their community so that we can move on to where we’re needed next.
Debra Eschmeyer is an unusual mixture of on-the-ground farmer (she owns a fruit and vegetable farm) and policy whiz: in January, she was selected as the “de facto food policy czar”, as Politico says, becoming the executive director of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign and senior policy advisor on nutrition policy of the White House. She also co-founded the Food Corps, which brings AmeriCorps service members into schools to “promote healthier eating through school gardens, cooking classes and revamped school lunch menus”. I am interested to see the stamina and drive needed to be a “doer” trying to fight through red tape, bureaucracy, and policy problems.
We realized that colleges and universities in this country spend over $5 billion each year to feed their students. What if we could shift how that money was being spent? Instead of lining the pockets of the biggest and worst food companies, why not support smaller farms and socially responsible business? Why not invest in a real food economy?
Anim Steel I just want to see because his bio picture is dreamy. Ok, I kid, he is also the Executive Director of the Real Food Challenge, which wants to bring high schools and universities to purchase local, fair, and sustainable foods. This is important for two reasons – one, institutional tenders can create massive market shifts due to their collective purchasing power, and secondly, it’s a youth-led movement aiming to reclaim where their educational investment is being spent. It’s cool to see such engagement at a relatively young age, and I think Anim will be one of the younger presenters. Woot next generation!
Our food and agriculture system is particularly broken, but we can’t simply wait for the government to fix it. As with clean energy, there are many opportunities for private enterprise to stimulate progress while making a profit. Some of the short-term opportunities in food might be to leverage consumer awareness and build a brand that stands for environmental consciousness, while aligning for longer-term regulatory changes to level the playing field.
Ali Partovi is one of Silicon Valley’s best known angel investors with a keen eye for up-and-coming business models. He will speak about why organic food is more expensive and, I suspect, his business venture Farmland LP. This fund buys up US farmland and converts it into organic land through crop rotations, increasing its profitability on the way. I can already see myself having quite a number of “but”s; however, it is hugely interesting to me to see the investor/techie approach to changing the food system. Plus, finally somebody talks about economics and sustainability in a way MBAs and more profit-driven decision makers can actually understand.
We work with communities block by block, person by person. On any given day in the five boroughs, residents now have access to more than 50 Greenmarkets where they can purchase fresh, healthy, local produce and more from small farmers who keep 35,000 acres in production.
Marcel Van Ooyen seems to be an environmental Renaissance man: he’s done eco-assessments of power plants, written environmental legislation for the City Council of New York City, and is now pivotal in pulling together and expanding sustainable ag initiatives in NYC through GrowNYC. Their projects span from farmers’ market support to education and school garden programs – quite the portfolio! He will talk about scaling up local food distribution systems in cities: a timely topic, as we see more and more interest for local food that is often met in a piecemeal fashion.
I visited roughly 35 countries in Subsaharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America and talked to hundreds of farmers, farmers groups, researchers, policy makers, women, and youth groups, and really got a sense of what I called to myself a global listening tour. […] Many of the organizations I visited don’t have fancy websites, they don’t have charismatic leaders, so no one knows about them and no one knows about the potential that’s there so I really tried to shine a spotlight on some of these projects.
Danielle Nierenberg has basically stomped Food Tank out of the ground, making the website to one of the resources that are watching food policy and news stories around the world. Her career mirrors my ideal-case scenario: MSc in Agriculture, Food and Environment from Tufts, researcher positions at Science and Environmental Health network and the Worldwatch Institute – on whose behalf she travelled around the world, looking for sustainable agriculture solutions -, and finally co-founder of a huge knowledge and advocacy network. She’s a great writer and a huge role model for me, and I’m looking forward to hearing her voice on stage as well as in my newsletters.
Who are you looking forward to? Don’t forget that all talks will be recorded and online in true TEDx fashion, so don’t fret if you cannot commit all of Saturday! I for one will most probably be exploring a Costa Rican national park.. 😉