Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Food as the biggest picture
This post returns to the big picture and the role of local foods, regional food systems and the kind of experiments that might be valuable to run to make the world a better place.
Continually worsening energy issues only complicate the food issues discussed below. It's clear we need to diversify all these systems. We need to run some new experiments to find ways of getting out of this.
The cover of last week's Bloomberg Business Week was devoted to the possibilities of an emerging food crisis. The full title of the cover is "Weather, Speculation, And Politics Have Created A Global Food Crisis That Threatens... Everything."
The article (linked below) is titled, "Hungry for a solution to rising food prices. Even if global agriculture crisis doesn't turn cataclysmic, it represents a huge test."
The United States may be insulated from the worst of the damaging effects of the food crisis, but we are not immune. Our communities are filled with vulnerable children and families who are in growing, often desperate need of nutrition and food security.
The Business Week article is largely macro-economic and significantly scary. It calls for action from everyone.
One important role the Innovation Kitchen, and now our new Food Action Alliance network can provide is a platform for running valuable business experiments in regional food systems. Our FACT Alliance will start with 3 food processing facilities. Next year we will grow it to 10 facilities and then to 50.
If we can find ways to move increasing quantities of good, local nutrition at increasingly affordable prices to our regional population centers, that's something worth replicating and sharing.
We ran the first of these kinds of experiments during the 2010 growing season, just after the Innovation Kitchen opened last July. Last year we quoted jobs in hundred and thousand pound quantities. That will continue, but this year, we are also quoting 100,000 pound quantities. There is a market.
The most rewarding piece of these experiments is that customers are returning and placing new orders for the coming growing season. After many years doing start ups, I can honestly say you can't fake this customer-reordering piece. It happens, or it doesn't.
I am convinced by the evidence that we need these new small processing facilities and they can be operated profitably and sustainably. I am convinced these facilities can act independently and collaboratively. I am convinced we can grow this collaborative network wisely and in ways that can help the emerging food crisis in positive ways and in ways that can be widely replicated.
We will need help from partners in the marketplace, in government and in NGOs to help run these experiments.
We need change. We need new approaches. Our experiments starting in Southwest Wisconsin will make a contribution to the bigger debate worldwide.
As the Business Week article closed out, we have little choice but to act:
"Civilization has faced down pandemics and world wars—and has emerged stronger for having met the test. The current series of droughts and floods are not simply wreaking havoc on food supplies. They're harbingers of life in a hotter and more chaotic climate. Could hunger, and the threat to power that accompanies it, be what finally forces political leaders to act?"
Now is the time to launch smart, new experiments in food and energy efficiency. Not everything will work, but if we don't find what does, nothing else will.
Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen
"Hungry for a solution to rising food prices." By Eric Pooley and Philip Revzin in Bloomberg Business Week, Feb. 21, 2011