Farmers cultivating healthy soil to give us crops and livestock: That’s the backbone of a robust, sustainable food system. But a backbone without a body ain’t gonna feed the world. All food has to get from the farm to the table before it can do any good.
Supply chain logistics, as it’s called, may not lend itself to glossy magazine photos or coffee table books the way a beautiful, organic farm might. But in terms of sustainable food systems, it’s just as important as how farmers manage their operations.
Today’s global supply chain, founded on industrialized agriculture and fossil fuels, is clearly not sustainable. Shipping corn from Iowa to China to New Jersey to get turned into, let’s say, a jelly bean, might be feasible in the short term, but it certainly does not cultivate fertile, self-regenerating soils that will feed our world’s rapidly growing population.
The trouble is that, just like starting a farm, launching a company that stores and distributes fresh produce or turns hogs into bacon takes capital investment, knowhow, and a certain amount of luck.
The first two ingredients are the focus of a new organization named Food System 6 Accelerator (FS6). The group gets its name from the concept that sustainable food systems represent the sixth major shift in how humans obtain their sustenance. (The first five were hunting/gathering; early agriculture; selective breeding and hybridization; synthetic/petro-chemical additives; and globalization.)
This current shift in our food system priorities, writes FS6 co-founder and managing director Renske Lynde, tackles interconnected problems like agricultural pollution, topsoil degradation, obesity, and famine—which are direct outcomes of our existing food system. While these are pressing problems, they are also opportunities for innovative solutions.
FS6 is essentially a business incubator that connects startups and entrepreneurs into “cohorts” exploring such solutions with resources, knowledge, networks, and capital investments that will help them succeed. These cohorts participate in a 15-week program, and the list of businesses in their current cohort gives a good idea of the kind of creativity that people are bringing to bear on the sustainable food movement. Among them is a company developing precise, real-time monitoring of farm conditions like air temperature and soil moisture; a nonprofit that’s building a regional distribution network to connect small-scale growers to institutional buyers; and a company that turns organic farm waste into biodegradable plastic containers.
What all have in common is that they are operating on a systematic scale. In other words, they’re focusing on how food gets from farm to table, and bringing new innovation to replacing food system 5 with a healthier population in a cleaner environment.