Category Archives: Business

UMass Researchers Run Hydroponic Farm

Evan Chakrin, harvests leeks from a hydroponic raft bed Aug. 4, 2017 at the new UMass Hydrofarm he co-founded at the university with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming. Overhead, LED strip lights supplement daylight for the plants.

AMHERST — Evan Chakrin, 33, spends his summer afternoons harvesting plants, mostly lettuce, at a hydroponic food farm.

He worked Friday afternoon, harvesting 10 pounds of lettuce that he was planning to donate to the Amherst Survival Center. He picked a head, doused it in insect soap and packaged it in a clam-shaped container.

Evan Chakrin harvests butterhead bibb lettuce

The hydroponic farm grows food without using soil. Started in the winter of last year, it is the first of its kind on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. The farm provides food for on-campus restaurants such as Earthfoods Cafe.

Chakrin, a junior studying horticulture, co-leads the farm with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming, using techniques that they say will revolutionize the future of farming.

“It’s basically just using science to grow plants,” Chakrin said.  The farm grows everything from strawberries and tomatoes to lettuce and kale. It is housed in an underutilized greenhouse on the UMass Amherst campus. Chakrin and Lucas use the most common hydroponic techniques to grow their plants: raft systems and nutrient film technique channels.

Evan Chakrin displays the roots of strawberries growing in watertight channels using the nutrient film technique

The basic idea behind hydroponic farming is growing plants without soil, Chakrin said. Nutrients get dissolved into water surrounding the plants’ roots. This allows the system to be up to 90 percent more water- and nutrient-efficient than other types of farming. The system uses less water than an irrigated field. There is also no nutrient runoff into local water sources.

“We can totally control whatever we waste,” Chakrin said.

Lucas started working on the idea of creating a hydroponic farm in 2015, but she and Chakrin were not able to secure a grant until last December. The two received $5,000 and a previously underused greenhouse from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

“We were expecting a little space on campus, basically just a closet,” Chakrin said. “Then they surprised us with this.”

As soon as they got the space, they started working right away. They started germinating seeds, and by the middle of February, all of the systems were up and running. They then started selling their food to places on campus. The money from the sales goes into a fund that they can use to purchase more equipment or seeds.

Chakrin said selling the products allows them to be financially stable and gives the business a fresh, locally produced food option.

The farm will continue to grow in the years to come. In the fall, the two are teaching 12 undergraduate students in a one-credit practicum course about hydroponic farming.

The university offers many courses on the theories and science behind farming but not many on hydroponic techniques. Allowing other students to work in the farm gives them hands-on experience, Chakrin said.

“The techniques we use here are the main hydroponic techniques used,” Chakrin said. “This work is directly applicable to any of their food production goals.”

Chakrin said he hopes any students who are involved in urban food production get involved, even those not involved in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

The two also want to scale up their sales. Chakrin said he is hoping to start selling to bigger dining halls and other places on campus.

One of the benefits of hydroponic farms is that they can be used to grow food locally, even in urban areas. The lettuce grown at the UMass farm doesn’t come from some giant farm in California, Chakrin said. This reduces shipping costs and carbon costs for interstate shipping.

“I think it is a major loss that the average bite of food travels extremely far to get to our plates, and this is the solution to the problem,” Lucas said.

Lucas and Chakrin have started a consulting service for the future of farming, called Farmable. Lucas said the idea behind it is that any space, even small urban areas, can be made into a green space.

“Anywhere is farmable and this concept will revolutionize how urbanites are able to access food,” Lucas said.

UMass Hydro begins to feed campus

greenhouse

If you look out of the campus-side windows in Franklin Dining Commons after the sun has gone down, you can see a mix of white, blue and magenta lights illuminating the inside of the Clark Hall Greenhouse.

These lights mark the home of the UMass Hydroponics Farm Plan, where Dana Lucas, a junior sustainable food and farming major, and Evan Chakrin, a nontraditional student in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, have been working throughout the winter growing fresh leafy greens.

Back in December, the duo received a $5,000 grant from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture to grow produce year-round on an on-campus hydroponic farm. Hydroponics, a method of farming with water and nutrients in place of soil, allows for a continual harvesting cycle.

hydroAlong with limited pesticide use and saving 90 percent more water than a traditional farm, the farm will produce approximately 70 heads of lettuce a week, every week of the year. Lucas and Chakrin emphasize the importance of this perpetual cycle in meeting the University’s sustainability efforts.

On the University of Massachusetts website, it states, “The University recognizes its responsibility to be a leader in sustainable development and education for the community, state and nation.”

“I don’t know how we can say our food is sustainable at UMass if it’s only grown 10 weeks of the year in New England,” Lucas said.

The location allows UMass Hydro to get their greens across campus by either walking, biking or driving short distances, leaving almost no carbon footprint.

“I think this is something that really excites me and Evan because we really see a demand for fresh, local food and this is a way to actually fulfill it,” Lucas said.

Although the farm’s production capacity cannot currently meet the needs of the dining halls, Lucas and Chakrin are looking into alternative options to get their greens on the plates of students.

hydro2“We’re kind of just centering on student businesses right now because they’re smaller and they’re run by our friends, so we can easily get into the market,” Lucas said.

Their first official account is with Greeno Sub Shop in Central Residential Area.

Last week, Greeno’s hosted a special where UMass Hydro’s microgreens were free to add to any menu item.

In a statement posted to their Facebook page, they stated, “One of the goals of our mission statement is to source locally whenever possible, with UMass Hydro right down the hill, this is almost as fresh as it can get.”

Chakrin and Lucas are currently working on getting their greens served at other on-campus eateries.

In addition to adding more accounts, there is a strong focus on getting other students interested in the emerging field of hydroponics.

“We can use this as a teaching facility for students. The techniques we’re using are used in multi-acre industrial greenhouses for lettuce, so we could scale right up potentially,” Chakrin said.

The two are hoping to work UMass Hydro into the curriculum in Stockbridge, allowing students to work hands-on with the systems while also earning credits.

“Maybe we can do a one credit, half semester thing or something,” said Chakrin.

sprout“There has been some discussion about having an accredited course for next fall where we can teach what I’m assuming are mostly going to be Stockbridge students, but we’re open to anybody and everyone who’s interested in getting involved with hydroponics,” Lucas said.

The grant covered the cost of seeds, equipment and other miscellaneous items like scissors, but the responsibility of building the farm fell entirely on Lucas and Chakrin.

“It felt really cool that we were given this much responsibility I feel like, to just buy the stuff and then build it,” Lucas said.

Chakrin noted how one of the biggest obstacles faced in getting the project off the ground was finding an available space on campus.

“Initially we were just asking for a 10-by-10 closet somewhere, then Stockbridge professor , Dr. Dan Cooley, was like ‘Do you think this greenhouse will work?’ and we were like ‘Of course!’” Chakrin said.

“He kind of posed it as a bummer that we weren’t going to be in a closet and we were like ‘No, no, no that’s fine!’” Lucas said, laughing.

“Without the space, none of it would be possible, so being allowed to use this space is just huge and we’re so lucky to have that,” Chakrin said.

The students also expressed appreciation to Dr. Daniel Cooley, who sponsored the project and Dr. Stephen Herbert for his support and donation of supplies.

Out of the entire space granted to UMass Hydro, only a portion of it is currently being used. In order to make use of the underutilized space, Chakrin and Lucas are hoping the future of UMass Hydro involves more funding.

“We want to see Dutch buckets and a vertical system in here so we can show students the breadth of what you can do with hydroponics,” Lucas said.

Visitors are encouraged to stop by at the Clark Hall Greenhouse on Tuesdays between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.  And you can follow the project on Facebook at UMass Hydro!

Callie Hansson can be reached at chansson@umass.edu.

Original Post


The decline of industrial agriculture

The following excerpt was taken from conservative blogger, Gracy Olmstead, writing about how a “bust” in the farm economy might open up opportunities for a more sustainable food system.  The full article is published here.

The negative impact of industrial agriculture on environmental quality and social justice is well recognized.  Industrial agriculture however has been justified by an assumed positive impact on the economy.  This article questions that assumption.


The History Of American Agriculture’s Decline

How did we get to this point? The Wall Street Journal gives a mini history lesson:

From the early 1800s until the Great Depression, the number of U.S. farms grew steadily as pioneers spread west of the Mississippi River. Families typically raised a mix of crops and livestock on a few hundred acres of land at most. After World War II, high-horsepower tractors and combines enabled farmers to cover more ground. Two decades ago, genetically engineered seeds helped farmers grow more.

Farms grew bigger and more specialized. Large-scale operations now account for half of U.S. agricultural production. Most farms, even some of the biggest, are still run by families. As farm sizes jumped, their numbers fell, from six million in 1945 to just over two million in 2015, nearing a threshold last seen in the mid-1800s. Total acres farmed in the U.S. have dropped 24% to 912 million acres.

 This short account of the jump from subsistence-style farming to today’s industrialized farming could easily fill thousands of pages (and indeed has—from John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” to Wendell Berry’s novels).

Today’s Farms Still Follow an ‘Industrial Paradigm’

The Industrial Revolution shaped and transformed farming in seismic ways. As I wrote for Comment Magazine last year, “farming in the new, industrialized era began to favor quantity and specialization—because new machines worked most efficiently when farmers chose to harvest large, homogenous acreages instead of the small, diversified crops of the past. Farmers sought bigger and bigger swaths of land, seeing in them the promise of greater funds in the bank.”

American farms are still stuck in this “industrial paradigm,” says sustainable farmer Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms. “Just like the agrarian economy gave way to the industrial, and the industrial to the information, and now the information is giving way to the regenerative economy, agriculture is changing. Because farmers tend to be conservative, agriculture is the slowest of all economic sectors to embrace the new economy.”

When Salatin’s father bought their family-operated farm in Swoope, Virginia, the land was severely eroded, and soil health was poor. “When my dad, in the early 1960s, asked agricultural advisors to tell him how to make a living on this farm, they all encouraged him to abuse the land more aggressively,” remembers Salatin. “He eschewed that counsel and did the opposite of everything they said. Today, we are healthy and profitable. Every person must decide whose advice to follow.”

Incentivizing Farmers to Destroy Neighbors’ Businesses

The WSJ piece goes on, “For some, the slump is an opportunity. Farmers with low debts and enough scale to profit from last year’s record harvests could be in a position to rent or buy up land from struggling neighbors.” In other words, large (most likely government-subsidized) farms can use this opportunity to buy out their smaller counterparts. Sounds like a great thing for the economy long-term, doesn’t it?

One chilly afternoon in October, Mr. Scheufler steered his combine across the first field he bought. The machine’s giant claw spun through rows of golden soybeans. A hawk circled the combine’s wake, hunting for exposed field mice. He recalled farmers whose land he has taken over: Ted Hartwick ’s, the Matthews’, the Profits’, his father’s.

Yes, building a large and profitable business is usually seen as an integral part of free market economics. We don’t want to prevent successful farms from getting larger. But it’s crucial to ask a few questions here: first, are these farms growing via their own merits—or via the support of the federal government? (Often, the answer is the latter.) Is their business model truly sustainable (and therefore, “successful” long term)?

Too often, the growth of a commodity farm means taking diversity, sustainability, and community, and turning these goods into homogeneity, depreciation, and solitude. This may not be Scheufler’s story. But it is, increasingly, the story of America’s heartland.  As another interviewee tells the WSJ,

There were 28 students in Mr. Scott’s graduating class at Ransom’s high school nearly four decades ago. Most were farmers’ children. This year there are nine students in the school’s senior class. ‘Farms got bigger to be more efficient, but it’s caused these towns to die a slow death,’ Mr. Scott said.

It’s not just farm towns that are ill-served by the way agriculture currently works. Land erosion, water contamination, and soil pollution are just a few of the ecological consequences of bad farming practices. “The current debacle has been coming for a long time,” says Salatin. And, he adds, “It will not end quickly. Rectifying our decades of abuse will not be easy. Healing will be disturbing.”

Farmers Aren’t Encouraged to Diversify Their Operations

Part of the problem here is that farmers, rather than diversifying their farms to protect against commodity price drops, have been encouraged (largely by subsidies, sometimes by the market) to always produce more of the same.

“Rather than studying how nature works, the informational component of the agriculture sector tends to throw out historic templates and remake life in a mechanical hubris of fatter, faster, bigger, cheaper,” says Salatin.

Many farmers who’ve expanded their enterprises have continued to grow the same exact crops on all that land. Now, writes Newman and McGroarty, “Corn and wheat output has never been higher, and never has so much grain been bunkered away.” So when the price of corn, soybeans, and wheat drops—as it is now—farmers don’t have another crop to fall back on.

In the short term, diversifying your farm operation can be more expensive, time-consuming, and physically demanding. But it also creates job security. Long-term, it protects both your farm and soil health.

When we focus on producing a few commodity crops, any country can beat us at our own game. We produce a glut of grain that global markets are no longer buying. Meanwhile, Americans living in the heartland of Iowa buy their tomatoes and peppers from South America. It seems strange, doesn’t it?


For more on industrial agriculture and the sustainable alternative, see this list of books used in classes offered by the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

The Rise of Women Farmers – a few readings

Did you know that over 65% of the recent graduates of the Sustainable Food and Farming major in the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture are women? 

Here are a few books & websites from the Women’s Agricultural Network which showcase how women farmers are changing the food system:

The Female Farmer Project Through photographs, blog posts, podcasts and now coloring books, author and photographer Audra Mulkern and her team are working to “accurately portray a group of people who” Mulkern believes have been “invisible for far too long: The female farmer . . . This group of women who had been doing amazing things.”

Drawing on 10 years of research and work with women farmers, the Rise of Women Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture, published in 2016, explores the societal changes that have empowered women to claim the farmer identity, describes barriers that are broadly encountered by women farmers, and offers a framework to shift the US food system to one that better supports women farmers.

Soil Sistersalso published in 2016, provides a blue-print for women who want to farm. Author Lisa Kivirist, founding coordinator of the Rural Women’s Project of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, synthesizes key information and advice from seasoned women farmers committed to sustainable agriculture.


Original Source  – Women’s Agricultural Network

Pioneer Valley is home to food entrepreneurs! NUTS….

sarahtower
Sara Tower at Nutwood Farm in Cummington, MA

or the Daily Hampshire Gazette – Monday, February 06, 2017

CUMMINGTON — When Sara Tower began farming about eight years ago, she worked mostly with vegetables, which is typical of many farmers in the area. Next fall, though, she and her partner will harvest a crop that is new to western Massachusetts — nuts.

Last year, Tower and Kalyan Uprichard, co-owners of Nutwood Farm in Cummington, planted 350 nut trees on their 8-acre farm. By 2026, they expect to harvest 10,000 pounds of nuts, including chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts.

“We’re changing the food system,” Tower said. Continue reading Pioneer Valley is home to food entrepreneurs! NUTS….

Local Harmony creates public space

owen
Owen Wormser designed this public space near the Hungry Ghost in Northampton, MA

Creating vibrant public spaces is no easy matter. Parks and other such places require a serendipitous combination of scale, public access and visual appeal to make them come alive.

As Jane Jacobs, the 20th-century journalist and urban theorist who championed city street life, wrote in her highly acclaimed “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961), “The more successfully a city mingles everyday diversity of uses and users in its everyday streets, the more successfully, casually (and economically) its people thereby enliven and support well-located parks.”

Local Harmony, a Pioneer Valley-based non-profit organization, is creating an intimate stone amphitheater and medicinal garden on the small, grassy hillside owned by Smith College that runs from the Hungry Ghost Bakery to State Street in Northampton. Jacobs would undoubtedly give Local Harmony two thumbs up.

Local Harmony is the collaborative creation of Owen Wormser, owner of the Leverett-based landscape design company Abound Design, and Chris Marano, an herbalist who owns Clearpath Herbals in Montague (and teaches at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture). Wormser said the organization’s goal is “to harness the skills of professional landscape designers, horticulturalists and gardeners to join forces with volunteers to create beautiful and accessible public spaces.”

Wormser, a landscape designer who is trained in architecture, said the idea for Local Harmony originated in a project he undertook several years ago. After launching his landscape design firm, Abound, he created the public fountain space at Cooper’s Corner store in Florence as a promotion for his fledgling business.

“I found it was really meaningful for people,” he said. “Cooper’s Corner was very successful in terms of people wanting to use the space. People are very appreciative of it. They take pride in their surroundings.”

After Cooper’s Corner, Wormser kept his eye out for other spaces.

“You need to have sympathetic property owners, and I figured that Smith College and the Hungry Ghost Bakery would be supportive,” he said.

A multi-use space

Local Harmony’s garden will have a variety of uses. It will be a place for educational activities and performances as well as a pleasant space for the public, including patrons of the bakery, which overlooks the garden.

“We want this to resonate with the public so they feel it’s theirs and that they want to be part of it,”Wormser said.

Among its functions will be that of a teaching garden; it will be composed only of medicinal plants. Marano called it a “sister garden” to a similar one at Clearpath Herbals in Montague. But the plants also have been chosen for their aesthetic appeal.

“People who don’t know anything about medicinal plants will still find it beautiful,” Wormser said. The herbal plants include commonly known varieties such as catmint (Nepeta) and coneflower (Echinacea) and others including Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Taller perennials will be placed along the border to create a sense of seclusion for the garden.

In addition to the medicinal perennials, the garden will include a border of serviceberry trees (Amelanchier) along the edge where Bedford Terrace curves into State Street. Serviceberry, also known as shadbush or shadblow, is a small tree that’s well-suited to the garden. It has delicate white blossoms in spring and colorful fall foliage, it’s drought tolerant and attracts birds.

Generous hosts

According to Wormser, Smith College, which owns the property, has provided generous funding for the project.

“Smith and Roger Mosier, the college’s associate vice president of facilities management, understand that this was an extremely valuable offer and that Smith, the Hungry Ghost and the entire community will gain from it, Wormser said. “The project wouldn’t happen without Smith’s level of support.”

The Hungry Ghost Bakery also has donated to the project, and will take on a major role in maintaining the garden.

In his role as owner of Abound Design, Wormser provided the professional landscape design, while Marano of Clearpath Herbals has provided expertise and advice about suitable medicinal plants for the garden beds. Ashfield Stone donated the Goshen stone for the amphitheater and pathways. Local Harmony will provide plants and materials at cost. Wormser estimates that $40,000 has been contributed to the project in terms of materials, time and labor. He noted that this is less than half what such a project would cost on the open market.

Another cost-cutting feature of the project is that, with the exception of some of the stonework, volunteers will install it. Wormser projects that between 400 and 600 hours of work will be donated in total.

“We have a large population of younger people in the Valley who want to work, grow food and gardens,” he said.

Enclosed in color, texture

Kevin Potter, 27, was one of the volunteers who helped excavate the site when the project broke ground Oct. 17. He has worked for Abound and studies herbalism with Marano at Clearpath Herbals.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to create a high-visibility community garden,” he said. “It’s huge to have a place to plant herbs and learn about them. It’s a great resource for people. And it’s accessible by foot and by public transportation.”

Wormser and Marano say they plan to have 70 percent of the plants in place this fall, with the remainder to be planted next spring.

“Once it’s completed and the plants are growing, it will feel enclosed with color and texture,” Wormser said. “It will feel like a sanctuary.”

Wormser said he is pleased with the garden’s size and location.

“It’s just manageable. We are able to do most of the work by hand,” he said. It’s not exactly in the middle of the city; it’s a little quieter here. It’s a good spot to watch the city go by.”

Sustainable inspiration

The State Street garden is one of several Local Harmony initiatives. The non-profit recently renovated five large concrete planters in downtown Turners Falls, with help from students at the Franklin County Technical School. Local Harmony is also working with the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst to create an extensive teaching garden that will be installed next spring at the center’s new site on the Hampshire College campus.

“We went through a great design process with Local Harmony that involved thorough thinking about all aspects of the project, including community collaboration, accessibility and the teaching function,” said Casey Beebe, community programs and special projects manager at the Hitchcock Center.

Wormser said he hopes the State Street amphitheater and garden will inspire people to launch similar projects.

“I want people to come here and say, ‘I could do that,’ because anyone can do this,” he said. “I want this to be a model that’s sustainable over time and that can work in any community.”

Inspiration is an important part of the work, he added.

“Our long-term goal is to remind people that our planet is a garden and we’ve wrecked it. But that we can rejuvenate it, make it beautiful and productive again for all living things.”

adam22
Adam Barnard (the creator of the “Yes Farms Yes Food” slogan for the Sustainable Food and Farming program volunteered to help install the new herb garden.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com

Original Article

Care Farming in the UK – Report

If you think the Stockbridge School of Agriculture should investigate Care Farming as a possible program of study for undergraduates, please join us to discuss this question on:

Monday, December 5, 2016 at 3:30pm – 5:00pm

210 Stockbridge Hall

All are welcome!

===============================================================

By Rachel Bragg;  University of Essex    rebragg@essex.ac.uk

  1. Care farming – key facts and figures at a glance

  • How many care farms are there in the UK and where are they? 115 care farms took part in a survey in 2012, representing 66% of the 180 care farms that are currently operating in the UK. Care farms are located mainly in England but also in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; at the present time the South West, East Anglia and the West Midlands contain the largest number of care
  • What sort of farms are care farms? The majority of care farmers (78%) describe their care farm sites as farms or smallholdings and the organisational type as a farm, charity and/or company. Care farms have a mix of field enterprises and livestock, typically grazing, vegetables and woodland with chickens, sheep, pigs and cattle. Care farm size ranges from 0.4 to 648 ha – average care farm size 49

Continue reading Care Farming in the UK – Report

Think U.S. Agriculture Will End World Hunger? Think Again.

By Anne Weir Schechinger, Senior Analyst, Economics and Craig Cox, Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources

The United Nations has forecast that world food production must double to feed 9 billion people by 2050. That assertion has become a relentless talking point in the growing debate over the environmental, health and social consequences of American agriculture.

America’s farmers, we are told, must double their production of meat products and grains to “feed the world.” Otherwise, people will go hungry.

Agribusinesses such as Monsanto sometimes cite the so-called “moral imperative” to feed a hungry world in order to defend the status-quo farm policy and deflect attention from the destruction that “modern” agriculture is inflicting on the environment and human health.

The real experts know better. Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization argues instead that the current conditions of “modern” agriculture are “no longer acceptable.”

The key to ending world hunger while protecting the environment is to help small farmers in the developing world increase their productivity and income, and to promote “agro-ecology” everywhere, including in the U.S.

Poverty is the root cause of hunger, not too few exports of U.S. wheat, corn, soybeans and meat. American exports go to people who can afford to buy them.

 

 

American farmers are helping meet growing demand from millions of people in developed and developing nations who can afford better, or at least more diversified diets. This is a welcome business opportunity for our farmers, but those exports aren’t going to the countries where hunger is chronic.

  • 86 percent of the value of U.S. agricultural exports last year went to 20 destinations with low numbers of hungry citizens and human development scores that are medium, high or very high, according to the U.N. Development Program.
  • Only half of one percent of U.S. agricultural exports, calculated according to their value, went to a group of 19 countries that includes Haiti, Yemen and Ethiopia. These are nations with high or very high levels of undernourishment, measured by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Even the hungriest countries produce most of their own food. Overall, in 2013, American farmers contributed only 2.3 percent of the food supply for the 19 most undernourished countries through food exports and aid.

We won’t end world hunger by doubling production in the United States while putting our nation’s environment and health at risk. We can and must help end world hunger by helping people in the hungriest countries do a better job of feeding themselves and ensuring that their farmers make a good living.

Reducing poverty, increasing income for women, providing nutrition education, improving infrastructure like roads and markets to increase access to food, and ceasing wars and conflict could all help undernourished populations better feed themselves.


There is a small farm, community based alternative to the dominant vision of industrial agriculture feeding the world.  Come to learn and grow with us in the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture!

The Food We Don’t Eat

American food writer MFK Fisher once said, “First we eat, then we do everything else.”  Food is central to so much in our lives – family, health and community. But what about the food we don’t eat?

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Eight percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions can be ascribed to food loss and waste. Photo by jbloom/Flickr

More than a billion tons of food is never consumed by people; that’s equivalent to one-third of all food the world produces.  What many people may not know is that one in nine people on earth don’t have enough food to lead an active life, or that food loss and waste costs the global economy $940 billion each year, an amount close to what the entire UK government will spend in 2016.

They may also not know the incredible effect food loss and waste has on the environment.  Eight percent of the greenhouse gases heating the planet are caused by food loss and waste. At the same time, food that’s harvested but lost or wasted uses 25 percent of water used in agriculture and requires cropland the size of China to be grown. What an incredibly inefficient use of precious natural resources.

When you look at the kind of impact food loss and waste has on our environment, economy and society, it’s clear why the United Nations included it among the most urgent global challenges the Sustainable Development Goals would address. Target 12.3 [2] of the goals calls for nations to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses” by 2030. It’s certainly an ambitious challenge, but it is also one that’s achievable.

This week is Climate Week, an opportunity to take stock of where we are on critical environmental issues like food loss and waste. A new report [3] on behalf of Champions 12.3 [4] – a unique coalition of leaders across government, business and civil society who are dedicated to achieving Target 12.3 – assesses our progress so far.

The report details a number of notable steps that have happened around the world, including national food loss and waste reduction targets established in the United States and in countries across the European Union and African Union.

It also highlights efforts to help governments and companies measure food loss and waste, such as the FLW Standard [5] announced in June, and new funding like the Danish government’s subsidy program and The Rockefeller Foundation’s Yieldwise [6], a $130 million investment toward practical approaches to reducing food loss and waste in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, the United States and Europe. There have also been advances in policies as well as education efforts like the Save the Food [7] campaign to raise awareness of food loss and waste.

The progress is promising. But the report also notes that the action does not yet match the scale of the problem, and much more work is needed worldwide if we are to successfully meet Target 12.3 in just 14 short years.

Why the “food movement” is unstoppable..

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Excerpted from “Why the food movement is unstoppable.”

The direction of the food movement

…there are profound reasons why the food movement is succeeding and growing.

This analysis suggests that the food movement, compared to other great social movements of the 20th Century (such as the labour, environment, civil rights, climate and feminist movements), has many of their strengths but not their weaknesses.

Further, the food movement is unexpectedly radical on account of having a distinct philosophy. This philosophy is fundamentally unique in human history and is the underlying explanation for the explosion of the food movement.

Like any significant novel philosophy, that of the food movement challenges the dominant thought patterns of its day and threatens the political and economic structures built on them. Specifically, the food movement’s philosophy exposes longstanding weaknesses in the ideas underpinning Western political establishments. In the simplest terms possible, the opposite of neoliberal ideology is not communism or socialism, it is the food movement.

The reason is that, unlike other systems of thought, food movement philosophy is based on a biological understanding of the world. While neoliberalism and socialism are ideologies, the food movement is concerned with erasing (at least so far as is possible) all ideologies because all ideologies are, at bottom, impediments to an accurate understanding of the world and the universe.

By replacing them with an understanding based on pure biology, the food movement is therefore in a position to supply what our society lacks: mechanisms to align human needs with the needs of ecosystems and habitats.

The philosophy of the food movement goes even further, by recognising that our planetary problems and our social problems are really the same problem. The food movement represents the beginnings of a historic ecological and social shift that will transform our relationships with each other and with the natural world.

1) The food movement is a leaderless movement

The first important piece of the food puzzle is to note that the food movement has no formal leaders. Its most famous members are individuals. Frances Moore Lappé, Joel Salatin, José Bové, Vandana Shiva, Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Jamie Oliver, and many others, are leaders only in the sense of being thought-leaders. Unlike most leaders, including of the environment movement, or the labour movement, or the climate movement, they have all attained visibility through popular acclaim and respect for their personal deeds, their writings, or their insights. Not one of them leads in any of the conventional senses of setting goals, giving orders, deciding tactics, or standing for high office. They are neither bureaucrats nor power-brokers, but leaders in the Confucian sense of being examples and inspirations. It is a remarkable and unprecedented characteristic that the food movement is a social movement that is organic and anarchic. This not to argue it is unstructured, far from it. Rather, the food movement is self-organised. It is a food swarm and absence of formal leadership is not a sign of weakness but of strength.

2) The food movement is a grassroots movement

A second and complementary piece of the puzzle is that the food movement is far more inclusive than other social movements. It is composed of the urban and the rural, the rich and the poor, of amateurs and experts, of home cooks and celebrity chefs, farmers and gardeners, parents and writers, the employed and the unemployed. Essentially anyone, in any walk of life, can contribute, learn or benefit. Most do all three. Importantly too, just about any skill level or contribution can often be accommodated. To take just one example, in how many other social movements can a 14-year-old make an international splash?

This inclusiveness has various aspects that contribute significantly to its success. The first of these is that, unlike many protests, there is no upper limit to membership of the food movement. It is not defined in opposition to anything – it would include the whole world if it could – and so there is no essential sense in which it is exclusive. Exclusivity is often the Achilles heel of social movements, but though its opponents have tried to label it as elitist, for good reasons they have not succeeded. Granted, Prince Charles is a very enthusiastic member, but so too are rappers from Oakland, the landless peasant movement of Brazil, the instigators of the Mexican soda tax and the urban agriculture movements of Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland. Such groups are neither elite nor elitist. A better analysis would conclude that anyone can find space under its broad umbrella because the food movement does not discriminate on any grounds, least of all class. It is beyond grassroots. People see what they want in it because it is for everyone.

The second aspect of its inclusivity is that the food movement has barriers to entry that are low or non-existent. This is an important reason it has grown rapidly. These porous boundaries make the food movement unusually hard to define, however, leading some people to mistakenly conclude it is non-existent.

3) The food movement is international

A third unconventional attribute of the food movement is to be international and multilingual. In each locality it assumes different forms. The Campaign for Real Ale, Via Campesina, the Zapatistas, Slow Food and Europe’s anti-GMO movement are very different, but instead of competing or quarreling, there are remarkable overlaps of purpose and vision between the parts. This was on show at last winter’s British Oxford Real Farming Conference where food producers and good food advocates from all over the world shared stages and perspectives and the effect was to complement and inspire each other.

4) The food movement is low-budget

The fourth distinguishing characteristic of the food movement is that it has little money behind it. It might seem natural for “social movements” to be unfunded but it is in fact very rare. The climate movement has Tom Steyer, the Tea Party has the Koch brothers, Adolf Hitler’s car, chauffeur, private secretary, and of course his blackshirts, were funded by Fritz Thyssen, Henry Ford, and some of the wealthiest people in Germany. Even the labour and environment movements have dues or wealthy backers. The food movement therefore is highly unusual in owing little to philanthropic foundations or billionaire backers. Instead, it consists overwhelmingly of amateurs, individuals and small groups and whatever money they possess has followed and not led them. This is yet another powerful indication that the food movement is spontaneous, vigorous and internally driven.

5) A movement of many values

Most social movements are organised around core values: civil rights, social equality or respect for nature are common ones. What is unique about the food movement is that it has multiple values. They include human health concerns, animal welfare, agricultural sustainability, ecological sustainability, food justice and political empowerment, but even this list does not adequately capture the range of its concerns. It is a movement with many component parts.

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Join the Food Movement and create a career as a Sustainable Food and Farming major in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst.