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Is it better to consume food that’s regeneratively grown and sustainably raised or impressive facsimiles manufactured in labs? The former contributes to ecological biodiversity, the latter to the conservation of our planet’s resources. How do they differ and where do they intersect? These are the two sides of this climate-conscious coin. Where can we find hope: through soil or through science?
On Wednesday, April 6th, Farm to People hosted a panel discussion at our Warehouse about the future of regenerative agriculture and the role technology plays in our ever-changing industry. Dan Barber (Stone Barns), Malaika Spencer (Roots to River Farm), and Irving Fain (Bowery Farming) joined us as panelists, moderated by our co-founder and CEO, Michael Ray Robinov, and investigative journalist, Larissa Zimberoff. The discussion was fascinating and at times even a little heated as this passionate group led us through huge questions like: “What’s the single biggest problem with the food system today?” (Hint: Money)
Barber is a supporter of soil-grown food through and through. He is at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement and has done extensive research into how ecology and sustainability directly impact the food we grow. His hesitancy towards food tech is informed by his years of experience with regeneratively-grown food. Biodiversity is key to the flavor and nutrition he seeks in his ingredients as a chef and he believes moving away from soil-growing could be detrimental to our planet’s ecological balance.
Fain, founder and CEO of a vertical farming company, doesn’t disagree. He acknowledges the need for a diverse set of solutions. He knows that food tech like vertical farming couldn’t possibly feed everyone, and believes consumers should prioritize locally produced food, as long as it’s sustainably produced.
Spencer touched on the resilience of our planet. The land that is now her farm, Roots to River, previously grew exclusively corn and soy–famously destructive crops when not farmed responsibly. The soil on her land possessed 0% organic matter when she bought it. Over the years, through methods like cover crops and adding compost to the soil, Malaika has built organic matter up to 3-4%--a feat that proves that with the right methods, we can actually restore our land.
The challenge that is perhaps the most prevalent for farmers is: funding. Government subsidies benefit Big Agriculture over small regenerative farms, making it nearly impossible to compete. Venture capital appears to be blinded by technology, overlooking small farms for companies like Fain’s Bowery Farming, in favor of innovation and productivity. Spencer and Barber both noted that while regenerative farming is key to healing the planet, it is not the most profitable way to produce food, which is why it is often overshadowed by Big Ag and Tech Ag.
So what do we do? Food technology is undeniably seductive with its ingenuity and high-yield results, but if we don’t make an effort to rebuild our soil, we will lose more than just farmers. Barber is now pessimistic about the tenet he once held that one “votes with their fork three times a day,” saying that is no longer enough. Malaika suggests that we, as consumers, need to not only support our local agriculture, but encourage our representatives to support legislation that favors small farmers over the profit of Big Ag. Fain believes in the power of human creativity. He insists that food producers of many kinds can come together to bridge the gap.
Throughout the night, guests sampled regenerative food and “future food” side-by-side, all prepared by Phil Saneski, culinary manager of Bay Area non-profit, Farming Hope;
This tangible component of the evening encouraged attendees to engage with the subject matter on another level.
If you missed this event or want to see more like it, keep in touch! Farm to People will continue to host conversations like this one, along with other ways to support your local farmers and get involved. Sign up for our mailing list or check our “Visit Us” page for updates on upcoming events! Drop us a line if you’re interested in hosting an event at our Warehouse.