Plovgh is a cooperative of farmers, growers, and ranchers that sell directly to their customers.
One reason we are building Plovgh is to re-connect people with the source of their food. Drawing on the relationships that once linked producers and consumers, we are leveraging technology to shift the current agricultural transaction and change how the supply chain operates.
The soil food web outlined above with the help of Dr. Elaine Ingham and the folks behind the Lexicon of Sustainability is a natural example of sustainable connectivity. It shows how ecosystems work to maintain balance and manage the interconnectedness of organisms that provide healthy soil necessary for growing food. It’s interesting to think of Plovgh in this perspective, coordinating all of the people that make up a supply chain to develop a more efficient and reliable way through which they can engage with one another. It is an alternative take on an outdated system, and one that aims to foster an approach that is more healthy and sustainable.
Next week Plovgh is headed to Austin for SXSW Eco. The conference, now in it’s second year, was started to help move the many conversations surrounding sustainability toward progressive solutions. We’ll be there to participate in the Startup Showcase, but there are plenty of panels and discussions that we are psyched to see. The following is just an overview of some of the talks we plan to check out. For a full list of speakers and events you can view the schedule here.
This panel covers how software developers are aiding local food systems and how these new tech tools are fueling rural-urban economics and better regional food economies.
Companies are finding that there is excess capacity in cities and communities that can be repurposed for the greater good. This talk shares how pop up street improvement projects are helping to motivate change throughout cities.
“Straight to the Point” is a series of 15 minute sessions given by thought leaders in different fields from around the world. “The Sharing Economy” is one such session given by Jennifer Schmitt that discusses “collaborative consumption” and how it can change the way traditional systems operate.
“Most sustainability challenges are rooted in systemic problems and need to be solved by a new form of approach: system innovation.” This panel will discuss the theory and practice of creating change at a system level.
Anna Lappé will cover the divisive argument over whether sustainable or industrial agriculture is the answer to world food security. Along with the screening of her new video, Anna will “explore the role of sustainable food systems, share emergent global innovations and expose food industry flacks.”
I’m personally looking forward to checking out this panel on how social media trends can influence sustainable systems. The dialogue will touch on data insights, content development, brand management and more.
How will collaboration and community shift the standards of a “successful” business? The topic of “collaborative consumption” is revisited and pondered by a group of entrepreneurs including Casey Caplowe, Micki Krimmel, and Elizabeth Stewart.
We get excited about data at Plovgh. This panel will examine different scenarios of “how data is being collected, analyzed and visualized for planning and designing sustainable cities.” Panelists will also identify the ways crowd sourcing and mobile phone sensors are being leveraged in areas where data does not yet exist.
We’re looking forward to hear from some of our peers and agricultural leaders on this panel as they discuss the emerging new generation of farmers and what can be done to help make direct from producer economies more viable.
This organic nonsense has to stop. I’d like to politely request that those who don’t know agriculture cease writing about it as though they do, stoking an already divisive debate that misses the heart of the problem we face: We’re not sure how we should be growing food, and thus we’re not sure how to eat.
Anyone who suggests that a crop can be raised without the provision of nutrients and pest management should not opine on agriculture. Roger Cohen, I’m talking to you.
Saturday’s opinion piece, shows me just how far off course the discussion of agricultural production has gotten because it spreads misinformation and focuses squarely on the wrong problem. If we continue to debate organic versus conventional, continue to view food choices as an emblem of class, and continue to use the nine billion future people of the world as a gauntlet that the human race must run, we are in trouble because the question is not first about production. It’s about distribution.
We produce enough to feed 1.3 billion more people than we actually do. And that’s in American proportions. In 2000, the USDA reported that Americans consumed almost 2,000 pounds of food per person per year. Meanwhile, 1.3 billion tons of global food production goes to waste each year. Production by any method, standard, or label is not our most pressing problem.
Getting production where it is needed and wanted is another story. We’ve got a billion or so people on this planet consuming too much of the wrong kinds of calories and another approximate billion getting too few of the right nutrients. Most food production happens far from population centers, and timing is everything whether you’re moving kale to market or wheat to a mill, so properly matching supply with demand is tricky. Here we are in 2012, endowed with information and technology that together can make just about any transaction instantaneous. Yet we rely on supply chains that emerged in the 19th century to connect us with our food.
The diversity that agricultural products present complicates matters too. Because of weather, seed variety, origin, soil conditions, and a host of other factors, not every tomato tastes the same and sweet corn from my home state of Minnesota is like corn from nowhere else. I value that distinction in my food.
On the whole, our economy does not.
We produce and consume food within a structure that was built for undifferentiated, commodity products. The processes that move vast amounts of crops from harvest, to processing, to wholesale, to retail, to you keep the producer and the consumer conveniently separated – by about $0.84 for every dollar you spend. The anonymous middle of merchants, distributors, sellers, and superstores has driven consumers to rely on certifications like organic to tell them more about the products they’re buying than anyone else will. Producers, in turn, seek that certification as a way to distinguish their products in the marketplace.
Because so far they are all we’ve had to rely on to see something, anything, through the haze of the modern food system, labels have an inflated value. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that only spoiled rich folks, as Cohen would have it, feel strongly about the short- and long-term effects their food has on themselves, their families, and their environments.
Look at Growing Power, where Will Allen has built an urban farming empire-of-everyman. Look at the Bed-Stuy CSA of Brooklyn, where middle income families subsidize shares so their lower income neighbors can participate in getting food directly from farms. Look at the verdant farmers market culture in northern Iowa. Look at the efforts of farmers in Tchula, Mississippi, to grow food – not corn, not soy, not cotton – to feed their county first, and everyone else they can thereafter.
If anything, the debate surrounding how we produce and move food should unite us. Articles like Cohen’s are a soap box, and soak up our energy with debate when they should instead focus on shared principles: sufficient food to feed our people, production technology and innovation (from nutrient-rich composting techniques and drip irrigation, to GPS systems in John Deere tractors) that facilitate efficient and sufficient food production, soil and water systems that promise years and years of sustained agricultural production, and access for every single person to the abundance that we now know, but that our great-grandparents did not.
The science should focus on how we get there. I’d like to see, for example, a comparison of per-acre nutrient yields and revenue for six different production systems: conventional and certified organic commodity, conventional and certified organic fruit and vegetable under mass production, conventional but diversified fruit and vegetable production, and fruit and vegetable production under what we might call “beyond organic”, “practical”, “sustainable”, or whatever term most effectively conveys the rational approach of a growing number of farmers to use the best means they have to produce a crop that is healthy, high-yielding, and good to eat. Personal experience suggests that the last of these, which takes place right now on small- and mid-sized enterprises, is our greatest hope.
The future may not be organic but it is also not conventional. We should set aside the debate about organics and start identifying at a large scale an alternative path for the production, distribution, purchase, and consumption of the food that we all rely on for sustenance.
The announcement of a new Stanford study on the health benefits of food produced according to organic standards provides little in the way of concrete direction and instead risks distracting consumers from a critical perspective: the source of your food still matters.
The study appears to be as hyped up as the term it examines. Its conclusion is simply that organic foods have not been proven to be better for human health than conventionally produced foods. It reinforces that organic certification is not the pivotal factor in determining how healthy your food is, but does not attempt to identify what is.
Almost simultaneously, the New York Times published this critique of the use of antibiotics in livestock, stating that with respect to the prevalence of an antibiotic-resistant germ, “The numbers released quietly by the federal government this year were alarming.” Alarming but inconclusive means that the onus is on you to make the best decision for you and those you feed.
A great deal more than the presence or absence of an organic label determines the nutritional and environmental value of the food you buy. Instead of studying yourself in a circle, consider asking these three questions of your food.
Was it produced on a farm that grows a diverse selection of crops? Certified organic production does not necessarily mean diversified production, and monocropping is widely viewed as a problem. One indication of the environmental value of the food you purchase is whether it comes from producers that grow more than just a few crops, a practice that suggests the farmers are managing their soil nutrients, pests, and production schedules strategically and responsibly.
Was it grown in a way that relies primarily on the farm’s own ecosystem? The best farmers are managers not just of production but also of decomposition. While certified organic production eliminates some of the worst synthetic chemicals from crop production, it still allows for and relies on chemical compounds produced off the farm. Meanwhile, many independent farmers manage their inputs (and thus their costs) by cycling energy and nutrients through the whole farm system by composting, using integrated pest and nutrient management techniques, and incorporating livestock.
Was its time to market short enough that it will taste good? An organic certification does not ensure that your food was ripe and ready when it was harvested, and there is at least some modicum of agreement that crops that are harvested when ripe have higher nutrient content than those that are harvested prematurely in order to survive the journey to you (I especially like Dan Barber’s comments at 17:25 of this podcast). An independent producer generally markets goods geographically and relationally closer than wholesale supply chains do, and his crops are usually hours from harvest, not days or weeks as store-bought produce is.
The message here: Mass production, not the presence or absence of an organic label, is the problem. From an agricultural and economic perspective, you’re better off when you purchase your food directly from the producer because it’s likely to be more freshly harvested, richer in nutrients, lower in residues, and higher in overall environmental value than what you find on store shelves.
Right now to do business with farmers you’re limited to the farmers market or a CSA. While better ways to match you with the growers and crops you value are emerging, for now keep it simple, seek outlets that get you in direct contact with producers.
We’re looking for a Java developer that would like the opportunity to help build a state of the art web platform that will empower farmers and revolutionize how people get their food.
Candidates must write clean code, real documentation, and functional unit tests.
* Java experience!
* writing SQL and developing database driven applications (postgresql in particular)
* knowledge of and some experience with GWT (Google Web Toolkit)
You’ll be working with the whole team on product development, and directly with the tech director developing the software and shaping the work environment as our team grows.
This position is in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, and requires at least 2 full time days per week, preferably on site.
Any perks? Summer in Brooklyn, assistance finding housing (if needed), startup experience, Roberta’s pizza lunches, and given your performance, the potential for paid employment upon next round of financing.
To apply, please email your resume, a short paragraph of what you would be looking for in this position, and - if you have one - your public GitHub profile to firstname.lastname@example.org.