The sixth annual FoodCon 2020 was held here in Raleigh last week. The business schools of NC State University, UNC and Duke University to serve as co-sponsors for the one-day event. The main goal for the conference was to bring a diverse audience of students, business professionals and community leaders who share an interest in the sustainable food industry, while increasing awareness and understanding of the sustainable food industry in North Carolina.
Michelle L. Grainger, Managing Director of the Executive Farm Management Program at NCSU & Leader of the Center for Innovation Management Studies was one of the keynote speakers. She gave statistics on agriculture in NC being that the industry is the number one leader and generates $92.8 billion dollars in revenue. In the agriculture sector livestock products and crops contribute about 50% of NC ag income. The population of the U.S. is 329 million people with only 1% of the population are farmers and ranchers to provide our food source. Approximately 98% of our farms are family owned operations. Grainger stated “that by 2050 we must produce more food to feed up to 2 billion people using less water, land, and natural resources. This means that to produce more food it would have only a 15% return for every product sold.”
Yorm Ackuaku from Pan Africa, Food & Food Entrepreneur and founder of esSense 13, was the main keynote speaker for the morning. She spoke on building a sustainable food network in Africa using the culture of the food, innovation and new technology to feed their people. She spoke on the Pawnee Preservation Project using small scale farmers to teach them how to rotate their crops while dealing with a climate crisis. Ackuaku introduced the audience to a crop called fonio that has a nutritional value much like rice, a good source of protein, uses little water or soil to harvest but is labor intensive. It is like a millet or small grain and has a favorable taste much like couscous. One of the main concerns for agriculture in parts of Africa is their infrastructure.
There were two breakout session prior to lunch and one session following lunch. Panel 1: Redefining Food Systems consisted of: Dr. Sierra Young, NC State Biological and Agricultural Engineering; Heather Barnes, NCDA & CS; Rachel Wooten, Seal the Season; Bart Creasman, Hungry Harvest; Josip Simunovic, NCSU. One point brought out for discussion was the need for technology on the farm. Agriculture is about timing, dependence on others to repair farm equipment, a reliable source for communication and taking food processing to the small farmer. Food safety is top of the list to consumers and maintaining a traceable accountability for how our food is grown. We must educate our audience on the science behind our food supply so that they have a better understanding.
Panel 2: Launching a Venture, Growing an Idea consisted of: Shraddha Rathod, Freshspire; Laura Hearn and Will Kornegay, Ripe Revival; Mick Huffstetler, Navicerne Group, LLC; Steve Barr, NCSU. This panel addressed growing our future relations to build a team with our expanding technology. How do we help the farmer produce a more profitable crop while using less resources to feed the growing population?
Panel 3: The Sustainable Future of Proteins consisted of: Leah McGrath, Ingles Markets; Bill Aimutis, The North Carolina Flood Innovation Lab; Stephan van Vilet, The Duke Molecular Physiology Institute and Chad Herring, NC Farm Families. The discussion continued with sustainable agriculture and how do we produce more food with less resources? How does the farmer remain profitable and be environmentally sustainable at the same time? So many factors come into play, protecting the safety of our animals and the environment, global warming, infrastructure and the cost to produce food. What will it take to feed the world? Many challenges lay ahead of us, by providing a clearer understanding of the use of biotechnology we can meet the needs of our future food supply. It is the “Science of the Food.”