Introducing … VERGE Food

Two Steps Forward

Introducing … VERGE Food

GreenBiz photocollage

There’s something new on the menu. This fall, we’ll be debuting a new component to the VERGE conference ecosystem: VERGE Food, focusing on the rising interest in sustainable food systems.

Our annual VERGE conference, for the uninitiated, centers around the most dynamic and impactful markets that comprise the emerging clean economy. VERGE Food will join four other concurrent conferences: VERGE Energy, VERGE Transport, VERGE Circular and VERGE Carbon.

My colleague Jim Giles will be chairing the food program, part of VERGE 20 Oct. 27-29 in San Jose, California. Giles is a journalist, analyst and media entrepreneur who focuses on carbon and food systems. In addition to the fall conference, Giles will edit a new weekly newsletter, Food Weekly, launching Feb. 13. You can sign up here.

"We’re launching VERGE Food and Food Weekly because we’re in a crisis that is also an opportunity," Giles said. "We’ve built a food system that damages biodiversity and heats the planet, but we've also realized that this system is unsustainable. We have alternative approaches, and if we can scale these solutions we will create a new kind of food system — one that can feed a growing global population, protect our wild spaces, and help roll back climate change."

In producing the event, Giles will work with a growing corps of organizational partners and advisers, including the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, Civil Eats, the Climate Collaborative, ReFed, the Savory Institute, the Sustainable Food Trade Association, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the World Resources Institute and the Sustainable Food Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley. Look for more organizations to be added in the coming weeks.

Great paradox

The topic of food and sustainability has been around for years — decades even — but the conversation has reached a new level of urgency, thanks to climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss, food waste and a host of other pressing environmental issues. Together, they have made clear the need to revamp, if not reinvent, many aspects of our food systems, including how and where food is grown, how it is processed and shipped to market, how it is consumed and how to turn the waste it produces back into productive use.

The environmental challenges alone are daunting, but a parallel set of societal issues need to be factored in as well. About 5 million children die each year because of poor nutrition, which means we must continue to move families out of poverty. Yet that will introduce new stresses on food systems. Over the next two decades, for example, the world will need to accommodate 3 billion additional middle-class aspirants, who are expected to increase their per-capita food consumption by 300 percent from current levels, all while eating more meat, poultry and fish. 

Thankfully, there are a wealth of solutions available today to address these challenges, with more in the pipeline, thanks in part to both large and small companies leaning into sustainable food systems. In the past, that meant primarily organic farming and food production. Today, the solution set is much broader. This will be a key focus of VERGE Food and Food Weekly.

The solution set includes technologies that are digitizing farming, including drones, low-cost sensors and satellite imaging. There’s also regenerative agriculture, a suite of low-tech farming practices that can help draw down carbon and increase soil fertility. And the two hot topics of the moment: alternative proteins, which are seeing a surge of interest from investors; and indoor farming systems, which promise to grow leafy greens and other produce using less water, space, energy — and no pesticides or herbicides.

It's not just technology that is driving change. According to a United Nations report, new institutions and their emerging standards are collaborating with business and producers to accelerate a shift toward sustainability, such as commercial standards, food safety standards and voluntary standards, including those involved in carbon markets, social accounting, organic and other environmental standards.

Suffice to say, there’s a full plate of topics to cover. We plan to serve up a steady diet of articles, analysis, research and conference sessions. We hope you’ll dig in.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz, and listen to GreenBiz 350, my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy.