Where's the sustainable beef? Hackers tackle a meaty challenge

Where's the sustainable beef? Hackers tackle a meaty challenge

Mona T. Brooks

What are the greatest challenges to making meat eating and production more sustainable? More than 250 food industry leaders, entrepreneurs, technologists and creative workers joined forces to define and solve them. The group convened at Hack//Meat Silicon Valley, a hackathon last week to develop hardware and software.

Twenty-four teams tackled challenges to make the meat industry more sustainable, including boosting access to farmland, food labeling, whole-animal usage and the embracing the unique flavor profile of grass-fed meat.

They pitched their prototypes to judges including Michiel Bakker of Google’s Global Food Services, Bill and Nicolette Niman of Niman Ranch & BN Ranch, Niko Hrdy of Valley Oak Investments, Amol Deshpande of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Chris Cosentino ofIncanto and Anya Fernald of Belcampo Meat Co.

The winning teams were awarded prizes representing more than $125,000 in value (full list here), including cash and consulting from industry leaders.

The three-day event took place at the Institute of Design at Stanford, organized by Food+Tech Connect in partnership with Applegate and GRACE Communications Foundation. In December, a similar hackathon took place in New York City.

Here are the winning hacks, and the challenges they tackled.

Supporting young farmers

Farmers are a dwindling population; by 2030 one-quarter of them will retire. Not enough young farmers are taking to the field to replace the half-million people leaving it. Hack//Meat SV Grand Prize winner FarmStacker aims to make it easier for young farmers to enter the profession through “E-Farmony,” an AirBnB-like tool to connect young farmers to land and capital.

Whole animal buying

Whole animal butchery operations face a unique inventory and costing challenge. When buying a whole animal, one uses different parts of the animal in different categories and it can be practically impossible to track the efficiency, profitability and cash flow of a single piece of meat. The winner in the Best Business category was Cow Share With Us, a purchasing platform that facilitates group buying of whole animals. It has created a model similar to CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) for whole animal purchasing in which the minimum order is only 10 lbs.

Demanding antibiotic-free meat

Eighty percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for livestock use, mostly for growth promotion and to compensate for unsanitary, crowded, stressful living conditions. The winner in the Best Social Good category, Buyotic, aims to build a community of 1 million empowered consumers who demand antibiotic-free meat. The mobile app would help people shop according to their values by locating antibiotic-free chicken and making an online pledges to purchase it. The winner for Best Use of Technology was Agent Yum, a Google Glass application that would allow shoppers to scan food products in the grocery store, delivering GMO and antibiotic ratings.

Celebrating grass-fed meat

Chefs have a difficult time cooking with grass-fed meat because of the variability of taste, quality and cuts, which can change based on terroir, breed, processor and season. Many also lack experience with preparing grass-fed beef, which requires different methods from corn-fed beef. The winner for Best Design, Beefopedia, is a web-based portal to educate consumers on and celebrate the qualities of heritage beef. Its backers want to bring a unique understanding of grass-fed beef to a wider consumer audience.

API winners

Stewardship Agent, a database similiar to the Multiple Listings Service for realtors, would allow young, new ranchers to gain access to underused private lands, using a real-estate-type agent. Find Pasture, a platform to allow farmers to identify suitable land to buy, lease or share, would use deep data analytics about the type of animal they seek to raise. Both were awarded the ESRI Award for making the best use of ESRI’s ArcGIS maps.

In addition, Beefopedia, Cow Share With Us and Think Meat went home with the Yummly Award for making the best use of Yummly’s recipe API (application programming interface). Find more information here.

Images by Mona T. Brooks