On November 3rd, I ventured to New York City to join the panel discussion, “Can indoor agriculture help us produce more food, more sustainably?” This was the lead-off panel, opening the “Food Loves Tech” expo at Industrial City, Brooklyn, NY.
Urban food production and distribution clearly was a topic that was on everyone’s minds, as the room filled to near capacity with eager audience members. Moderated by Editor in Chief of “Edible Manhattan” Magazine, Brian Halweil, the panel featured Andrew Carter, founder of Smallhold, Jason Green, CEO of Edenworks, Marc Oshima, Chief Marketing Officer of Aerofarms, Tobias Peggs, CEO of Square Roots, Allison Kopf, CEO of Agrilyst, and myself, Joe Swartz, VP of AmHydro. The 6 of us each spoke briefly about our respective companies, and then settled in for a robust discussion about Indoor Agriculture and audience Q & A.
While many indoor agriculture discussions tend to center around “new” or “flashy” technologies, moderator Brian Halweil instead focused the discussion on more practical approaches and how both newer and older, time-tested technologies are being implemented to successfully overcome some of the urban food production challenges that exist today. Each panelist spoke of how their particular companies are providing systems or technologies that increase production efficiencies, offer new ag employment opportunities, or increase the availability of fresh, local food. While some offered differing opinions, in most cases all panelists agreed on the needs of the community and the various vehicles in which those needs could be met.
Opening the floor to audience questions, it became very clear that the concerns of those in attendance focused upon food insecurity, food safety, supporting local food systems, and increasing the diversity of locally available products. Panelists took turns offering up their thoughts as to how to best support local growers networks, improve/streamline food safety issues, lowering food waste, and creating economic opportunities for new and innovative food producers. Assisting local communities in forming and refining local food policy was also discussed. Unfortunately, time limited the discussion, although it was obvious that these discussions are far from complete. Upon leaving the stage, all panelists were approached by local citizens, activists, educators and press to continue the conversations forward. The remainder of the expo featured panels, including, GMO’s, home cooking technologies, food waste, ocean sustainability, ag tech, and future food/beverage options.
In total, the Food Loves Tech expo was attended by over 4,000 people interested in the future of our food systems. Improving the quality, availability, safety, and diversity of our foods is an issue that will continue to be forefront in the minds of many for a long time to come. As more new people are draw to these industries, we will see many new improvements and innovations that will enhance the quality of our lives, improve our environment, and establish better means of feeding ourselves for generations to come.