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Over the last four years, as a venture capital investor in the food system, I have researched and written about controlled environment agriculture (CEA). Recent innovations in more efficient LED lighting and the rapid deployment of AI, machine learning and robotics have opened massive opportunities for a new architecture of CEA: The Vertical Farm.

Unlike other types of CEA, such as greenhouses that must adapt to sunlight and weather conditions at their locations, Vertical Farms use no ambient atmosphere from their locale. These highly controlled, highly automated, highly digitized plant factories allow fruits and vegetables to be grown anywhere in the world with consistent and year-round production. This offers an array of benefits to people and planet: vertical farms use 90% less water; they use very little, if any, pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals; they enable us to grow food closer to urban centers where most of it is consumed; and, that creates less food waste because of the longer shelf life and shorter travel distance. …


Radicle Growth logo
Radicle Growth logo

We are on the precipice of a major transformation in the way we feed the world. In the face of climate change, food and agriculture present the greatest opportunities to restore and regenerate the environment — whether or not food production contributed to any damage.

Meanwhile, recent changes in consumer demand for a healthier, more transparent, and more sustainable food system have retailers and food companies looking for opportunities to respond. This, at a time when advances in technology — both biological and computational — are making rapid digitization of the food supply possible. …


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Photo Credit: NASA

From farm to fork, food is the least digitized supply chain. In agriculture, decisions on the farm are largely made through human observation and trial and error as they have been for thousands of years. However, the recent proliferation of smart devices like phones, wearables, tablets, robotics, and inexpensive yet sophisticated sensors now make untethered digital data collection possible. Combine this with the recent advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data analytics, and for the first time in human history, it’s now practical to digitize agriculture and its supply chain.

By deploying internet-connected sensors and robotics into farm fields we can continuously collect data about crops and growing conditions: for example, monitor crop and soil health, detect pests, and automate tasks like irrigation, fertilizing, and harvesting. These technologies significantly reduce the time spent and cost, which increases the operational efficiency of the farm. Growers can now make data-informed decisions about production to optimize for profitability and market-driven volume. These technologies also significantly reduce the waste of precious resources like water. …


And for many food crops, it already does

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Barendse-DC in Middenmeer, The Netherlands grows vegetables in 30 hectares of greenhouse . Photo by Micki Seibel, December 2018

I recently toured The Netherlands with a delegation from California tasked to collaborate with the Dutch on Climate Smart Agriculture. In the several years that I’ve studied the food system, I’ve heard much about how the Dutch were growing an enormous amount of plants and vegetables in climate controlled indoor environments. In fact, The Netherlands is second only to the United States as the world’s leading agricultural exporter, and 80% of its land under cultivation is inside greenhouses. Many of these exports are vegetables to the EU: tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, blackberries, herbs, and leafy greens.

After seeing first-hand the scale of production and the attention paid to climate and sustainability across the entire value chain of production, it was with great regret that I read Dr. Jonathan Foley’s essay, “No, Vertical Farms Won’t Feed the World.” While it won’t “feed the world” all by itself (no one farming system will), indoor agriculture is hardly “a fad” as Dr. Foley calls it. On the contrary, it has a very important role to play in a food system that makes us resilient to climate change. …


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2° Celsius and the Stranded Assets

Global temperatures shall not rise more than 2° celsius (3.6° fahrenheit). That’s the number that 167 countries agreed to as the target in the Copenhagen Accord in 2009. 167 countries that together account for 87% of global carbon emissions.

Climate scientists took that target and calculated how much wiggle room we have left to remove carbon from the ground (in the form of fossil fuels) and burn it into the air. Their answer: 565 gigatons.

Some smart hedge fund managers in London took that number, looked at the fuel reserves held by publicly traded oil and gas companies like Chevron, Exxon, BP, Total, and others, and published CarbonTracker. …


We have transformed our food system on several notable occasions in human history. Circa 10,000 BCE, we domesticated plants and animals, and the rise of agriculture transformed us from hunter-gatherers to agrarian civilizations. Trait selection hastened the development of food crops. Mechanization allowed us to grow more with less labor.

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Our current food system is the result of the last transformation that occurred in the decades following World World II: the green revolution. Built on innovations in chemistry and high yielding cereal grains, we transformed our food system to increase quantity. We saved over a billion people from starvation.

But now that we have been living with this food system for several decades, we see the unintended consequences: growing massive quantities of the wrong food with massive collateral damage to the environment. While we degrade our health, our soil, and our water our future food production capacity is at risk. The time is ripe for another transformation. …


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Photo Credit: Orange Silicon Valley/Jameson Buffmire

By Micki Seibel and Sarah Williams

Orange Silicon Valley, and Food System 6 teamed up to research and publish a insights about the challenges of food traceability. While transparency is a goal that stakeholders throughout the food system share, the obstacles for consumers, supply chains, brands, and entrepreneurs can be entrenched and nuanced.

Why Entrepreneurs Can Have an Impact

In our previous Medium posts about traceability, we assessed what the path to better traceability standards will need to overcome. First, we laid out how changes in consumer demand are driving large-scale change in the food supply all the way back to the farm and boat. Next, we demonstrated how complex the food web can be throughout its many layers and international web of players. Third, we assessed how consumer brands are investing to substantiate their claims and meet regulatory compliance. …


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Photo Credit: Orange Silicon Valley/Jameson Buffmire

By Micki Seibel and Sarah Williams

Orange Silicon Valley, and Food System 6 teamed up to research and publish a insights about the challenges of food traceability. While transparency is a goal that stakeholders throughout the food system share, the obstacles for consumers, supply chains, brands, and entrepreneurs can be entrenched and nuanced.

What Stands Between Brands and Traceability

No one feels the demands and costs of meeting traceability goals in the food system in the same way that established brands do. Demonstrating that a non-GMO product contains no GMO ingredients, ensuring that allergen declarations are 100% accurate, or otherwise proving sourcing and sustainability claims requires vigilance, and the cost of failure can torpedo a brand’s value, especially if health and food safety concerns concerns arise. …


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Photo Credit: Orange Silicon Valley/Jameson Buffmire

By Micki Seibel and Sarah Williams

Orange Silicon Valley, and Food System 6 teamed up to research and publish a insights about the challenges of food traceability. While transparency is a goal that stakeholders throughout the food system share, the obstacles for consumers, supply chains, brands, and entrepreneurs can be entrenched and nuanced. Below is the second part of our assessment establishing where these obstacles exist for a complex and global food web.

The Food Web Behind the Products

Consumers want more transparency within the global food system, and that demand has already had an impact on the companies that produce and package food products. In the first part of our report, “Consumer Views of Truth,” we looked at that demand, along with the confusion in the marketplace around language, true meaning, and implications of claims related to sourcing, production practices, and nutrient content. In order to provide real transparency to consumers, companies need to provide full traceability that is founded upon verifiable facts on the ground and standards that inform the vocabulary. …


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Photo Credit: Orange Silicon Valley/Jameson Buffmire

By Micki Seibel and Sarah Williams

Orange Silicon Valley, and Food System 6 teamed up to research and publish a insights about the challenges of food traceability. While transparency is a goal that stakeholders throughout the food system share, the obstacles for consumers, supply chains, brands, and entrepreneurs can be entrenched and nuanced. Below is the first of four parts of our assessment establishing where these obstacles exist and opportunities to overcome them.

Food Traceability

Throughout the world’s food system, traceability has become a lightning rod for conversations and business activity in recent years. …

About

Micki Seibel

Vice President of Product @Unfold Bio, Inc. Investor and company builder working to solve the world’s hardest food & environmental problems

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