If there’s anything we know in 2019, it’s that there are no such thing as easy answers when it comes to food. Culture, technology and conversations within the agricultural community mean it can be hard to assess the current state of food -- and humanity’s role within our food system.
This spring at SXSW, we brought together thinkers, scientists, artisans, agriculturalists and others to help us answer these questions. We called our three-day activation The Copernicus Project. Its goal? Challenge visitors to re-examine their beliefs about the food system and view the world like Nicolaus Copernicus once did. That means rethinking our roles and responsibilities in shaping the future of food that is sustainable, resilient and diverse.
Where did we net out? Somewhere in the middle. Literally. Through our conversations and explorations, we learned quickly that human beings are not at the top of the food chain. In fact, the food chain is not even a chain. It’s an interconnected web. And we’re somewhere in the messy middle, along with everything and everyone else.
Our attendees heard this loud and clear too. In fact, in a post-event survey, 70% of attendees said they rethought what they knew about the food chain and their role in it. A vital part of tackling issues in our food system is having a clear concept of what those issues are and how we factor in.
As our CEO Beth Ford put it: “Understanding where humans fit into our food system is key to the conversations we need to have. When we understand our place, we understand what dialogue actually needs to happen and we understand how to begin solving problems.”
While we may not be at the top of the pack, our huge effect on the food system means that our job is to be its protector. Agricultural practices continue to evolve, and it’s the farmers -- truly some of the world’s original conservationists -- who are bringing more and more technology to bear. Technology powers everything from new and innovative conservation practices (doing more with less) to the burgeoning biodiversity space. For example, efforts to increase pollinator habitats or rearing indigenous livestock. And as scientists and researchers continue to make new discoveries, we are securing our future.
Humans can also protect our food system by taking advantage this technology. We know at this point that high-tech engineering is essential to the ecosystem. For instance, nanotechnology doesn’t have to be scary, it powers innovations like nanosensors and nanofertilizers. And while people were initially skeptical of nanotechnology’s role in our food system, 80% of people surveyed knew that nanomaterials exist in nature.
This openness to nanotechnology, for one, excites our chief technology officer, Teddy Bekele. “Accepting nanotechnology opens up a whole new world of solutions. We’re not limited to what consumers are comfortable with, instead our only limits are what we can engineer and how fast we can create it.”
We know that humanity’s relationship with food is complicated. But after the conversation at SXSW, we’re heartened with the possibilities and the appetite for change. For progress. The conversation must continue to evolve and drive transformation. As a farmer-owned co-op, we also recognize we play a vital part in bringing farmers, food and agriculture to the table.
Land O’Lakes’ resolve to convene individuals who want to propel change, ask tough questions and find solutions won’t stop at The Copernicus Project.
Want to hear more from us? Let us know.