101 Facts That Should Make You Hopeful About the Future of Food

This week, Food Tank is highlighting stories of hope, innovation and success, in creating a better food system. From women’s land access in Chad and urban green spaces in Australia to chefs in the United Kingdom and the U.S. implementing local, sustainable food sourcing—there are hundreds of innovations giving us hope about the future of food.

Food Tank is featuring 101 bright spots in the food system that we hope will inspire eaters, businesses, researchers, scientists, funders, donors and policy makers to create—and support—a more sustainable food system.

1. Biologist Roger Leakey’s book, Tree of Life, highlights the ability of trees to help feed the planet. Through agroforestry—growing trees along with crops—communities can increase crop productivity and overcome global hunger and poverty, contributing to the livelihoods of more than 1.6 billion people.

2. According to Solar Cookers International, solar ovens help reduce toxic emissions and reduce greenhouse gases, improving both human and environmental health. Solar Cooker at CantinaWest provides resources to find solar cooking classes in 18 states.

3-5. Chefs like Jose AndresBarton Seaver and Dan Barber are making headlines for their innovative visions of sustainable food production:

Seaver has evolved from a seven-time restaurateur to an emerging explorer for National Geographic. His restaurant, Hook, was named one of the top eco-friendly restaurants in America for their sustainable fishing practices, by Bon Appetit. Seaver is also the co-author of Foods for Health, which will be released in September.

Andres, who owns ten restaurants, heads the Think Food Group, empowering healthy food advocates around the globe.

An executive chef, Barber is the co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and the author of his forthcoming book, The Third Plate, written to inspire Americans to think sustainably about food and agriculture.

6. The EAT Forum, held in Stockholm this year, brought together leading scientists, business leaders, and political minds through a series of lectures and information sharing.

7. The James Beard Food Conference aims to break down the silos that exist among public health practitioners, foodies, farmers and chefs in New York City, Oct. 27-28, 2014.

8. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), raised bed “keyhole” gardens improve the nutrition of at risk communities in AIDS/HIV affected regions of Africa. These vegetable beds use compost and recycled waste water to grow crops, even in dry months.

9. The World Food Program’s School Meals program works across the globe to provide meals to 18.6 million children, often in the hardest-to-reach areas.

10. The municipality of Jakarta, Indonesia, recently planted 40,000 fruit trees to provide free food to citizens and help tackle air pollution.

11. Over the last decade, the area of organic farmland in the European Union increased by 500,000 hectares each year.

12. Women make up 24 percent of organic farm managers in the European Union and 41 percent in Latvia.

13. According to Olivier Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2008 to 2014, most international agencies such as the World Bank and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, now “acknowledge the necessity for each country to ensure its food production and to invest in local food systems.”

14. In 2013, French Minister for Food and Agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll, announced he wanted France to be a leader in agroecology. He hopes half of all French farms will adopt agroecological methods by 2025.

15. In December 2013, the European Union banned neonicotinoid pesticides for two years. Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides that are suspected to kill bees in large numbers.

16. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization proclaimed 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. There are 500 million smallholder farms worldwide and more than two billion people in the world depend on them for their livelihoods.

17. The expansion of urban agriculture projects and initiatives like Incredible Edible in the United Kingdom, Growing Power in Milwaukee and Chicago, and Sydney Green Square in Australia, show the growth of vibrant and sustainable urban environments.

18. In India, Navdanya conserves more than 5,000 heirloom crop varieties including vegetables and medicinal plants, helping preserve agricultural biodiversity and improving resilience to climate change.

19. The organization, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, organizations work exchange program in more than 60 countries, allowing would-be gardeners to learn organic and sustainable agricultural practices while traveling around the world.

20. Eaters are becoming more active in the link from farm to fork. LocalHarvest lists more than 30,000 family farms and farmers markets, along with restaurants and grocery stores that feature local food.

21. More and more young people in the U.S. are deciding to become farmers. John Agostinho’s path to farming full-time took him from a technological career in New York City to an ever-growing flock of sheep in the Hudson Valley.

22. In October 2013, 83 non-governmental and international organizations joined the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition initiative, which “seeks to make agricultural and nutritional data available, accessible and usable for unrestricted use worldwide.”

23. An increasing number of participatory online tools such as, Fruitmap and PlantCatching, are making it easier for people to access fresh, locally grown food in their communities.

24. Permaculture, along with other agroecological techniques, have the potential to reverse the process of desertification in extremely dry areas.

25. Aquaponic ventures, such as The Plant in Chicago, may have the potential to sustainably intensify food production by combining plants and fish in an energy-saving, efficient way to grow lots of food in a small amount of space.

Jackfruit, an indigenous crop, is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, it can be eaten both immature and ripe.

26. Underexploited indigenous foods, like jackfruit and sand rice, are offering solutions for food security in the face of climate change by surviving in degraded and nutrient poor  soil conditions.

27. Several global organizations, including Young Professionals for Agricultural Development and the Global Fund for Women, are working to empower women and youth by giving them confidence to lead their communities, express their rights and opinions, and become engaged in leadership positions in local governance.

28. Food rescue initiatives like the Pig Idea in London are working to recycle food waste from supermarkets and restaurants.

29. Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the United Kingdom operates a vast seed bank project, which preserves wild relatives of crucial crops to protect food security against the threat of climate change.

30. Farmer’s markets are continuing to grow across America. With 8,144 farmers’ markets in the U.S. in 2013, an increasing number of eaters are able to put a face to their food.

31. Youth worldwide are rising to promote sustainable food systems. The Slow Food Youth Network started Disco Soup: events that embody how youth can collectively act in order to tackle global issues such as food waste.

32. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, insects have promising potential as an alternative protein food source, with both environmental and health benefits.

33. Brazil’s National School Feeding Program run by the Ministry of Development has proven to be an effective tool to ensure the right to adequate food. To date, the program has reached 45 million students in almost 250,000 schools. Similar programs are now being adopted in various African countries.

34. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, students from the University of Sarajevo are conducting intercropping and hydroponics field experiments in order to improve the quality and quantity of food produced in the country.

35. Family farming accounts for at least 56 percent of worldwide agricultural production.

36. In Syria, raising backyard poultry has helped citizens find a sustainable way to sustain local food security and nutrition.

37. The U.N Food and Agriculture Organization is implementing projects in the western Chad region of Kanem that give land access to women groups for food production. Greater access to land has led to improved agricultural production, higher incomes and a decrease in malnutrition.

38. The SAVE FOOD initiative, led by the U.N Food and Agriculture Organization, has gathered more than 150 public and private sector partners to address the issue of food loss and waste in developing countries.

39. Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) is one of many networks across the world connecting young people and promoting agriculture as a career option. YPARD has developed e-services for information dissemination as well as mentorship programs, workshops and trainings for youth.

40. The Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative is recognizing the importance of soil to sustainable agriculture and committed to understanding what happens beneath our feet. They’ve developed a platform for promoting and translating expert knowledge on soil biodiversity into policy and land management.

41. The Savory Institute advocates for healing the land through holistic livestock management and promotes the creation of a symbiotic relationship between animals and the land.

42. Community Supported Fisheries, like Skipper Otto, connect consumers to small-scale fishermen, help local communities and promote sustainable fishing. “There is an intrinsic value on keeping more eyes on the ocean,” says Shaun Strobel, Skipper Otto Product Director.

43. In Wisconsin, U.S., Keil High School’s new Agricultural Research Center wing enables high school students to learn agricultural skills and connect with the source of their food.

44. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture in the Classroom program brings guest speakers into schools to teach about agriculture. In 2013, 45,000 students were reached.

45. The Uganda Rural Development and Training Programme is the first African university initiative dedicated to providing technical agricultural training women.

46. The World Agroforestry Centre has discovered that diverse forestry systems—forests that contain different types of trees—are an effective measure against soil erosion.

47. Vermont became the first state to sign a GMO labeling law, which will go into effect July 2016.

48. More chefs are beginning to serve sustainable seafood in 2014, like Red's Fresh Seafood House and Tavern in Southwest Florida and Surair Catering Services in South America.

49. Mazingira Institute and Nairobi and Environs Food Security, Agriculture, and Livestock Forum, are transforming urban agriculture in Nairobi through workshops and trainings.

50. Slow Food USA's Slow Meat Program, will hold a conference June 20-22, in Denver, CO, to highlight sustainable meat production and identify and develop points of intervention between the journey from field to fork.

51. The Food Chain Worker Alliance and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United work on improving workers' wages through a list of policy recommendations, including indexing federal wages for tipped employees.

52. American Heritage Livestock Conservancy ensures the health and biosecurity of heritage and traditional livestock and poultry breeds.

53. AVRDC- The World Vegetable Center improves crop varieties and production methods in developing countries. Their two improved tomato varieties are at the heart of increasing harvests, production and processing in East Africa, which in turn, raises incomes and creates jobs.

54. New farmers’ organizations that match young farmers with seasoned mentors are growing in popularity, such as Iowa State’s volunteer mentor program and the National Farmers Union’s Beginning Farmer Institute.

55. The Rainforest Alliance now provides grade-specific curriculum to educate young people about biodiversity conservation in the world’s rainforests.

56. In Vermont, according to Brattleboro’s Equitable Buying Club, food sharing programs make local food more accessible to hungry populations.

57. The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition’s Double Pyramid allows eaters to compare the nutritional aspects of food along with their environmental impact.

58. In California and Iowa, sisters Ruth and Shauna Rabinowitz manage their family’s farm using conservation agriculture methods. They represent a model of women, operating a business while also incorporating environmental stewardship including no till, prairie strips and timber management.

59. Eaters can now screen the film Terra Firma, a story of three female veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, who found healing through farm life.

60. FarmNet, in New York, provides prevention and crisis assistance measures for farmers facing mental health issues, such as depression. They offer free, confidential consulting services and operate a hotline for farmers in distress.

61. Slow Food Cycle Sunday in Pemberton, British Columbia, is an annual bicycle tour of regional farms, connecting “town folk and city folk, consumers with their food and people with the land.” In 2013, the tour had more than 4,000 participants.

62. Chefs and farmers are forging new partnerships to bring local, quality food to consumers. Food Shed in California, Noma in Denmark, and Bondir in Massachusetts are among many of these farm-to-table restaurants.

63. National Geographic investigates the Future of Food in an eight-month series about strategies to feed a growing population “without overwhelming the planet.”

64. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United’s 2014 Diners Guide to Ethical Eating highlights the employee standards of the most popular restaurants in America and encourages consumers to engage with restaurant management about raising the minimum service wage.

65. This April 2014 the International Institute for Environment and Development in London held a seminar to discuss how providing energy services to smallholder farmers in developing areas could help to increase food security.

66. Australian Women in Agriculture has created a network connecting women in the agricultural industry to each other and to useful resources.

67. Poor children in the U.S. are especially vulnerable to issues of hunger and malnutrition when school is not in session. Fortunately, programs like the Summer Food Service Program provide kids with school lunch programs during summer vacation.

68. Thanks to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, it’s now easier for consumers to use SNAP benefits at their local farmer’s market.

69. Sustainable breweries like Full Sail Brewing Co. in Oregon filter out brewing wastes to feed to livestock who wind up on plates at their brewery pub.

70. Share-a-Share programs in Nebraska provide underprivileged families with community supported agriculture scholarships, giving them the opportunity to eat locally-grown produce throughout the year.

71. Brooklyn’s Food Book Fair brings well-known authors, chefs, publishers and designers together to discuss hot food topics.

72. Chef and food justice activist, Bryant Terry’s, fourth book, Afro-Vegan: Farm Fresh African, Caribbean and Southern Food Remixed defines good food as being an everyday right, not just a privilege.

73. Nineteen-year-old author, Emily Abrams, inspires young adults to embrace climate activism through food consciousness. Her book, Don’t Cook the Planet, has tips for eaters about how to reduce carbon footprints while eating more sustainably.

74. Two state prisons, in California and New York, will begin farm-to-table programs that hire inmates to grow food on site.

75. Panera Bread’s new food policy proposes to eliminate artificial ingredients in its 1,800 locations by 2016.

76. Region-specific food labels, like ASAP’s Appalachian Grown, now allow consumers in Western North Carolina and the Southern Appalachian Mountains to identify foods that are grown locally and organically.

77. The Missouri Botanical Gardens Herbarium Collection of plant species just discovered a new type of flower, bringing their collection to 6.5 million specimens.

78. Tristram Stuart’s organization, Feeding the 5,000, will highlight the importance of eating ugly vegetables and food that otherwise would have been wasted at an event in Nairobi later this year.

79. Palau, a small Pacific island country, may decide to ban fishing vessels from it entire Exclusive Economic Zone, in an effort to improve the sustainability of tuna populations.

80. A new app called PareUp helps to minimize food waste by providing restaurants and food shops with a forum to announce when they have excess food and, rather than throw it away, offer the food to app users at a discounted price.

81. Chipotle has made the decision to voluntarily disclose the presence of genetically modified organisms in their food, with a long-term goal of removing them to the fullest extent possible.

82. Grow Dat Youth Farm in New Orleans creates job opportunities for high school students in the field of urban agriculture through a 19-week program, during which youth participants learn a variety of skills related to growing, cooking and selling organic vegetables and fruit.

83. India will help Kenya bring down production costs for smallholder farmers by providing inexpensive farming equipment, for which Kenya currently has a deficit.

84. In an effort to curb endemic food waste, British retailer Waitrose will start selling a “weather-blemished” fruit line—rather than throwing out the ugly fruit, it will be sold at discounted prices.

85. Writer and farming activist, Gary Paul Nabhan, proposed that farmers adapt to new climate conditions by planting drought-resistant crops.

86. Launched by former Trader Joe’s president Doug Rauch, Daily Table is a market for expired food in Massachusetts, which takes tax-deductible food donations from other grocery stores and provides produce and other perishables for consumers who could not otherwise afford them.

87. Sainsbury, the second largest chain of supermarkets in the United Kingdom, has partnered with Google to create Food Rescue, which provides recipe inspiration for using up old or forgotten ingredients in an attempt to prevent food waste.

88. The Green Bronx Machine is dedicated to growing, re-using, resourcing and recycling landscapes, and teaches inner-city kids and adults from the Bronx, New York, about urban farming.

89. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program will provide $48 million USD in funding to help rural businesses across the U.S., including farmer-owned cooperatives, to establish rural-urban partnerships and make infrastructure upgrades.

90. Fair Trade tea company, Bhakti Chai, invests in female tea pickers in India who belong to the Self-Employed Women’s Association and give 90 percent of earnings back to their families and communities so that their daughters can receive an education.

91. The Land Institute is rethinking agriculture by developing perennial grains, a multi-year alternative to soil-eroding annual crops.

92. GrowNYC provides a venue for over 230 small family farms to sell local products directly to consumers in Greenmarket, a network of outdoor urban farmers markets.

93. Sustainable Rural Development improves and implements efficient and sustainable farming practices throughout Vietnam, bolstering community organizations and empowering local farmers.

94.Voluntary Drought Initiative has been recently created by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to protect and recover sensitive species of salmon.

95. The Sustainable Agriculture Project in Haiti has planted four model farms in the regions of Cap-Rouge and Petite Rivière de l'Artibonite, which offer organic farming training to aspiring farmers.

96. The Bangladesh Federal Agriculture Organization is currently working on a project to promote food security in the country through enhanced agricultural production as well as the promotion of diversified sources of income and value addition.

97. The Slow Food Foundation recently held a training meeting for their Thousand Gardens in Africa project in Mbour, Senegal. The project aims to propose sustainable agriculture models that most effectively use the available resources of nations.

98. The Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto, a conference for the world’s food communities, will be held on October 23-27 in Turin, Italy. Hundreds of delegates and small-scale farmers from around the world will connect to build relationships and develop innovative ideas to address their countries’ challenges.

99. Food security challenges for the 21st century were recently addressed at the Global Food Security Symposium hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The Symposium is dedicated to finding sustainable solutions to problems in the food system.

100. The International Food Policy Research Institute  hosted a conference in May 2014 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, about how to strengthen resilience for both food and nutritional security.  

101. Chef and activist, Alice Waters, was named one of Time Magazine’s most interesting people, for her work on the Edible Schoolyard Project to empower children and teach them life skills through education about food.


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I listen to his words, amazed. There's no agenda here, no vested interest, no job creation or moneymaking—just an elderly man bearing witness to his changing world.

Excerpted from Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea by Kevin Vallely, published September 2017 by Greystone Books. Condensed and reproduced with permission from the publisher.


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