episode 4:

Henk Ovink – Special Envoy International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands

On Sourcing Matters episode 4 we welcome World Water Czar, Henk Ovink.  Appointed by President Obama to become the special envoy to Water for the United States, Ovink was responsible for launching the HUD and Rockefeller funded program “Rebuild by Design” – a crowdsourcing initiative which pooled top ideas of the best designers & planners throughout the World to rebuild New York City after Super Storm Sandy.


QUICK GUIDE – this episode covers the following subjects:

  • water is the essence of life – let’s learn from it
  • to sustain a stable future we must “embrace” and not fight water
  • contamination and scarcity of drinking water are problems of today
  • how to keep freshwater in, and saltwater out
  • proven solutions for climate change, sea level rise, floods, drought, famine
  • creation of design competitions pooling the best minds in building resilience
  • lessons from Super Storm Sandy clean-up are now changing the world
  • water is leverage to change mind-sets

Sourcing Matters.show episode 4 recap:

90% of natural disasters in the world are water related. Currently, 2 Billion people around the globe drink contaminated water regularly, and there are 5,000 deaths a day related to poor water quality happening in Africa alone.  As you’ll learn in this podcast discussion – we’ve pushed off the inevitable long enough. The longterm war may be about climate change, but as we speak there are thousands of concurrent battles focused on water.

In our 35 minute conversation with World Water Czar Henk Ovink we learn about the many intensifying issues that need to be addressed with fresh and sea water.  More importantly, we learn not just of the problems but of the solutions found today that will scale to build resilience and stability by “embracing” our realities of water.  From Climate and water refugees in the developing world, and Social & Political unrest in the developed – our actions have forced this staple of life to wage war on a new world order that will inevitably disrupt a shrinking world of 7 Billion.  

 

“Climate change is like a magnifying glass.  The extremes become more extreme, while becoming a new normal.  Flood, drought, raising temperatures, severe weather events,  and sea level rise are the ways of the future.”

 

As Ovink has come to realize over decades of his work – water is leverage.  And, to properly enact change with this leverage point we need to promote the solutions to these problems first.  Ovink explains “Mankind needs disasters to Learn”.  With 80% of the globes population expected to migrate to city densities, most often coastal cities, as more severe weather events and rising waters over the next few decades impact more – we must embrace these realities with a proactive approach.   If not, what will be the impact on global economies?  On human & Public health?  On environmental stability?  Henk shares how his initiatives to invest in system resilience have spurred change into action. 

As Henk concisely describes it – resiliency is the ability to bounce-back.  With the future being a little more grim than the present we must now embrace these intensifying natural disasters to adopt change in practice and mind-sets.  It’s too expensive to wait.  By engaging diverse stakeholders, Ovink has developed an arsenal of solutions that will those who use them to withstand the next storm, the next disaster, and most importantly, withstand fear and uncertainty.


 

Our chat begins with discussion of “Day Zero” quickly approaching in Cape Town, South Africa.  A city of 3.8 million is down to 10% of water reserves.  Even with rationing water – they’re set to run out by April 12th.  As Ovink explains – this is not unique to much of the world.  But, in a vibrant metropolitan city full of culture and innovation – it’s a bit shocking we’ve ended up here.  What’s really interesting is the reason why this is so shocking. Henk explains that we saw this coming.  With Cape Town’s high consumption and no broad reaching policy nor plan to restrict or reuse water the supply is running dry – leaving leadership and constituents to pray for rain.  From Bangkok – to – New Delhi – to – Los Angeles, this is a situation to to learn from.


 

4000 years of being forced innovators has uniquely suited the Dutch to educate the world on keeping freshwater in and seawater out.  In the podcast discussion Henk Ovink explains “Water is culture in the Netherlands”.  You see, the country is a delta, with 90% of GDP earned in flood prone areas.  Since the 12th century the Dutch have been orchestrating community efforts with shared common interests and goals focused on water.  Taxes taken to safeguard a democracy via the conduit of water is actually a 900 year old Dutch innovation.  Ovink goes on, “water has always been about connections for the Dutch people”.  Now, 21 regional authorities constructed around their river basins and shared natural resources have arisen to shepherd the Netherlands into the future.  Furthermore, this practice of collaboration around common interest has built intellectual property and scalable technologies that cast a large shadow for this small country of 17 million on a global stage. The Dutch are once again becoming superpowers in a World where business-as-usual that exercises water resources based on linear perspective fraught with waste and overuse just won’t cut it anymore.

 

As a member of the International Advisory Board for the City of Rotterdam, the Curator for the Rotterdam 2012 ‘Making a City’, and he initiated the research program Design and Politics – Ovink has long since been interested in innovating when it comes to water. Smart design practices that utilized basketball courts and sports fields at schools like French-drains to protect infrastructure and physical assets is in his blood, and is so very Dutch.  Canals, dikes, windmills and levees all used to protect prime agricultural lands around the reclaimed deltas have unpinned Henk’s focus on “embracing” water.


 

When it comes to Water usage in food and agriculture – there is a great deal of opportunity for innovation.  Currently, 70% of accessible freshwater throughout the global is used for agricultural irrigation.  Henk explains that 71% of the planet is covered in water.  But, 4% is sweet water, and only ½ % of that is available for our consumption.  Fresh water is scarce, and since we don’t value water as we should – our process for growing food with agriculture is concerning in a world running up against planetary boundaries.

 

Henk works throughout the world developing capacity for farmers through deeper education and better technologies.  From smarter planning, better mapping tech, and robust data analysis to reduce usage and present smarter planting criteria – his work with freshwater usage in raising our food is equally as important as his work in preventing  the catastrophes associated to sea level rise, storm surge and severe weather events.  In our chat Henk describes the practices he uses to reduce leakage in infrastructure, in promoting better practice that will reduce chemical run-off where water becomes the conduit of contamination and extensive unintended consequences of externalities.  As you’ll hear, he also works to advance more efficient practices in irrigation – like their “drop per crop” approach which promotes drip irrigation vs. traditional center-pivot.


 

In 2012 Henk Ovink was appointed by President Obama and the Secretary of HUD, Shaun Donovan, to become the special envoy of Water to the US.  He was directly responsible for launching the HUD & Rockefeller funded program Rebuild by Design – a global crowdsourcing initiative of top designers and planners to pool the best ideas which would rebuild NYC using federal resources after Super Storm Sandy.  The program was such a success it reformulated the approach the US government used for federal payouts on Natural disasters – and thus required a new cornerstone of “resilience” built into infrastructure re-builds.

 

As Ovink describes it, Rebuild by Design at its core was to establish capacity through a coalition of public and private stakeholders via an initiatives focused on solutions with common goals.  This is part of an inspirational future that Henk Ovink weaves for us all. Now, a new competition has launched in the Bay Area of California: Resilient by Design.  What’s different with this latest rev as compared to cleaning up after Super Storm Sandy, this new competition is working proactively; to strategically look at a shared future with common goals before a natural disaster hits.  That is a fundamental “change” disruptive to mankind.   As Ovink states – it’s innovation that is now the new normal.  And, as Ovink would tell you, that is fundamentally Dutch.

 

Currently, Henk Ovink travels the Globe armed with a tool chest of hope and potential.  He’s unique.   He comes in tow with a track record and clout to deliver on his promises.  His most recent project hits us all where it counts – now using water as leverage to change culture, society, politics and economies through both reactionary and proactive methods:  WaterasLeveage.org

We must listen to what this man has to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Niman – Pioneering the business of elevated production standards

On episode 3 of Sourcing Matters we welcome Bill Niman – founder of Niman Ranch.  As the godfather of producing meat with elevated standards, Bill has transformed consumer expectations of transparency and quality. An advisor to many large brands committed to sourcing better food, Bill’s influence in producing differentiated meat has reshaped domestic markets.


QUICK GUIDE – this episode covers the following subjects:

  • regenerative agriculture is proper on-farm natural resource management
  • healthy animals, healthy consumers, healthy planet
  • properly managed ruminants may be our saviors in climate change
  • food animals are intermediaries to reestablishing healthy soil
  • well managed herds can reduce wildfires, build flood resilience, alleviate draught
  • differentiated meat engages consumers in controlling their own health & care
  • meat is the biggest business in food

Sourcing Matters.show episode 3 recap:

Early in the New Year NOAA announced that 2017 was the costliest year in dealing with US natural disasters ($306 Billion in damage).  Master Rancher Bill Niman begins our 30 minute conversation describing how herbivore food animals when properly raised in their natural environment are a solution to many of these intensifying problems.  Could this be a new kind of insurance with broach reaching net positive results?  Maybe; and probably!  

Specifically, Bill discusses the role that large grazing animals could play in his home state of California.  Niman explains that not only would well managed large hoofed animals assist in rectifying immediate concerns with wildfires, flood, drought and mudslides throughout their geographic diverse region, but how this approach is finally getting credit where credit is due for a role in sequestering carbon.  You see, animals engage the good bugs prevalent in soil into a natural process called “nutrient cycling” where a harmonized ecosystem was developed around the hoof and wastestream of herbivores hundreds of thousands of years before we came into the picture.  When we took animals off the grasslands, which account for 55% of natural land cover in the US, we stalled-out a process that naturally banks carbon.


 

It turns out it’s not the animal that’s the problem for the environment.  It’s actually the shortcuts in the conventional production model which we’ve broadly adopted throughout food that’s the problem.  This has created a bit of a paradox.  Even after decades of extractive agricultural practice, over tilling of prime soils and results tied directly cheap synthetic inputs that mine the land – most consumers still consider large food animals to be the primary enemy of environmental and human health. Well, based on the current industrial way we do it now – those concerns with meat are valid.  That said, you must hear how Bill plans to address this.

As Bill describes it – beef animals may just be our saviors.  We can engage them as intermediaries in this natural & free process of nutrient cycling as an approach for what commonly become known as drawdown. This practice of raising healthy animals in their proper living environment affords a new narrative to food animals as interpreters cornerstone to regenerative natural resource management, and potentially a pillar in the all important evolution into a circular economy where the consumer has a lot more control than we know now based on the choice they make their dollar.

Food animals, now totaling over 9 Billion processed in the US annually, when properly managed in natural living environments can establish many net positive results for diverse stakeholders.  Along with the environmental impact stated above – this systems based approach of investing in animals wellbeing offers cleaner and healthier food; it creates domestic jobs; and it reduces risks brewing global public health from shortcuts common in conventional meat production where we’re overusing medicines essential to human health just to create cheap meat.


 

Knowing where those animals should reside, and the proper husbandry methods to keep them healthy is where Bill Niman has long exceled.  His well described approach to “Locale” vs. “Local” sets course for the American farmer and rancher to become more competitive in future decades by servicing the needs of an evolving domestic consumer looking for more backstory and insurance.  Moreover, marrying Bill’s approach of elevated production standards to that of these evolving consumer interests increasingly looking for better quality meat from healthy animals seems a pillar to a food revolution happening from coast to coast and everywhere in between which seems to be that anchor for circular economies to truly thrive. If we can get there in food first, it’s going to be a long arduous fight that no one wins!

Consumer interests in safer, cleaner, and more nutritious food is returning us to values intrinsic in us all. Deeply-seated societal, cultural, familial and primal values at spurred on by a food revolution – all beginning with differentiated meat from animals raised with elevated standards. As more truths arise about the “true costs” of our current food system on our well being and that of our surroundings and co inhabitants – additional consumer affinities seem ready to be teased and magnified to the many values of Bill Niman’s approach.

 

For you engaged consumers – you must listen to how Bill describes our role in maintaining the keys to the kingdom of earth’s bounty through some simple choices we make in our food, and especially the meat.

episode 2:

Fred Kirschenmann – President of Stone Barns

On our second episode of Sourcing Matters podcast we welcome a founding father of American Organics, Fred Kirschenmann.  A true legend known for promoting regenerative agriculture and food system reform through commitment to soil health, Fred Kirschenmann is a Distinguished Fellow for the Leopold Center at Iowa State, and is President of the board at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Tarrytown, NY.


QUICK GUIDE – this episode covers the following subjects:

  • regenerative agriculture is proper on-farm natural resource management
  • soil health harmonizes with gut health: microflora not too much different than soil
  • investing in soil health results in positive human & public health, planetary stability
  • a review of Organic standards – then and now
  • the future of hydroponics; should USDA Organic include growing in water?
  • urban agriculture has arrived, and is here to stay
  • the future farming workforce wants to grow food for each other, and not commodities

Sourcing Matters.show episode 2 recap:

Closing out 2017 we take a step back to evaluate the current state of Agriculture and regenerative natural resource management with a true expert in the field of future food, Fred Kirschenmann.   Hosts Aaron Niederhelman and Nathan Roman engage Professor Kirschenmann in a conversation of grave importance:  how do we feed ourselves on a shrinking planet?  And, how do we (re)establish food as our baseline for keeping ourselves and our planet in good standings.  ⇓

Throughout the 30 minute chat Fred offers unique insight earned from decades of fighting for a stable future. His most poignant description of Regenerative Agriculture may be the best ever captured.  Citing Sir Albert Howard’s law of return, Kirschenmann concisely describes regenerative as a process where “everything is renewed in the process of using it.”  Kirschenmann goes on to explain that “there are more microbes in a tablespoon of soil than there are humans on the planet!”  We learn that the impact of this has yet to be levered in modern food systems.  In fact, the vast majority of production in the developed world is based on an input-based approach where we’re not properly using this (free) microbial army to cycle nutrients for our benefit.  Instead, for purpose of creating empty cheap energy for more consumers to nosh, we’ve perpetuated an extractive approach in agriculture that is based on cheap petrochemicals, unlimited access to minerals and unlimited water which cannot be sustained.  

 

“As we look at our future, and we don’t have cheap energy to transport and grow food from thousands of miles a way – we’ll see more food grown within bio-regions.”

 

Kirschenmann eloquently describes that for purposes of financial expense, or true cost of externalities, or even capacity to maintain nevermind scale a production model past a ceiling fast approaching – feeding a growing population on a shrinking planet will come only from better understanding and engagement of regenerative natural resources.

To reduce the potential of continuing an industry food fight – Kirschenmann is nothing but pragmatic.  Through a process of diplomacy leaders in DC should evaluate – Fred describes how he empowers even the most staunch conventional producers to see the light of investing in soil vitality.  By justifying his argument with numbers that back increased demand for alternatively produced crops; and on the other side of the ledger – the increased costs and commitment requirements for maintaining status quo of conventional production; and even further, the realization of externalities and true costs associated to modern agriculture on human & environmental health – he makes it clear the only future of food production is regenerative.   


 

Digging deeper – investing in soil health does not only benefits the bottomline, it directly benefits your health and enjoyment of food.  Hear how Kirschenmann describes the diverse benefits of whole food from health soil.  From the cause & effect of changing diets and improving health in inner city communities – to supercharging the plates of the world famous chef Dan Barber – we must come out this half hour enlightened, and asking how revolutionary this could be in stabilizing our shared planet.  Maybe it’s us, the consumer, that can move the needle.  What if this approach was to be exercised through proper channels?  Could well sourced food from healthy soil be the silver bullet diet that a marketplace desperately seeks with billions of dollars every year?   

Hear what Fred has to say about this…

As the man who wrote the original rules on Organics, Fred Kirschenmann shares his thoughts on the recent ruling by the National Organics Standards Board to allow hydroponics to don a USDA Organics Certification. Fred offer a masterful description the benefits of food grown in water, and the vast market opportunities that will arise with further commitment.  But, after hearing the original intent pennded for Organics – it’s obvious there’s only one proper step forward here, and we may have just gone backwards.

 


In this chat Kirschenmann describes some of his recent experiences with the future workforce that’s more interested in “growing food for people, than corn or soy in Iowa”. Through his work at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, NY, and the Leopold Center at the Iowa State University, Kirschenmann is front and center in negotiating our shared future with the realities of planetary boundaries and evolving consumer interests.

The time is now for us to act, to innovate and to listen to what consumers and the future workforce seek from their food. 

 

 

 

 

 

Ep. 1: Lisa Sebesta – Managing Partner, Co-Founder of Fresh Source Capital ||

Founder & Managing Partners at FreshSource Capital, Lisa Sebesta has launched a creative financial vehicle to grow the local food movement into a sustainable regional food system initiative.  Have a listen to how Lisa and partner Dan have found, evaluated and supported a dozen of the quickest growing food & agricultural companies of the Northeast.

 

Q: Who is Lisa and what’s Fresh Source Capital?

Lisa is co-founder and managing partner of Fresh Source Capital, a Cambridge based investment firm focused on sustainable food and agriculture.  Fresh Source Capital launched their first fund in 2015 to make investments in early and growth stage food businesses that are rebuilding regional food systems.

Lisa came to the sustainable food investment movement after spending 15 years as an equity analyst and portfolio manager for various Boston-based investment management firms.  Upon her transition to private company investing, she has served on the leadership team of Slow Money Boston and was a consultant to the Fair Food Fund.  She and her business partner at Fresh Source, Dan Pullman, shared a vision of mobilizing more institutional capital into regional food businesses.

Q: Why invest in Regional Food Systems?

Lisa details the opportunity she saw in forming Fresh Source.  Driven by consumer demand, many small entrepreneurs have started businesses to fill a gap in the market.  A deviation from the past, innovation in food products, services and delivery was no longer coming exclusively from “Big Food”.

In their discourse, Aaron and Lisa discuss the externalities that arise from an industrialized food system, which have become increasingly apparent.  Out of recognition of these as well as concern for their own health, many consumers are switching to locally sourced, more sustainably raised foods.  The notion that industrial food is cheaper is coming under question.

The companies in the Fresh Source portfolio address not only shifting consumer demand but also the necessary infrastructure investments that come with rebuilding a regional food system and making it more efficient.

Q: What can individual consumers do to support the regional food movement?

There are many opportunities to buy great quality locally sourced food year-round.  Two examples from the Fresh Source portfolio are Farmers To You, an on-line farmers market, and Just Add Cooking, a provider of meal kits.  If you eat out regularly, look for locally sourced options at your favorite restaurant or ask questions about where the food came from.

Q: How do we scale this movement? 

Currently only about 10% of the food that New Englanders consume come from local sources.  A study issued by Food Solutions New England describes what’s needed to achieve their vision of 50% food security by 2060.  The study recommends utilizing more land to grow food responsibly (including converting current forest to farmland and pasture, and utilizing small spaces in urban settings).  The study also allows for changes in diet to foods that are more readily grown in the Northeast.

Lisa points out that capital investments also have to happen beyond the farm – in processing, transportation, and storage, for example.  That is potentially a large need for capital.  This can also provide much needed stimulus to rural economies, as discussed in this recent book from the Federal Reserve in partnership with the USDA, Harvesting Opportunity.

“Ultimately, one fund is not enough to scale this movement.  Lisa discusses the types of investments and investors that are needed, and how her firm works to coordinate among various groups.  Co-investment is a great way to collaborate.” explains Sebesta.

 


Finally, Aaron and Lisa share a little about their own holiday plans and traditions, and how to think about waste.  While there’s a lot that individual households can do around sustainable consumption, a much bigger problem lies further up the supply chain.  There are some innovations happening to reduce waste there as well.

 

Portfolio companies mentioned:

  1. Farmers To You: @FarmersToYou
  2. Just Add Cooking: @AddCooking
  3. Imperfect Produce: @ImperfectProduce
  4. Little Leaf Farms: @LittleLeafFarms
  5. Ocean Approved: @OceanApproved
  6. Spoiler Alert: @SpoilerAlert
  7. Food Solutions New England: @_fsne

@freshsourcecap

As the basis of preventative healthcare, we’ve lost our way in sourcing food for its nutriment at the cost of price alone. Proving increasingly taxing on body and land, an allegiance to the cheap food of modern agriculture has mainlined a steroid-era of commoditized foodstuff built on misguided information, immature science and a lack of transparency to the global mainstream. Now, so widespread throughout the Western diet & world is cheap food, most consumers have a compromised appreciation of food values without knowledge of correlated risk or potential adverse effect.

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