Today’s large-scale industrial food production is not sustainable, argues Food System 6 CEO Caesaré Assad. Instead, we need food systems based on right-sized entrepreneurship and decentralized operations where innovation starts at the local level.
In order to transform the food system, we need innovative circular solutions. But should those innovations start locally or globally?
For Caesaré Assad, CEO of the non-profit Food System 6, the answer is clear.
"To build a resilient food system, we need fragmentation and diversity," Assad says.
Today’s large-scale industrial model of food production is no longer sustainable, and new solutions should be developed locally, Assad notes.
"To build a resilient food system, we need fragmentation and diversity."
Run from California, Food System 6 is focused on supporting entrepreneurs as they transform how food is grown, produced, and distributed. Solutions that work could then be scaled up.
"We have found that local solutions that impact local communities can often be applied globally. Moreover, we’re trying to bridge innovative, small-scale, localized businesses with larger enterprises who could help take scalable solutions to the next level."
Innovative solutions from online farmer’s market to biobased packaging
The entrepreneurs FS6 mentors work within all parts of the food system.
One of their fastest growing start-ups is the online farmers’ market MilkRun, already featured on Forbes. MilkRun cuts the middlemen from between the producer and grocery shopper, and helps small and mid-sized farmers and producers keep more of their own income.
Another company under FS6’s wing, Agrotics is a software company founded by a Turkish nut and fruit farmer. The founder created a virtual farmer’s assistant that helps farmers monitor weather, soil, and other conditions at their farm through a mobile application, allowing them to make better decisions.
On the food packaging front, Full Cycle Bioplastics is fighting plastic pollution and climate change by transforming organic waste into a compostable, marine-degradable and food-contact safe alternative to oil-based plastics.
Fragmentation is a prerequisite for a resilient food system
Many FS6 entrepreneurs are building smaller companies on the local level. In Assad’s words, they are solving a problem for themselves, within their community. According to her FS6 is looking for solutions that unlock new solutions, fit into a context, and contribute to one another.
"FS6’s criteria for entrepreneurs include multiple levels of impact, but they must also share our holistic systems view. They must be able to add context to one another as they build their solutions," she says.
Assad points out that corporations can build economic resilience by making investments that will enable the business to adapt to change and survive in the long run.
"Innovation requires investments in learning: if corporations want to benefit from these smaller companies, they will need to invest in creating a culture of experimentation. This is a cyclical process that will lead to an increase in both innovation and discovery over time."
Small producers need access to open infrastructure and open-source applications
Circular solutions are needed urgently, but according to Assad, circularity is not something companies should be competing over but rather working together on.
Access is key to changing the system.
"We need more cooperative ownership, open-source applications and open infrastructure that is accessible for smaller-scale producers, all the way from packaging to humane animal farming. Infrastructure is one of the biggest gaps preventing small companies from scaling up innovative solutions," Assad says.
"The food system is extremely complex, and more than engineering is needed to solve a problem that involves social and biological elements. We need to work together within the complexity of the system, and we all need to be invested in innovation. It is crucial to understand that everyone has a role to play because we all eat and occupy this planet together."
Huhtamaki supports Food System 6’s new Circular Economy Program, which is aimed at surfacing and supporting the most innovative circular economy startups worldwide. Read more at www.foodsystem6.org/circular_economy