Live Recap from the Chicago Summit

Live Recap from the Chicago Summit

Live Recap from the Chicago Summit

Follow along at our Chicago Summit with a live recap of highlights from each panel discussion.

We are live today from the Gleacher Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs for the 1st annual Chicago Food Tank Summit. This is the third in a series of three Summits in 2016 which are bringing together some of the world’s most impactful food system leaders. Click Here to watch the Live Stream, brought to you by Organic Valley.

9:00 am:

An exciting day has begun. Stacey Kole started our morning with an enthusiastic introduction to the Food Tank Summit. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business is excited to co-host and partner with so many leading experts and institutions during this summit.  Kole is excited about all the great speakers and panelists, such David MacLennan, Chairman and CEO of Cargill, who work hard to find innovations to feed the world. As Kole said, it is a great time to convene a group like this so we can “shake our communities and help disseminate knowledge”. 

9:05 am: 

Alesha Black, Director of the Global Food and Agriculture Program at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shared some of the goals and work of the CCGA. By 2050 we will have at least 9 billion people, with 2 billion living in cities. We need to transform our food system to address these challenges. As Black wrapped up her introduction by encouraging us to remember how great it is that we have “likeminded people with lots of great ideas coming together today”. These conversations will helps us find the best ways to transform our food system. 

9:10 am: 

Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank has heartily welcomed both the live and online audience. She is excited to see the summit take place in Chicago, the city where the Food Tank was born.  “This is one of the greatest food cities in the world” she said, a city that is "cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs that are making food more affordable and accessible". She also warmly welcomed all students who will inherit our “problems but also enormous opportunity”. She eagerly reminded the audience of how important it is to convene all many “different ingredients’ or as she put it, “different tastes and opinions will help create dialogue and conversation…let’s stop preaching to the choir”. Five topics will be covered during the conversations at the Food Tank Summit today, from future farming, to unusual (sometimes uncomfortable) alliances and collaborations, transparency to the future of food. We do not have time to waste. We need to start now. 

9:20 am: 

Kevin Cleary, CEO of Clif Bar & Company, gave a sincere introduction to what marked the beginning of a food journey and interest in a sustainable food system. There is now so much interest and concern and food and a great demand for improved food systems. As a parent, some of these issues are really concerning, such as the amount of pesticides in our food system. It is not an inconsequential amount. Pesticides are not only concerning to consumers but also for the farmers who are constantly exposed to these harmful chemicals and suffer the consequences of such exposure. As CEO of a food company, he feels like he can make a difference, but there is a long way to go. For example, organic farming is still a small percentage of the total, just 1% in the US! Shouldn’t we be able to find organic macadamia nuts? Our supply chain should increase organic options. 

Cleary had three recommendations for improving our food system:

  1. Provide farmers transitioning to organic farming longer contracts
  2.  Invest in organic research and extension services
  3. Create policies that provide financial incentives for sustainable agricultural practices

We need to have a dialogue about these now. “We can do better than less than 1%” – Kevin Cleary

9:30 am:

The first panel of the day, moderated by Roger Thurow, Author, Journalist, and Senior Fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, was a lively discussion about farming the future. The discussion started out by talking about local, Chicago-based transformations and changes in the food system. Harry Rhodes, Executive Director of Growing Home, the first certified organic farm in Chicago discussed farm production and training programs. Growing Home successfully produces30,000 pounds of food on an acre of land. They have trained over 400 people topics ranging from indoor farming to distribution centers, to understanding the food chain. “Food is at the center of building a healthy community” – Harry Rhodes.  Billy Burdett followed-up by talking about the importance of urban agriculture. More and more people have been interested in “hyperlocal food production”.  For example, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been instrumental in the local food movement, making room for urban farms and community gardens. There has been both growth in number of urban agricultural projects and in the types of projects, such as aquaponics and vertical farming operations, and commercializing of innovative projects. As Burdett put it, “different approaches to sustainable foods are what will help us obtain a more resilient food system”.  Emily Zack, Farm Operations Manager at the Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Campus (LUREC) chimed in toshare some of their experiences with organic farming. Hands-on learning experiences, particularly with women and their children, have been especially rewarding. Simply things, such as teaching women and children to grow pomegranates, have a lasting impact on the food system and on nutrition. 

Thurow then posed a question about the state of family farms and cooperatives. Ben Burkett, President of the National Family Farm Coalition and a fourth generation farmer with a great Mississippi accent, talked about both the many innovations and long-lasting practices that are being used in farming. As Burkett summed it up, “the future looks bright”. 

The conversation then shifted to how we can we breach the gap between producers and consumers. Randy Krotz, CEO of US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), a Cardinals and Blues fan from St. Louis (and a Cubs fan too!), mentioned a few ways their organization tries to breach gaps between farmers and consumers. He optimistically reminded us the food system is not broken, we are on a path of continuous growth and improvement. Innovation in the food industry is largely around food sourcing (organic, GMO, carbon footprints). To build credibility with consumers, farmers need to make sure consumers hear from the producers themselves. Greg Kearns, vice-president of Institutional Partnerships at Heifer International chimed in to then talk about the importance of social capital development and living incomes, two core values of Heifer International. Although some of their efforts are not direct nutrition interventions, there is a lot of potential for improving nutrition outcomes through their agricultural programs. There is also a lot of potential in scaling up programs without breaking budgets. This can be done through improved value chains in which relationships are strengthened, jobs are created, knowledge skills and assets are shared. Similar models are being used in the US too.

Before the Q&A, panelists discussed who should be responsible for nutritious foods. Should the farmers be leaders in creating a more nutritious food system? Is it consumer behaviors and practices that need to change? Krotz began the conversation by reminding us how consumers influence demand. Burkett agreed and reminded us of how “two years ago everybody was on kale”. Burdett talked about this from a city living perspective. He mentioned how a lot is consumer driven demand but at the same time also generations of folks who don’t have a connection to food and where it comes from. As a result, there is less cooking, more pre-packaged foods. He believes we need to pay closer attention to our education efforts.  We need to inform consumers of the importance of fresh, local produce for a healthy life. This will help drive the consumer demand. Rhodes wrapped it up by reminding us to try to predict what is the next thing people will be looking to buy and to educate the consumers about products they have never tried before. 


What are farmers thinking about in terms of soil health?

Zack – “soil is alive”, we need to be thinking about this. Amending soil after growth is needed and it isimportant to do it in a sustainable way (e.g. compost)

Krotz- “soil is a farmers life”, no matter how big or small, preserving the soil is key. 

Burkett – you learn early on that you must take care of the soil. 

Rhodes – local sourcing of compost would be ideal

How can restaurateurs build relationships with farmers?

Zack – growing specialty items for restaurants, farmers often seek out restaurants and see what they want to serve and the farmers can grow quality product for them

Burdett – “Green restaurants and caterers” can build interest in the community and help farmers build relationships with restaurants and even innovative relationships such as co-branding with distilleries. Or listen to the comment about processed foods not necessarily being the enemy. 

Krotz - Not all food is local, there are markets that can’t sell all their product locally, should not lose sight of the importance of that larger scale production too.

Sometimes restaurants drive consumer behaviors by showing them something new, demanding new things from local farmers.

Suggestion – do not shun processed foods – food science can be part of the solution!
Recent study on pesticides going up and GMOS not necessarily increasing yield. How do we reduce pesticide use?
Can we incentivize polyculture more (e.g. trees/hedges)?

Krotz - rain is needed for trees. Many parts of the country don’t have enough rain to sustain that. NYT times article was highly discredited – there were increased yields, decreased insecticides. GMO do help address a lot of our main issues. 

Rhodes – transparency is needed, consumers should know if it is GMO, regardless of the literature. 

10:00 am:

The second panel of the day started out with some fun connections between the 2016 elections and the Cubs World Series win. According to word on the street and Ambassador Quinn, there are two things that can bring unlikely alliances together – A Cubs win and the World Food Prize. We all care about the food system, regardless of our sports or political inclinations. Efforts to improve our food system resonate with many sides of the equation. The conversation was focus on how many opportunities, rather than challenges, there are when building alliances. For example, although we face many economic restraints, return on investment is high when it comes to food waste. Also, as Pereira put it, we have the opportunity to look into more ways to keep materials and nutrients flowing within our system. This can be done in large part via improved collaboration between business, non-profits and government. O’Neill followed-up with a great example of how you can find thing in common with others, rather than focusing on differences. As a hunger organization they see a lot of diet related issues among those who suffer from hunger. To address this, they created a model helps collect the type of food these people need, similar to a wedding registry. 

MacLennan introduced some of the hardships when building unlikely alliances.  When building new relationships there are often also contentious conversations. For example, when investing more efforts in reducing global deforestation, there were questions about profit loss. “If focusing on sustainability is more complicated and expensive, that is fine”, said MacLellan, it is part of Cargill’s mission.  “We need a constructive rather that destructive contention to make a difference”. On a similar note, Black mentioned how ending hunger is a US interest. Food security leads to international security. Also, with increasing middle-income families and transitioning food demands globally, the market will grow. 

The conversation was then open up to the audience. Some asked how we reduce food waste by using end products for new products (e.g. coffee). What are some innovative food waste strategies? What can we do with “ugly produce” and unlikely alliances? Vared alluded to the fact that retailers and food service shine a lot of opportunity for decreasing food waste by using the “ugly products” and Pereira reminded us of the importance of technologies such as anaerobic digestion, fuel sources and composting. With opportunities often come challenges. For example, legal issues continue to be a big challenge.  

More from the Q&A:

What are food organizations doing about transparency in these unlikely alliances?

MacLennan – when it comes to transparency about GMOs for example, we have some consumer products, and the new national labeling law will support the importance of knowing where food comes from. 

Does educating women play a role in food security and international security?

“Countries that succeed will be those that use all their human resources” – Ambassador Quinn

How do we tackle food waste with innovative partnerships?

Vared - We need better supply and demand forecasting. This is a key opportunity to reduce food waste. And when there is waste at the farm level, we need to ask how can we capture that food and re-package and re-purpose it so it does not go to waste. 

Ambassador Quinn – Farm to markets roads are key. Gives farmers the certainty they will be able to transport their crop to market and sell. Distribution is so important. 

What aspects can be done on a policy level to create more alliances for fewer pesticides and more organics in our food system?

Black - Private sector has a huge opportunity to get involved- e.g. Aflasafe, made by the private sector, now manufactured locally in Kenya. 

Ambassador Quinn - More money to public research is needed. Funding has been reduced but it is critical to deal with the challenges during the next 30 years. 

Now we are at the table, how do we make sure people at the table can be “trusted” and heard?

Vared – try a data driven approach to bring everybody to the table. Some folks want to focus on prevention and some others on cost-effectiveness. Data centered conversations help stay focused and find a common ground. 

Ambassador Quinn – difficult process but measure successes in small increments. 

Black – speaking in regards to the international stage, civil society organizations provide a voice to those often not heard. 

Do we need legislation or can we depend on good Samaritans for food waste reductions?

Pereira – we need both. Also, making an economic case helps. Food waste is energy and monetary waste. All of us are advocates. 

What would you advice be to president elect to improve our food system?

After some giggles…

Ambassador Quinn – clarity of what agricultural and food system should be aimed at. Borlaug would say ensure 900 million food insecure people be elevated to be food secure. 

Pereira - Need someone “intellectually aware” to advise the president elect on these issues

MacLennan – intelligent policy for agricultural and food trade is necessary

Ambassador Quinn – “Make America healthy again!” 

And that comment wrapped up the conversation with general agreement and laughter!

1:15 pm: Afternoon Keynote: Rick Bayless, Chef and Owner, Frontera 

Bayless, a renowned chef started out the second half of the summit with a little history of he fell in love with Mexico and its culture. In Mexico, where there was great food, there was great local agriculture. He wanted to see that in the US too. While trying to source local strawberries there were some laughs. But they still sourced strawberries from Michigan and were able to make a great assortment of strawberry desserts. This is when local sourcing and sustainable agriculture became a reality for him. And now? He has the Frontera Foundation, a non-profit that gives grants and invests in small farmers around the region to enhance the quality of life of people in the area. He strives on being both sustainable but also transparent regarding food sources. 

1:25 pm: Panel: Transparency in the Food System

Keynote: Juliette Majot, Executive Director, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)

Although focusing on the positive and what we are doing right is often preferred, it is equally important to talk about what we are not doing right. As Majot bravely put it: Why aren’t we hearing more about the election results? Why did our presidential candidates avoid talking about agriculture and our food systems? We lack courage to speak about where we find ourselves now. For example, our potential head of EPA saying pesticides are not an issue? Many saying climate change a hoax? Agriculture about to surpass transportation as a major source of pollution, yet very few people talking about this?  To be more direct, “Caution breeds the status quo”, said Majot.  For example, “Sarah Palin should not be the Secretary of the Interior!”. Two weeks ago we would have openly said that. Now we aren’t. Where is our transparency? Where is the transparency in our food system (e.g. clear labels that are accessible to all (i.e. no smartphone needed!)). “Our self-censoring is getting in the way of transparency”. Loud applause and a true wake-up call to us all. This is the time to use our voices.  

2:00 pm:

The third panel of the day was a great example of how the summit is addressing the some real food systems concerns, such as transparency, while also delivering concrete proposals to address some our main food system issues. One major transparency challenge is the unfortunate disconnect between reality and what labels suggest. An example of how labels are misinterpreted is “free range”.  Consumers often think these animals permanently roaming around outside when it instead this may just mean the chickens roam freely for some part of the day. Lehman talked about food labels and how they help us get to know farmers a bit better. She also brought up labor issues, a contentious and complicated topic within the food system. Many farm laborers are what we call “invisible” in the US. Farm laborers work long hours, at low wages and are often directly exposed to dangerous compounds such as pesticides. She encouraged us to consider the other side, to really think across the board when it comes to food production. 

Singh posed a follow-up question to all – is there a lack of transparency in agricultural labor? 

According to Mason, yes, there is a lack of transparency.  We need to de-mystify food. Should we bring back Home Ec? We need to target children earlier in life. If children understand what it takes to grow food, living wages will be more likely to become a reality. Singh then brought in the social media aspect of transparency. In the age of social media is it easier or harder to be transparent? Some expects such as Mason thinks social media not a main source for food info, while others such as Friedrich think social media could, and to some extent does, play an important role in food production transparency. He used “clean meat” as an example.  You may be wondering, what is “clean meat”? It is meat grown in a petri dish, antibiotics resistance gone, microbial issues not a problem, energy and environment (1/3 of inputs, can reduce climate change). Should this be live streamed?! What an exciting world we live in!

The conversation then covered additional challenges and accomplishment in our food system transparency. A major accomplishment according to Biannuci: We are all together here having this conversation! All panelists and the audience agreed this is anotable accomplishment. Friedrich then continued the conversation by mentioning how the public wants to know how food is produced and what is in their food. Twenty years ago, social media did not play a big role but now a lot of the organizations in this space use social media to mobilize the public. Mason talked about how we have made great progress getting the USDA and others on board. We are talking more about disadvantaged farmers and de-mystifying the food system. Lehman mentioned how we have made so much progress with organic food. It shows that transparency takes a lot of work. Organics require farmers to work hard to get certified and the consumer to pay more. There was a demand and it is driving the food system. As Baur nicely put it, we are both creatures of habit (sometimes fear change) and social animals (do what those around us do). Therefore, there is more potential to grow organic! Existing infrastructures can be re-purposed at the grassroots level (e.g. rooftop gardens in the Hamptons). Bahador wrapped up the question by reminding us of the double food pyramid – food on one side, environmental effect on the other. This type of tools helps de-mystifying sustainability. So do food sustainability indices. We can use these tools to measure sustainability goals across multiple countries. Lastly, dissemination of information is also important. Let’s consider partnering with journalists who want to cover these important, yet underreported issues.


Why don’t we talk about including “purpose” in the labels?

Friedrich - That would be great but there is also an issue of too much information. 

Baur – What is our relationship to other animals/plants? The more invasive we get, the more concerned we should get.  We tend to be an “arrogant species”. 

Transparency is increasing but environmental impact is not. How can we increase that without shaming?

Friedrich – must compete with the resource intensive foods. We all consider price, taste and convenience. People don’t buy based on sustainability. Would take a lot of education but probably more successful if we find ways to have sustainable products compete and appeal in terms of price, taste and convenience. 

Bianucci – some organizations and entities already focus on educating consumers on supporting farmers who implement sustainable practices. 

Should we focus on nutrition versus yield? Nutrition versus calories? Yield of the seed versus overall farm yield? Many questions to still consider. 

Water glass if half full – this is where the leadership is. What are the returns and where are the opportunities to collectively talk about transparency? Deterrents and opportunities to this 

Baur – changing out of our patterns of behavior is really difficult. But we are so social we can influence each other. For example, kids growing food together, making cooking a pleasurable experience. Once the patterns start shifting into healthier patterns we will see and uptake in the momentum.  Being social is both our obstacle and opportunity. 

Land grabs – lots of advocacy and commitment (e.g. zero deforestation, zero land grabs) also requires a lot of transparency but this is challenging for global supply chains. 

Biannucci – lots of organizations you can support (e.g. ICCR) that support this exact kind of transparency. 

Lehman – it takes a lot of money to monitor these types of changes. We need a way to finance these types of monitoring systems. 

4:15 pm:

No better way to end the day than to talk about the future of food. Where do we stand and what do we need to ensure our food system continues to be improved? Slama started out by mentioning some potential food policy changes we could expect from the incoming US administration.  Some of our food movements and environmental policies could be in jeopardy, therefore we must speak up! Harris agreed there may be policy implications with the new administration but that we have momentum and should not lose sight of that. Borschow agreed demand will not fluctuate much. Technologies, such as hydroponics, are changing the landscape and are often more sustainable (think lettuce!). Have to look into the best investments down the road. Harris spoke about the many advantages of shortening supply chains and strengthening regional supply chains. Supply chain changes can help consumers gain a better understanding of what is on their plate. Coleman mentioned how “even though organic is small in number it is big in thought”. There is a lot of potential in organic food production. Starmer mentioned one of the biggest challenges and opportunities we are already seeing in the food system:  there is a massive exodus of farmers, yet we also have a large interest in agriculture from a completely new group of people. Most importantly, she made us realize the word “rural” was left out of the conversation today. Although urban agriculture technologies are important, agriculture is still fundamentally a rural enterprise and we cannot forget that.  As she wonderfully put it, “We rise and fall with the success of rural America”.

Warshauer then transitioned the conversation to how we can approach, recognize and nurture innovation. Borschow and Slama chimed in to respond to this question . We have such a diverse group from uncommon backgrounds (e.g. doctors, engineers) joining agricultural efforts and bringing in a very different perspective. It is exciting to have fresh eyes and new perspectives on potential solutions to today’s problems.  


Seeds are often an issue, particularly amongst farmers in Africa, what can we do help local farmers acquire high quality seed?

Moon – financing is crucial to getting a hold of the right types of inputs. There are some organizations that function as lenders and special financing (low interest) loans. She also encouraged involving third parties in the negations to help with transparency and equality. 

Borschow – coops often more attractive to lenders. 

Harris – aggregation points help but financial literacy needs to be part of it too. 

How can we help farmers in poor countries deal with effects of climate change?

Borschow – their barriers to change are often lower. They can leverage technology, e.g. cell phone use for better information (e.g. climate, temperature, rainfall). Real time information helps them make more informed decisions. 

Slama – incorporating crop diversity and using the right type of agricultural system can help the health of the people and the planet. 

Coleman – soil quality can be a challenge, and one way to regenerate grasslands is with livestock, management practices are also vital. 

How do we concurrently scale-up and support biodiversity?

Harris – we should consider creating a menu around what the farmer is growing.  Part of the future is bringing in imperfect products in larger volumes. 

Coleman – help land grant universities go back to the days when they focused on helping local agriculture. 

Slama – Embracing wholesale where there is opportunity is key (like farmers market). They often run CSAs too.

What are the opinions on approaches to agricultural development in Africa?

Borschow – transportation/distribution is one of the biggest barriers in Africa but that also means there is a lot of potential and room for improvement. We should also the other side of things, developing smallholder farmers, which have huge impacts in feeding small, local communities. Both large scale distribution and smallholder farming are important.  

Moon – on one side we want to leverage the land in Africa, maximize its use, but at the same time we want to be thoughtful and consider livelihoods and incomes, in addition to the land itself. We need to focus on infrastructure such as storage. High yields have shown to be possible but without proper storage farmers often sell immediately at lower prices. 

Harris – We need to get rid of the “companies versus farmers” mentality. There needs to be collaboration. 

How do we educate people from the next generation on agriculture and sustainability?

Harris – cooking demonstrations

Starmer – local sourcing, bringing farmers in to talk to students, also taking students out to farms

Coleman – more exposure to farms 

by Daniel Stein

Daniel Stein is the content manager for Food Tank. Daniel received his B.A in Political Science from Lehigh University, with a focus on non-profit management, community development and participatory democracy. After a decade long journey through the local food system, mostly in New England, and recently in Virginia, Daniel has found a niche in using digital and social media to advance a message of sustainable food.

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