As I’m sure we’ve all noticed, the news does not dedicate much time or space to positivity. Optimism is bad for business. While news unquestionably provides an essential service, especially in times of crisis, I’ve found that coverage of this pandemic has delved too far into obsessive speculation. The onus is on us to know when it’s time, for our own well-being, to tune out, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to avoid such broadcasts when we need to. The problem with such speculation is that the response it evokes is not one of action, but rather one of apathy. We’re presented with an endless series of problems, but not given any indications that there are possible solutions. So, we turn inwards, away from each other and the world and seek to shelter ourselves as best as we can while ultimately feeling helpless.
That’s why I think it’s important to take note of the forward strides, those seismic and revolutionary innovations, and those organizations and individuals fighting for and forging a better future, sometimes literally out of thin air. And it’s all happening at a breakneck pace. Food insecurity and sustainability is one of the major problems facing our global community, and both COVID-19 and global warming will continue to exacerbate this issue, but we rarely hear about all that is being done to try to solve and prevent this crisis, so this list is comprised of companies working in this specific realm.
You may notice that many of them are based out of Europe – that wasn’t intentional. I think it’s just reflects how far ahead Europe is when it comes to food and agricultural innovation. I searched for Canada companies, organizations and innovations to add to this list but couldn’t find any. They may exist, but, if they do, they’re not receiving any attention from the national or international community.
iFarm is a Finnish company that is attempting to tackle the agricultural space crunch in our swelling, increasingly urban populations, by pioneering automated modular vertical farms that allow year long crop cultivation using much less resources. There are several small, home version of these vertical indoor gardens like Click and Grow but iFarm is much more ambitious, with an increasing selection of crops, and plans to enter the US Market in 2021 (hopefully Canada soon as well). They’ve also designed an app called Growntune which allows for automated management of your vertical garden. Their greens growing module has been installed in a few large Russian grocery store chains already, allowing customers access to incredibly fresh herbs and salads that are grown and stored in optimal conditions.
The world’s obsession with single use plastics is a huge contributor to environmental degradation and it contaminates our food with toxic, carcinogenic compounds. While there are many companies working to provide alternatives, Foodprint has been leading the pack with their sustainable plastic free packaging. Foodprint’s fully biodegradable molded fiber packaging significantly outperforms plastic and they’ve been rolling their product line out to several heavy hitters in the food and restaurant industries like MacDonalds and Pepsi. They also are the ones behind Beyond Meat’s packaging. Remember the six pack plastic rings that are notorious for ensnaring dolphins and other marine life? Foodprint created an alternative that is more durable but also dissolves in sea water in 12 hours, and that’s just one of their many innovations.
SolarFoods is another Finnish company, and their concept pitch seems wildly sci-fi even for 2020. Their main product, Solein, is an eatable protein powder made with a fermentation process that uses carbon dioxide, water, and (solar) electricity – so air basically. It takes a fraction of the resources that conventional proteins like meat and meat alternatives do. With some 40 percent of our habitable land being used for agriculture (this number is expected to increase) divorcing food production from the traditional land heavy and resource heavy processes is a radical, but entirely logical step forward and SolarFoods is on the leading edge.
Mushlabs is a bio-tech company from German that is harnessing the power of mushrooms to create a complete protein that rivals the taste, texture and flavour of meat, but is, of course, much more sustainable. Mushrooms are already a superstar in the vegan food world, but Mushlabs is taking it a step further by using the mycelia part of the mushroom (the root), and feeding it side streams of other agriculture industries (by products that may otherwise be just disposed of). The sidestreams ferment and multiply forming the protein texture. The process is over my head a bit, but regardless it sounds like an amazing and most likely tasty innovation.
The German start-up is still very early in the development, but it’s working on a revolutionary and intriguing concept. While the possibility of lab grown meat has been bouncing around for a while, this is the first I’ve heard of artificially grown dairy products. It appears that the milk protein product is made by fermenting a mixture of microorganisms and sugar, and, like lab grown meat, there’s seems to be some question of whether such a product qualifies as vegan, but regardless the innovation has the potential to greatly reduce the toxic and destructive animal agriculture industry.
The Glasgow based bio-tech company is addressing the global food crisis by developing a proprietary zero waste plant based mycoprotein called ABUNDA. Its process involves putting feed into a bioethanol refinery and then using aerobic fermentation to create the mycoprotein. The side streams created in the process are turned into fuel and feed instead of just waste. Again, the particulars of the science behind it are a bit over my head but it’s promising technology and, given the number of companies experimenting with aerobic fermentation, it’s safe to say that this is a process that’s going to be an instrumental part of the future of our food.
Real Food, Freshly Printed – that’s the slogan for Natural Machines’ 3D food printing device known as Foodini. This innovative use of 3D technology has the potential to elevate our food in fun and creative ways that previously would have been unthinkable. Imagine a meal that exists at the intersection of art, design and nutrition. While it comes with a set of pre-loaded templates, you can also use the Foodini Creator app to make your own design, so the possibilities are endless. I’d love to give this a try.
Food waste is a huge global issue and with food insecurity becoming more common, it’s unacceptable how much of our food is binned for ridiculous reasons. 20 billion pounds of imperfect or unharvested food is wasted every year. 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted. These are just a few of the shocking statistics cited by Full Harvest, a company that has dedicated itself to making sure that produce that is deemed too ugly/oddly shaped to sell (yes that’s a thing) is redirected to food and beverage companies who can still use it. It’s a boon to farmers who get additional income from the increased sellable yield and the companies save money by buying the cast-off produce. Everybody wins in this scenario!
TIPA is one of the leading designers and manufacturers of compostable packaging. Their focus is on the food and fashion industries, both being particularly problematic in their use of plastic packaging. TIPA vision was and is to create packaging that ultimately composts back to nature as nutrients. It’s important to note the distinction between compostable packaging and biodegradable packaging. Biodegradable just means that the product will break down eventually, but for something to be labelled compostable it has to break down within a certain time limit. That’s why TIPA is so unique – their product s compost in just 3-6 months!
Growing Underground is revolutionary urban farm project in the London suburb of Clapham that has the unique distinction of being one of, if not the only, underground farm in the world. Sitting 33 meters under the city streets, in an abandoned World War II air raid shelter, the hydroponic farm provides fresh salad leaves and micro greens to a growing number of wholesale outlets and restaurants in the UK. Because the farm is underground, there is no need for pesticides and the growth cycle is not dependent on weather or climate conditions. With the farm land crunch this is the kind of agricultural innovation we need to start implementing in cities all over the world.