Food Tank, in partnership with the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, Farm-to-Fork Program, and University of California, Davis, is excited to announce the 1st annual Farm Tank Conference at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento on September 22–23, 2016. This two-day event will feature more than 35 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for interactive panels.
The event will feature interactive panels moderated by top food journalists, networking, and delicious food, followed by a day of hands-on activities and opportunities for attendees.
Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Matt Wadiak, Co-Founder, COO, and Executive Chef at Blue Apron, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Matt Wadiak (MW): As a young chef, I used to watch old culinary shows on PBS like The Galloping Gourmet, The Frugal Gourmet, and The French Chef. One of the shows I was particularly moved by was The Victory Garden, one of the first television programs about home gardening and home cooking. This show inspired me to start a garden in my backyard, and I have had a great interest in food, fresh ingredients, and cooking ever since. When I moved to California, after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, I was lucky enough to work at Oliveto, a restaurant that sourced from incredible local farms outside of San Francisco. While at Oliveto, I visited a lot of those farms, met the farmers, and cooked with their produce. Through these experiences, I developed a great appreciation for growing fresh produce and respect for the land on which these ingredients are grown.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
MW: In the modern agricultural system, many farmers do not have direct visibility into consumer demand. As a result, their best economic option is to farm the same commodity crops repeatedly, a practice that depletes their soil and increases their reliance on expensive and harmful inputs like pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer. This disconnect between consumer demand and farmer supply is one of the reasons why I consider our industrialized food system broken.
I believe we have an exciting opportunity to fix this issue by using technology to connect farmers directly with the end consumer. That philosophy and model is at the core of what we do at Blue Apron.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
MW: I think that there is a great opportunity today to create, through technology, a leaner food system that cuts out the various steps between the consumer and supplier. We can do this by implementing efficient platforms for e-commerce, streamlining logistics, and improving communication between farmer and chef. By chef, I don’t just mean chefs from the most prestigious restaurants, I mean people who work in institutional food to people who are cooking at home every week. Through the power of technology, we can integrate our food supply chain to connect demand and supply, and eliminate economic and food waste. Through these models, growers have a better understanding of how to get their produce to consumers faster and fresher.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
MW: That’s a tough question because I have so many food heroes! Of course, I’ve always been inspired by Alice Waters, as she defined the modern food movement. Another person I greatly admire is Bill Niman, a pioneer in the sustainable meat industry and a personal mentor. Bill has an inspiring dedication to his craft, which is to raise high-quality, sustainable meat with the utmost integrity. He understands that sustainability is about the quality of food. He taught me that in producing food that is delicious and accessible, you can simultaneously create the right protocols for animal welfare and the environment in an economically powerful way.
In addition to Bill and Alice, many of my food heroes are working at Blue Apron today, helping us create better food access for people all over the country.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
MW: I truly believe that our greatest natural resource is soil. We have more topsoil in America than the rest of the world combined, and we’re continuing to deplete this precious natural resource through the overuse of fertilizers and ammonium nitrates in our mono-crop food economy. We need a better economic food system that preserves our soil and our land. For example, we need to focus on working directly with farmers to align our consumption habits with healthier, more seasonal crop rotations that are better for the soil, farmers, and society at large.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with?
MW: As a result of agricultural industrialization, we have created a food system that may seem efficient at its core, but the externalities generated are much greater than we initially anticipated. We now have to deal with the negative environmental, economic, and societal effects of this. I do not think anyone who lived before the 1970s had to deal with the extent of these problems. That being said, I am hopeful and excited about the opportunities to solve these complex problems.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
MW: To really make a significant impact on our food system, we need to affect millions of acres of land, not just the land owned and operated by small growers. I think you attack that by getting to the core of the problem, which I believe is mono-cropping. We need to create a more diverse food system that reduces inputs to soil and moves towards seasonal crop production. To me, this is the number-one pressing issue that I’d like to see solved in the food system.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
MW: A very simple thing that everyone can do to make a big difference is to cook at home with seasonal, fresh ingredients.
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
MW: We need to eliminate the mono-crop mentality and start demanding diverse, seasonal produce that is grown on multi-year crop rotations. We need to implement creative solutions to reduce the harmful inputs used to grow food and work toward a system where agricultural outputs are greater than the inputs (e.g. we should be sequestering more carbon than we are adding to soil). We have a real opportunity to fight climate change through agriculture and I’d like to see our generation harness that power for the health and prosperity of the next one.
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?
MW: While we have made significant progress in addressing food waste in the U.S., I would like the next administration to build on the work that has been done to date, because I think we have a huge opportunity to make a real impact. In addition to food waste, I think that government needs to restructure our agricultural subsidies program toward crops that are better for us and for our environment. While this may not be something we can address in the near future, I think this is an area that needs attention and resources.
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