Alison Grantham, Agroecologist and Director of Food Systems Research & Development at Blue Apron, will be speaking at the inaugural New York City Food Tank Summit, “Focusing on Food Loss and Food Waste,” which will be held in partnership with Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data (ReFED) and with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and The Fink Family Foundation on September 13, 2017.
Alison Grantham followed her passion for soils to a career in sustainable agriculture. Beginning in 2006 with research on soil carbon in forests at Harvard’s Long-Term Ecological Research station, Grantham went on to lead research on organic and sustainable agriculture at the Rodale Institute and managed Penn State Extension’s beginning farmer training program. In 2015, after completing a dual-title PhD focusing on improving nitrogen management in agriculture at Penn State, she joined Blue Apron. At Blue Apron, Grantham leads the Regenerative Agriculture initiative—developing standards, assessments, third-party technical assistance partnerships, and other tools and strategies to enhance Blue Apron’s farm partners’ growing practices.
Food Tank had the opportunity to talk with Grantham about her work at Blue Apron and what she sees as ways to improve our food system.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Alison Grantham (AG): Climate change. We must identify, quantify, and achieve both adaptation and mitigation wedges to overcome the grand challenges of agriculture: increasing food availability and accessibility while decreasing the environmental impact of producing that food.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
AG: Food. Agriculture and food are at the nexus of both mitigation and adaptation. The opportunities to adapt to climate change and create a more resilient food system are also opportunities to mitigate some of society’s emissions. From tweaks to transformations, there is no more important and engaging space to work than in re-
imagining food systems and driving change from farm to fork. That’s the opportunity we have a Blue Apron and I could not be more excited to be part of it.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
AG: Jane Goodall. She modeled how powerful careful observation of the natural world can be for our collective knowledge. Her dedication to conservation and biodiversity preservation continues to inspire me as a scientist, citizen, and mother.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
AG: Shortening supply chains, increasing dialogue between growers and eaters, filling in the empty spaces, and moving from synthetic nitrogen to biological nitrogen fixation.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero who inspired you?
AG: Michelle Wander. Dr. Wander is a soil scientist who wrote her dissertation about the soil carbon dynamics in the Farming Systems Trial at the Rodale Institute in the 1990s, which is where I first began to understand the connection between cropping system diversity and soil health. She inspired my own scientific trajectory to understand the ecology and biogeochemistry of agriculture and food systems. She also inspired my ongoing work to improve our management of the stocks and flows of carbon and nitrogen in agriculture and society to try to get more in the soil and less in the atmosphere.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
AG: Excessive animal protein consumption drives simplification of agricultural systems and diets, leading to excessive corn and soy cultivation in the United States and globally. These simple cropping systems depend on inputs to achieve productivity, leading to soil degradation, excessive greenhouse gas emissions, water quality degradation, and water regulation issues. Shifting to greater direct consumption of grains can alleviate these pressures and will allow rotational space to shift from synthetic nitrogen to biological nitrogen fixation.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
AG: Eat whole, minimally-processed plant foods. Only eat livestock that expands the global food supply.
The NYC Food Tank Summit is now sold out. Register HERE to watch the livestream on Facebook. A few tickets remain for the Summit Dinner at Blue Hill Restaurant with a special menu from Chef Dan Barber. Apply to attend HERE. If you live in New York City, join us on September 14 for our FREE outdoor dance workout led by Broadway performers called Garjana featuring many great speakers raising awareness about food waste issues. Register HERE.