Justin Kamine, managing member of Kamine Development Corporation, and Co-Founder and Partner of KDC Ag, 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.
Kamine aims to grow technologies that actively transform the agriculture world, creating a more sustainable food supply chain, eliminating food and plastic waste, and developing solar projects. KDC Ag is working to find innovative solutions to eliminate food waste and increase sustainable farming, while KDC Solar has built up more than 75 megawatts of solar operational. Additionally, Kamine has partnered with Mark Cuban via shark tank, Howard G. Buffet, and Ann Veneman former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Kamine serves on the board of California Safe Soil, is an investor into Aerofarms, and is an advisor to Food Future. He was recently the winner of the Clean Tech Equity Award, presented by the Prince of Monaco, for the most environmentally progressive technology.
Food Tank spoke with Kamine about his inspiration to change society by creating a better, healthier food system.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Justin Kamine (JK): It was a combination of two things, the dynamic and the growth of the family business. It started off in infrastructure back in the mid-80s, with the construction of many natural gas, co-gen facilities. We then developed, owned, and operated large-scale telecom infrastructure. After my brother and I graduated college, 7 to 10 years ago, we wanted to take the family development team and focus it onto sustainable technologies that we could scale to an infrastructure level. Having that background and growing up in that family business dynamic, where our father was developing, owning, and operating large-scale infrastructure, really motivated us and showcased to us the impact that large scale infrastructure could have on society. We could have a monumental impact on creating a more sustainable society, that is what we really focused on.
FT: What continues to inspire you to be involved in this work?
JK: It isn’t a matter of should we be changing society, but that we need to be changing our society and creating a better, healthier food system. Increasing efficiency, reducing waste, and utilizing the food waste that cannot be eliminated to its maximum benefit. We focused our efforts on increasing soil health and improving our animal health, all while reducing chemicals and reducing our reliance on corn and soy. We think society needs to move toward the notion of a circular economy, where waste streams are utilized as beneficial products rather than waste. It is a tremendous initiative, but it is one well worth the shift.
FT: What do you think is the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
JK: It is actually pretty interesting, our technology eliminates food waste by digesting that waste within three hours, leaving a product that can be put back into the soil or into an animal the very next day. It is a pretty large initiative. Completely eliminating food waste is a huge opportunity, and that is our goal. We currently waste so much food, and that translates to wasting the time and resources that go into that food. It then goes to landfills and creates greenhouse gasses. It is just a completely inefficient cycle. With climate change and the significance of what is occurring around the world, we need to create a more circular economy. Consumers in the U.S. have become so accustomed to throwing out large volumes of food, technology like ours can make monumental shifts over five years.
FT: What is the most pressing issue you would like to see solved?
JK: It is a combination of two things, the U.N. came out with a report that said there are 50 more years left of nutrients in the ground to grow our crops. That is pretty concerning given that I am 28. Yet many farmers, rightfully so, are most concerned making their profits for that year and making sure that their land continues to produce. I look at soil health and farmer productivity as two key components of this entire thing. One interesting thing that KDC Ag is doing is creating a liquid fertilizer product that is drastically increasing soil health and drastically increasing farmers profitability and productivity, at a cost competitive price.
FT: What made you choose to apply your family based knowledge to this field of work?
JK: Six years ago, we invested in a new company that had an idea to combat and eliminate food waste. The CEO, who we knew through CIT Energy and Infrastructure, had inherited a distressed waste to energy facility where they were burning food waste. Food, by nature, is 75 percent water, and he realized that food waste is not a good fuel source. He developed a new thesis explaining the process for disposing of food waste that mimicked the human digestive process. The human body is amazingly efficient at breaking down food to the nutrient level, so why can’t we develop technology to mimic the three-hour human digestive process and then scale it to an infrastructure level? To prove this product in the soil, this CEO, a field biology major, worked with UC-Davis and a bunch of growers in California. We continued to invest into the company and once it got to an infrastructure level, and was fully proven in the soil, as a technology, and a process, the opportunity came for us to put our team and resources behind this, deploying the technology on an infrastructure level across the U.S.
FT: Do you have a specific food hero that inspired you?
JK: I don’t have necessarily a food hero, although what originally sparked my interest and real obsession was the notion of biomimicry, the belief that nature, through resilience, ingenuity, creativity, and thousands of years of adaptation, can create things efficiently and utilize all resources. Eben Bayer, from a company called Ecovative, gave a TEDTalk on his company about seven years ago. It was the notion of using mushrooms mycelium, which is a component of mushrooms, to grow a product that actually looks and feels like styrofoam, but that was actually 100-percent mushroom, that I thought was so ingenuitive. He really sparked my interest in looking at systems and figuring out how to mimic the characteristics found within nature with 21st-century technology.
FT: What is one thing that every person can do in their daily lives to make a big difference?
JK: It is a combination many things, we can start by becoming educated about food through events like Food Tank is hosting to learn about the entire system. When you look at the global effects of the agriculture market, just beef alone is well above most other industries in climate change effects. So we should all tailor our diets to that. I try to eat beef just once a week. I think that as we as consumers can continue to vote with our pocket book as to what type of foods that we want. Also, demand transparency from the big corporations. We have started to see a monumental shift and significant growth of localized and healthier food from voting with our pocket books. That is changing the way bigger corporations are starting to look at how to feed society.
Hear more from Justin on technical solutions to food waste, Watch his TED EX Presentation here.
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.