The food system is entering a new frontier, according to the Refresh: Food and Tech, from Soil to Supper, a new report launched on November 7th, 2018. Published by the Refresh Working Group—a group made up of farmers, small business owners, researchers, corporate partners, nonprofit leaders, educators, community organizers, and innovators—the report outlines the ways technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning will change the food system.
The report assembles nine months of research and discussions with farmers, small business owners, corporations, nonprofits, and researchers to outline how technology will transform the food system: in data-driven farming, livestock raising, grocery shopping, food access, and public health. And the report features profiles from leaders and innovators in food and technology, including agricultural engineer Amanda Ramcharan and FARMWAVE creator Craig Ganssle.
The publication of the report officially recognizes the new Refresh Working Group, which includes Google, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Food Tank, “It is great to see a large technology company working at the grassroots level to help enrich dialogue about the role technology can play—both good and bad—in the food system,” says Danielle Nierenberg, President and co-founder of Food Tank.
According to the Working Group, technology will change the game along the entire food system. On farms, AI and machine learning may bring increased certainty to farmers in predicting hurdles such as weather, pests, and commodity price fluctuations. Cameras and apps could help small and mid-scale farmers detect disease, pathogens, and weeds across their fields in seconds.
Technology also has the potential to create a more sustainable and equitable food system, according to the report. Online grocery delivery is bringing fresh, healthy food to people who lack access to grocery stores; technology is also helping grocery stores limit their contributions to the 30–40 percent of food that goes to waste nationwide. For consumers, AI powered platforms and apps are making it easier to improve overall health, tracking diet-related diseases as they occur and detecting risk early.
However, according to the report, technology will not create an equitable food system on its own; achieving food security requires policy and economic solutions to issues such as poverty, racial inequality, and gender inequality. And, innovations must reach the hands of those who need it most—leaders must provide affordable, user-friendly, and accessible technology to everyone.
The Refresh Working Group is made up of more than 30 farmers, small business owners, researchers, corporate partners, nonprofit leaders, educators, community organizers, and innovators working across the food system to examine the intersection of technological innovation and food. Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg is also part of the Group. The project is funded by Google and led by Swell Creative Group. The 2018 Refresh Report is the first report in what they expect to be a series of discussions around the group’s goal to leverage technology and create a more sustainable, scalable, and equitable food system.