25 Food and Agriculture Leaders to Watch in 2019

In 2019, Food Tank is recognizing 25 inspirational individuals who are working tirelessly to transform our food system. These leaders are bettering the food system in a variety of ways. From tech to farming to activism, they have diverse backgrounds, but their commitment to innovation in food and agriculture unites them.

Contributing Authors: Mackenzie Dion and Kirby Barth

This week, Food Tank is recognizing 25 inspiring individuals who are working tirelessly to fix the food system. From technology in farming to advocacy and activism, they all have diverse backgrounds, but their commitment to innovation in food and agriculture unites them. These are the folks who are changing what and how we eat and how we farm around the globe.

Allison Kopf (Founder and CEO of Agrilyst)

Alison Kopf is the Founder and CEO of Agrilyst. Agrilyst is a web-based software platform that aims to improve indoor farming. Through the Agrilyst platform, farmers can manage their crops and gain data-driven insights to improve profits. Kopf was also a mentor at Square Roots, an urban farming company in Brooklyn. Forbes recognized Kopf in their 2018 30 Under 30 list for her contributions to the food industry

Chiara Cecchini (Co-Founder and U.S. Director of Future Food Institute)

Chiara Checchini is the U.S. Director and Co-founder of the Future Food Institute (FFI). FFI offers international training projects and other support to promote innovation, in the hopes of creating a more equitable world and sustainable food system. Chiara also works with food-related organizations including GrassRoots Hub, the World Economic Forum, and the Barilla Center Food Nutrition Foundation. She recently created Feat, a company that aims to make wellness accessible and fun for larger organizations.

Daniel Beckmann, PhD (Co-Founder and CEO of Foodshed.io)

Daniel Beckmann is the Co-Founder and CEO of Foodshed.io, an app working to make local food distribution more efficient. Foodshed.io uses blockchain technology to connect sustainable producers with wholesale markets. Launched in January of 2018, the app allows purchasers, such as restaurants and institutions, to access local products and order from several farmers. Before founding Foodshed.io, Beckmann was a media entrepreneur, and he has received both a Peabody Award and an Emmy for his journalism.

Danielle Gould (Founder of Food + Tech Connect, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Alpha Food Labs )

As the founder of Food + Tech Connect, Danielle Gould connects and strengthens the community of food innovators. Food + Tech Connect hosts events, and they offer resources such as a job board, a newsletter, and interviews with food technology leaders. Food + Tech Connect has recently focused on the importance of biodiversity, and they are working to unite people addressing this issue and share their stories. Gould is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Alpha Food Labs, a company that crafts innovation strategies and designs new food and beverage products. Gould is a founding member of the Culinary Institute of America’s Business Leadership Council, and she is a member of the Google Innovation Lab for FoodExperiences.

Domenico Dentoni, PhD (Associate Professor and Researcher at Wageningen University)

Domenico Dentoni is an Associate Professor and researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He conducts research with managers of agri-food companies, farmers’ associations, civil society organizations, policy-makers, consumers, and citizens. His work covers farmer entrepreneurship, seafood, and consumer perceptions of sustainable food. Dentoni believes complex problems in agriculture are best addressed through partnerships.

Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton (Co-Founders of the Lexicon of Sustainability and the Lexicon of Food)

Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton founded the Lexicon of Sustainability and the Lexicon of Food to increase acceptance of sustainable ideas in order to better address climate change. Gayeton is a multimedia artist, filmmaker, writer, and photographer, and Howard-Gayeton is Executive Director of the Lexicon, a social entrepreneur, and founder of Laloo’s, the first goat’s milk ice cream in the United States. The Lexicon seeks to help people better understand the language of sustainability and build partnerships around regenerative values in food, agriculture, and water. Gayeton and Howard-Gayeton are leading the Lexicon’s Rediscovered Food Initiative, a project that tells the stories of leaders who are feeding their communities with forgotten “super crops”. The couple leads their organizations from their goat farm in California.

Edie Mukiibi (Vice President of Slow Food International and Executive Director of Slow Food Uganda)

Edie Mukiibi is the Vice President of Slow Food International and Executive Director of Slow Food Uganda. The Slow Food Movement is a grassroots movement seeks to create a food system that is “good, clean, and fair”. Mukiibi believes in the power of young people to improve Africa’s food system. Mukiibi leads the Developing Innovations in School and Community Gardens (DISC), a project to encourage sustainable agriculture among Ugandan youth. He also leads Slow Food’s 10,000 Garden’s in Africa which seeks to empower African communities in food production and educate younger generations about food and agriculture.

Haile Thomas (Founder and CEO of HAPPY, Health Coach, Activist)

At the age of twelve years old, Haile Thomas founded HAPPY (Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth), a non-profit that works with children in underserved communities by implementing programs that prevent health issues and empowers people to make healthy lifestyle choices. She teaches plant-based nutrition and culinary education. Thomas has personally engaged over 15,000 kids since 2010, and she also has a large Instagram following and a popular podcast.

Ido Verhagen (Founder and Executive Director of the Access to Seeds Foundation)

Ido Verhagen is the founder and Executive Director of the Access to Seeds Foundation, a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands. Verhagen believes in the importance of increasing access to diverse seeds to make the food system more sustainable. The Access to Seeds Foundation publishes and maintains the Access to Seeds Index, which reviews seed companies based on their efforts to improve access to quality seeds that are available in varieties suitable for small farmers.

Isha Datar (Executive Director of New Harvest)

Isha Datar is an expert in cellular agriculture and making animal products without using animals. Datar has been researching and increasing the prevalence of cellular agriculture since 2009. She co-founded Muurfri to make milk without cows and Clara Foods to make eggs without chickens. Datar is also the Executive Director of New Harvest. New Harvest is an organization strengthening the field of cellular agriculture through funding and conducting research, uniting the cellular agriculture community, and educating the public and stakeholders.

Jennifer Broutin Farah (Founder and CEO of Sproutsio)

Jennifer Broutin Farah has spent her career focused on increasing the sustainability of urban systems and modernizing food production. As the founder and CEO of Sproutsio, Farah develops innovative technologies that reshape how people interact with food. Sproutsio offers an automated indoor growing system that allows people to grow vegetables year round. Customers are able to personalize their produce based on their flavor preferences, and they can manage their vegetables’ growth with the Sproutsio app. Before founding Sproutsio, Broutin Farah worked for New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation to develop a “vertically integrated greenhouse” system. For her master’s thesis, Broutin Farah created an indoor aeroponic system that she introduced to a middle school in partnership with Boston Public Schools.

Jose Oliva (Co-Director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance)

Jose Oliva is the Co-Director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, a coalition of worker-based organizations striving to build a more sustainable food system. They envision a food system where everyone has access to healthy and affordable food and workers’ rights are respected. Oliva has been advocating for the rights of workers in different roles throughout his career, including founding the Chicago Interfaith Workers Center in 2001, running the Center for Community Change’s worker justice program in 2008, and holding various leadership roles at the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. Before becoming Co-Director of FCWA, he served on the Board of Directors from 2010-2012. Oliva has been recognized for his work with the 2017 James Beard Leadership Award and the 2018 American Food Heroes Award from Eating Well Magazine.

Komal Ahmad (Founder and CEO of Copia)

Komal Ahmad is the founder and CEO of Copia. Ahmad believes in the possibility of a world without hunger and argues that hunger is not a scarcity problem, but instead, a logistics problem. With their technology platform, Copia helps businesses redistribute high-quality excess food to people in need. Since founding Copia, Ahmad has received numerous awards for her work. Notably, Ahmad was on the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 list and the University of California’s 30 Under 30 Global Food Changemaker list.

Leah Penniman (Founding Co-Director of Soul Fire Farm, Author, Educator, Farmer, Activist)

Leah Penniman is an educator, farmer/peyizan, author, and food justice activist. Penniman co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2011 and she focuses on ending racism in the food system. As Co-Director of Soul Fire Farm, Penniman leads food sovereignty programs such as farmer training for people of color, a subsidized farm food distribution program for people living under food apartheid, and domestic and international organizing toward equity in the food system. Penniham recently released Farming While Black, a book that provides people with African heritage a guide to small-scale farming.

Marie Haga (Executive Director of The Crop Trust)

Marie Haga is the Executive Director of the Crop Trust, an organization that supports international genebanks that preserve the diversity of food crops. Through Crop Trust, Haga promotes the importance of biodiversity in creating a sustainable food system both through conserving plant species and diversifying our diets. She has held a variety of leadership positions in Norway’s government and in non-governmental organizations such as the Norwegian Air Ambulance. Haga is optimistic about the food system because she says crop diversity presents great opportunity for innovations and that preserving biodiversity is feasible.

Marta Antonelli (Manager, Research Programme at the Barilla Center of Food Nutrition Foundation)

Marta Antonelli is the manager of the Research Programme of the Barilla Center of Food Nutrition (BCFN) Foundation. Prior to her position with the BCFN Foundation, Antonelli worked with organizations such as the Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change, University of Roma Tre, University IUAV of Venice, and the Swiss Federal Institute for Aquatic Science and Technology. In addition to her manager position at BCFN Foundation, she is a Research Fellow at the University of Siena in the Department of Social, Political, and Cognitive Sciences.

Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman, and Nathaniel Ru (Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of Sweet Green)

Sweet Green Co-founders Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman, and Nathaniel Ru met in college. They shared a desire for healthy, delicious food that could be served and priced similarly to traditional fast food. Eleven years later, their company, Sweet Green, is valued at over US$1 billion dollars and has 90 restaurants. Values drive their success, for Sweet Green seeks to build healthy communities, promote real food, support small and mid-size farmers, and maintain transparency.

Nick Green (Co-Founder and CEO of Thrive Market)

Nick Green is the Co-Founder and CEO of Thrive Market, an online grocery store that delivers high-quality food from values-driven companies to its members. Green founded Thrive Market to increase access to healthy food for people experiencing both financial and geographical limitations. Thrive Market caters toward mindful shoppers; members can select products based on various characteristics such as vegan, nut-free, women-owned, and carbon neutral. Through their membership program, members can purchase products at 25-50 percent off retail prices, and every paid membership sponsors a membership for someone who could not afford it otherwise.

Pasi Vainikka (Founder and CEO at Solar Foods)

As Founder and CEO of Solar Foods, Pasi Vainikka applies his background in renewable energy to innovative protein production. Before founding Solar Foods, Vainikka led Finland’s largest renewable energy research project. Solar Foods emerged from this research and Vainikka developed its product, Soilein. Produced with just water, carbon dioxide, nutrients and vitamins, and renewable energy, Solein is a source of protein that is 100 times more environmentally sustainable than animal and plant-based alternatives

Regina Anderson (Executive Director of the Food Recovery Network)

Regina Anderson is the Executive Director of the Food Recovery Network, the largest student movement fighting food waste and hunger in America. Anderson has been focusing on social justice issues through her work in the nonprofit sector for over a decade. She believes the nonprofit sector is fit to address complex problems such as food waste. Anderson works with the FRN team, businesses, public institutions, and many other partners toward creating a norm of food recovery in higher education.

Renske Lynde (Co-Founder and Managing Director of Food System 6 Accelerator)

Renske Lynde is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of the Food System 6 Accelerator. Food System 6 hosts a 16-week accelerator program for entrepreneurs trying to improve the food system. Lynde has been working in the non-profit sector and with higher education to improve the system for about 20 years. She has worked for the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, directed Advocacy and Research for the San Francisco Food Bank, and been a Visiting Fellow at the UC Berkeley’s Food Institute.

Rita Kimani and Peris Bosire (Co-Founders of FarmDrive)

Rita Kimani and Peris Bosire have been friends since their first day at the University of Nairobi. As children, both Kimani and Bosire watched their families and communities struggle to succeed in agriculture. In college, they discovered their passion for helping smallholder farmers, and they founded FarmDrive after graduating. With mobile phones, alternative data, and machine learning, FarmDrive creates a system of alternative credit scoring for smallholder farmers to give them access to loans. This service gives the smallholder farming industry access to millions of dollars, and consequently, it improves the communities and reduces inequalities where these farmers live.

Sam Polk (Co-Founder and CEO of Everytable, Founder of FEAST, Author)

Sam Polk is the Co-Founder and CEO of Everytable, a restaurant chain that aims to redefine the food landscape by offering nutritious food at fast-food prices in under-resourced neighborhoods. Polk is also the founder and Executive Director of FEAST (Food Education Access Support Together), a non-profit working at the intersection of hunger and obesity. Polk recently released his memoir, For the Love of Money, which tells the story of his departure from a lucrative Wall Street career in pursuit of bettering the world, specifically the food system.

Sophie Ackoff (Vice President of Policy and Campaigns at the National Young Farmers Coalition)

Sophie Ackoff is the Vice President of Policy and Campaigns at the National Young Farmers Coalition. NYFC is a network of young farmers advocating for an economically and environmentally sustainable future in agriculture. At NYFC, Ackoff works with young farmers to become involved with shaping state and federal policy. She also leads NYFC’s digital and grassroots campaign work and manages their chapter, corporate, partner, and membership programs. Before joining NYFC, Ackoff farmed on vegetable farms in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Teun van de Keuken (Founder of Tony’s Chocolonely, Journalist)

Teun van de Keuken was a journalist investigating abuses in food production for a television program when he learned that slavery still exists throughout the chocolate industry. After various attempts at activism, van de Keuken founded Tony’s Chocolonely, a chocolate company with the mission of ending modern slavery and child labor in chocolate production. Tony’s Chocolonely strives toward this goal with its Open Chain Platform, an open source platform that provides supply chain transparency and the ability to address labor issues.

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