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Giving food a second chance. Why upcycled food is better for you, the environment, the economy, and your taste buds. (Updated Visuals ver.3)

Closed-looped food-upcycling systems make food healthier and more sustainable - pushing forward the environment & nutrition justice movement

Photo of Ashwin Goutham Gopi

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Rise Products Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Genessee County Economic Development Corporation, Empire State Development, GROW-NY, AB InBev, NY Craft Malt, Runner & Stone Bakery, Delicious Solutions, Eli Fish, New York Beer Project, Flying Bison Brewery, Coyote Logistics, Big Ditch Brewing Company, Food-X

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

New York City

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Western New York

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We originally created a successful closed-loop upcycling system between breweries and bakeries in NYC. However, we hit our capacity, and found it expensive to grow. We needed to move out of the city and were looking for partners in upstate NY. We serendipitously met our collaborators in the back of a brewery in Bushwick, at an unlicensed beer festival, where he mentioned in passing that he has the exact equipment we needed sitting unused in his barn. Ted and Patty at NY Craft Malt grow, malt, and source barley from this region and from surrounding counties in Western New York. They supply to local breweries as well as other breweries in the state. It is a family-owned and run operation, with Ted and Patty having deep roots in the area.  New York Craft Malt was the first malthouse to register in Genesee County since the prohibition, and have been on the forefront of craft malting for local breweries in New York State ever since. Working with Rise Products, Inc. they have diversified their product line and upgraded and added to their production equipment. They believe that a strong agricultural industry is good for the farm and food industry and directly benefits not only the economy of the state but of hundreds of local communities as well. With abundant skilled but under-employed agricultural and food-industry workers, and the availability of under-utilized infrastructure, Genessee County is the ideal place to set up a food upcycling system. Being located between urban centers, and among farms and food and beverage plants, it will benefit from the economic and social benefits that a closed-loop system brings. There is already a strong culture of sustainability, a love for the land, and support from the local government so we are confident in implementing it. Furthermore, the Genesee County Community College provides access to faculty and students trained in the fields of agriculture, food-processing, and biotechnology.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

With a population of about 57,000 people, Genessee is one of the smaller counties in the Western NY region. This area previously flourished due to the dairy industry. However in the last twelve years, there has been an economic downturn since the processing plants shut down. This has resulted in a lot of abandoned factories and facilities, many of which are in excellent condition, and available at a low cost. Water, electricity and natural gas is abundant and cheap. Unemployment runs slightly higher in Genesee County than the state average: 4.6% compared to 3.6% with a poverty rate of just over 12%. It is important to note that one of the largest employers in Genesee County is Darien Lake Theme Park. However, the park is only open from May through October - the jobs are this seasonal, hourly, mostly part-time and the average pay is around $8 per hour. Genessee county has a primarily agriculture-based economy. There are 35,000 farms in New York State and 99% of them are family owned. Farming and craft brewing is closely tied to New York state’s agricultural industry. Since passage of the farm brewing bill in 2011 - which requires that farm brewers use a percentage of locally grown ingredients in their beer, many of these farms, particularly in Genesee County, have begun growing malting barley. Further, craft brewers - who are not bound by the farm brewing bill - see the value of using locally grown ingredients and are including New York State grown grains, hops, honey, and other adjuncts in their beer. That is why there is a strong culture of beer in the region, with craft brewers taking pride in what they make and what they make it with. They love talking about, sharing it, and meet every month at the Beer Project brewery to share their latest creations. They are a very humble bunch who do not boast of their beers, though they are on-par or better than many urban craft breweries. The signature dish of the region is a sandwich called Beef on Weck. It features thinly cut slices of rare local roast beef, on a Kummelweck roll - a kosher salt and caraway seed-topped bun of German descent, dipped in au jus and a dollop of horseradish. Like the Old Bay seasoning on crabs in the Mid-Atlantic region, the kosher salt is added in the hope that it makes the patrons thirsty, motivating them to buy more drinks. This folksy tradition demonstrates the tongue-in cheek ingenuity, loyalty to locally sourced ingredients, and the importance of cultural heritage of the local populace. The city and town of Batavia, the largest in the county, sits right in the middle of Buffalo and Rochester. It boasts the country's first business incubator, being the capital of the state for one day in July 2001, and the hometown of LGBT and Environmental activist David S. Buckel. My first impression of Batvia was - COLD! I visited during the snowstorm in January 2019, and the extreme weather conditions almost pushed our truck off the road. It made me realize how hardy the people were.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

In 2020, the biggest challenge is economic. Due to the demand pull of businesses, farmers switch to crops that address their personal financial needs, rather than the nutritional requirements of the local populace. In the case of breweries, they incentivize more farmers to grow barley, which then end up in expensive and nutritiously inefficient beer. Farmers here also grow government-subsidized crops such as wheat and GMO corn, the latter for high-fructose corn syrup, animal feed, and ethanol. Due to the false cost of landfills, its becomes cheaper to just throw away the rest of the post-harvest or post-processing plant matter. This results in increased CO2 & Methane. More food has to be shipped in from longer distances, causing them to become expensive and energy-inefficient. As more farms become automated and consolidated, the rural population drops even lower, and the remaining people depend on large corporations such as Walmart or Amazon for employment. In addition, upcycled food has a negative connotation, and people avoid it out of fear of the unknown. In 2050, the biggest challenge is the effects of climate change. For Western New York, this means harsher winters, hotter summers, unpredictable and stronger wind patterns, longer freezing and thawing times of water, changes in migratory patterns of birds and fish, death of bees and other pollinating insects, and the rise of new and stronger strains of diseases. The effects on human beings is devastating, with quality of life dropping, childhood malnutrition increasing, population growing, and nutritious and healthy food getting rarer and more expensive. Due to perennially frozen rivers, unpredictable wind conditions and increased cloud-cover, sustainable sources of energy such as hydro-electric, wind and solar become unfeasible. This means natural gas and nuclear energy are the only options Western New York has left. Since the effects are global and varied, governments find it difficult to solve problems at a local level. States fragment into smaller enclaves, where the local populace fend for themselves through energy-intensive indoor farming. As grazeable land reduces, more livestock is moved indoors, where they suffer the harsher conditions of automated factory farming. A lack of sustainable protein source results in childhood protein malnutrition, which affects their mental and physical development. Climate change also affects human migration patterns, as people move from less to more favorable climates. This increases conflict between groups, more in-group identification, and lack of cohesion between social classes. Thus, indigenous agricultural practices do not cross cultural group lines, siloing knowledge. Practices determined by corporations rather than scientists become the dominant method, leading to inefficient and wasteful resource-use. Humans eventually move underground and live off geothermal energy for the next few centuries.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

2020: Our vision is to create a food-upcycling system in Western New York, that can then serve as a model for other communities. By connecting food manufacturers, processors, growers and buyers in a closed-loop, we can reduce food-waste and create new and interesting opportunities both economically and from a nutrition/culinary perspective. Upcycling is a new industry that can draw upon existing skills and infrastructure with an infusion of creativity and ingenuity. This means that with very little resources, a working system can be established. The processing equipment and processes, logistics solutions, and product demand all already exist, they just need to be connected in new and interesting ways. Working with New York Craft Malt, we can create a closed-loop system with local breweries where spent grain can turn into a flour that can satisfy local demand for plant-based protein and prebiotic fiber. Other such closed-loop systems can be set up with other stakeholders, such as between juice-manufacturers and snack food companies, and soymilk makers with gluten-free bakers. The logistics and intermediary stabilization processes are very similar, making it easy to translate a successful model into other communities. Rather than adopt a centralized and consolidated approach to manufacturing, a modular and distributed system allows us to solve local problems and engage with local stakeholders. In the case of Western New York, this involves the local economic development corporation, breweries, food-manufacturers, logistics providers, and talent from local universities. 2050: On a broader level, our vision addresses climate change in multiple ways. A closed-loop system diverts food waste from the landfill, where they would have otherwise turned into atmospheric carbon dioxide, or more likely and much worse due to anaerobic digestion - methane. By bringing it back into the human food-chain, we can also depend on upcycled ingredients as a sustainable source of food. This reduces our reliance on virgin agriculture, which means less water, fuel, and land use. The trucks that used to carry waste one way and drive back empty are no longer required. In addition, we can convert previous farms and landfills into carbon-traps using the best sustainable and solar-powered carbon-capturing technology we know of - Trees. Converting farmlands into trees also has the added benefit of preventing soil erosion, especially in water-drainage areas. Even if not disposed in landfills, organic waste is most likely to be diverted to compost yards and as animal feed. While this may seem efficient, a cow needs seven calories to produce one, and the rest is lost as methane. By propagating an upcycled plant-based source of nutrition, we can positively incentivize individuals and organizations to address local climate, agricultural, and nutritional needs by providing new opportunities to bring back lost material value into their communities.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

2020: An organic upcycling facility opens in Batavia, NY - the first of its kind. From the start, it creates five new jobs, drawing on the talent of previous dairy industry employees in the region. The employees and their families do not move to Rochester or Buffalo, but establish deeper roots in their hometown. As waste from breweries and other beverage manufacturers do not have to be sent to the landfill anymore, the trucks do not have to travel far, and travel back empty. This also creates new opportunities in the food logistics industry, and a new reverse-logistics system is created. Ted and Patty send their malted barley to the breweries, and the same trucks then bring back spent grain from the breweries. They then turn it into a flour, that they then sell to a local baker. The local baker now has to buy less flour from virgin agriculture, and the nutritional content of his products improve. They are now low-carb, high protein and high fiber. This in turn has a positive effect on the health and well-being of this customers. 2050: The use of land for farming and landfills has decreased. Byproducts are immediately circulated back into the supply chain of human nutrition, with inedible parts of the plant turning into packaging materials. Brewers now grow and malt barley on premises. They now have a solid and liquid line of products, with flexible food-manufacturing processes that produce a variety of local favorites. As people switch to an upcycled plant based diet, the local livestock population has decreased, and ones still left are free to graze. The skies are clearer since the CO2 is captured in trees planted over the decades. The populace of Western New York are now nutritionally self-sufficient, and there is more focus on growing indigenous plants. This reduces the reliance on food-import, and reinforces nutrition justice as a human right. It stands as a shining example as a self-sufficient ethos for other communities.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Food upcycling involves multiple stakeholders. The first one is the producer of food-waste, or in our case, food-industry byproducts. Every time food is processed, waste is generated. Due to the current economics of waste disposal, it is extremely cheap to dispose waste in a landfill. The rhetoric used by companies to justify this revolves around focusing on their core-competencies and keeping their material-handling and inventory-management systems lean. However, we believe that we can financially incentivize companies to take full ownership and responsibility of their raw materials by turning them into economically-valuable resources. Helping them change their sourcing, handling and inventory-management processes expands their product-offerings and opens up new markets and opportunities. The second stakeholder is the logistics provider. Currently, 30% of all trucks on the road run empty, not including refrigerated trucks and LTL freight shipping. We can help logistics companies by providing them an opportunity for reverse-logistics - where empty trucks can now transport byproducts to processing facilities. This not only improves their efficiency, but also makes them more financially viable. This is especially true for smaller family-owned trucking companies that own less than four trucks. The third stakeholder is the food or agricultural processor who has excess capacity and underutilized equipment in their facilities. More than half of all agricultural equipment are used only seasonally, and this allows for opportunities to use them to upcycle byproducts. The equipment necessary for upcycling only represents a fraction of all latent capacity, but are over-represented in economically-depressed and seasonal-employment regions. By providing them with the knowledge and raw materials, we can empower them to process byproducts and turn them into ingredients, which not only opens up new markets, but also keeps them perennially employed. This solves cash-flow problems experienced by many farmers and agricultural processors, and makes their employees and their families more stable. The fourth stakeholder is the food manufacturer who is looking for sustainable, local, novel, and healthy alternatives to traditional ingredients. The market currently favors these trends, and thus presents the right time to introduce upcycled ingredients as a legitimate source of food. By working with them to understand these ingredients, develop new products, and market it to their audience, we can help their brands in becoming more interesting and sustainable. The fifth stakeholder is the local economic development corporations, whose aim it is to motivate local industry and investment in their region. They try to financially incentive companies to move to and employ people from the surrounding areas, in order to stimulate economic growth. Usually, this is done in the form of low interest loans, grants, tax credits, and access to infrastructure, reduced rents, professional advice, consulting, and research. By partnering with EDCs, we can create a symbiotic relationship where a new form of resource - byproducts and underutilized infrastructure, form the underlying basis for an economic revival in the region. Further, we can work with them to change local regulations dealing with food-waste and byproducts. By classifying them as a source of food, we can ensure better handling processes and more responsibility for distribution and reuse, while also lessenning potential liability for byproduct-donators. Our goal is to act as a meta-stakeholder whose responsibility it is to create, maintain and grow these connections. By providing access to capital, knowledge and technology, we can foster industrial symbiosis to create a closed-loop food system in a region. We will act not only as researchers and engineers, but as community stakeholders who are vested in the improvement of the region. However, we also acknowledge that there will be three stakeholders who might be negatively impacted by our vision. The first is landfills, who currently charge waste-hauling companies a tipping fee by the ton to empty their trucks. 36% of landfills are privately owned, the rest being owned by the local, state, or federal government. Since the latter operate for public interest, a reduction of waste does not counter their purpose. The second stakeholder is animal-protein producers, who will be affected in two ways. Some farmers use spent grain as a source of feed for cattle, pigs, and poultry, and they might fear that their supply might be disrupted. We believe that due to the large volume of byproducts, their feedstock will not be affected in the near future. However, due to the influx of low-cost and high-quality plant-based protein, dietary trends will change, leading to a reduction in meat-consumption. Though this is a negative effect, since animals are an inefficient method to convert sunlight into calories for humans, the net-effect for the local human population is positive. The third stakeholders to be negatively affected in very similar ways are crop-farmers who use spent grain as a source of compost, and whose virgin grains will face competition from upcycled ingredients. However, just as with animal husbandry, their supply is not immediately challenged, and the long-term trends will be in the favor of the local population. Some other challenges to our vision may come in the form of ideological or visceral resistance to the idea of eating waste. We acknowledge that identifying a market inefficiency and fixing it with technology and marketing to make humans eat a perceived "inferior" source of food seems like a dystopian neoliberal capitalist nightmare and in fact we partly agree. To those detractors we say that our vision can be seen as Post-Industrial performance art, where eating waste is a way to humble the human spirit in the face of nature, giving up our spot at the top of the food-chain by explicitly acknowledging our parasitic relationship with other species. On the other hand, by donating food, empowering labor, and using profits to repopulate fallow land with trees is a way to subvert the exploitative nature of capitalism. The second barrier is taboo of eating waste. However, cultural trends change, and can be guided to include byproducts as a source of nutrition through education and transparency of the process. By showing how the various stakeholders change their practice of handling and treating the material, consumers can be given insight into how and why taking ownership of the complete raw material is a path to sustainability and efficiency. Moreover, thanks to food-manufacturing technology and processes, food products made with byproducts are nearly indistinguishable from those made with virgin ingredients. In fact there are many sensory characteristics of upcycled ingredients, such as flavor, taste and texture that make them preferable and novel. This is true for small bakers, innovative chefs, and large food-manufacturers, thus demonstrating the universal appeal of such ingredients, which is why it is already an industry worth $46.7 billion in 2019 and has an expected CAGR of 5% for the next 10 years. This is our vision of how we can positively impact the environment, diets, economics, culture, technology, and policy through a transformative, systems-focused, community-rooted and inspirational solution.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Allison Tjaden

Thank you for your vision and exciting ideas about upcycling foods! We are thinking a lot about food waste reduction and food recovery at the University of Maryland ( Universities as a Living Laboratory Closing the Food System Loop ). Your vision gives us even more ideas to think about, particularly on the economic aspects & the different food system players / actors involved! Thanks so much and good luck with your submission.

Photo of Ashwin Goutham Gopi

Thank you Allison Tjaden , looking forward to seeing more about your idea. If you edit, you can also "build upon" our idea!

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