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Truly Local: Mainstreaming Fresh Food

A food system that makes fresh food available at market prices to everyone year-round in a place where the growing season is short.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

FoodGrownHere LLC

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.

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, Department of Agricultural Business and Department of Agriculture and Food at State University of New York, Otsego County Chapter of New York Farm Bureau.

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

  • 1-3 years

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

Cooperstown NY

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?

New York Farm Country (NYFC), a largely rural area of about 60,000 square kilometers.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

NYFC is bounded by the Pennsylvania state line to the south and west, Lakes Erie and Ontario to the north, and the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains to the east. Its population is about 4.4 million, over 60% of which lives in and around six cities on the periphery. Its two dozen cities, the majority of which are small, and hundreds of villages, are widely scattered across an area four times as long east to west as it is north to south. The landscape is scenic, with broad valleys, open slopes and stretching farmlands all surrounded by wooded hills. Its many lakes and streams, stemming from the last glacial age, include the beautiful Finger Lakes and the historic Genesee, Mohawk and Susquehanna Rivers.

NYFC is the former home of the Iroquois Nation and is now home to many of my relatives and friends. It’s where my grandparents came to live, where my parents lived for nearly two decades on a farm, where my family grew up, and where we live now. I’m familiar with many of its communities and farms, and aware of difficulties that food and agriculture have experienced here in recent decades. More than a decade ago I realized that food and agriculture could do more for NYFC than any other economic sector. For the past five years I have been participating in a food system program organized by Cornell University with emphasis on commercialization within NYS.  The vision expressed in this application has been described in earlier form to personnel in various departments of Cornell, private participants in the food system program, a local branch of the New York Farm Bureau, a local center for agricultural development, a northeast food retailer, and a few independent farmers.

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.

The communities, industries and farms that flourished in the 19th century with the building of the Erie Canal and what became the New York Central railroad have lost much of their national and international standing in industry and agriculture, but the people of NYFC have never lost the heritage of Dutch, English and German farmers who settled it in the 17th and 18th centuries. Fine educational and health institutions here attract a limited number of professionals who want to balance personal career with family lifestyle. Students from around the world who enjoy excellent educations here graduate to find jobs and raise families elsewhere; over recent decades the population and economy of NYFC have declined.  Contrary to these general demographics, farms and food processors within NYFC, as well as Cornell University and other colleges, possess a high level and broad range of know-how in food science, agriculture, and related technologies and methodologies that can support commercialization of a new food system.  

In the existing NYFC food system, production, not consumption, controls supply and demand.  The system produces quantity and convenience at the expense of quality in nutrition and taste.  It pushes consumption of red meat and corn while discouraging consumption of fresh plant foods and fish.  It opens convenience stores and closes grocers, shifting consumer access away from natural foods toward factory foods.  It takes a dollar from the consumer, gives a dime or two to the farmer, and allocates eighty to ninety cents among businesses and industries that degrade food and eating.

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

The central challenge is to make fresh foods of high quality widely available in cold winter weather.  Other challenges imposed by the existing food system as well as ones arising in the envisioned system, flow from how the central challenge is faced.  The existing food system in NYFC in 2020 ignores the central challenge. It provides success to relatively few industrial producers and processors, transfers local jobs away, and fails to deliver healthy food to most consumers.

Current trends in developing and commercializing greenhouses and indoor farms suggest that before 2050, large scale urban farming will supply New York City with year-round fresh crops.  But in NYFC and places like it with low-density population, the central challenge requires a different approach.  A new food system in NYFC that meets the challenge requires local production, integration of operations, eliminating the need for distribution, and ownership by many local individuals and firms. 

New structure and priorities within the food system are needed to address the central challenge directly for NYFC.  Such change is justified only if the system is designed to meet that challenge broadly and with inherent capacity to improve over coming decades. The vision rests in how to meet the central challenge in a sustained manner over time. Fulfilling this vision is the path to a new food system having attributes that improve consumer health, producer wealth, protection of nature, and community vitality.

The vision is based on the premises that (a) the vision for the chosen place should be applicable to other places, (b) the impact of implementing the vision should be positive for people, society, and nature, and (c) to attract resources, meet challenges, and realize the intended goal, the vision should be grounded in a practical idea with a defined path to the goal.  These premises and the envisioned food system have been stimulated in part by participation at Cornell University in a food systems program during the past five years.

Relevant to implementing the vision, NYFC is home to produce farms, livestock farms and slaughterhouses, poultry farms and processors, and fish farms.  These constitute existing commercial infrastructure and working know-how to develop the network of suppliers of fresh animal foods for the envisioned system.  The network in turn can become a platform for cooperative farming and retailing that includes collective purchasing power for non-local foods.

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

Perishable plant and animal foods ("core foods") are (a) more important to human diets than less-perishable and non-perishable foods and (b) mistreated by the existing food system.  Central production and processing and long distribution chains ruin the taste and nutrition of core foods, cause poor consumer health, suppress local food production, and miss the social advantages that local core foods bring.  Worse, the existing system has closed retail grocers and opened convenience stores, reducing access to core foods. The existing system is a long train loaded with non-core foods, hauling core foods in the caboose.

The vision defines a practical food system based on the idea of accommodating core foods in the best way and incorporating non-core foods into that system, a reversal of the existing system.  This vision draws on information contained in the "Next Chapter" attachment, which offers motivation for and description of the system. The attachment identifies actions to make the system a reality, contains data on adverse effects of the existing system, and estimates positive outcomes offered by the envisioned system.

The retail part of the system comprises a grocery and a restaurant side-by-side, where the owner may be both grocer and chef.  Adjacent to this are greenhouses or indoor farms growing crops for the grocer and restaurant. One greenhouse would be growing greens, herbs, seed vegetables and strawberries hydroponically, and a second greenhouse growing root vegetables in soil.  An enabling feature of this system is the year-round use of Controlled Environmental Agriculture (CEA) in the greenhouses. Each employee works where and when needed in the retail and production parts of this farm/retail complex. Core animal foods are delivered daily directly to the complex by nearby livestock, poultry and fish farms and processors (many already operate year-round in NYFC). The farmers and processors form a network to serve multiple retailers, and retailers serve urban, suburban and rural areas.  Non-core foods are received from existing distributors in the traditional food system.

The system gains efficiency through horizontal and vertical integration of operations.  It uses CEA not only to make fresh plant food available to consumers, but to enable consumers to enjoy a full variety of fresh core foods, including animal foods.  It brings farmers and consumers together in a setting where supply can adjust to demand in real time, minimizing waste without falling short of the right foods.  The system offers fresh core foods in a social atmosphere that accomplishes the vision.

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.

The benefits of the vision for consumers, producers and communities are detailed in the Attachment.  Briefly stated, the envisioned system solves shortcomings and problems in the prevailing food system to become a permanent platform for consumer health and education, producer jobs and training, commerce in food science and renewable energy, reduction of waste, and protection of nature.

The envisioned system will dramatically increase the volume of local core food produced and consumed, bringing it into the mainstream of commerce from its current marginal level. Consumers everywhere in NYFC will have year-round access to fresh foods at market prices. The vision accomplishes this by giving primary attention to the taste and nutrition of vital perishable foods and not interfering with treatment of less-perishable and non-perishable foods.

By displacing the existing system, the envisioned system will produce outcomes that are significant and lasting for individuals, communities, commerce, culture and nature. Consumers will have healthier choices in foods, enjoy eating tastier food, and connect to farmers. Young people interested in agriculture and food will have excellent training and employment that offers rich experience in a range of skills. A network of these systems will improve the vitality of communities and the economy of NYFC, contribute to the social culture of communities, and be more protective of nature than the traditional system.

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

CEA is revolutionary because it defeats winter, offering the key to a truly local food system.  But so far it is being sold short, because like other technologies it is being incorporated into the existing food system.  A large farm under glass will distribute lettuce hundreds of miles versus thousands. Turnkey units sold to restaurants allow customers to see herbs and greens being grown. Rooftop greenhouses grow single crops for distribution within the city. The greater potential of CEA is to catalyze the creation of a better system for plant and animal food, and that idea is at the heart of the vision. It forms the basis for building an integrated network of local producers, processors and retailers. 

Retail volumes and prices in the system will be competitive because CEA continues to become more efficient in use of power for light and heat, capable of growing more varieties of food, and enhancing the value and appeal of food.  Existing literature on food and agriculture as well as food movements represent a large body of evidence that local food is what people want. The envisioned food system is the reality of what "local" truly means in terms of availability in all seasons, food taste/texture/nutrition, consumer access, and all the resulting positive effects on the population, economy, society and nature. The envisioned food system is not merely a business or an industry; it is social enterprise that affects policy, industry, personal habits, and community vitality.

Of particular importance is the potential for the vision to reverse the ongoing widespread separation of people from natural food.  Existing production, distribution and marketing systems promote factory food, artificial drinks, fast food, takeout food and delivered food. Plant-based and cultured meat and fish may be nutritious, but they blur the limits of what natural means.  Food science is in danger of being less about pushing nature and more about extending the scope of artificial food.  People have become more interested in convenience than in what they eat, storing packaged food in their houses and ordering what they don’t have on hand.  We have been losing touch with natural food for a long time.  We need the stated vision of truly local food to regain our touch with natural food.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Attachments (2)

Refine the Vision.docx

Preliminary Thoughts to Refine the Vision This is a list of 13 topics by which the vision will be refined, including definition of the envisioned system and its operations; economic analyses; comparisons with the existing system regarding nutrition, waste and sustainability; support of GAFF and UN FAO goals; responses from stakeholders; a scenario to demonstrate and commercialize the envisioned system; and how the vision applies in other areas of the world.

The Next Chapter Rev.docx

Background Paper on Truly Food This paper, written in mid 2019, is a more detailed version of the submission. It describes how the existing food system in upstate New York mistreats "core" foods, the attributes required of a system to replace it, the challenge climate poses, the key to overcoming the challenge, a physical concept for a local system that makes fresh core foods available every day of the year in upstate New York, and the broad benefits to be realized from creating that system.

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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