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Oat milk in Connecticut

A healthier, prosperous, and climate-stable future enabled by a vibrant oat milk industry in Connecticut

Photo of Thu Ra
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Upright Oats 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.

Yale School of Management professors, staff, mentors-in-residence, students, alumni; Yale School of Forestry; Yale Center for Business and the Environment; Yale Center for Innovative Thinking; Yale Landscape Lab; Ohio State University scientists and researchers; investors; supply chain partners

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.uprightoats.com

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

  • Under 1 year

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

New Haven

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?

Connecticut is a state in the United Sates, covers a total area of 14356 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We selected the state of Connecticut for our vision because Both Betty and Thu Ra, the founders of Upright Oats LLC, live in New Haven. Both moved to pursue higher education at the Yale School of Management, where they met. We believe New Haven is an important city and Connecticut an important state because they represents the challenges of all of America, and of many other nations. A study by Jed Kolko for the online news website fivethirtyeight, owned by ABC News, calculated that based on age, education, race, and ethnicity, New Haven was the most demographically representative of the US overall average. Hartford, also in the state of Connecticut, was third most similar. 

Having relocated from other cities to New Haven, it has become not just a city in which we reside, but the community to which we belong. Both of us were born in other countries and neither of us are American citizens, but we have embraced the city as our own. Being immersed in the city of New Haven, we have become deeply attuned to the differences and challenges that divide our community, as well as the similarities and opportunities that have potential to unite us. As students of an Ivy League university, we are distinctly aware of the distinct contrast this creates between many of the individuals who we cross paths with walking downtown. On Wednesday of our first week of our classes, 90 people overdosed on a tainted recreational drug in the main park a few blocks away from our school building and just steps away from where many of our classmates live. The entire day, wailing sirens punctuated our classroom discussions. 

As members of our local community, we feel strongly in our responsibility to help those around us immediately in the state of Connecticut. Ultimately however, as global citizens we do feel compelled to support health and sustainable development around the world and hope that our local vision and solution can grow to inspire and empower others. 

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.

Connecticut is the most southern state in the northeastern New England region of the United States of America. It is named after the Connecticut River, the anglicized form of the indigenous Algonquin term for “long tidal river.” This river runs down the middle and flows into the Long Island Sound on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Nicknamed “The Constitution State,” “The Nutmeg State,” and the “The Land of Steady Habits,” among many others, its state motto is “Qui transtulit sustinet” in Latin, translated as “He who transplanted still sustains.” While nutmeg, which requires a tropical climate, isn’t grown in the maritime state, there is a vibrant food scene that has been strongly influenced by the people who have come and gone or stayed over the years, including those on the ships heavy with spices from around the world that first stopped in the ports of Connecticut. 

The people and geography have had strong influence on the state’s food, which is known for Connecticut style lobster rolls, New Haven white clam pie, the birthplace of the hamburger sandwich, and White House recognized sustainable sushi made with invasive species and plant-based ingredients. Topographically, the state rises from the southern coastal lowlands into the hills and low mountains further north. Over half of the state is covered with forests, and the river valleys are suitable for agriculture. Connecticut has a temperate climate, moderated by the long southern coastline, with moderate winters and warm summers on average ranging from -6 to 29 degrees celsius. Most residents live in urban cities, but the landscape is predominantly rural. Agriculture is a significant source of income, contributing four billion dollars annually. The state has one of the best farmers markets programs in the nation with about a quarter of farms selling directly to markets. The top five products by value are horticulture, dairy, poultry and eggs, vegetables, and tobacco. 

However, this agricultural sector is struggling, hit hard by nationalist trade policies, trends in diets and health, and capital needs necessary for modernization to meet the demands of large mass retail buyers. Family farms are shuttering despite the desire to continue their traditions. Over 10% of the state’s population receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance. Unfortunately, recent federal administrative directives to change eligibility will decrease or completely cut off these benefits and school meal programs for low-income students for nearly half of recipients. There is a strong desire for improvement and change, but the current outlook is not one of unbridled optimism. 

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

14356

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

3560000

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

The city of New Haven, Connecticut, illustrates the difficulties of a city that is not as prosperous as it once was; a story that resonates with many cities as technologies and industries shift, people and capital migrate, and uncertainty but pockets of cautious optimism prevail regarding the future. Connecticut, America's once richest state, currently struggles with the worst income inequality between the richest 1% and the poorest 99% in the entire nation, a segregated school system, a declining population, rising poverty rates in the state’s biggest city, one of the weakest rates of job growth in the nation, and projected billion dollar budget deficits into 2024. Policy decisions at state and federal levels have not produced their intended outcomes, and in short, Connecticut is struggling. The availability and quality of education, jobs, income, healthcare, infrastructure, and public services play an immense role on mental and physical wellness, family stability, and the personal and community problems of untreated addiction, abuse, crime, and distrust that arise when they are inadequate. 

Immediately, ensuring that local food banks and low-income school meal programs get the help that they need is most pressing. However, looking out to 2050, even if basic food needs are met, a bigger issue exists of sustainable development. The state’s budget projects billion dollar deficits over the next several years, and if current trends of population decline and wage stagnation continue, the tax base will not be sufficient to support social services such as pensions and Medicaid, infrastructure, and a high quality of life. Services and agriculture, the current economic drivers of Connecticut are both in decline. Some of the state’s biggest employers such as Aetna and General Electric have relocated to other states in recent years, and the agricultural sector faces significant headwinds from an aging population that lacks successors, health and sustainability trends shifting away from animal agriculture and tobacco, and both domestic and international challenges of competition and trade. Meanwhile, climate change will continue to threaten the old forests and long coastlines of Connecticut, with potentially devastating effects should one broken link in the food chain creates ripple effects across an entire system. It is harrowing but not hard to imagine the rising sea level evicting entire communities along the Long Island Sound tidal estuary, or fires destroying the state’s large oak tree forests with detrimental domino effects from changes to the squirrel populations that rely on their acorns. 

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

We envision a future in which the state of Connecticut can leverage its existing urban infrastructure and fertile agricultural soils to create jobs, income, and purpose for its residents in a way that promotes health and sustainability for the state and the broader planet. Our vision is for a for-profit venture that will generate social, environmental, and economic benefit. Specifically, we believe that a business that can align financial profit with the health and sustainability of the people and planet will solve the challenges of immediate hunger as well as continued economic and environmental stress.

We have begun to build out our vision in the form of a Certified B-Corp pending vision called Upright Oats, which offers oat milk as sustainable as dairy as our first product. Although we are in the early stages, we envision a business that can not only use the fertile agricultural lands available in Connecticut, but also regenerate them and improve them to create greater climate resiliency for global interconnected ecosystems. Immediately, we hope to launch and begin generating enough profits that we can support our vision of providing a carton of our product to a low-income school meal program for every carton sold. Ultimately, we hope to create a vibrant economy in Connecticut that creates job and wage growth in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and services. Oat milk sales rose over 600% last year, while cow’s dairy sales declined over a billion dollars. Dairy is the second largest agricultural product in the state by sales, but more dairy farms in Connecticut are continuing to close each year. By building our social enterprise to take advantage of the shifting preferences towards plant-based diets, we foresee significant benefit to the improvement and sustainability of Connecticut’s economy and environment. The current US dairy and alternative market is valued at $15 billion - if we can capture even a tenth, this would eclipse the current revenues from Connecticut’s declining dairy industry and create momentous change. 

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.

Connecticut would transform for the better. There would be a marked difference in attitudes and behaviors that would be felt and be seen in the people and place, described by words such as happy, healthy, vibrant, growing, trusting, caring, united, and optimistic. Its people would be nourished: physically, mentally, and emotionally. It would be more resilient to economic stress and its far-reaching social implications. By creating well-paid jobs and expanding the tax base available for social services, we envision a state that is no longer the most unequal with regards to income, but one where most people have enough to provide healthy, comfortable lives for themselves and their loved ones, and help lift those who need support. Diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods would feel welcoming and supportive. People would be excited to move to the state because of the diverse economic opportunities as well as the high quality of living indicated by the education, healthcare, community services, infrastructure, safety, cleanliness, arts and culture, recreation, and green spaces. The state would continue to be covered with rolling green hills, thick forests of trees, and miles and miles of shoreline. There would be more energy however from the excitement of young growers using new technology, agronomy, and regenerative agricultural methods; the pride of manufacturing and industrial jobs that treated team members with respect; the exchange of money for goods and services across supply chains to help people live happier, healthier, and more sustainable lives. 

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

We describe our vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for the state of Connecticut and its residents in 2050 as one of values alignment through good business. Our vision is to create a food product leveraging technology that facilitates a healthier diet, environment, and economy for Connecticut. In doing so, we hope to shift policy and culture to align with our values of health, sustainability, and accessibility. 

Our vision is for this social enterprise is underway through our creation of Upright Oats, a limited liability company that we have founded as a partnership and incorporated in the state of Connecticut. Upright Oats offers fortified oat milk as nutritious as dairy. Unlike existing brands, each serving offers eight grams of protein and key vitamins and minerals found in cow's milk, but is free of common allergens such as lactose, nuts, and soy, and uses 7-11 times less water than almond or cow's milk. Our mission is to enable access to health and sustainability. We believe that business can be a force for good, and that small changes can add up to a big impact towards a healthy and sustainable future in the state of Connecticut and around the world. 

Upright Oats is tackling the challenge of balancing sustainable development. As we seek to eliminate poverty, end hunger, and improve health, we must also sustain water quality, responsible consumption and production, and climate impacts while enabling economic growth, industry innovation, and sustainable communities. We envision a better and more sustainable future by building a social enterprise in the state of Connecticut that actively targets multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals. Most directly, we seek to address the goals of zero hunger, good health and well-being, and climate action. In addition, we also seek to create decent work and economic growth; improve industry, innovation, and infrastructure; reduce inequalities; create sustainable cities and communities; and encourage responsible consumption and production. 

Food production needs to shift and become more efficient as populations and standards of living rise. Although Connecticut has a long history of dairy agriculture, the dairy industry is in decline as concerns about health and sustainability shift dietary trends. Cows are the single greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions and the food industry more broadly contributes a quarter of the world’s man made greenhouse gases – more than the entire global transportation industry. Furthermore, milk production from cows is highly inefficient with regards to water, land, and energy inputs (e.g., growing and transporting soy to feed cows that expend most of this energy on basic metabolic functions instead of directly creating soy milk). Current plant-based alternatives are better, but we see tremendous opportunity to improve resource efficiency and better meet the needs of consumers to enable widespread adoption of changed behaviors. 

We are starting our venture with oat milk because of the regenerative potential we see from oats. Oats are resilient rain-fed cover crops that require little irrigation, improve soil health by adding biodiversity, prevent soil erosion, and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides that often leak into neighboring water systems. By encouraging consumer demand for oats through products like ours, market incentives should encourage other farmers to also add or rotate oats into their cropping systems, which adds biodiversity to monocultures.  By building a social enterprise that leverages Connecticut’s strong pool of human capital and fertile agricultural lands, we believe that we can build a better future through better business. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

Attachments (1)

20200130 Upright Oats pitch deck.pdf

Pitch deck describing the details of our venture and progress towards our vision.

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Thanks good work done keep up the moment