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Sylvanaqua Farms: Democracy in Food & Agriculture

A regenerative breadbasket for nine major U.S. cities surrounding the nation's capital

Photo of Christopher Newman
23 40

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Sylvanaqua Farms, LLC

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Farmer Co-op or Farmer Business Organization

Website of Legally Registered Entity

sylvanaqua.com

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

  • 3-10 years

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

Montross, VA

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 shore of the Chesapeake Bay

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Sylvanaqua Farms' cofounder, Chris Newman, is an enrolled member of the Choptico Band of Piscataway Indians, the indigenous people of southern Maryland and part of a historic tribal alliance that stretched along the western shore of the Chesapeake; south into Virginia's Northern Neck and north to present-day Washington, D.C. Chris' ancestors have been stewards of land in this area for 12,000 years, with intensive agriculture introduced as a complement to extensive indigenous landscape management between the 13th and 14th centuries.

Chris and his wife Annie have operated a diversified livestock operation since 2013, starting in Annie's hometown of Earlysville, VA and moving to Montross, VA in 2018. The move to this tiny town just 90 minutes south of the nation's capital not only brought the couple home to Chris' ancestral homelands, but also served as a strategic reorientation, placing the farm to serve several major metropolitan markets (Washington, D.C.; Richmond, VA; Baltimore, MD; Norfolk, VA) as the operation continued to grow. The Chesapeake Bay is unique in having large urbanized populations in close proximity to extensive farmland.

Our place is selected in line with a vision to return an indigenous ethic to the management of hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural lands, nestled between the Cheseapeake Bay and Potomac River, that are the legacy of thousands of generations of Chris' immediate ancestors.



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 Chesapeake Bay sits dead-center on the U.S. eastern seaboard, with the region hosting several major cities within a four-hour drive of one another, from Baltimore, MD in the north to a cluster of adjacent cities in the south known collectively as the Virginia Tidewater, comprised of Norfolk, Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, and Portsmouth. Between them are Richmond (the capital of Virginia) and Washington, D.C. (a city of some note, and the hometown of our founder). 

The entire region is monstrously hot and humid in the summer; prone to zero-degree weather in winter; has Springs that are pleasant but typically too wet (as far as farmers are concerned); and enjoys a latitude that provides one of the longest displays of Autumn foliage in the country.

As with the weather, the region is characterized by its contrasts - cultural north and cultural south; urban and rural; wealthy and working class; native-born and immigrant; public and private sector.

The economic and ethnic diversity (and numerical parity) of indigenous, native-born, and immigrant people here render a cultural landscape that challenges definition. The dominant food, music, language, ethnic makeup, and worldviews change both within and between cities. Despite this, and the multiple states and cities that make up this region, the residents of this area largely consider themselves a part of the same community - the borders between D.C., Virginia, and Maryland in this area are so porous as to be functionally non-existent -  the area is effectively a state unto itself.

One thing is common between all the cities, however: they're booming, and the boom is driving wealth inequality that is cleaving the cultural souls of each, creating a gulf between rich and poor exceeded only by that between the urban and the rural.

Between these cities and their rapidly-advancing urban sprawl lie vast tracts of farmland owned, as is the case throughout the United States, by aging cash crop farmers. Many of them grew tobacco until the buyout in 2005, at which point they switched largely to corn and soy complemented by regional specialties - cotton and peanuts in the Tidewater, wheat and canola further north, and pasture (largely for beef cattle and hay) dominating the clay soils to the west.

In stark contrast to the booming urban Chesapeake, the rural Chesapeake is dying as the heirs of aging farmers leap at the opportunity to sell farmland which - being in such close proximity to cities - is bought immediately and above asking price. Aggressive agricultural zoning and conservation easements are effectively the only thing keeping all the farmland within a three hour drive of the nation's capital from being paved over.



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

10000000

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

In a sentence: American agriculture has devolved into a wealth protection racket. 

Federal subsidies of a handful of staple crops flow to high-net-worth farmers (avg. farm household net worth, $1.56 million). They supplement the low or negative margins of commodity production with off-farm jobs or unemployment insurance instead of relatively risky investments in smarter agriculture or integrated supply chains. This results in massive annual oversupplies that provide agribusiness with a bonanza of low-cost raw materials to process into the "Western Diet." 

Consumers (accustomed to food being abundant and cheap) and agribusiness (flush with profits from processing cheap commodities) create political pressure to maintain the status quo - perpetuating the nationalized, Cold War era farm welfare programs that underwrite agriculture's exploitative relationship with everything from workers, to the environment, to human health.

Our vision is of a regenerative food system - operating in parallel to the legacy food system and emerging high-tech alternatives - that lays the groundwork for this cycle to be broken, politically. It faces a few key challenges in accessing:

Land: Agriculture does not produce the returns necessary to pay for land purchases. Farmers owning land in the U.S. largely inherit it, and are disincentivized from adopting regenerative practices.

Capital: There is profit to be made in the food supply chain, but the lowest returns and the greatest risk lie in the actual growing of the food. Regenerative farms have great difficulty getting properly capitalized (with anything other than debt, which creates outbound cash flows and a sea anchor on balance sheets), consequently throttling their ability to grow with an eye toward the long term.

Labor: Owing to low margins, low revenue, and relatively high operating expenses, regenerative agriculture is overwhelmingly dependent on uncompensated labor from owners, volunteers, and even employees. This is a situation that cannot scale.

Competition: Conventional food products currently outsell those of regenerative agriculture $400:1. High prices and low availability put the offerings of the latter out of the reach of nearly the entire market, and saddle them with an air of elitism.

The area we focus on also happens to cross a multitude of state, county, and municipal borders, creating a patchwork of regulatory hurdles that need to be overcome.

Climate change, urbanization, and ongoing threats to democratic norms will exert pressure on our system in 2050. Climate change will make the day-to-day of running land-based farms ever more difficult with stronger storms and more pronounced droughts; urbanization will increase development pressure on the farmland and greenspaces between the cities in our region, and erosion of democratic norms will allow the goals of incumbent wealth - so often at cross purposes to ecological stewardship - to receive ever more priority in policymaking.


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

1.) Institutional Land Procurement (addressing land access and development pressure)

While vast tracts of farmland are owned by farmers devoted to cash crops and effectively closed off to regenerative agriculture, there are equally vast tracts of land owned by three key stakeholders sympathetic to our cause: private institutions, public institutions, and wealthy individuals. Our farm has access to over 6,000 acres split between historic estates, public parks, and private landholdings under conservation easements; but because of constraints on capital and human resources, we're actively farming only 100. As the operation grows and demonstrates profitability, it will concentrate on complementing leased land with land owned outright.

2.) Vertical Integration (addressing capital, competition)

In the food system, margins are lowest at the farm. The profit in food is found in the development, production, marketing, and distribution of finished products; and in the ownership of those channels. Two problems stem from farms relegating themselves to the bottom of the supply chain: First, it's hard to attract even ethical investment to properly capitalize agricultural operations. Second, it results in needless inefficiencies that spike the price of our products, throttling our share of the market. Our vision is of a vertically-integrated operation that owns everything from the seed to the market, allowing the higher returns up the supply chain to flow back down to reinvestment in the land, and 2.) USDA compliant, automatically putting our operations in line with the various state, local, and municipal regulations in our area, since they all defer to federal compliance mechanisms.

3.) Employee Ownership (addressing labor availability and development pressure)

Borrowing from patterns in both the tech industry and successful indigenous agricultural co-ops, our operation will attract talent with a combination of wages and ownership, and use distributed ownership to resist encroachment by development interests on owned land.

4.) Regenerative Practices (addressing climate change)

An agricultural system focused on perennial plants, improved biodiversity, multistory harvests, and extracting a yield from existing woodland biomes will serve as a hedge against increasing extremes in weather and the risks inherent in relying on a handful of crops.

5.) Location (addressing political representation)

Our location in the backyard of Washington, D.C. is not without benefit. The model we'll create has the ability to reach decisionmakers at the federal, state, and local levels; and will become large enough to hold real influence in setting local policy with respect to land access and food regulations, which are more important in our situation than influencing federal policy. Addressing patchwork regulatory environments whose borders interrupt ecological/cultural borders is one of the hardest problems in sustainable development.

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.

Democracy of Production:

Agriculture becomes a mainstream career option, opening itself up to more than just people who inherit farms or come from privileged backgrounds. Our movement has been dominated for decades by a monolith of wealthy individuals who, as is so often now required, can afford to work for free and have the personal connections to get themselves onto land. The homogeneous character of the industry has resulted in a calcification of thought leadership that’s left the movement inspirationally, intellectually, and physically anemic for nearly 50 years.

With our vision in place, agriculture in the region avails itself of the benefits of racial, gender, and economic diversity, eliminating a raft of blind spots and opening opportunities to people who would otherwise dedicate themselves to other industries.

Democracy of Consumption:

The products of regenerative agriculture are de-gentrified. Currently those products are largely available in venues that are difficult to access (e.g. farmers markets) and associated with the upscale market (natural food stores), limiting their purchase to people with high levels of disposable time and income. 

Our vision removes price-increasing inefficiencies largely found in input purchasing and sales, and develops more convenient provisioning vehicles, to open our products to a much wider segment of the market.

Landscape Transformation:

Our focus on ecological, forest-based agriculture means the farmland in the agricultural regions we occupy are restored to managed forests and perennials. Those landscapes no longer exist exclusively as agricultural production zones, but are also functional for plant/wildlife restoration and greenspace. Biodiversity and soil health markedly improve, and our landscapes become a net carbon sink - required by sustainable development goals - even as they continue to produce food.

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

Our vision imagines a 2050 western Chesapeake where:

1.) The products of sustainable agriculture are a widely available, significant part of the food market. Not just available in farmers markets, natural food stores, and high-end restaurants; but in bulk goods outlets, convenience restaurants, and other traditional outlets that serve the bulk of the public. Prices do not match what's found in a grocery store or distributor sourced from conventional commodities, but prices on the whole are lowered by 20 - 30%, greatly expanding the share of the market to which these products are accessible and making them a part of the mainstream foodscape in the Chesapeake. Our vision has 200,000 acres of landscape devoted to regenerative agricultural production, yielding an annual value between $800 million - $1 billion, representing 23% of the current value of agricultural output in all of Virginia, or 40% of the output value in all of Maryland. In 2050, sustainable agriculture in the Chesapeake is both an economic and political force to be reckoned with.

2.) Regenerative agriculture is a viable, normalized career path. It's no longer a bifurcated industry with sharp divisions between farm owners (who either inherit their farms or come into the trade with outsized wealth from elsewhere) and farmworkers (who are overwhelmingly vulnerable and subject to exploitation). Successful regenerative farming is no longer predicated on a near-impossible combination of good fortune, inspired marketing, physical endurance, and technical genius on the ground. Instead, budding farmers are availed of a vertically-integrated, worker-owned collective that offers both rewarding work and a sustainable compensation package to anyone with the aptitude to steward land and produce food responsibly. In our vision, agriculture is availed of the best minds in the region, not just the most privileged and fortunate.

3.) Public lands and large private landholdings, representing hundreds of thousands of acres, are re-indigenized as regenerative, food producing, intact, forest-based ecosystems. Farmland is no longer strictly segregated from land devoted to conservation or recreation. Using forest based agriculture, silvopasture, broadscale polycultures, and intensive gardening, agricultural foodscapes are largely indistinguishable from - and integrated into - naturally expressed landscapes. Land requirements for exclusive-use agriculture are sharply reduced as staple production for human consumption and animal feeds a.) are largely limited to what's actually needed in the regional foodshed, and b.) feed far fewer animals with far lower feed input requirements, as all livestock are ranged on healthy perennial forages. This system is non-reliant on the vast and expanding tracts of grain/bean monocultures necessary for constant, toxic oversupplies functioning as the economic keystone of the current food system. The land use changes, worker exploitation, and proliferation of the western diet in the region are thus arrested, and then reversed, as farmland is reforested and restored to perennial cover, workers are fairly compensated, and a nutritious diet moves beyond the farmers markets and into food deserts.


The Method

This vision comes about by combining an indigenous, collective-oriented worldview around the management of food-producing landscapes with the modern economic reality that profitability in food systems is found elsewhere in supply chain. It's manifested in a system of worker-owned regenerative food collectives operating at regional scale, owning the entire supply chain - from nursery and hatchery, to farms and processors, to distribution and the market endpoints themselves (stores, restaurants, etc.).

It's very important to note that our vision operates at the scale of the entire western Chesapeake coast, because this is a contiguous ecological and cultural environment that cannot be addressed piecemeal. Our vision is indigenous in its design, which requires the careful stewardship of the entire mutually-connected system of land and rivers that form the resource base of this fairly large foodshed. It is our firm belief that the non-indigenous imperative to organize food systems along hand-drawn political boundaries rather than ecological and cultural boundaries is THE key fault in the current, broken relationship between food, ecology, and social justice.

Three Key Elements:

1.) Land Base: composed of approximately 200,000 acres - primarily leased public and private landscapes, and a few critical areas of land owned by the collectives. These are concentrated on land in southern Maryland and the three peninsulas in Virginia bordered by the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James Rivers. This represents just under 1/4 of all current farmland in the 15 counties that make up this region.

2.) Vertical Integration: this provides the twin benefits of agricultural landscapes being connected directly to the market (which prevents supply problems that otherwise cause the ecology, farmers, or taxpayers to suffer), and reductions in supply chain inefficiencies that, today, drive the prices and physical availability of our products beyond the reach of the majority of the market.

3.) Employee Ownership: Vertical integration creates a level of profitability and an asset base that makes stock in a privately-held collective quite valuable, and worker-ownership makes a career in this model of agriculture attractive to a large and diverse array of individuals. In our model, agriculture - like other industries - offers a clear career arc from education/apprenticeship to retirement, and solves the problem of food production being constantly starved for labor. A large pool of worker/owners not only spreads the workload and provides a well of talent, but also hedges against impulsive decisionmaking that could threaten the collective's land base and ecological ethics. 

It is important to notice that our framework for regenerative agriculture exists in a very pragmatic framework; making broad allowances for the continued existence of conventional agriculture in 2050, as well as the ultimate coming of age for high-tech disruptive innovations in food production ranging from cultured meat to advanced hydroponics.

While conventional, regenerative, and hi-tech agriculture may compete on short horizons, on the long horizon all three are necessary to ensure 1.) a stable food supply in the event of environmental or political catastrophe, 2.) an environment that can continue to produce food and sustain a growing population, 3.) a diverse array of food products that appeals across class, culture, and a dizzying array of personal dietary preferences, and 4.) food products that are sufficiently nutritious for human health.

Our vision is a recognition that conventional and hi-tech agriculture have occupied most of the oxygen in the room when it comes to creating a vision for regional, national, and global food systems - and are occupying nearly all the investment in agriculture, be it public or private. Regenerative agriculture is the critical linchpin that promotes the vital role food production will play in the restoration of ecosystems, but the industry has traditionally been insular and inward looking, failing to articulate its own global relevance under the rubric of "local."

This submission addresses that shortcoming, directly, offering a vision in which democracy, indigenous worldviews, and the importance of landscapes to physical nourishment are place front and center for the continued viability of our region's foodshed.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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23 comments

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Comment
Spam
Photo of Natalie Vandenburgh
Team

Hi Christopher Newman -- Natalie from 4P Foods/Scaling the Good Food Supply Chain via a Mid-Atlantic Food Port Vision here. We know our world has been turned upside down by COVID-19, and we've pivoted a lot of our attention to making sure that small farmers and food businesses can stay afloat through and beyond this crisis and people in need can access Good Food. We hope you are staying safe and holding up alright.

We found your Vision of cooperative, regenerative land use and production very inspiring, and the views you expressed in your Medium article about farming and land use, farmers markets, and food hubs were challenging and insightful. We'd love to connect, whether within the context of this Vision Prize or outside of it. If you're amenable, please give our founder Tom McDougall a call (I believe he left you a rambling voicemail), respond via this platform, or shoot me an email at natalie@4pfoods.com. Thank you!

Spam
Photo of Karla Cook
Team

Last because good soil and good water produce Good Food, but not least because crazy delicious food is the only way to change people’s minds and thus their diets, we see Stone Barns Center, which uses flavor as THE entry point, as connection between farmers, chefs, teachers and eaters and leaders. Co-collaborator Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and his team have years logged in the fields and in the pastures and in the kitchens and across the food chain, modeling for all of us an ecological, diverse and nimble food culture. A current example, cited by Tom Colicchio, in conversation with Helen Rosner:
"Dan Barber is doing something pretty neat up at Stone Barns. He’s trying to keep the supply chain intact, so he’s still using all of his farmers that he uses, his fishermen, all that, and he’s creating these takeout boxes….he’s just using whatever his farmers have. He’s realized that he’s no longer a chef—he’s a food processor."
Barber and company bring to bear the deep-pocketed resources necessary for conducting research and their existing abilities for data collection, communication, storytelling and education of all changemakers to nimbly lead in democratizing Good Food. One success story the writers cite is that of kale – the once unknown dark leafy green made into a must-have by 2013 by the plotting in 2005 of Jack Algiere, farm director, and Barber. Part of their plan: a complete re-thinking of the campus to exemplify a networked food culture and economy, with living exhibitions, classrooms and research center.
(Already connected to, among others: MASS Design)
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/refinement/stone-barns-center-catalyzing-a-regenerative-food-culture-in-order-to-change-the-food-system

*
IPCC
https://www.ipcc.ch/report/srccl/ and previous reports here: https://www.ipcc.ch/

Rights of Nature model
https://theecologist.org/2017/may/09/natures-rights-new-paradigm-environmental-protection

UN Sustainable Development Goals
https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300

Project Drawdown
https://drawdown.org/solutions

WRI: Toward a Sustainable Food Future
https://www.wri.org/publication-series/creating-sustainable-food-future

The Lancet: Diet for Planetary Health
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/16/new-plant-focused-diet-would-transform-planets-future-say-scientists

Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home
http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

Spam
Photo of Karla Cook
Team

But not everyone will have the sunlight/water/inclination to grow fruit trees, herbs and vegetables right up to their front door, and in short order, the growing communities will have surplus to share and will need a nimble network. In today’s fragile, just-in-time food chain, right now, we see distribution problems writ large with photos of farmers dumping milk and plowing under crops, juxtaposed against ever-growing lines at food banks. And we read of covid-shuttered restaurants – themselves engines of urban and suburban vitality and critical sources of revenues for local budgets – hoping to retain and grow connections to farmers and to diners. Enter Good Food Mid-Atlantic Food Port, with its ever-growing transparent, distributed network online that connects growers to producers to retailers to school cafeterias to hospitals to truckers to food waste haulers to eaters – and everyone in between, that again, helps to build the circular economy of the mid-Atlantic. This vision underwent a feasibility study in 2018. Long-term, it predicts expansion of produce prescription programs through Medicaid/Medicare.
(Already connected to, among others: D.C. Central Kitchen, Living Pastures Farm, YMCA)
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/refinement/scaling-the-good-food-supply-chain-via-a-mid-atlantic-food-port

And about Good Food vs the corn-soy diet that’s calibrated with salt-sugar-fat for transient bliss but is killing planet and people: We all understand that changing diets first requires changing minds. If we are working pre-K through medical school to teach the pleasure of plants and the principles and power of Good Food in support of planetary boundaries, we will have reached a bottom-up audience (think seat belts and anti-smoking campaigns with children educating parents). The Faith Institutions Leading the Way stewardship initiative, and its powerful beginning framework of reflection on food and ecology is another avenue for changing minds along three broad avenues:
• for connecting to the Indigenous ethic and to permaculture and fertile soil and clean water with a shift of faith communities to growing food;
• for growing the community of the table; and crucially,
• developing and supporting state legislation for regenerative/circular food/agriculture/community practices.
(Already connected to, among others: Black Church Food Security Network, Healthcare Without Harm, Bronx Eats, Virginia Foodshed Capital)
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/refinement/faith-institutions-leading-the-way-towards-healthy-sustainable-food-systems

And that brings up Food Connects 2050, with Washington, D.C., visions for an ecologically-based circular food chain – production, preparation, distribution and reclamation of food waste and water – all of which connect neighbors to each other via zucchini over the garden gate, the community of the table, health assessment, nutrition counseling, green employment and gratitude for what they grow and eat. At use are community-based greenhouses, incubator kitchens and canning sheds. Equally profound is the connection to lawmakers in the halls of Congress who could effect change in laws of the land – whether the subsidies program in support of Good Food/Good Earth; the creation of a cabinet-level Good Food department, minus influence of Big Ag, Big Meat, Big Sugar and Big Beverage; or the strengthening of anti-pollution measures for this beloved land.
(Already connected to, among others: University of the District of Columbia, DC Central Kitchen, DC Urban Greens, DC Housing, DC Health, Green Cities program, Wageningen University of the Netherlands)
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/refinement/circular-urban-food-hubs

Spam
Photo of Karla Cook
Team

Ethos Farm Project – Here in the Garden State, the belly of the mid-Atlantic food shed that stretches from Virginia through New York state, we take pride in knowing and growing produce. We envision our group as coordinating hub for a new version of the American Dream, one that uses small-scale, lawn-to-food regenerative farming credits and property tax relief to enable affordable exurban, suburban and urban housing. This small-scale agriculture, which will nourish New Jersey urbanites, all pre-K-12 students and those in our mid-Atlantic food shed, is a complement to larger, conventionally run farms that grow mostly legume and grain calories. The new American Dream is buttressed by expansion of existing food systems literacy efforts rooted in five-senses pleasure: palate education, cooking lessons, resultant shared meals, and chef-and-physician-informed Good Food nutrition/physiology education for students of all ages, from pre-K through medical school and in the larger community that includes faith-based stewardship. All would be supported by regeneratively-centered REITS and other investments; for example, funds now devoted to chronic disease care – 75 cents of every health care dollar – would be repurposed to, as Hippocrates directed, “let food be thy medicine” aka plant-based Good Food.
(Already connected to, among others: Walter Willett MD, Harvard School of Public Health; Andrew Chignell, Princeton University; Anu Ramaswami, Princeton University and Sustainable Cities; Princeton Studies Food; Gal Hochman, Rutgers; Daniel Giménez, Rutgers soil science; Saul Bautista, MD, NJMS Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group and Rutgers Medical School; PlantPure Communities; John Bianucci, Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT; Joan Werner, New York Life Investment Management; Princeton School Gardens Cooperative; NJ Audubon; Rodale Institute.)
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/refinement/ethos-farm-project

This work goes hand-in-glove with and is informed by Sylvanaqua, with its 12,000-year-old Indigenous ethic, which embraces nature as prerequisite for all life, and works within it to reclaim institutional, preserved and marginal lands for permaculture, and reclaims workers via distributed ownership and lifelong care of those tending the land. Seed-to-market vertical integration, too, is part of this plan; in this iteration, it is a regenerative, respectful approach that keeps the resources re-circulating and nurturing the community, simultaneously easing the wage scarcity so common to the food/ag sector.
(Possible connections: lawmakers at local, state and federal levels)
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/refinement/sylvanaqua-farms-democracy-in-agriculture

Spam
Photo of Karla Cook
Team

Good Food Transformation, mid-Atlantic & beyond

We know the story: Diet-related disease is at epidemic scale, increasing risks of complications and death from the novel coronavirus. Our earth is running a fever, with industrial agriculture and its monstrous scale responsible for greenhouse gas emissions roughly equal to energy production, and its habitat-encroaching practices, among others, implicated in the pandemic itself. Inequality, even before covid-19, was rampant. Our society has been brought low by vicious polarization, acute loneliness, the opioid epidemic, alcohol abuse and deaths of despair.

We know, though, that plant-based Good Food can help heal, in all its myriad roles. We know that access, affordability and availability of these foods are matters of justice. That the deliciousness of those foods can surpass the carefully calibrated salt-sugar-fat “bliss point” of highly processed, packaged items to which we are physiologically vulnerable. That plant-based foods above all else connect us to our own bodies, to each other, to our communities and to the natural systems that are prerequisites to all life.

We began reading submissions of the refinement phase of the 2050 Food System Vision Prize within our framework of reference documents* – the Rights of Nature model, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Project Drawdown, Toward a Sustainable Food Future from the World Resource Institute, the Lancet’s Diet for Planetary Health, and Laudato Si. And we kept in mind that transformation, and playing the long game, happens when we meet people where they are.

First, we saw and appreciated the systems in each vision. Then, lightning: This is our moment to connect existing systems to envisioned complex and dynamic systems, and to use collective strength of applicants to bridge gaps for the good of humanity.

With eyes wide open, we see profound potential in collaborating and co-creating with, at minimum, five other visionaries, together building a solid Good Food framework that elevates, distributes and celebrates regional plant-based foods – those grown in the mid-Atlantic. Along the way we would create a nimble and malleable template and/or expand to include others elsewhere.

Within the six visions, we see endless connections and redundancies that strengthen and stabilize this emerging system of systems. We see each of these visions as hub and spokes, taking the turnabout lead-and-follow on one or more programs as we co-create, rearrange, nudge and strengthen across culture, environment, human health, economics, technology, economics and policy.

What do you think?

Spam
Photo of Itika Gupta
Team

Dear Christopher Newman  , Congratulations on being shortlisted as a Semi-Finalist. Welcome to Refinement!

Through refinement, we'd like to see the details in the broad strokes of the Vision you painted for your region.
How might you bring your Vision into sharper focus through:
1. Building partnerships and forming a systemic and multi-disciplinary Vision Team
2. Visualising your future food system to help people see and feel the future of their food system
3. Assessing the feasibility of your future food system to better anticipate its needs and challenges

We invite you to take full advantage of the open platform here – to tag in team members into your Vision, connect with other Refinement teams, and solicit feedback from participants around the world.

It’s great to continue with you into this next phase. Consider me your support for questions you might have while on this platform.

Looking forward to seeing a detailed and Refined Vision for your region in the coming weeks.

Spam
Photo of Emmanuel Dzisi
Team

I like your idea very much. I'll love to connect with you.
Emmanuel.
Agbenoxevi Farms, Ghana.

Spam
Photo of Simone Silotti
Team

Bom dia! Cristopher!

Parabéns pela iniciativa!Boa sorte!

Você acredita que o meu projeto Sal da Terra (aqui na plataforma) pode ser útil na sua regiâo?
Abraços

Spam
Photo of Allison Tjaden
Team

Sylvanaqua Farms - thank you so much for this inspiring vision. We've been following your farm from afar and are engaged by your vision of the availability of sustainable products, career opportunities in regenerative agriculture, and productive land-use. Thank you for sharing this vision of 2050 with us & the world. It sounds to us like a world we are excited to live in. We hope that our vision of the University of Maryland will support yours including the use of local, sustainable food products and the education of new farmers - Universities as a Living Laboratory Closing the Food System Loop 

Spam
Photo of Christopher Newman
Team

Thank you! I'd really like to figure out over the next few years how to get my Alma Mater more involved in our work. It'd be great if we could continue to collaborate.

Spam
Photo of Allison Tjaden
Team

Christopher Newman - where's your Alma Mater?

Spam
Photo of Constanza Castano
Team

Hi, Christopher Newman ! Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize Community!

Let me congratulate you on your ambitious business model that stands out for its inclusiveness aspect. It's exciting to see how your perspective integrates solutions that have been successful in the US and other continents.

To make sure your Vision is systems-focused and community-centered I suggest you consider envisioning within the context of "one place”. Your submittal talks about working on 200,000 acres (809.38 km2) that are scattered, as seen on your 2050 foodshed vision map, throughout a territory that includes different States, and with cities that do not share geographical and bioregional continuity. These acres would also include a variety of stakeholders, regulations, people, and landscapes that do not anticipate a unified food system.

I invite you as well to integrate the six Prize’s Themes (Economics, Diet, Technology, Policy, Culture, and Environment) in your 2050 Vision. It is possible that by mapping the interconnections and relationships between your submission’s components, you can observe the emergence of unnoticed circular dynamics and externalities in your model.

I look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming days.

Best regards,

Constanza

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Team

Dear Christopher Newman  thank you for sharing such an in-depth insight into why you're approaching the Vision at scale versus hyper-locally.
Guides like Constanza Castano and I are here to support your Vision through encouragement and feedback. We're fully invested in your success because that determines the success of our Future Food Systems, and in know way intended to challenge your approach.

What Constanza Castano suggested regarding making your Vision community-centric was to say that at the end of the day our food impacts real people, their rituals, their day to day lives and culture. And to set up your Vision for success, it is recommended that at this stage of Open Submission you describe your Vision in tandem with the needs and lifestyle of the people who belong to your Place. This was one of the reason why the Global Food Experts from the Prize recommended everyone to choose a place with a maximum size of 100,000 sq. kms.
Also, since this Vision Prize will go through a Refinement as well as Accelerator phase, there will be ample opportunity to fine-tune your Vision, change boundary conditions and design a trajectory of actions to achieve it.

Having said that, if you feel your Vision cannot be hyperlocal because that is the need of the region we respect your approach. We'd recommend you to add this description and understanding of why hyperlocal Visions won't work in your case as a part of the submission questions itself. It will definitely help the judges understand your point of view and expertise deeply.

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any more questions.
Wish you all the best with the Prize.

- Food System Vision Prize Team

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Team

Hello Christopher,

Have been really inspired by your project and what you are envision for your area in 2050! We suffer so many of the same challenges down here in Aus. Also love the concept of vertical integration! Thanks for your inspiring ideas. Cheers, Ellia (from Brisbane, Australia!)

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Team

Nice presentation. Vertical integration will be one thing necessary to grab more of the value chain. A coop system is in our submittal also. Take a look at our submittal at: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/a-food-system-that-is-nature-centric-rather-than-fossil-centric-advances-soil-regeneration-and-small-farmer-profits-using-cea-bioenergy Our Inspiration for this comes from the Democracy Collaborative and specifically their program 50x50. Our reference model is the Mondragon Cooperative Confederation in the Basque region of Spain. To really compete with the incumbent distribution system, a regional confederation of coops will be necessary in my estimation. In addition, seasonal production is an impediment as retailers want a reliable year round spply pipe line. local production can sujpply this only by using some form of Controlled Environment Agriculture. This is my general expertise and am not aligned with any particular system. I have listed you as an inspiration and I would appriciate your recognizing our proposal as inspiring. We will all get by with a little help from our friends. Good luck with your submission. I have a suspicion that the organizers may try to cajole some submissions into collaborations and I would be fine with that.

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Team

Christopher Newman Please have a look at what we are doing here in BC Canada. https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/symbiosis-centre-for-zero-waste-agriculture
The Chesapeake Bay area represents one of the most important opportunity/threat locations in America, and as you note the potential to serve a LOT of people is ideal. Our work is to develop templates for community scale anaerobic digesters as biorefineries. There is a huge opportunity for animal agriculture to diversify their revenue, AND clean up their environmental impact. AD is having a big resurgence in the USA now because of the shift to RNG. My team was the 2nd in North America to even try gas to grid instead of electricity, and the first to see a major, absolutely successful RNG program created.
We would like to offer our help to deliver the building blocks you need for your program. On farm biogas, with nutrient recovery directly impacts 12 of the 17SDGs, and when animal agriculture farms don’t need the land for manure spreading and feed production, it can move to higher and better use...such as yours!
Our mission is "Power the World - Feed the People - Heal the Planet". Our team will be proud to serve you in your mission any way we can.

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Team

I learn so much and receive so much inspiration from Sylvanaqua Farm. Chris' ideas and practices have directly influenced what my husband and I are doing on our fledgling farm.

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Team

Excited to see this succeed!

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Team

I can not express how happy I am to have found someone else trying to point out how vertical integration can really help increase the availability, resilience and fairness of regenerative agriculture. I am really looking forward to your project future and this a great application! Good luck!

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Team

Thanks Cedric. It's hard to look at things like the current American dairy crisis and argue for anything but vertical integration, and for cooperative agriculture that gives practitioners the flexibility to move between specialties as markets ebb and flow.

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Photo of Dorothea Hoffmann
Team

A beautiful vision of a true visionary. I’m with you, Chris!

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Team

This is inspiring and beautifully constructed. I hope it wins!

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Team

Wonderfully written and exciting.