Farm Food Facts

Ep 32 Dr. Robyn Metcalfe, Trey Braswell, App Harvest

July 09, 2019 Episode 32
Farm Food Facts
Ep 32 Dr. Robyn Metcalfe, Trey Braswell, App Harvest
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Ep 32 Dr. Robyn Metcalfe, Trey Braswell, App Harvest
Jul 09, 2019 Episode 32
USFRA
Show Notes Transcript

Today's thought leader is: Dr. Robyn Metcalfe, Director at Food+City and author of Food Routes: Growing Bananas in Iceland and Other Tales from the Logistics of Eating

The stories you need to know:

•  AppHarvest makes an impact on the Produce Supply Chain for U.S. Grocers.
• Social Media is Fueling a Market for Novelty Eggs.

Our farmer is: Trey Braswell, President of Braswell Family Farms

Phil Lempert:
0:01
Farm, Food, Facts: where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to Farm, Food, Facts for Wednesday, July 10th, 2019. I'm your host, Phil Lempert.
Phil Lempert:
0:16
Today is all about the food supply chain. Later in the podcast we will talk with Trey Braswell from Braswell Family Farms, which is a fourth-generation, family-owned company that produces and markets quality feed and eggs for American families and businesses. But first, we hear from Dr. Robyn Metcalfe, who's a lecturer at the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. She's also the founder of Food+City, an innovative project that explores the future of our food system and also author of - I wish I could've come up with this title myself - it's Food Routes: Growing Bananas in Iceland and Other Tales from the Logistics of Eating. Food+City tell stories through print and digital platforms, sparking thoughtful conversations and inspiring change in the global food system. For eight years, Food+City has encouraged entrepreneurs to solve food system problems with an annual challenge prize working with over 75 food startups and $250,000 in funding. Robyn, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Robyn Metcalfe:
1:21
Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
Phil Lempert:
1:23
So let's start, and I know in the book, you really look very detailed at this, but let's start with your thoughts on the future of the global food supply chain.
Robyn Metcalfe:
1:34
Like you'd like to know the future?
Phil Lempert:
1:36
Yes! I want to know is the future, is the future good or am I going to have to move to Iceland to grow bananas?
Robyn Metcalfe:
1:44
Gosh, I think they're gonna come to you. So ,that's the good news, unless you really want to go to Iceland. But I think that the whole issue, the whole idea of being able to even predict the future from where we're sitting today, in the evolution of this emerging new food system is pretty daunting. And I would challenge anyone who says they know this is all gonna come out. It's almost like every single stop along the way to where your plate is, is uprooted. It's being re-imagined, redefined, repositioned, mostly through some sort of digital technology. I mean, if you were to sort of guess where we're going to end up, it would probably lead to ideas of personalized health and where food actually becomes medicine for the first time seriously. So, it might lead to the idea that food will be grown in entirely new places.
Robyn Metcalfe:
2:48
And because we're able to do that now we can basically move growing spaces into cities, close growing areas. We can print it, we can make it in laboratories through using cell biology approaches, all kinds of things are happening to where food will come from. And then, the whole idea that we'll grow our food in the grain belt for example, will be outmoded, but we don't know where it's gonna land, but it will be someplace new. It will again be personal. It will be much more sustainable in terms of impacts on the environment. I think that everybody's sort of gotten their big woke call on that and trying to figure out how to use less energy and impact the environment in less harmful ways.
Robyn Metcalfe:
3:45
So, those are the main things: coming from new forms, coming from new places, very personal. And I think the other thing is sort of the given that we will have more technology and automation than we've ever had before. And I think that's sort of a sea change from this period that we're emerging from where engineered food was just bad, having machines in our system were bad. And I think now, especially with the fact that we have generations that have grown up with technology from the beginning of their lives, there's much more acceptance, tolerance of having technology in our food system. So, those are all the things that are sort of swirling around on that vision.
Phil Lempert:
4:33
So Robyn, you write that networked digital tools will improve the food system, but will also challenge our relationship to food in anxiety provoking ways. Tell me why I'm going to be anxious.
Robyn Metcalfe:
4:48
Well, I think the thing about food, which is very different than say automating the way cars are made, our food is so personal, so tied into people's sense of who they are, their identity, their stories, their personal health. And you know, it's hyper-personal, and once you begin to intervene with technology that could be - I mean, yes, I know AI is coming along and you know, may reach the singularity of having maybe machines become humans - but putting that aside, having technology, deliver the benefits while at the same time challenging our relationship with food, I think is the anxious making piece of it. You know, in other words, at what point is having machines make your food, deliver your food, create the tastes, will it break down that relationship to ways where it's disruptive to people's psyche and just disturbing? I don't know, weren't you disturbed by this?
Phil Lempert:
5:59
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. I want to shift over to Food Routes for a moment. You say that we want to know more about the people that facilitate the journey of food and that humans are involved at every point in the infrastructure of food and that these people who are in the middle are largely invisible in our media and they shouldn't be. What do you mean by that?
Robyn Metcalfe:
6:26
Well, I think this is the whole thing about what has intrigued me about the supply chain in general. It seems like there's a lot of visibility in terms of the people who are cooking our food, making our food, the people who are in sort of the craft food business and CPG consumer products and farming and you know, who's out there in the field, who's growing our food. But once it leaves the field and before it reaches the store, there is an entire infrastructure and workforce that handles your food that is invisible. We don't know who they are. And part of it I think is due to the fact that people sort of avert their eyes from things that look industrial and look like "Big Food" is in the mix, and the fact is that we need everybody in between.
Robyn Metcalfe:
7:16
Some of the jobs are designed to be invisible. Like, you really don't want to see the sausage stuffers et cetera, and the packers and shippers. But I think it's really important to both acknowledge what's going on there and at the same time understand it, cause if we're really serious about improving the food system, we need to know where all the friction points are, where the improvements are needed. I really love this sort of dark and unknown part of the food system and continuing to work in that area. And the anxiety building piece that you referred to earlier? I think one of the things that should make people anxious is the fact that these are like the makers in our food system, these people in the middle are working with their hands. They are the first ones that are being automated out of their jobs.
Robyn Metcalfe:
8:12
It's a very large workforce that is about to find itself in need of new jobs. And I think when you take a lot of people who gain satisfaction by doing things with their hands and remove that work practice or style, it affects people's psyche. Not only their identity, but it's very different to see people who can point to quantities of things that they've personally made or delivered and remove that sense of satisfaction and say, "you're going to be working in front of a computer for the rest of your working days." I think there's a workforce disconnect there. I think we are not even beginning to understand what that means to all of us. And this is the first workforce to really feel the impact of that change.
Phil Lempert:
9:07
So Robyn, I know that you started a working conservation farm, so you've got farmer in your blood, you conserved heritage livestock for a decade. When you run in to farmers today, what do you share with them from your insights? And what would you like farmers to hear from you?
Robyn Metcalfe:
9:33
Yeah, this whole question of who are the farmers? If you took existing farmers and wanted to give them some sort of message from what I learned from them, I would say be open to using technology, especially for labor saving and sort of optimizing it for everything from precision agriculture. Also heads up, be prepared to negotiate, to monetize or control your data because that's a powerful thing and a system for doing that needs to be developed. But also, I think just this is a slight segue from that question is that I think that people who will be quote unquote farmers will have very different CVs than those that we've seen up to this point. They will be people who come into the food production world via engineering, computer science, artificial intelligence, software, hardware. I think we're going to be having a very different group of what we might call farmers producing our food.
Phil Lempert:
10:42
Well. Robyn, thanks so much for joining us today on Farm, Food, Facts, and keep up the great work.
Robyn Metcalfe:
10:47
Thank you so much, Phil. Thanks for talking with me today.
Phil Lempert:
10:55
And now, the news you need to know. AppHarvest makes an impact on the produce supply chain for U.S. grocers. A 60 acre facility in Kentucky is expected to open next year with crops that are non-GMO, chemical-free and watered by the rain. This facility will be one of the largest greenhouses in the U.S. and it anticipates shipping its first crop by 2020, hopefully revolutionizing the produce supply chain for U.S. grocers. AppHarvest Greenhouse is located in Appalachia, which is less than a day's drive to more than two-thirds of the U.S. population, including large cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. This convenient proximity could potentially lower transportation costs by a whopping 75% and enable the facility to compete against foreign imports. The greenhouse plans to utilize controlled environmental agriculture inspired by consumer demand for healthy foods produced in a sustainable, transparent way. Appalachia hopes their greenhouse facility will become one of the largest indoor produce subs in the U.S. What grocers need to know is that ag is moving quickly - very quickly - to the benefit of retailers.
Phil Lempert:
12:09
And now, in anticipation of our upcoming guest egg farmer, here's a lighthearted, egg-related story. Social media is fueling a market for novelty eggs. Is this the rise of the #eggfluencer? When Michelle Livingston opted to put a couple of chickens in her backyard, she had no idea how much she'd come to love their antics, their intelligence, and their beautiful eggs. The birds were Easter Eggers, a breed that lays green and blue eggs. Seriously. Before long, she and her husband purchased a farm about 200 miles southwest of Denver, and they were ready to grow their own flock. Sunshine Mesa Farm sells their rainbow dozens that come in white, green, sky blue and multiple shades of taupe. Livingston keeps 20 different breeds of chickens ranging from dark-brown laying Welsummers to locally bred, high-production, blue or green layers, and this has given rise to a demand for beautiful, colorful, Instagram-friendly, rainbow eggs. Posting photos of these colored eggs on social media garners huge views. And while rainbow eggs may not be commercially practical, they do provide an invaluable marketing tool, as small farms often can't compete with industrial ag's low prices. These smaller farms must market themselves in a way that sets them apart and rainbow eggs are like Instagram catnip, especially for Millennials and Generation Z. Offline, rainbow eggs appear to be a mix of both kitchen decoration and virtue as many of the specialty egg clientele by these colorful eggs as party offerings - a modern spin on the traditional bottle of wine. What grocers need to know is to stock these eggs to bring in new and more shoppers to your traditionally boring egg case.
Phil Lempert:
14:01
Trey Braswell is the fourth-generation president of Braswell Family Farms, whose slogan on their website says it best. "We are eggs." Trey, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Trey Braswell:
14:11
Hey, thank you so much. I'm glad to be here.
Phil Lempert:
14:14
So Trey, you got your start on the farm by sweeping floors, unloading rail cars. Now you're the president. How is raising chickens and laying eggs changed over the decades?
Trey Braswell:
14:24
It has changed a lot. I've been here for about 11 or so years and I did start sweeping floors. My great uncle said, if you can't find something else to do, you better have a broom in your hand. Since I'm the fourth generation, and since the first generation was around when we initially got into raising baby chicks and egg layers, things have changed so much. But the interesting thing is that a lot of things are coming back around full circle. You know, people are going back to the way things were a hundred years ago.
Phil Lempert:
15:05
Well, you know, that's to your point, you're one of the few egg producers who offer a wide range of eggs. You have organic, cage-free, pasture-raised. What are the trends that you see happening with consumers and their desire for eggs? Obviously you're responding to it, so you're looking towards the future.
Trey Braswell:
15:23
You know, we've been very fortunate. The Lord has provided us with a little foresight throughout the years. My dad and my granddad and my great uncle have always kinda been on the cusp and on the forefront of what's next, what's going to be different in our industry. We started producing Eggland's best eggs in the late eighties and we got into the organic in the 90s. We were one of the only producers in that back in that time period. Cage free, and now we're doing pasture-raised and free-range. And you know, we just see consumers desire a choice. And that's been the way that our company has been successful is embracing that; we want consumers to have a choice and we want to do a good job producing those types of eggs and feed. And that's just been important to us. I want a consumer to be able to go in the store and have a choice and not be forced into one type of egg or another because it's either easier for me or more P.C. for somebody else's own personal beliefs, but we just want people to be able to choose what fits their family and their budget and their lifestyle.
Phil Lempert:
16:35
And obviously the price of of eggs differ from conventional eggs to pasture-raised and cage-free. So, not only are you giving them a choice about the type of egg they want, but also you're giving them the choice on affordability, which is great.
Trey Braswell:
16:53
Absolutely. Some people strictly want a high-quality, safe protein and they wanted it atthe best price. And that's out there. We provide that and a conventional commodity egg, and some people feel like and desire to pay a little bit more to either have a nutritionally enhanced egg, like an Eggland's best or either an egg like organic or pasture-raised where they feel they're doing something about providing that bird a different environment, which they may or may not feel like is a better environment. And that's of a value to consumers. And so we just, we want to be able to provide those options.
Phil Lempert:
17:33
You and your family have made a serious commitment to everyone who works on the farm to have a great life. Tell us a bit more about that and why it's so important to you.
Trey Braswell:
17:43
Well, I'm glad you asked. You know, we believe that at Braswell Family Farms that we're giving this business to be good stewards over, and that means taking care of the business, taking care of the people, and it's ours for a time. And so we want to honor that. And the people that work with us are our greatest asset and we wouldn't be where we are without them. So, we really try and take that word family - and not only is it a family-owned business, but we try to treat our people like part of our family,and that means everything from being generous with the profits of the company to the kind of the atmosphere and the things we do to look out for them and provide benefits that enriched the lives of the employee and their family. Everybody's got things going on in their life that are hard and great and we want to be of support. You know, you can't get caught up in thinking that everything has to stop at the door because people just can't turn it all off and we want to provide support for them, where possible, to help them be healthier here at work and at home.
Phil Lempert:
18:50
That's fabulous. Well, Trey, thanks for joining us today on Farm, Food, Facts and to learn more about Trey and the company and the family, visit braswellfamilyfarms.com and be sure to join the flock and thank you for joining us on Farm, Food, Facts. For more information on all things food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit fooddialogues.com under the Programs and Media tab and visit us on Facebook at U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance or on Twitter at USFRA. Until next week.