Farm Food Facts

Ep28 Enid Partika, Will Tanaka, Jeremy Brown

June 12, 2019 Episode 28
Farm Food Facts
Ep28 Enid Partika, Will Tanaka, Jeremy Brown
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Ep28 Enid Partika, Will Tanaka, Jeremy Brown
Jun 12, 2019 Episode 28
USFRA
Show Notes Transcript

Our thought leaders for this week's "Farm, Food, Facts" podcast are Enid Partika and Will Tanaka, UCSD students & inventors of "The BioEnergy Project".

The stories you need to know:
• Survey says the phrase “Buy Local” is unclear for Shoppers.
• How Sustainability is Changing Grocery Stores.
• A Significant Increase in Cotton Plantings is Projected.

This week's farmer is Jeremy Brown, Texas Cotton Farmer

Phil Lempert:
0:01
Farm, Food, Facts: where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to the Farm, Food, Facts interactive podcast presented by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance for Wednesday, June 12th, 2019. I'm your host, Phil Lempert.:
Phil Lempert:
0:19
This week's farmer is Jeremy Brown, Texas cotton farmer, who shares his insights and experiences on sustainable farming across the variety of crops. But first, food waste is a staggering problem. About 40% of food goes to landfills, and supermarkets dispose of hundreds of shopping carts of product each and every day, costing us a total of $161 billion every year. In addition, it creates methane gas and carbon dioxide. Two UC San Diego undergraduates have come up with a solution, and they won $10,000 for the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. Enid Partika and Will Tanaka have invented The Bioenergy Project, a compact system that converts food waste from dining halls and restaurants into two environmentally responsible products: nutrient rich organic fertilizer and biogas to create electricity and heat. Campuses and restaurant can grow their own vegetables, they can generate their own renewable energy, and do it all in house. Enid and Will, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.:
Enid Partika:
1:26
Thank you.:
Will Tanaka:
1:27
Thank you for having us.:
Phil Lempert:
1:28
So Enid, I know you're about ready to graduate next year about this time in Environmental Systems and Environmental Chemistry. What inspired you both to create The Bioenergy Project?:
Enid Partika:
1:42
We saw how much food waste was just going into the landfill in our school dining hall, and we thought it was a really big problem. And we looked into a lot of different methods and we thought that an anaerobic digestion and composting system would be the most efficient way to go for the scale that we were trying to reach.:
Phil Lempert:
2:05
So, talk to me for a moment about when you went to the head of the cafeteria and the food service and you said, okay, I'm going to change your life. I'm going to change your world. Here's what we're gonna do. What was the reaction from them?:
Enid Partika:
2:18
You know, a lot of restaurants were pretty receptive. Before we came along, they were just having to throw out their food waste. And in California, a lot of people do have food waste re-purposing, environmentalism on their mind. And they thought that, if they had a chance for their business to become more sustainable, they were very willing to take that up.:
Phil Lempert:
2:43
So, Will, your major is nanotechnology, and you're gonna graduate in 2021. What was the biggest surprise that you had when you started talking to these food service folks?:
Will Tanaka:
3:01
I was actually pretty surprised that all these people would be - all the managers, and even the staff - they're all very on board with our program. They were super willing to cooperate with us, and in turn we were very enthusiastic to work with them. We took a lot of pride to really give them the best service that we could and work together to create this great program that we have.:
Phil Lempert:
3:18
So Enid, was this your first collaboration with Will?:
Enid Partika:
3:22
First major collaboration. We first started working together last summer, actually, really just building up the food waste collection program. Before that, we were collecting from one or two restaurants, but it was really during the summer we were able to really work together and be able to put food waste from over 15 restaurant locations into our composting and anaerobic digestion systems. And throughout the school year, we expanded to cover all of Scripps Institution of Oceanography as well as one of the dining halls.:
Phil Lempert:
3:59
So, where do you go from here with this? When you both graduate, do you form a company and make this your lead product - first of many? Will you take The Bioenergy Project in different directions? Do you want to go national with it? Give me a look into your crystal ball here.:
Enid Partika:
4:19
We are going to definitely be interested in establishing a company with this in the future. We're finishing up our research and development phase right now and we're hoping to be able to market some of our products, either towards the end of this year or going into next year. And, I also wanted to mention to you that Will is also working on mushroom cultivation from coffee grounds. And we're going to be integrating that into our system to, since UCSD gets mostly coffee grounds and tea leaves - they produce mostly coffee grounds and tea leaves. So we'll be trying to take as much of that waste stream as we can and use it for the mushrooms. So yeah, he can certainly tell you more about that.:
Will Tanaka:
5:11
Yeah, we actually found that tea leaves and coffee grounds don't do so well in the digester, they have two much stuff like ligment and silage in there that is really hard for the bacteria in the digestor to break it down. The fungi are great because they're actually one of the only organisms that can break down these compounds. And so, after we've treated the waste with the mushroom and also extracted all the nutrients we can from it, we can then take the spent substrates, spent coffee and then put that back in the digestor. So, this whole mushroom thing is kind of a part of this whole integrated food waste management and collection that we have going on.:
Phil Lempert:
5:47
So, last question. I'm assuming that you're going to split the 10 grand evenly. What are each of you going to do with it? Will, what are you going to do with your five grand?:
Will Tanaka:
5:56
I'm either thinking of using it for tuition or maybe buy a car or something like that. Or most likely put it back to the project.:
Phil Lempert:
6:05
And Enid, what about you?:
Enid Partika:
6:08
I'm going to be using some of it to go to a couple of conferences that I'll be attending throughout the summer. I'll put some of back to the project. And after that, might put some of it towards a car or some other things.:
Phil Lempert:
6:31
Well guys, congratulations on not only winning the prize, but really leading the industry to be able to design something like this, to be able to execute it, to have 15 restaurants, Scripps and so on. You've done an amazing job and I look forward to staying in touch with you and being able to share all your successes right here on Farm, Food, Facts.:
Enid Partika:
6:53
Great, and thank you very much. I'm very happy to be able to participate.:
Will Tanaka:
6:57
Thank you very much.:
Phil Lempert:
7:03
And now, the news. Survey says "buy local" is unclear for shoppers. In a recent survey of over 20,000 shoppers, Nielsen discovered that the consumer's definition of the term local varies significantly depending on the product that is being labeled as such. Some folks consider a product local if it came from the same city, while others think food is local as long it's produced here in the U.S. The categories where consumers agreed least about what local means include deli meats, deli cheeses and seafood. One reason that consumers have such a different perception of what local means is likely due to the difficulty in tracking a product's origin in today's complex global food supply chain. According to the survey, 58% of consumers say that buying local produce is important, and grocers are taking note of this. The largest percentage of survey respondents across all categories said that an item should be grown or raised within 50 miles to be actually considered local. So essentially, without clearly defined parameters for local food sourcing and labeling, retailers and shoppers have been trying to figure out what is and what is not local on their own. This study provides helpful insights into how retailers can apply the consumers' perceptions into their practices. What grocers need to know is: label it correctly. Grocers know that local has been a huge trend that has increased sales, but being genuine is critical. Label produce and other local products honestly and say right on the sign where it comes from - the farm, the city and the state. Make the farmer your rockstar and your shoppers will love it.:
Phil Lempert:
8:44
And now that we've heard what consumers say, let's shift to sustainability at retail and how sustainability is changing grocery stores. With climate concerns at an all time high, the topic of sustainability is at the forefront of many people's minds as it affects many aspects of our daily lives. For example, when we go grocery shopping, there are several choices we can make in an effort to minimize our environmental impact. But consumers aren't the only ones making changes in order to better our planet. Grocery stores are making significant adjustments to their supply chain and how they interact with consumers in order to have a smaller impact on the planet. However, in becoming more sustainable, grocery stores facing an uphill battle as food waste is an ongoing issue. According to the USDA, food is the single largest component in landfills and estimates that approximately 31% of the food supply, both from restaurants and stores, is ending up in a landfill. Stores are also responsible for distributing plastic bags, and it's been estimated that - get this - 160,000 plastic bags are used every single second. Unfortunately, these bags which are not easily recyclable, are estimated to also be used for only 12 minutes. Yet they stay in our environment for thousands of years. So, there's a great deal of pressure on grocery stores to change their ways and many grocers have. They've made adjustments to ensure they're doing their part in eliminating their impact on the environment. There's nine examples of ways that various grocery stores are making an effort to eliminate or at least minimize their impact. Number one, eliminate plastic packaging. Number two, banning single use grocery bags. Number three, selling discounted produce. Number four, making recycling easier. Five, introducing better sell by dates. Six, embracing technology in order to make a change. Seven, shopping local to keep emissions down. Number eight, donating food to eliminate waste. And number nine, composting at the store level. What grocers need to know is add these nine steps to make your stores a bit greener and your shoppers will reward you.:
Phil Lempert:
11:01
And before we hear from our cotton farmer, a significant increase in cotton plantings are projected. Although some cotton plantings got a slight late start this year, overall cotton acreage is expected to increase considerably. California cotton is coming off a strong year from 2018, sparking optimism within the industry for another good crop year. Roger Isom, the president and CEO of California Cotton Ginners & Growers Association says, "I can tell you, based on preliminary planting intentions back in January and what we're hearing from our growers and what we've seen so far, cotton acreage is going to be up. Right now, I'd say we're probably going to be close to, if not a little bit above 300,000 acres, which would be a significant increase - maybe as much as 18 to 20% over last year." The annual early season planting intention survey that was released from the National Cotton Council back in February indicated a 14% increase in cotton acreage. According to Isom, we're coming off our highest yield ever - maybe even the highest quality crop we've ever had. "Last year was a fantastic year; low insect pressure, high yields, just an incredible fall for harvest. So our quality was there a great year to grow cotton." What grocers need to know is that you can expect a lot more Made In USA cotton products this year, as a bigger crop means a greater supply and less reliance on imports.:
Phil Lempert:
12:32
And now, let's head to Texas to chat with Jeremy Brown, a Texas cotton farmer. Fifth-generation family farmer Jeremy farms with his wife Sarah and three children on their 3000 acre farm on the South Plains of West Texas. Growing both conventional and organic cotton, wheat, rye, grain sorghum, peanuts and sesame, Jeremy is committed to sustainable farming practices, including crop rotation, minimum tillage and using cover crops. Jeremy, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.:
Jeremy Brown:
13:02
Thank you, Phil. Glad to be here today.:
Phil Lempert:
13:04
So, what I find interesting is, you've been in this for quite a while. You started farming at age 15 when your family gave you 40 acres of land to manage yourself?:
Jeremy Brown:
13:15
Yes, that's correct. My dad made it very clear if I ever want to have a vehicle at age 16, I better get to work. I was highly motivated, Phil. I was highly motivated to get out there and work 'cause I had my eye on a truck I wanted.:
Phil Lempert:
13:31
So, what was the first crop that you farmed?:
Jeremy Brown:
13:34
Cotton. Yeah, we had a little 40 acre tract close to some land that my dad farmed that had an irrigation system that you had to move in the morning and the evenings. And so, I'd go out there in the mornings and move it, and then as soon as school was out and go back out there, road out there on my four-wheeler and you know, just what I could make the crop. But yeah, it was cotton. That's pretty much a staple crop out here.:
Phil Lempert:
13:56
So, it was really just dangling the keys to that truck that you wanted - that's what got you into it?:
Jeremy Brown:
14:02
Yeah. Yeah. And then dad said, "if you want to go to college, you better make some good crops." So, that's what paid for my first vehicle and my first couple of years in college.:
Phil Lempert:
14:12
In fact, I want to talk a little bit about college. You went to Texas Tech University, you have a degree in ag communications. But also, I think coming from Texas Tech, you have a tendency to really involve technology in your farming. Tell us a little bit about that.:
Jeremy Brown:
14:29
Well, yeah, farming has changed so much, especially in the last 20 years. And especially from when my dad farmed, my granddad farmed. And so, some of the biggest advancements that we've seen in production agriculture, I think's in the use of technology It's no longer just cows and plows. I mean, we are using very high-tech, precise technology, whether that's guidance systems on our tractors to mobile devices that we use to control our center pivot irrigations. It just amazes me, the things that are coming down the pipeline and what's bout to come that makes us be as precise as we can when we are growing a crop and putting out inputs and chemicals and fertilizers. And so, it was sustainable and profitable in the long run.:
Phil Lempert:
15:21
Sure. So, on the technology side, you can become more efficient, you can do all the things you've talked about. But let's talk about Mother Nature. This has been a really tough year for farmers and ranchers across the country, hasn't it?:
Jeremy Brown:
15:35
Yeah, it has. It seems like every year is tough. We can't control that one aspect of production agriculture, that's the weather. So, it has its challenges and so you just do what you can. But yeah, this year - the good thing for where I farm, we've got more moisture than we normally do. And so, you know, we're right on the verge of putting seed in the ground. So really, we're sitting very nice, I really like where we're at. And so, hopefully, this is going to be a good crop year without any bad weather. But from a moisture standpoint, we're really looking good.:
Phil Lempert:
16:15
So, you grow both conventional and organic, you see both pictures. What do you think the future holds for farmers? Are more people going to be doing what you're doing, growing both conventional and organic? Or do you see people really specializing in one or the other?:
Jeremy Brown:
16:37
I think a lot of it's gonna be driven by the consumer. That's really what got me into the organic market. As you know, I saw more and more people wanting organic, specifically in my area of organic cotton. But it comes at paying a higher price. And so, I don't know if that's one of those things you really see people ever completely, "everything's gotta be organic." Now we're seeing this movement of regenerative agriculture, and I'm a big proponent of it, but from an organic production practices, it makes it a challenge to be completely regenerative because of weeds and the other things that you deal with. So, I just think the consumers are more and more concerned about where their food and fiber come from. And, from a farmer's perspective, I tell people I'm a business owner. And so, I was fortunate enough that in my business, I can meet that niche market of those that are wanting organic, but it's got its challenges too that I think people forget about that. We're now really seeing a movement to zero tillage, or minimum tillage, but from an organic practice, when your only source of weed management is tillage, that really gets into this soil health debate of "which one's better?" And from a soil health perspective, or maybe using a chemical when needed but yet building organic matter and not killing the soil. So, I really see from a different viewpoint because I'm farming both ways.:
Phil Lempert:
18:13
Let's talk about your kids. How old are they?:
Jeremy Brown:
18:16
Yeah, I have an eight-year-old son, and then a five-year-old daughter, and a three-year-old daughter.:
Phil Lempert:
18:21
So, have you put them to work on the farm yet?:
Jeremy Brown:
18:24
My son, yeah. He does what he can; right now his favorite thing to do is drive a pickup. So, if we're in a field and I'm walking to the end of a pivot, I'll let him move it down to the end of the pivot. And, of course, he thinks that's something amazing and his mom freaks out, but he's done a good job.:
Phil Lempert:
18:46
So, when he gets to be 15 - dangling the keys to a Corvette for him?:
Jeremy Brown:
18:53
I don't know about a Corvette, maybe one of my employee's trucks that has been around the block a few times. But yeah, it's a great life style. I mean, that's one of the things I love about farming is my kids are out here working with me. And even if not working, just being with me and learning the value of hard work, learning the importance of stewarding the land, and why we do the certain things that we do to take care of the land. And so, I love that aspect of farming.:
Phil Lempert:
19:17
Well, Jeremy, thanks so much for joining us and thank you for being one of the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance Faces of Farming and Ranching.:
Jeremy Brown:
19:28
Yeah, well thanks Phil. It's been an honor:
Phil Lempert:
19:30
For more information on all things food and agriculture, and to listen to our archive, 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 time.:
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