I would like to share with you an exciting TEDx talk I just listened to by Jeff Olson. Olson called his talk “Victory Gardens, the Sequel.”
I think there’s a lot of “food” for thought for a Catholic Homesteader in this talk. Even though Jeff Olson and his agropreneurs are not Catholic Homesteaders, I think we likely share many of the same values.
So, without further ado. Here’s the video and transcript of Jeff Olson’s TED talk, “Victory Gardens, the Sequel”:
Victory Gardens, the Sequel – Jeff Olson, Agropreneurs TEDx Talk
TRANSCRIPT: Victory Gardens, the Sequel – Jeff Olson, Agropreneurs TEDx Talk
Ideas and stories that are worth spreading always contain two things: conflict and struggle, and character transformation.
70 years ago last week, D-Day, the allied forces overwhelmed the enemy and transformed the character of our world.
The magnitude and the mobilization of that effort was stunning.
In the vortex of war, America redirected all of its resources to serve, fuel, and feed the troops.
It created a lot of scarcity and rationing back home.
America’s victory gardens, seeded by war, grew out of citizenry, patriotism, and resourcefulness.
Those same forces today are creating the sequel to last century’s victory gardens.
The victory gardens embodied civic activation.
Two thirds of American households, 20 million homes, answered the call of duty and grew over 40% of America’s fruits and vegetables during that time.
When the war ended, the civilian tour of crop duty ended and horses and hands were replaced by combines and computers.
Agricultural Imperialism: “Get Big or Get Out”
In the 1970s, agricultural imperialism was born. Food exports and aid came to be viewed as an instrument of national power.
Then Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, said, “Control oil and you control nations, control food and you control people.”
“Control oil and you control nations, control food and you control people.”
– Henry Kissinger
As the federal government admonished our American farmers infamously by saying, “You better get big or get out,” as power shifted to deregulation and free markets, and high-production, low-margin, the global Ag corporation was born.
By the end of the 20th century, two thirds of the world’s corn was grown in the U.S. and today, King Corn, Queen Soy, and Prince Wheat maintain their imperial reign.
In every kingdom you have a court jester and in this case, the court jester has become humpty-dumpty industrialized food where all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and machines and modifiers are trying to put Dumpty Humpty back together again and up on the shelves.
Unforeseen Consequences of Industrialized Food
Enter the unforeseen consequences of industrialized food: the fast and furious, humpty dumpty food industry is a tragedy of human health, an irony of ecology, and a paradox in economics.
The tragedy is that industrialized food has become the biggest drug on the planet and it is a weapon of mass destruction.
The irony is that plants are the masters and commanders of environmental emergence; commodity plants degrade and destroy it.
The economic paradox here is that we have a food trade deficit and food trade surplus at the same time.
We ship cheap food out into the world and we have to reach beyond our borders to import the food that is most important to human health.
The boiling frog in all of this, the house of cards in all this food and farming conundrum is climate change.
Before our Cadillac deserts become unrecognizable, we will see civil war erupt out of drought, poverty, and power. Just Google the back story on Syria.
Before our California farmers disappear, we’re going to get really busy around bailing out and maintaining the status quo.
That’s a picture of the reservoir in the Salinas Valley and that’s not snow: that’s dust, and that’s drought two months ago [not pictured]. Before Fargo becomes Phoenix, we have a lot of character transformation ahead.
We swirl and swim in a food matrix, a food sovereignty and security, and science, scalability, sustainability, and technology, and distribution, and production.
We have food hubs, sheds, deserts, and disparities, and at some point you get back, deer in the headlights, and you become comfortably numb.
Dislocation between Nature and Humans
We live in unprecedented times, times that represent the greatest dislocation between nature and humans ever.
The moral ambiguity of feeding six billion, let alone seven, eight, nine, ten billion, is an omnivore’s dilemma, no question.
It’s also a delusion to think that we can grow food the same way and eat the same way and actually win the future.
In winning the future, there will be winners and losers, suffering will accelerate based off of fear, and ignorance, and indecision.
However, it’s not the strongest that survive or the smartest that survive, it’s actually those that can adapt.
Adaptive Response: Closed-Environment Agriculture and Greenhouse
The adaptive response – couple that with innovation – together, adaptation and innovation, are disruptive, they’re transformational.
So how do we adapt to climate change? How do we then innovate and help people grow and scale locally grown food nationally?
That sounds like a treasure hunt to me, that sounds like one for the crazy ones.
Enter the reality distortion field of closed-environment agriculture, greenhouse growing.
The Dutch pioneered it, industrialized nations are fully embracing it, many turning into net exporters of produce.
Chances are that one of two tomatoes that you eat comes from a greenhouse in Mexico.
China, biggest in the world, 2.8 million acres under glass in greenhouses.
We in America, we’re dead last among industrialized nations. We are losing the battle to grow all the food most important to human health.
We used to be a net exporter of fruits and vegetables, and we are now a net importer of fruits and vegetables.
Green Growing Policy
Here’s where mayors, governors, city planners, leaders, and capitalists need to start taking notes.
You want to win? You want a victory?
States, cities, and communities need to start thinking like these progressive countries around greenhouse farming.
It’s Economic Development 101.
My old friend, an old teammate of mine, is now the Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development in the state of Utah.
Three months ago today, they announced an $80 million project, phase one being 28 acres of greenhouses just south of Salt Lake City with all kinds of economic development, wins and bells and whistles.
They’re in the lead and in Colorado, we’ve got to get our game on, find our mojo.
My story, my wife and I, we own a health food company, and we stand at the convergence of humanities and technology.
There are few things more human than eating good healthy food, and when you couple that with insanely great food technology, you can help the world eat a whole heck lot more of it.
Three years ago, I stepped back to the future and into a greenhouse, and I tapped into a river that runs through me from my childhood.
Jeff Olson’s Story: Beautiful Gardens & The Shire
I grew up in Montana, and I learned about beauty from my dad, and what creativity and stewardship can bring to bear in service to nature.
His backyard gardens, his beautiful gardens, were my Shire and they inspire me every time I’m in them.
Fast-forward 30 years, I stepped into another beautiful garden, inside a colleague’s greenhouse with insanely great food technology that our corporate partner had purchased, and I saw Wonka‘s pure imagination. I saw a Jetson food technology and the design wizardry of a Steve Jobs.
Turns out the inventor, Tim Blank, is a bit like all three of them and when you walk into this experience, and you taste this food, it’s wow, and it’s cool, and it’s whoa.
If, if, if, if. If we can think different. If we can think different.
Enter the insurgent, divergent, convergent, emergent adaptation and innovation of growing food up in the air.
Vertical aeroponics serves nature with aerodynamic design. It is elegantly simple, uses only air and mineral water. Basically plants drink mineral water.
They’re not in the business of consuming organic matter, i.e., carbon molecules. They drink water mixed with inorganic earth mineral molecules.
There is no such thing as organic Perrier, you know? There is no such thing as organic mineral water in science or in the store.
I want you to imagine 43,000 square feet of your favorite leafy green, a field of greens.
43,000 square feet – that’s an acre.
Vertical Aeroponics: Space Saving, Water Saving
Vertical aeroponics can do it in 4,000 square feet. 90% less space, 90% less water.
Technology has been tested, tried, and proven, and scientifically published. NASA has used it.
You want to talk about the aerodynamics of economics.
I want you to imagine an acre of commodity corn. A farmer gets about $1,200 of revenue off of that. An acre of traditionally grown, a field of organic produce: about $12,000 for that. An acre of vertical aeroponics: a quarter of a million dollars in revenue.
And that’s one harvest.
You put it in a greenhouse, and you get ten harvests a year. 25 times 10, you do the math.
Agropeneurs and Veterans to Farmers
Two years ago at TEDxMileHigh, I met a greenhouse farmer named Buck Adams. Turns out he was a marine, a veteran, and the founder of Veterans to Farmers.
Their mission is to turn protectors into providers through an urban Ag training program that scales them up and retrains them in greenhouse growing techniques, urban agriculture, and how to be agropreneurs out in the world. I was captivated.
We joined forces, and together, we helped a veteran to farmer graduate, Evan Premer, launch Colorado’s first small vertical farm with his mom. There they are in the picture there. Evan’s here today.
Evan’s a 15-year army veteran, and he was a helicopter gunner in the Iraq war. You want to talk about character transformation from a gunner to a gardener? I mean that’s transformative, right?
After a year of production, they’re sold out. They harvest lettuce every 28 days: boom, boom, boom! Selling produce to some of the finest restaurants in town. But they’ve run out of room, they need to expand, and they have a deep bench of people that are waiting for them to expand.
One very well-known restaurant in town toured his greenhouse and was so inspired they are launching their own vertical farm with their own veteran graduate this summer.
Veterans to Farmers hopes to someday own its own greenhouse too, where they can empower a new wave of vets to become agropreneurs like Evan, and soldier on as civilians and maybe become the greatest next generation.
Market for Locally Grown Food
People are hungry for beautiful food. They’re hungry for locally grown food, and technology can make it cool, urban, and possible for the next generation to want to be farmers.
But there’s a supply and demand grand disconnect. Let me talk to you about that.
We here in Colorado, known as an agricultural state, less than a 100th of one percent of all the food we eat every year is actually grown here in Colorado. It’s stunning.
97% of all the leafy greens we eat here in Colorado every single year are shipped from out of state and imported from thousands of miles away. 97%, that is ridiculous.
You want to talk about the economic demand?
My cousins grow high-end Pinot Noir grapes in Sonoma. They command eight times more in income than a vineyard farmer in Fresno.
Quality and location. In retail it’s location, location, location, and in beautiful food, it’s local, local, local, fresh, and clean.
I want you to imagine, Colorado, that we mobilized, and we grew the supply side up to where a quarter of Colorado’s food consumed every year was actually grown in Colorado.
Economic Impact of Locally Grown Food
What would be the economic impact of a local food shift to 25%? 30,000 new jobs, $1 billion in new wages, $2 billion every year in Colorado’s GDP, $200 million in new tax revenues, year in and year out.
I just want to leave that up there and let you marinate on that for a while. That’s a transformation; that’s a character transformation.
To that end, I’m excited to announce local tower farm’s joint venture of community agropreneurs that are going to put a state-of-the-art greenhouse in Denver, a vertical farm full of hundreds of towers. It will basically be like a glass fishbowl that you can come see, touch, taste, and feel, launching this fall.
Phase Two has the potential to become a national treasure and redefine local Ag in America.
Beyond that, the company’s got half a dozen farms that are ready to deploy vertical farms in their neighborhood.
I asked a friend of mine who will lead this growing enterprise, why are you doing this?
“This is the right thing to do, rescue beauty, and we’re going to do it.”
They said straight out, “This is the right thing to do, rescue beauty, and we’re going to do it.”
Redeploying the American farm is the sequel to the victory gardens.
We are recruiting an allied invasion of citizens to transform locally grown food in your neighborhood, and that is an idea worth spreading, a hunger games worth playing, an amazing race worth winning.
On to victory!
Thank you, God bless.