Tag Archives: Opportunities

Interview with Frederik Lean – Building a food tech community and vertical farming

This is a an interview I have looked forward to for a long time. Both due to Frederik being a friend of mine, but also because he is really driven towards making change happen, not just talk about, but building stuff, as he would put it. In this interview we are focusing on Vertical Farming, and how that will lead us to create a more sustainable agricultural system. But lets hear from the man himself.

Can you start with telling us a little about yourself?

Sure. I’m basically an altruistic hippie caught inside a the body of a super capitalist startup dude out for vengeance on the food system while wearing round design-thinking glasses. Also, I grow plants indoor using all sorts of fancy equipment and try to build a productive community around food technology in Copenhagen. Background within economics, technology and open-source projects.

What are your current work in relation to foodtech?

1 year ago, I co-initiated CPH Foodtech Community (connecting food & technology people on hands-on development projects), Growstack Cooperative (enabling and kickstarting vertical farming) & Reffen Greens (growing microgreens and herbs in a 20’ shipping container), and have all sorts of ambitious projects associated with these initiatives. CPH Foodtech Community is essentially the platform that spun-out the Growstack project (which is now becoming a cooperative), which again is the reason why the opportunity to establish Reffen Greens as a local micro-scale vertical farm came about.

What is vertical farming? And why is it important?

Vertical farming is basically the use of technology like LED lights, automated irrigation, sensors, dispensers and data science to grow plants in multiple levels on top of each other in highly controlled environments and usually without soil. And why is it an important thing? First of all, it’s no secret that our current agricultural system has a few very serious issues in terms of things like pollution, deforestation, lack of arable land and limited biodiversity, meaning that scaling up our current way of producing plants simply just isn’t a viable option in the future. Secondly, the biggest risk factor within agriculture is really the weather. And since we have very little certainty about the state of our climate even in the coming 10-15 years, removing that risk seems like a pretty good idea. At the same time, people’s food habits are actually getting worse in terms of climate impact. And if we want people to eat less meat and other environmentally unfriendly foods, we better start making plants the far superior alternative. With vertical farming we can actually attain higher quality, pesticide free and non-pollutant plant production year round and grow all kinds of varieties that would otherwise be difficult, because we have full climate control and can use enriched sensor-data to find out exactly how to optimise for not only yield and size, but also taste and nutritional value at the same time. Apart from this, vertical farming has the potential to really decentralise part of food production as we know it, which has some pretty valuable socioeconomic benefits and other cool stuff within achievable range.

Small scale vertical farm
Frederik at TechBQQ spreading the word about vertical faming and food tech.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building on that, from your knowledge, how can Vertical Farming help create greater traceability and transparency of food products?

Well, given how digital the production is, it’s a lot easier to know exactly what inputs the plants have received and track the journey all the way from seed production to your plate. Kristoffer, you are probably fishing for a recommendation to develop some kind of fancy blockchain application here – but I’m Just (pun intended) not gonna give it to you.
Kristoffer: I honestly wasn’t, but I think that Vertical Farming in itself is going to create transparency. By looking at farms which is based in the same buildings as supermarkets, people could go by where their lettuce, basil is grown, thereby minimising both the physical and psychological distance between us, and the food we eat. And hopefully inspiring people to ask questions about the foods origin and cultivation.
If someone was interested to learn more, where could they read more on this topic? 
There’s always www.growstack.org – but honestly simple Google and youtube searches will bring you an abundance of good introductions to the topic. Then there are different kinds of scientific articles, documentaries and books written on the topic as well – again google is your friend. Another quick reference could be www.agritecture.com which usually features a few interesting developments from the global scene. And no – if you google Growstack Marketplace and find links to anabolic steroid products available for purchase, it is not us. I promise.

The current food supply chain is broken. Here is 5 reasons

Supply chains. We know surprisingly very little about most of the products we eat every day. Before even reaching the end consumer, products travel through an often-vast process flow of retailers, distributors, transporters, storage facilities, and suppliers. Here is five reasons the current system aren’t working:

1. Complexity – In the beginning, two centuries ago, the supply chain was a revolutionary idea. The idea was improve visibility and control of products through interorganizational exchange, as they moved from A to Z. But this old concept and the inherent technology can no longer support today’s production and supply cycles of products, which have become extremely fragmented, complicated process and geographically scattered across the globe. The effect is, that supply chains now is a blurred process that is extremely hard to manage for retail businesses, to effectively track and trace their products, and thereby paving the path for, e.g. fraudulent behaviour. The emphasis on providing cheap food has led to complex supply chains which are ripe for fraudulent activity, according to Prof. Chris Elliot.

2. Demand – We, as consumers, are very demanding when it comes to food. We want fresh bananas, juicy tomatoes, tasty mango all year long, no matter the season, we want it. And your local supermarket knows, and are trying to deliver out-of-season food all year long. It takes a lot of resources to ship non-local goods around the world, which from a sustainability stance, is very damaging.

3. Traceability – With more companies outsourcing for raw materials and distribution, having end-to-end visibility in a supply chain is an absolute necessity in order to ensure public safety, as well as brand protection. The information and data is an integral part of the product quality, so this information needs to provide an accurate picture of where your products are at any given time in your supply chain. A food traceability system is only effective if it can track and trace every component of every product, which the current system can’t.

4. Certifications – On the face of it, certifications on everything from fish to timber can be seen as progress, with a promise of better standards and the pursuit of sustainability. But what purpose are the certification labels actually serving? Can we assume that they are beneficial to producers? Do consumers understand what’s behind a certification label, as there seems to arise new certifications all the time? Today, the industry is more aware that certification alone isn’t addressing problems of low productivity, poor infrastructure and child labour, which continue to destabilise the supply chain. An example is Fairtrade, which is not that fair at all.

5. Transparency – With the requirement of only knowing one step back, and one step forth, actors in food supply chains have very little transparency of where their products come from. This, and other factors, leads to scandals like horse meat in cow meat, harmful pesticides in bananas, Chinese terrified of eating processed food and fraud with extra virgin olive oil.

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/mar/10/fairtrade-labels-certification-rainforest-alliance

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20120511005906/en/trace-Lack-traceability-product-integrity-%E2%80%93-profits

Interview – Audit and Control Specialist, Johnny Helt

You buy your food products every day from your favorite store. Bring them home for you and your family to eat. But what you might not be aware off (and rightly so), is all the hard work that has gone before the food product lands on the shelfs. Some are working to make sure there is transparency and traceability of the food we eat. I think it is important to know how the system works now, to know what can be done to improve the transparency and traceability.

That’s why I have made this interview blog post.

One of these great people that are are trying to make sure that the food we eat, are safe to eat, is Johnny, an Audit and Control Specialist. Johnny works at COOP Trading which is a procurement company for COOP in the Nordics. I had the pleasure of interviewing Johnny as a part of my data collection for my thesis. During my thesis process I could feel his personal commitment to make sure that the food products he handles, is investigated as best as possible with the tools at hand. So here goes!

Can you start with telling us a little about yourself?

My name is Johnny Helt and I am hired in Coop Trading as Audit and Control Specialist. My primary work are audit and control, but I also process and develop tools to make our control and audits more agile and more professional. I have a bachelor in Nutrition and Home Economics and I am ISO 9001 IRCA approved lead auditor.

What is quality control and auditing, and why is it important?

Quality control and audit are the same, just with other words. As I see it, audit is also control. Control is to ensure that processes comply with the legislation, specifications, procedures and specific demands from third parties. The importance of quality control and auditing is described as a deeper investigation of the specific product or processes to ensure that it comply with the demands, if not you will get products and processes that are out of control and the outcome will fail. That’s why control and auditing are important.

Great, but how did you first get involved with quality control and auditing?

I have always been dedicated to quality control; it is part of my “way of working”. I worked in DLG (Dansk Landbrugs Grovvare Selskab) for almost 10 years, with implementing HACCP and process control.

What are your current work in relation to quality control and auditing?

My current work are to evaluate and prequalify suppliers to Coop Group, doing supplier audits all over the world (app. 50 audits a year), developing new tools to make the work with audit and control more agile, delivering input to our team, handling complaints for all countries in Coop Group, handling recalls, and a lot more.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work with quality control and auditing?

The most challenging aspect of working with control and auditing are that “things” are not always as they seem to be, and you have to be very process orientated and get into the mindset of the supplier/producer, to see and evaluate the performance of the supplier. Especially when I do traceability on the audits, I feel I have to think like “a criminal”, how could I cheat and how would I do it…. Especially on high value products (Extra Virgin Olive Oil, meat, etc.)

Building on that, from your knowledge, what can be done to create greater traceability of food products and why?

Based on the European legislation the suppliers has to trace “one forward and one backwards”. Today we live in a world where “everything” is possible and I think that revising the demands to traceability should be developed, especially on products, which are high value products. So it would be a great idea to build a system, where you also could “follow the money”, and not only the product.

This was a short glimpse of just one role “behind the scenes” of getting your food products safe and sound to the dinner table. So, thank you Johnny for this insight, and if you want to read more on supply chains and how blockchain can change it for the better, read this post.

PS: I will follow up on Johnny’s “follow the money”, on how to use blockchain as a Supply Chain Finance tool for better transparency. Stay tuned!

© 2018 Kristoffer Just Petersen