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A farmer, a neurologist, and a data analysist walk into a conference. What could be the start of a terrible joke is a list of just a few of the panelists I heard from at last week's MixingBowl Conference, held in Manhattan's Flatiron District.
While unrelated at first glance, each panelist spoke about the intersection of food and information technology. The farmer explained how he uses technology to manage his urban farm; the neurologist made a connection between diet and brain degeneration, discovered through MRi technology; and the analyst called for a more cohesive means of collecting and implementing data on farms.
In between each talk were fast pitches: food entrepreneurs pitched the projects they've been working on, some fully developed and running, others still in Beta. Here's what's new this year—and could become much bigger by the next—in food and tech:
While many food waste nonprofits, like Lovin' Spoonfuls and City Harvest, don't accept food donations from individuals due to the overhead operating costs of their pickup vans, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine operates on foot.
Their volunteers, headquartered in New York City and operating in 12 cities across the country, pick up as much food as they can carry along designated routes. Each route with multiple volunteers rescues an average of 50 pounds of food—enough to feed about 40 people. In a city like New York, where their CEO Robert Lee said "over one in five people rely on food assistance," these donations make an enormous difference. To volunteer, see if Rescuing Leftover Cuisine operates in a city near you.
Quality of wine—especially red wine—is highly dependent on water-stress of the vine that produced the grapes. If the grapes get as little water as possible (without compromising key functions) during the ripening stage, the vine will funnel its resources into developing the grapes, increasing the skin-to-juice ratio (which arguably leads to more complex wines). Previously, measuring vines for water-stress came down to rudimentary tools and anecdotal knowledge, but FloraPulse, created by a mechanical engineering PhD candidate at Cornell University, Michael Santiago, is able to measure the water-stress using a more accessible method (that we would need a PhD to explain).
The crux of Michael's pitch? That this could save over 1.8 billion gallons of water per year in California and result in a 12.5% increase in revenue to each winemaker. They plan to apply their technology to other woody plants, nuts, and stone fruit trees in the future.
Edamam automatically creates nutrition and calorie guides for recipes online (like the ones you've seen on The New York Times). Their website collects the recipes from the websites they serve to create a database of nutrition information. According to their CEO, Victor Penev, their systems are capable of analyzing 1 million recipes in 8 hours—is this the end of the nutritionist?
Spoon University is a website run by a network of contributors from college campuses across the United States on food stories and recipes, organized by categories that appeal to college students ("I'm Hungover," "I'm High," "I'm Tryna Be Healthy"). In short, it's a collection food-related articles by college students for college students—or "lifelong students" tryna be 22.
Amp Your Good isn't a crowd sourcing site—it's a "crowd feeding" site. According to its founder, Patrick O'Neill, over 20% of canned donations are never used—and nearly all of those donations are processed, unhealthy food. To drive better donation activity, Amp Your Good provides a site where people can purchase fresh groceries online to feed campaigns. This year, they're partnering with the U.S. Postal Service's food drive—the largest in the world—to get fresh food to those in need.
Running an indoor farm requires a lot of data—water, energy, plant nutrition, and CO2 output are all vital components to a larger system. Right now, data lives across different software systems, but Agrilyst is condensing the data into one software that runs analytics for the growers and provides recommendations for them. In the words of their CEO, Allison Kopf, "We're creating a class of farming that's predictable."
What do you think? Are these the next big things in food? Tell us in the comments below!