Danielle Nierenberg is the inspiring founder of Food Tank, the Washington DC-based non-profit think tank dedicated to educating, inspiring, advocating, and creating change for a more equitable food system globally. The organization has a global network of over 30,000 members and subscribers and holds events to bring the industry together to discuss the food industry’s most pressing challenges. (Here’s our coverage reported from Food Tank DC earlier this year, which focused on the next Farm Bill.)
We caught up with Nierenberg to get a high-level view of the challenges facing the industry today, how technology can play a role, and being a female entrepreneur.
What are the biggest challenges facing the food system in the US today?
If you asked me a few months ago before the new presidential administration, my answer would probably have been different. Now we’re really facing an upward political challenge to create a healthier, more sustainable food system. We made some gains over the last eight years but we didn’t make as many as we could have despite having a more liberal president. I wish we had; a lot of us sat back and thought things were going forward, and everyone was buying local foods and feeling good about going to the farmers’ market and so on. Now, we have a real fight on our hands, but that’s a good thing as it reminds us of the urgency of the issues. We have to make a stand and make sure we’re investing in the right kinds of things, not just innovation, but in people, and farmers, young scientists, and advocates; we need to be storytellers around issues and make sure our voices are heard.
How does that differ to the rest of the world?
One of the reasons we founded Food Tank was to bridge the food industry at home and abroad. There’s this assumption that farmers in the US have a wealth of information they can share with poor farmers in the rest of the world – and that’s, of course, true in many ways – but there is also a lot for our farmers to learn from smallholders because they are struggling with many of the same things we are around climate, water scarcity, wildfires, drought and so on.
Farmers elsewhere in the world have often been dealing with a lot less education and fewer resources than US farmers. Among these farmers, there is growing interest in alternative cropping systems, mixed crop and livestock systems, growing more durable foods that can withstand drought, flooding, and extreme weather. So I think there’s an exciting opportunity for developed nations like the US to learn from elsewhere.
How is Food Tank hoping to change this?