Food Systems and the Organic Food Industry

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By William Shutkin, PGS President & CEO

Published 9.10.13

By William Shutkin, President & CEO

Tomorrow, Wednesday, September 11, I will be hosting a Brown Bag Lunch with Paul Repetto, Founder of Horizon Organic Dairy. I hope you will join Paul and me for a discussion on food systems and the organic food industry, which, according to the USDA, grew at more than double the annual growth rate for conventional foods in 2012.

It may be hard to believe, but the U.S. National Organic Program (NOP), framework, and rules, first published in 2000, are only thirteen years old. The Organic Food Production Act of 1990 resulted in a new USDA organization, the National Organic Program, and the development of the regulatory framework and standards that govern organic food in the U.S. today. While organic foods are still only a small segment of all food sales, approximately 3.5 percent in 2012, the organic food sector is growing fast and organic foods are showing up in more places and on more tables every year.

According to the U.S. NOP, “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food…has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

To many Presidians, this likely sounds like how food should be grown and produced. In fact, one might even ponder how different food systems would be today if all organic food were simply called food and non-organic food had to be specified in a distinct category of food? With Paul, we can explore this and other provocative questions. A founding member of the Organic Foods Alliance who also served on the board of the Organic Trade Association, Paul can offer insights into what makes the organic food industry tick, as well as offer an experienced perspective on food systems in general.

Many Presidio students and alumni are interested in organics and the sustainable food industry as evidenced by the demand for food-related EL opportunities and the myriad of Capstone Projects and PGS alumni-founded start-ups that focus on the food sector, including projects on aquaponics, localizing school lunches, food delivery systems, food-related impact investing, beer and more beer. Indeed, several start-ups launched at past Capstones are taking off. They include RealMealz, The Can Van, and Tomato Sherpa. Other alumni, like Tommaso Boggia (PA2), are just getting their food-related ventures off the ground including Portside Market, a new community market in Oakland’s Jack London Square. While others, like Elizabeth Ü (C1), are focused on growing their businesses and increasing their impact.

And we’ve sure had quite a few Presidio alumni working in the food sector in the news lately. Inna Volynskaya's (C13) new venture, Headlands Brewing Co., a gypsy brewing company, was recently featured on KQED’s blog. And Chirp, previously InFoods, which was founded by John Heylin (C13), was recently featured on Lifetime.

Each of these ventures, in its own way, represents a new approach to sustainable food systems. I am looking forward to sharing about these ventures with Paul and hearing about what is exciting him lately. Please grab a lunch and join in the discussion.

William Shutkin, PGS President & CEO

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