2024 Annual Conference summary – Inspirational talks

Sharing journeys towards a sustainable future

Monday, Apr 08, 2024

During the Forum for the Future of Agriculture 2024 Annual Conference, three speakers with very different backgrounds in high-end gastronomy, agricultural production, and nature and wildlife conservation shared their own journeys towards a sustainable future.

Getting closer to nature with cooking

Ana Roš, chef at the three-star Michelin restaurant Hiša Franko in Slovenia, explained that when she started cooking professionally, “I understood that if we wanted to survive, we needed to get closer to nature and to start cooking from nature”. Her approach has also earned the restaurant a green star for sustainability.

Developing a local supply chain from scratch 20 years ago proved to be a learning process both for farmers and Ana. Now she can call on over 100 producers. While insisting on the quality of the ingredients, her policy is never to negotiate with farmers about price, but to accept what they ask. This led to her paying €1 per potato, prompting media interest and the revelation that Slovenian supermarkets sold imports from Egypt and Turkey rather than domestic varieties. “It is because we are a society which is profit driven. I am proud to be somehow an ambassador for my farmers.”

During the first Covid lockdown, food chains were broken, and farmers could not sell their produce. She and her team collaborated with a Slovenian supermarket chain to create healthy recipes using that produce. It produced a win-win situation. “We helped farmers, but we also brought the best possible food to everybody’s home.”

From seed to fridge – sustainable production

Samo Login, Founder and CEO, LoginEko, began focussing on sustainability 15 years ago, increasingly concentrating on food “because of a growing population, increasing living standards, reduced soil fertility and biodiversity from non-sustainable land use”. This involves addressing the whole food system “from seed to fridge”. He criticised existing policies saying: “Unfortunately, governments are mostly not working in the direction of sustainable food systems as they are all subsidising meat, milk and biofuel production.”

LoginEko is concentrating on the sustainable production of staple crops on its 3,700 organically certified hectares. It is developing its own farming software to improve efficiency and enable full traceability. This ensures transparency, which Samo considered to be “the cornerstone to bring more fairness or justice to the whole food system”. He confirmed that it would freely share the software and knowledge once proven effective after testing.

The company also focuses on consumers, recognising that in todayʾs world the need for highly convenient food is unlikely to disappear. It has launched its first product with success in Slovenia – a meal in a bottle called Njamito (from the Slovene for “delicious”) – and is now signing up licensees. Free samples of the organic drink were available to participants as part of the company’s commitment to the vision of “healthy food for everyone”.

A model that works for both biodiversity as well as people

Amy E. Johnson, Conservation Biologist and Program Director, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, presented a successful collaborative conservation initiative in rural Virginia. “If we want to be successful in moving conservation forward, we absolutely have to facilitate a model that works for both biodiversity as well as people.” The Smithsonian initiated the scheme after a group of landowners requested scientific advice on how to be better land stewards. It brought together partners, scientists and a wide range of other interests and volunteers, launching the Virginia Working Landscapes in 2010. Participation has now grown from an initial ten to more than 300 landowners with research covering over 95,000 acres.

Ms Johnson gave the example of the Eastern Meadowlark. The bird builds its nest on the ground in the hay and pasture grasses in early May, traditionally leading to 100% mortality when farmers later harvest their hay. With help of American Farmland Trust, the project devised two schemes – summer stockpiling and delaying hay harvesting – that enable the birds to reproduce successfully during the nesting season.

She stressed the need for incentives. To encourage take-up of the new practices, landowners and farmers can now apply for state funding. Wider work is also under way on a conservation certification label farmers can display. She concluded that partners producers can trust – a role American Farmland Trust performed – is essential for a project’s success.

Further information on the speakers plus videos of this session can be viewed on the event page.

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