Food Movers: Keg Cycle

Food Movers: Keg Cycle

Few pieces of hardware are as synonymous with a good time as a keg. And while other carbonated fluids are stored in these aluminum or stainless steel tanks, when we hear the word keg, we think of one beverage: beer.

Nationwide, breweries opened at a rate of nearly three per day during 2017 — 997 in total — and each brewery has its own fleet of kegs. Each one of these vessels has a salmon-like lifecycle in which it leaves its homeland full of life and returns home depleted. Unlike a spent salmon, an empty keg can jump back in for another round. But like all too many migrating fish, many kegs never make it home. Of those 997 breweries that opened in 2017, 165 went belly up. For a company that’s barely covering its costs, keg loss can make the difference between a red or green bottom line for the year.

When a keg is filled at a brewery, it is ready to go out into the world and do its job dispensing beer to the people. A distributor facilitates its journey, which may include a retail outlet such as a bar, restaurant or liquor store — the first stop before its destination at a party by the lake or other #goodtimes. If all goes well, and everyone keeps their word, the empty keg will eventually return to its home brewery. If not, and the keg never makes it home, the brewery that owns it foots the bill.

An American-made stainless-steel keg can cost a brewery more than $100, and the average annual keg loss nationwide is about 6 percent, says Tim Cognata, business development director of the beer services company Satellite Logistics Group (SLG). This transformation from stainless steel to statistic ends up costing a lot more than the $30 deposit normally collected when the brewery lets a keg go. For a small brewer, he says, replacement costs for kegs can add up quickly and take a big bite out of the profit margin.

SLG offers a service called KegID, introduced in 2012, which uses scannable barcodes to keep track of a keg’s movements, including timestamps at various stops in the keg cycle and notes about maintenance and contents.

If a keg is not returned, services like KegID provide concrete data for tax-loss purposes. Even though breweries may lose more than 5 percent of its fleet of kegs, Cognata says, most breweries are writing off a mere 1 to 2 percent drop in keg numbers because they don’t have the documentation to prove greater losses. If breweries had tracking data for each keg, they could claim all of those lost vessels without worrying about facing a penalty for overclaiming, in the event of an audit.

The same data that allow a brewery to prove its loss to the IRS can also serve as evidence with which to confront a distributor for losing kegs. Sometimes a retailer collects a larger deposit than the brewery charges the retailer, which can be especially bad for keg recovery. Regardless of the reason a keg is lost, and whether or not it’s found, breweries are happy to be armed with the data KegID provides, says Cognata.

“KegID has an invoice function where you can bill a distributor for the residual value of a keg, minus the deposit,” Cognata explains. “Most distribution contracts state that the distributor is responsible for any lost assets. We provide the concrete data so that conversation can happen: ‘We sent you X number of kegs, and Y came back.’”

Thanks to that hard evidence, Cognata says, when distributors know a brewery partner uses KegID, kegs start coming back.

Other technologies are being deployed toward similar goals. A handful of well-to-do breweries are welding GPS transmitters to their kegs to track their every move — but it’s extremely expensive (think satellite phone versus cell phone). In 2009, New Belgium Brewery began attaching Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) to its 100,000 kegs. RFID is a different way to keep track of information similar to what KegID stores.

“(RFID) lends itself to keeping track of whole pallets of cargo rather than individual kegs,” Cognata says. New Belgium has since moved from RFID to SLG’s tracking technology.

The ability to closely track these mobile assets adds up to big cost savings for brewers. Today, more than 200 breweries use KegID, from well-known national micro brands like Sierra Nevada to well-named niche labels like Moustache Brewing Company.

When the container is worth almost as much as the contents it holds, it pays to keep track.

The ability to track a beer keg’s movements through its journey from full to empty helps brewers keep keg replacement costs down. Each steel keg costs around $100. Image courtesy Satellite Logistics Group.

Best Before… Who Knows?

Best Before… Who Knows?

Real food. It’s what everyone wants — farm fresh and chemical free. But real food spoils. In the field, on the truck, at the store and in your fridge. That’s why innovators and entrepreneurs are coming up with new and nifty ways to help prolong the life of food.

The next time you purchase perfectly heart-shaped strawberries on the East Coast, consider this: They were probably picked and packed into their plastic clamshells on a Central Valley farm in California between five and eight days ago.

They could have been harvested on a balmy 70-degree morning or in the 95-degree heat of mid-afternoon. Perhaps they sat in the field for one hour — or four. Maybe the pallets took five days to cross the country in a temperature-controlled trailer, or maybe the trailer refrigerator broke down halfway through the journey. Once at the store, the strawberries might have sat on the shelf for a day, or a few more. “Many things can impact shelf life,” says Kevin Payne, vice president of marketing at Zest Labs, a San Jose-based tech company trying to take the mystery out of produce shelf life. “But you can’t see those until the very end,” when 24 hours later, your picture-perfect ruby strawberries morph into camo-green fuzz balls.

Six dollars wasted. Dreams of strawberry shortcake vanished.

And now you can add that pound of trashed berries to the 400 pounds of food you personally waste each year. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 40 percent of food produced for human consumption in the United States goes uneaten. Just one-third of that wasted food could feed the 48 million Americans living in food-insecure households.

Wasted food is bad for humanity, but experts believe it could be even worse for the earth. Food waste is responsible for 16 percent of our country’s methane emissions — the pollution equivalent of driving 37 million cars per year. Growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food uses roughly 10 percent of the U.S.’ energy budget, 50 percent of our land and 80 percent of our fresh water consumption. So, when you figure 40 percent of that goes unused, that’s a lot of unnecessary pollution accelerating climate change.

In the developing world, most food waste occurs in the field or in transit due to poor infrastructure or lack of refrigeration. But in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world, the majority of food is wasted on the farm, at the supermarket and at home.

The food industry had mostly resigned itself to these inefficiencies. “The approach has been that waste is the cost of doing business,” Payne says. “And the solutions have historically been reactive.”

That’s all starting to change thanks to a shift in food culture, environmental awareness, technological advances and a host of entrepreneurs shaking up the industry through food-shelf-life innovations.

Polluting the Planet

Wasted food is bad for humanity, but experts believe it could be even worse for the earth. Food waste is responsible for 16 percent of our country’s methane emissions — the pollution equivalent of driving 37 million cars per year. Growing, processing, transporting and disposing food uses roughly 10 percent of the U.S.’s energy budget, 50 percent of our land and 80 percent of our fresh water consumption. So when you figure 40 percent of that goes unused, that’s a lot of unnecessary pollution accelerating global warming and climate change.

Protective skin

Searching for ways to prolong a food’s shelf life is nothing new. Humans have been salting fish, meats and cheese for thousands of years. We’ve created techniques like smoking, pickling, waxing and, more recently, adding chemical preservatives or ozone, to prevent spoilage. Today, delicate greens are packaged in Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAPs) to replace most of the oxygen in the bag with carbon dioxide (a gas that slows spoilage). What’s more, refrigeration technology, which many experts agree is the key to extending shelf life, continues to grow more efficient.

Yet some of the industry’s most impressive technologies — canning, freezing and pasteurization — were developed nearly 200 years ago. Fresh produce, which is wasted more than any category of edible food, is in higher demand now than ever. People want cleaner food — food that’s safe, with few ingredients and very little processing. Therefore, we need to find alternative ways to slow down the basic life process known as respiration. Food respires after it’s harvested, which means it consumes oxygen and gives off CO2, heat and water. If you slow a plant’s respiration rate, you can extend its shelf life. If you extend shelf life, you can reduce food waste.

Apeel’s product coats fruits and vegetables, slowing water loss and oxidation — two key factors in spoilage. The coating is made from edible plant materials and reinforces the protection provided by a fruit or vegetable’s natural skin. The diagram shows the microscopic layers of a strawberry’s skin. Image courtesy Apeel Sciences.

“Most solutions today have been focused on the transport period” of harvested produce, says James Rogers, founder and CEO of Apeel Sciences, a San Diego-based company that developed an imperceptible, tasteless and organically derived second-skin for produce. “We have controlled-atmosphere shipping, refrigeration, high-humidity storage — all of these are kind of solving the key things that cause produce to spoil, which are water loss and oxidation.”

Slowing food spoilage during transit is important, but Rogers wanted to protect produce through all stages of the supply chain, especially on the farm and at the grocery store.

“If you look at some of the most successful companies of our era, they’re using resources that were not being optimally utilized,” Rogers says, referring to Uber and Lyft for ride sharing and Airbnb for house sharing. “We can use technology to unlock some of that wasted value to improve efficiency.”

That’s what Rogers did when in 2012 he launched Apeel Sciences. The idea came to him while driving through California’s lush Central Valley, listening to a radio program about the one billion people who are hungry on this planet. He wondered why, when there was such an abundance of food growing around him, was one third of that food being wasted. With his knowledge of material sciences as a Ph.D. student and grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation, he began experimenting with ways to improve the shelf life of African cassavas, mangoes and bananas without using costly and environmentally unfriendly refrigeration.

To do this, he looked to organic materials left over on farms — grape skins, stems, leaves, etc. He and his team of scientists blended the matter up and extracted fats and specific food molecules. When these molecules are transformed into powder and combined with water, the resulting liquid can be rinsed over produce at wholesale produce-sorting facilities to create an undetectable “second skin.”

“We’re trying to use food waste to solve the food-waste problem,” Rogers says. The added “peel” acts to “physically slow down the rate at which water evaporates out of the produce and the rate at which oxygen gets into the produce,” he explains. “By doing that, we can dramatically extend the shelf life of most types of fruits and vegetables even without the use of refrigeration.” This science led to a Series B $33 million investment in the company, with big grocers like Kroger and Costco buying Apeel-treated produce to reduce their food waste.

Spicy Solution

Another entrepreneur using food to save food is Kavita Shukla, founder and CEO of The FreshGlow Co., which developed a natural paper infused with organic spices and active botanicals that when placed near produce can double — sometimes quadruple — its shelf life.

The idea came to Shukla when she was 12 years old, visiting her grandmother in Bhopal, India. Her mother had warned her not to drink the water, but she forgot while brushing her teeth. Her grandmother quickly mixed up a spice elixir for her to drink. Shukla never got sick. When she got home, she began experimenting to see if the same spices could clean dirty pond water. They did. Her tests soon turned into a winning science-fair project, which set the course for her professional life.

“For the most part, food-spoilage technologies involve toxic pads, refrigerated transport or a lot of plastic,” Shukla says. But “customers are really aware now. They are asking, ‘Hey, is that apple waxed? What is the wax?’”

To make FreshPaper, the company infuses a proprietary blend of bacteria-inhibiting spices into compostable, organic paper. The paper can be slipped into berry cartons, vegetable bins or bags of leafy greens. The exposure you get to the spices is similar to what you might get while walking through the spice aisle of a grocery store, Shukla explains.

Best of all, Shukla’s paper is inexpensive, compostable and safe for humans and the environment. “I had my grandmother in mind when I designed the technology,” Shukla says. “She never had a refrigerator.” The product is already sold in 180 countries.

For the FreshGlow Co., which has taken it slow and steady, scaling up is the goal: to bring its product to larger produce companies and food distributors around the world. “That was always my intention — to use the technology to reduce food waste across the supply chain,” Shukla says.

FreshPaper sheets are infused with organic spices and active botanicals. The FreshGlow Co. founder Kavita Shukla learned as a child that certain spices can inhibit bacteria growth. She turned her home remedy into a simple solution for prolonging the life of produce.

Data-driven Distribution

While entrepreneurs are recognizing the financial and humanitarian opportunities of extending food shelf life, Silicon Valley hasn’t really tapped into this huge revenue stream. Zest Labs in San Jose is trying to change that. The tech company is making the cold supply chain more efficient by accurately predicting the shelf life of produce as it moves around the country. It does this through the Internet of Things (IoT), the interconnection of computers and everyday objects through data sent and received via the Internet. These IoT sensors monitor the temperature of produce on each pallet, from field to the retail shelf.

Zest Labs uses pallet- by-pallet temperature data to help predict the rate of produce spoilage. “No other industry would accept one third of their production going to waste,” says Zest Labs CEO Peter Mehring in a video on the company’s website. Image courtesy Zest Labs.

“The largest impact on produce is temperature, harvesting conditions and variety of the product,” says Zest Labs’ Payne. “Pallets harvested first will vary from bottom to top,” he explains. “We can figure out that pallet A has this much shelf life, and pallet B has this much.” They do this by producing a Zest Intelligent Pallet Routing (ZIPR) code, which routes pallets with less freshness to the nearest location and those with a longer shelf life further afield.

Zest Labs has “removed the randomness of food distribution,” says Dr. Jean-Pierre Emond, a co-founder of The Illuminate Group and an expert on the cold chain. “For each pallet coming in, they now know exactly what to do with it.”

Zest Labs technology is enabling growers and retailers, who have never had this type of data, to profit more and waste less. They do this by reducing pre-harvest water, fertilizer and labor costs, as well as post-harvest costs for waste removal. Large companies like Costco have tapped into Zest Labs’ technology to help their growers, distributors and themselves.

“I never see anyone winning with food waste,” Emond says. The entire food supply chain stands to benefit from these new solutions.

To better understand the science behind Apeel’s product, check out this story from WIRED magazine.

Sell by? Use by? Why?

Food loss on the farm, in transit and at the retail store is significant. But the largest category is even closer: Nearly half of America’s food waste happens at home. A 2012 NRDC study found “the average American consumer wastes 10 times as much food as someone in Southeast Asia, up 50 percent from Americans in the 1970s.”

The food-waste problem is partly cultural. In the U.S., food is relatively inexpensive compared to other parts of the world. Thanks to busy lifestyles, we over-buy and under-plan. And inconsistent shelf-life food labeling confuses consumers and retailers. What does “sell by” and “best if used by” mean? Are foods past those dates actually spoiled? Often, they are not.

In 2013 the NRDC reported that food expiration date codes contribute considerably to the estimated 160 billion pounds of food trashed each year in the United States, “making food waste the single largest contributor of solid waste in the nation’s landfills.” Food expiration date codes are not federally regulated. They vary by state and are often arbitrary, providing false confidence in a food’s freshness or spoilage.

“There isn’t a rhyme or reason to how food codes are set,” says Michael Malmberg, chief operating officer of Daily Table, a nonprofit Boston-based grocery store that sources nearly expired food from local farms, distributors, grocery stores, restaurants and bakeries, and resells that food at affordable prices. “It’s set by the manufacturer or packager and can be done for marketing reasons — if they want to turn a product over faster.”

Doug Rauch, a former president of Trader Joe’s — and Malmberg’s boss — saw an opportunity to change perceptions of shelf life at the retail level. Rauch was well aware of how much perfectly good food was wasted by grocery stores due to confusing food labels. While a fellow at Harvard University, he also learned that food malnourishment meant not just “a deficit in calories; it was a deficit in nutrition, and supply chain issues,” Malmberg says. “(Doug) realized there is a need not only for access to food, but access to healthy food that’s affordable.” Out of that came the concept for Daily Table, which opened its doors in June 2015.

Rauch likes to think of his two grocery stores, located in Roxbury and Dorchester, Massachusetts, as the T.J. Maxx or Marshalls of the food world — where you can shop for quality products at reduced prices without the stigma that comes with visiting a food bank. This model, backed by the PepsiCo Foundation, the Kendall Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, recognizes the flexibility in food expiration codes.

“It’s all well and good to have healthy produce,” says Malmberg. “But if people get home from work and don’t have dinner on the table, they’re in trouble.” So Daily Table also set up an on-site kitchen and hired chefs to turn ugly produce or products that are not moving off the shelves quickly enough into affordable, nutritious, ready-to-cook and grab-n-go meals that cost the same price or less than nearby fast food. Daily Table hopes to open more stores because “the concept will be more effective at scale,” says Malmberg. “We are currently covering 65 percent of our expenses. We think with a third or fourth store, we can break even.”

Breaking even, when it comes to food waste, would be a big step in the right direction.

Daily Table in Massachusetts takes in food rejected by other retail outlets for aesthetic reasons. For example, an entire pallet of organic cauliflower heads that were deemed “unmarketable” due to a few brown spots were saved before they ended up in a dumpster. The DT team sorted and repackaged them for sale as raw produce and as part of their prepared foods offerings. Image courtesy Daily Table.

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Protecting Provisions

Protecting Provisions

Food packaging has been around as long as people have traded goods in markets. How else are you going to schlep that wine home across the desert? Given all that’s new in packaging and shelf-life technology, we’re taking a look back to some golden oldies, from skins and amphorae to the humble milk bottle.

Skins

Plants, animals and even humans have skins that inhibit the loss of water, so we will last longer. Food packaging performs the same function, inhibiting water loss and gain to extend freshness during transportation and storage. Too much water for any living creature causes cell death, so food scientists have been working for centuries to find the best way to provide a barrier between food and the environment.

Before the 17th century, that optimal barrier was literal skin. Leather bladders and other animal hides were convenient packaging materials beginning in prehistoric periods, and most “packages” for food were not removed during the cooking process. Animal bladders held meats and mixtures of vegetables and seasonings over the cooking fire. In a sense, haggis and natural sausage casings are modern-day versions of this ancient packaging.

Though we now have more options than our 17th-century ancestors did, we still protect many foods from spoilage by applying a protective skin.

Think of spoilage this way: Any perishable food ingredient, processed or unprocessed, breathes just like we do, taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. Bacteria grows faster if it exists in conditions that enable it to breathe, allowing it to break down the plant or animal cells. That’s why you frequently see cheeses and fruits covered with wax. The Chinese popularized this tactic during the 12th century, when they wrapped citrus fruits in wax to decrease the interior oxygen content and ensure the fruits made it to the emperor’s table. Different types of waxes (e.g., sugar cane and carnauba) are often applied by spraying or dipping fruits and vegetables to preserve or improve the appearance and protect the produce during storage.

Wax isn’t the only kind of protective skin: Victorians used lard to coat food, and M&Ms are covered with confectioner’s shellac, a substance made of an insect-derived coating that’s produced in India and called lac dye. Your french fries remain white and crispy because of a coating applied during processing to inhibit discoloration. Some other coatings aren’t so natural, including calcium acetate and calcium ascorbate. Even wheat gluten becomes a skin for some foods that are not grain-related at all.

Jars and Pottery

Three thousand clay jars of fermented fish sauce emerged gently from the sea in 2015. A team of archeologists led by Simon Luca Trigona celebrated their trove after two years of painstaking work around a Roman ship that was built sometime in the first or second century. These containters, called amphorae (singularly, amphora), have been around since the Neolithic Period (10,000 to 2,000 BCE). They were made of clay and often carried wine, oil or a fish sauce known as garum. The fish sauce, which resembled ketchup, was most likely from Spain and bound for Roman markets.

Fish sauce traveled in pottery vessels long before the sinking of the Roman ship. At the time, clay was also used as a sealant for baskets that carried grain. To eliminate the absorption of liquids by the vessel, clay, resin or pitch coated the interior surfaces. Manufacturers of amphorae applied a stamp to the outside that indicated its origin. In some cases, other information would be written or painted on to indicate weights, contents and market information.

Not often recycled, Greek and Roman amphorae were broken up after they reached their destinations. Rome’s Monte Testaccio is a mountain of these vessels, a Roman pottery garbage heap.

Clay amphorae

Glass, Crates and Cartons

Milk travels along the supply chain in bulk and consumer packaging, contained in glass, plastic and paper. A rusty milk jug worked its way up to the soil surface in our backyard last summer, with a metal label indicating it had belonged to the Turner Center Creamery in Auburn, Maine. The creamery, which operated in Auburn in 1893, manufactured the first commercial ice cream in New England. Customers would send jugs to dairies where the farmers would refill and deliver the milk back to the customer.

In more urban areas, metal milk jugs had been replaced with glass bottles topped with metal caps. Alexander Campbell introduced these bottles in 1878 in Brooklyn, New York, and by the early 1900s, fiber material and paraffin covered the metal caps. At first, customers resisted the glass bottles because glass was commonly used for medicines from the drug stores, and dairies worried about broken glass. But distributors preferred glass for sanitation and easy handling, so both dairies and consumers overcame their concerns, and glass replaced the metal jugs until paperboard appeared in the early 20th century.

In 1915, John Van Wormer patented a wax-sealed paper carton with a gable top that could be shipped flat for assembly at the dairy. Gallon and half-gallon plastic jugs became the preferred package for milk by 1970, but paper milk cartons have made a comeback since being fitted with screw tops in the 1990s.

Plastic jugs travel to stores in milk crates, which were once made of metal, but were replaced with plastic by the 1960s. Each crate carries four to six one-gallon plastic milk jugs. About 20 million crates go missing every year, stolen for shredding and reselling at a profit. The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) estimates that U.S. dairy companies spend 
between $80 and $100 million to replace stolen or missing plastic milk crates (read about another beverage container that often falls out of the supply chain).

Smart Cities Are Forgetting Food

Smart Cities Are Forgetting Food

Smart cities use technology and data-driven solutions to make people’s lives better. But until recently, cities have failed to adopt this methodology for what is perhaps the most critical urban system: food. As urban agriculture builds momentum, now is the time for cities to embrace this young industry and foster urban food systems through a data-driven and “smart” approach.

Urban agriculture has the capacity to ameliorate many issues plaguing urban areas. It can contribute to green infrastructure efforts, create a food source that’s safeguarded against climate events and provide a variety of local jobs. But despite the potential of this nascent industry to improve the lives of city dwellers, urban agriculture is often left out of the Smart City discussions and policy decisions that have quickly gained popularity across the globe.

Nevertheless, the urban agriculture industry is growing rapidly as it tries to meet an ever-increasing demand for nutritious local produce. AgriFood Tech investment reached $10.1 billion in 2017, including $200 million in Series B funding for vertical farming company Plenty.

Let’s be clear: Urban agriculture is not the solution to our food system crisis. Other solutions are sorely needed as well, including ways of fostering stronger regional connections between farms and cities. Food waste is also a major issue that needs to be tackled. But urban agriculture is, and will continue to be, an essential component of how every country and city restructures its food system to make fresh food supplies more available, resilient and ecologically friendly.

The author, Henry Gordon-Smith, of Agritecture.

Cities and Agriculture

Just like energy, transportation and internet access, the processes of food production and distribution are integral parts of the urban ecosystem. And like those other system components, agriculture should be supported through smart policies that are data-driven and context specific. The path forward for resilient cities and communities must include thoughtfully planned urban agriculture.

Some cities around the U.S. and abroad are beginning to implement policies to encourage the industry’s growth as a critical part of local and regional food systems.

In Atlanta, for example, a director of urban agriculture within the mayor’s Office of Resilience ensures that municipal support is consistently available to local farmers via the AgLanta digital resource hub, along with a wide range of other initiatives. Through the city’s “Grows-A-Lot” program, Atlanta residents and nonprofit organizations can secure renewable five-year leases to farm vacant city-owned property.

Many other cities have passed zoning ordinances and started programs to promote the expansion of urban agriculture. In Boston, Article 89 comprehensively addresses where different forms of urban farms should be permitted within the city. In Minneapolis, the Homegrown local food program brings municipal and community actors together to research and plan out future supportive policies. In Paris, a municipal initiative called ‘Parisculteurs’ aims to cover the city’s rooftops and walls with 100 hectares of green space by 2020, and to dedicate a third of that space towards food production. And in Singapore, developers are incentivized to include urban farms as part of green building requirements.

But these efforts are largely piecemeal. Few cities, if any, are using data-driven urban-agriculture planning and analysis to ensure future resilience in this burgeoning sector of municipal economies. By performing in-depth analysis on where the greatest vulnerabilities lie within their local food systems, cities can change what today is mostly a feel-good concept into a critical framework that can be scaled to transform local food production. Using data can help determine the best opportunities to bolster urban and peri-urban production to achieve goals such as food access or stormwater management.

The idea here is not to turn urban agriculture into a top-down model. The decentralized and diverse nature of urban farming models is a major contributing factor to the industry’s rapid pace of innovation and its ability to be a resilient source of food production. Rather, the idea is for cities and regions to understand where the greatest vulnerabilities and opportunities lie within their local food systems, and then to plan out and provide support to targeted areas of the food economy, perhaps through local food distribution hubs and farming incubators for entrepreneurs and startups.

Advances in urban agriculture planning are happening — slowly. Cities and communities are starting to work together across sectors and silos to recognize and promote agriculture’s role as an integral component of smart, resilient cities. But there is plenty of work to be done.

Taking the Next Step

Now, like passionate entrepreneurs first entering the food- system space, many cities have great intentions for urban agriculture. Unfortunately, many cities also lack the capacity and technical knowledge to understand where the local food system should be strengthened to most effectively make it smarter and more resilient against environmental, social and economic stressors.

For cities to become smart in this sector, they no longer need to recognize the many benefits of urban agriculture — that has already happened throughout mayoral administrations, academic halls and even more recently in Congress. The time for putting energy into persuasion is over.

For our part, at Agritecture we have designed a new service called Urban Agriculture Scenario Analysis to assist cities in analyzing and strengthening their local food capabilities. Using site-specific and scale-specific data and modeling, Scenario Analysis can transform a city’s piecemeal farming community into a diversified urban agriculture economy.

The good news: There is a wealth of burgeoning technology around urban and peri-urban food production and distribution. Many urban farms are already “smart,” using sensors and data to tailor everything from lighting to crop nutrition. This is true in large farms such as AeroFarms, which dominates an entire converted warehouse in Newark, New Jersey, and also in smaller farms like Farm.One, which takes advantage of underutilized basement space in Manhattan to cultivate rare specialty crops for the city’s restaurants.

But if cities are going to be successful in integrating advances in food system technology into their wider metropolitan planning efforts, they must apply a data-driven methodology similar to the approach that many urban farmers are taking to more effectively grow crops.

A Smart City revolution is currently sweeping the world. Although we remain in the early stages, this revolution will soon transform the way that cities support the most essential components of urban life. To ensure that food isn’t left out of the equation, cities must start supporting urban agriculture in targeted ways that work with the urban agriculture industry to reconstruct our food production and distribution systems into smarter, more localized and more resilient networks.

Edible Bugs: More Than Just Protein

Edible Bugs: More Than Just Protein

Flavor notes range from peppery lemon to pine-nutty to prosciutto-savory. Some varieties make for lovely garnishes on your seafood salad, 
while others are perfect as the heart of a well-salsa’d taco.

Some new-ancient legume? The latest grain-based trend? No — I’m talking about edible bugs.

And I’m not the only one. Bug-based recipes are showing up all over Instagram and your favorite cooking magazines. Yet while we in the West are playing catch-up, some cultures around the world have been enjoying arthropods and mealworms for millennia.

If you think about it — with a wide-open mind — bugs aren’t all that different from crustaceans. After all, crayfish (or, crawfish) are known by some in Louisiana as mudbugs. Just as we enjoy the sweet flavor of shrimp and the slight crunch involved in devouring a crab or lobster, eating bugs just takes a bit of practice.

That’s what Aly Moore believes, anyway. Her site (eatbugsevents.com) and beautiful Instagram feed (@bugible) are dedicated to making bugs seem like the white-hot snack trend you’re dying to try. She even does bug-and-wine pairings to highlight the wide variety of flavor notes. And, who knows, maybe the wine helps reduce inhibitions against taking that first bite.

Top: Mealworms and dark chocolate — bugs can satisfy a sweet tooth! Photo by Ashley Corbin-Teich. Bottom: Summer salad with chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and roasted crickets from Entomo Farms.

Bugs Around the World

While eating bugs may be a novel idea for Americans and other Westerners, insects have long been a valuable ingredient in many parts of the world.

Oaxaca
grasshoppers (chapulines)

diagram of grasshopper

Cambodia
ants

diagram of ant

China
crickets served instead of bar nuts

diagram of cricket

South Korea
silkworm pupae

diagram of silkworm pupae

South Africa
mopane worm

diagram of mopane worm

France
escargot (technically a mollusk, but they do live in the garden)

diagram of snail

“I think people are all really pleasantly surprised,” she says about guests at her bug dinners and wine-and-bug pairing events. “I give people a spiel that does everything from comparing bugs to seafood to describing the tasting notes, and you can see them starting to warm up to the idea. That lightbulb moment is great, when they realize bugs are not at all bad. In fact, they have a familiar flavor.”

Focusing on flavor is a key tactic for Moore — especially in her wine events, where she highlights specific bug flavor notes and pairs a complementary wine. Crickets go nicely with lighter reds like pinot noir, Moore says, while meatier-flavored grubs want a more robust Zinfandel. Scorpions, you might be surprised to learn, have a delicate salmon-y flavor that’s perfect with a zingy sauvignon blanc.

If you’re not ready to take the plunge with a whole roasted tarantula, there are lots of ways to experiment with eating bugs without knowing they’re an ingredient — for example, cricket- flour protein bars or chips are increasingly easy to find in mainstream grocery stores.

But, really, Moore is a fan of highlighting the whole insect in all its glory to help people begin to think of them as a tasty option in their everyday diets.

“Comfort foods” — like pizza topped with meaty grasshoppers (aka chapulines in Oaxaca) or sago grubs, which are known as the bacon of the bug world — “are a great way to help people get over the hurdle,” Moore says. “Making comfort foods that people can relate to helps create positive associations with eating bugs.”

Pinot noir and crickets, a classic combo. Focusing on flavor is a key tactic for Aly Moore — especially in her wine events, where she highlights specific bug flavor notes and pairs a complementary wine.

Ready to start cooking with edible bugs? Check out the “Buy Bugs” link on eatbugsevents.com for resource ideas.

RECIPE NOTE

How do you go from crawling to crunchy without the use of toxic pesticides or a dramatic SQUISH? Oh, just chill — the bugs, that is. While many studies concur that bugs’ central nervous systems aren’t complex enough to feel pain, you might worry a bit anyway. A humane and simple way to corral those critters is to refrigerate them. Because they’re cold-blooded, they fall asleep, at which point you can move them to a freezer to ensure they’ll never crawl, jump or fly again.

The Return of Sail Cargo

The Return of Sail Cargo

For centuries, sailing ships offered the fastest, best option for transporting goods and people. The Age of Sail (1571–1862) marked the reign of tall ships, with clipper ships representing the apex of commercial sailing’s progression.

The visually striking clippers had strong lines, V-shaped bows that sliced through water and dozens of sails to capture wind. First developed around 1845 by American shipbuilders looking to give small fishing boats an edge over pursuing pirates, clipper ships evolved to carry modest amounts of cargo at unparalleled speeds. A clipper ship could reach more than 15 knots and cover 300 nautical miles in a day, easily outpacing a steamer ship’s 9 knots.

During the Gold Rush, in 1849 — 20 years before completion of the transcontinental railroad — ships carried 25,000 Americans west. While wealthier passengers could spring for Panama-bound steamers, take the train across Panama, then steam up the West Coast, most forty-niners endured a five- to seven-month journey around Cape Horn via clipper ship. Flying Cloud set a world record for this trip, which stood for more than 100 years, when it arrived in San Francisco after 89 days, 21 hours.

These greyhounds of the sea were the obvious choice for the British Empire’s most prized cargo: tea. Thirst for tea was such that a so-called tea clipper could earn £3,000 from one cargo load — roughly 20 to 25 percent of shipbuilding costs. The first ship of the season to reach London’s docks would win a premium.

The Great Tea Race of 1866 demonstrated the logistics underlying tea mania. Clipper ships lined the docks in Fuzhou. The first ship to clear customs had an early advantage, but favorable winds, stronger tugboats and the luck of the tides made for a competitive 16,000-mile race between five of the day’s fastest clippers, Flying Cloud among them. Ninety-nine days after leaving Fuzhou, Taeping and Ariel docked within 20 minutes of one another and split the premium.

But as 45 million pounds of tea flooded the market, tea prices plummeted, illustrating one of sail’s disadvantages: Ships couldn’t keep a schedule, which meant supply-side volatility.

The Great Tea Race occurred between two dips in the popularity of sailing. When American banks shuttered in the Panic of 1857, trade slowed, as did the demand for sailing ships. Later, in 1869, the Suez Canal opened and gave an advantage to steamer ships, which could complete the Europe- Asia route in 50 days. Overland transport improved, too, with railroad expansion.

By the turn of the 20th century, countries were abandoning sailing ships in favor of steamers, which offered reliability and greater cargo space. With the opening of the Panama Canal and the onset of World War I in 1914, sail’s demise seemed assured. By World War II, sailing ships were restricted to commercial fishing trades. Tall ships seemed destined for nostalgia, until — nearly a century later — the winds shifted once more.

From 2012 to 2017, shipping accounted for 3.1 percent of global CO2 emissions. The International Maritime Organization estimates that shipping emissions will increase by an additional 50 to 250 percent by 2050. As some in the industry look to lower their carbon footprint, there’s renewed interested in wind power.

In recent years, sail cargo projects have sprung up along old trade routes. U.K.-based Grayhound Lugger crosses the English Channel, trading Cornish ale and organic French wine. Dutch-based Tres Hombres crosses the Atlantic with cacao, coffee and rum. Schooner Apollonia plans to launch on the Hudson River by year end, bringing cider, beer and apples downstream to New York City.

In 2019, Sail Cargo Inc. will open a carbon-neutral shipyard in Costa Rica. Through its 3½-year build process for Ceiba (a 45-meter sailing cargo vessel with a chilled hold space and 25-ton cargo capacity, crafted from sustainably harvested wood), Sail Cargo Inc. plans to offer a traditional skills apprenticeship program, where participants can learn shipbuilding, blacksmithing or woodwork — all green jobs.

While sail may have traditional roots, its means have been updated. Today’s sailing ships have biodiesel engines or solar batteries to augment wind power, plus GPS and plotting technologies to plan efficient routes.

Still, challenges remain. Routes aren’t operable year-round, and — as in the past — sticking to a schedule can be difficult. Port infrastructure might be set up for recreational boats with floating docks that make loading tricky or for the giant post-Panamax cruise and cargo ships. What’s more, to realize a profit, sailing ships need premium cargo. Vermont Sail Freight’s founder, Erik Andrus, said only one crop would deliver an ROI of $0.50 to $1.00 per pound of weight: Pot.

Growth potential aside, modern sail freight has neither the capacity nor efficiency to supplant tankers. Instead, cargo shippers will look to wind to lower emissions. Maersk is trialing rotor sails (invented 100 years ago) to add wind power to tanker ships, which will conserve some 1,000 tons of fuel. And Cargill, which charters over 500 vessels, is co-funding SkySails, a kite sail initiative.

Sail freight’s early adopters are largely companies with the desire (and cash) to align their business with their values by using emission-free shipping for organic, hand-crafted products. Other clients value the interactive marketing experience sail cargo offers: Guests can board the ship, sample products and form a powerful brand connection.

Unlike sailing ships of yore — which competed as fiercely as any 21st-century big-business rivals — today’s sailing ships operate as a network, sharing tips and routes. That unusual collaboration highlights the focus on relationships that could cement this trend as a viable shipping option.

Jason Marlow of Schooner Apollonia acknowledges that sail cargo’s client base is limited at present. Yet, he is optimistic. The more people start to identify sail transport as an option, the more they will request it.

“As it starts to scale up and there are more vessels and it’s more connected, then it starts to compete pricewise with other modes” of transportation, Marlow says. In the meantime, the new-old industry breathes life into port towns that may be struggling to redefine their economies.

Watch Ceiba’s building progress through a collection of short films.