Last week, in one of the most densely populated places on Earth, 150 people addressed a topic usually left to pasture:  The future of agriculture.

At one point, Melina Shannon-DiPietro, Director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, asked the audience, “How many of you have worked in a garden in the past month?”  Over three-quarters of the room raised our hands.

Shannon-DiPietro also said that Yale University currently offers 30 classes related to food and agriculture.  As recently as 2003, that number was zero.

What is happening here and why now?

The group in the NYC room was attending Agriculture 2.0:  The Conference for Innovators & Investors, hosted by NewSeed Advisors and SPIN-Farming.  There is much to explore, and for now, a few facts have percolated to the top:

  • Many estimate the world’s population will grow to 9 billion by 2050.  As a result, the Asset Management arm of Deutsche Bank foresees a 50% increase in global caloric demand.  We aren’t ready.
  • Every year, as the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, the agricultural run-off creates a vast “dead zone” in the water.  The dead zone can get as large as the state of Mississippi and nothing survives in it.
  • Tod Murphy of the Farmers Diner said that as Americans consume food carted from thousands of miles away, we eat about 19% of our country’s fossil fuel usage.  Robert Fireman of Sky Vegetables framed the issue another way:  Every year, the average American intakes 350 gallons of oil with his meals.

We have never had issues like these before in human history.

But innovators live in the solution.  We have also never been as connected and accessible to one another as we are now.  Thus, in the spirit of the pioneers at Agriculture 2.0, we have never had opportunities like this before.  More to come.