Despite what Monsanto and a surprising number of science writers want you to think, GMOs aren’t the only high-tech game in town when it comes to food and agriculture. In fact, there are groups out there that are marrying technology and food that aren’t about inserting bacterial genes into plants and animals.
One such group, the New York City-based company Food + Tech Connect, held its second annual Hack/Meat brainstorming/tinkering session last weekend. The event was designed to “develop technologies that help bridge the divide between pasture and plate."
About 250 techy types, investors, meat producers, and farmers gathered on the Stanford University campus for a weekend of coding and design. Organizers presented the attendees with a series of challenges, and a panel of judges selected winners who shared cash and in-kind prizes valued at $125,000.
The winner was an intriguing concept called Farmstacker, which the developers describe as “an eHarmony or AirBnb” for farmers. As co-creator and farmer Kevin Watt explained to me, this service would facilitate multiple uses of the same land for different styles of farming. For example, Farmstacker could link up a grass-fed cow farmer with a pastured poultry farmer to “take turns” on the same field. First the cows graze and then, while the field recovers, the chickens can come in and hunt, peck, and fertilize. It could come in handy, considering that access to land is a big problem for farmers, especially young ones.
Farmstacker was one of the few apps to come out of the hackathon that focused on producers rather than consumers. Other award winners included an app to help “cow sharing” and a Google Glass app (built by engineers from Google) that lets you “scan” meat products at the supermarket to get ratings on GMO content or use of antibiotics.
Cool, right? But while access to land is an issue, and bringing farmers into the sharing economy is a great idea, these seem like small-bore solutions to big problems. Now to be fair, the Hack/Meat organizers never said they were going to solve the world's hunger crisis, but it raises some interesting questions about where our time and resources are best spent, and what the future of agriculture will look like.