New Mexico “Agtech” Accelerator to Host National Competition
Arrowhead Center is New Mexico State University’s entrepreneurial hub. AgSprint, Arrowhead Center’s agriculture technology-focused accelerator, graduated its first cohort of five “agtech” startups from around the country in August.
In November, AgSprint will host Future Agro Challenge’s first U.S. national competition, in Las Cruces. Ten startups in food retail, food production, food sustainability, nutrition and health and other areas will compete in pitch challenges and other tests. The best startup, chosen by venture capitalists from around the country, will move on to the international Future Agro Challenge competition in Istanbul, Turkey. The goal of that challenge is “to foster a community of agro visionaries, startups, farmers, manufacturers and distributors from across the world so they can start a global conversation,” according to Future Agro’s website.
One of AgSprint’s teams, Revolution Agriculture, an Albuquerque-based agtech company founded in 2016, was the only U.S.-based startup out of more than 50 companies to participate in the finals of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress Future Agro Challenge, in Johannesburg, South Africa, earlier this year. Revolution Agriculture is focused on the challenges of global food insecurity as well as corporate sustainability. Founder/CEO, Richard Brion, says that the company’s closed-system, modular, organic farms produce eight times the yield per square foot of conventional farms, run 100 percent on renewable energy and use 90 percent less water.
Brion’s concerns with social responsibility, drought and water access drive his desire to work with tribal governments in New Mexico to implement Revolution Agriculture’s systems locally, as a means for rural communities to improve access to nutritious foods and economic opportunities. Brion expects his farms will eventually sell produce to retailers, targeting the estimated $161-billion nationwide unmet demand for local, organic produce.
Center for Food Safety Director Speaks in New Mexico about GE Crops
Genetically Engineered (GE) foods, which have only been around in recent decades, are produced by transferring genes between organisms. The resulting organisms—either plant or animal–— do not otherwise occur in nature. The U.S. and Canada have embraced GE food crops, while Europe has broadly rejected them.
An in-depth examination published in 2016 by The New York Times, analyzing academic and industry research, as well as independent data comparing results on the two continents, found that GE crops, which the agrichemical giants have touted as being key to feeding the world, have largely failed to achieve two of the technology’s primary objectives: to increase crop yields and decrease pesticide use.
Speaking in Santa Fe recently, Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., said, “Why would the industry spend hundreds of millions of research dollars and billions in advertising and lobbying to promote crops that actually ‘reduce pesticides?’ Are these companies committing economic suicide in an altruistic attempt to feed the world? Obviously not. The vast majority of GE crops are designed to massively increase herbicide use.”
Trangenic ingredients are now found in the majority of nonorganic processed foods. Authoritative medical researchers say that the general public is eating pesticides on a regular basis, with unknown or unacknowledged cumulative health impacts. Animals do not metabolize herbicides that are sometimes used on animal feed crops, so it is passed into manure that may be used in gardens, damaging crops, say Santa Fe gardeners who have had their soil tested. Fish, amphibians and songbirds have also been impacted, and populations of key food crop pollinators, such as bees, have been decimated.
Weeds and insects are becoming resistant to the herbicides such as glyphosate (the main ingredient of Monsanto’s RoundUp, deemed a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization in 2015). Pesticide resistant superweeds have farmers using higher and higher amounts and new chemical cocktails of dangerous poisons, degrading soil, contaminating groundwater and food.
Advocates of sustainable and regenerative agriculture seek to place farming within the context of natural ecosystems using methods such as organic fertilizers, crop rotation and cover crops. A 2015 global study published in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that profit margins for organic agriculture are significantly greater than conventional agriculture. An added benefit is that farmers can save their seeds instead of having to buy them each season. Just a small handful of companies now control the vast majority of world seed resources.
Celebrate the Sun at Solar Fiesta in ABQ
On Oct. 21, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the New Mexico Solar Energy Association will host its Solar Fiesta at the Sawmill Community Land Trust Park Plaza, 997 18th St NW. The event will provide opportunities to learn about the latest in solar technology, energy efficiency and sustainable practices for the home and community, and to take workshops and talk one-on-one with renewable energy and solar educators, passive-solar pioneers and science fair judges. There will be Tesla car rides, educational resources for green initiatives such as water conservation, a solar cook-off, activities for kids, food trucks and local musicians. For more information, visit nmsolar.org
Athena Christodoulou, NMSEA’s president, said that part of the organization’s mission is focused on new solutions to help low- and middle-income families find solutions for renewable energy access to their own piece of the sun with “community solar,” sometimes referred to as community solar gardens. “Over the next 15 months,” she said, “NMSEA will be collaborating with the Department of Energy to bring more of these gardens to our state in the SunShot Prize: Solar in Your Community Challenge.” This is a $5-million prize competition that aims to expand solar electricity access to all Americans, including local and tribal governments and nonprofit organizations. NMSEA members are coaching five teams: Sawmill Solar Stars, Movalistas (Española), JMEC SHINE (Española), Atrisco Heritage Academy High School and Santa Fe SunShot.
NMSEA is also working to interest high school students in renewable-energy jobs through providing guidance on how to obtain professional certifications. NMSEA’s project at ACE Leadership High School connects students interested in architecture, construction and engineering with thermal solar and photovoltaic professionals.
Squash Blossom: Santa Fe’s One-Stop Multi-Farm Source
With Squash Blossom, you can be the chef or let the professionals do it. In addition to offering weekly “Blossom Bags” of veggies for home kitchens, the local foods distributor sells to over 20 restaurants in Santa Fe. If you’re eating at your favorite down-home spot such as La Choza, the salsa in which you’re dipping your chips is made from tomatoes grown by Rancho La Jolla in Velarde. That fried egg on top of your enchilada was laid by chickens in Río Rancho at the Galloping Grace Youth Ranch.
Home “Blossom Bags” can be ordered online and custom-filled with your choice of produce, eggs and locally made goodies like kombucha, pickles, honey, jam, mustard and even locally-roasted coffee from Pour Vida Roasters in Albuquerque. All the produce is harvested-to-order and delivered within 36 hours of having been in the ground.
If you want to partake in a sumptuous meal and meet the farmers who grow these products, Squash Blossom hosts monthly dinners at rotating locations to feature various restaurants that source locally. To order a Blossom Bag, view a list of restaurants or get tickets to the next Squash Blossom supper (Oct. 19, 6 pm at the State Capital Kitchen), visit: www.squashblossomlocalfood.com