OG 11 Breakout Session – Rapid Growth: The Business of Organics, Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture

Posted on 10. Nov, 2011 by in Business & Policy, Events, Services

William Acevedo hosted this afternoon’s session on the rapid growth of the organics food industry, comprising roughly 10 % of the $550 billion U.S. food industry. Joining him for discussion was Peter Van Stolk, CEO at the online grocer Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (SPUD), and Mary Sue Milliken, Co-Chef & Owner of Border Grill Restaurants.

William Acevedo, Mary Sue Milliken, and Peter Van Stolk discuss the food business on the main stage

The growth of the industry is driven, according to Milliken, by the public’s desire for “the best for themselves and their families.”

SPUD offers their customers a look into the special story behind each of their local and/or organic food providers with the hope that customers will say, “holy smokes, I want to eat your stuff because you’re so cool,” in the words of Van Stolk. He doesn’t appeal solely to those already inclined to purchase local and organic food products. In modern society, he stressed that ”people need to be educated on the value of food.” To that end, SPUD has an active community outreach program educating children about growing their own food! Van Stolk’s conviction is that “it’s about understanding and making intelligent choices for our children.” As healthcare costs surge, he blunty suggests, “maybe we shouldn’t be eating so much crap.” SPUD’s efforts should certainly help the next generation.

Milliken concurred on the need for the public to appreciate the value of food. She noted that many Americans are faced with a lot of low priced, and low quality, food resultant of subsidies. She lamented, “our customers would like to eat the highest quality food but can’t always afford it.” She suggests farmers and ranchers need to be represented as “the next rock stars” to attract participants into local agriculture and organics. Milliken praised Chipotle for supporting the industry on a large scale.

Her own inspiration came from the day marine biologists visited the kitchen and she vowed “to figure out a way to make sardines as sexy as salmon” to protect species under threat. She proudly stated that “our customers come back because they support our mission” as well as enjoying their delicious offerings.

While taking action and assuming responsibility with their own businesses, Van Stolk and Milliken agreed that Americans need to talk to legislators and policymakers to affect more systemic change.


Photo Source: Michael Chapdelaine


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