This article is adapted from the Food Weekly newsletter.
I started this year’s Food Weekly coverage by featuring 12 inspiring women who had big opportunities for improving their slices of the global food system in 2022. I decided to check back in with them to get an update on their work.
I wanted to hear what their proudest achievement of the year was and how that compared to what they had planned from the outset. And, in GreenBiz’s spirit of collective learning, I also asked them to share a valuable insight they gained in 2022.
The answers I received put a big smile on my face — these women made stuff happen. From publishing books and launching podcasts, funding and empowering under-represented entrepreneurs and regenerative farmers to mainstreaming cotton traceability, their impact has been tangible.
And so have their learnings. Reflecting on how this year’s accomplishments and experiences will shape their work in the future, many point out the need to better interweave the personal, emotional and cultural aspects of food systems work with its sustainability dimensions.
Shayna Harris, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Supply Change Capital
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My proudest achievement of the year is the portfolio that we have built at Supply Change Capital. All of our founders are doing one or more of the following: building a healthier food system via climate-smart solutions; developing better-for-you technologies and products; and focusing on diverse consumers with their goods and services. Over 90 percent of our companies are led by an under-represented founder. This is what we set out to do, and we are so excited to see what 2023 brings.
The lesson that was most reinforced in 2022 is the power and importance of putting people first. My business partner Noramay Cadena and I actively work on our partnership, our strategy and our own health so that we can bring our full selves to the job each day. We have to remember that founders are dealing with incredible challenges and opportunities, particularly in this market environment. Check in with your people!
Ezgi Barcenas, Chief Sustainability Officer, AB InBev
I’m proud of how we have further embedded sustainability across AB InBev this year. First, through our “team of teams” approach, we set shared targets across eight functions — from procurement to finance to marketing. This has allowed us to continue to deliver on our purpose and to drive progress company-wide. Second, we completed the third year of the 100+ Accelerator, which identifies and scales breakthrough solutions to some of our most pressing sustainability challenges.
Specifically in agriculture, we piloted solutions like those offered by Toroto, a Mexican social enterprise that designs nature-based solutions for farmers underpinned by technology, traceability and financial viability, and by Soil Capital, which enabled financial incentives to farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture practices that sequester carbon in farmland soils in exchange for quantified, certified carbon claims. In our latest cohort, we look forward to working with Ekonoke to grow hops sustainably indoors in the face of shifting climate conditions.
This year has reminded me of the importance of staying inquisitive and embracing a learner mindset. We must continue to ask the right questions to clear paths for innovation and build cross-functional dynamic and high-impact teams.
Jennifer Stojkovic, Founder, Vegan Women Summit
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My proudest achievement of the year, by far, was publishing “The Future of Food is Female,” the world’s first book focused on women reinventing the food system. The book debuted as a No. 1 new release in six categories and has gone on to garner numerous awards and recognitions, despite only being out for six months. Every week, I receive countless messages from women (and men) around the world who share how the book has inspired them to get into the food technology industry, drive a personal lifestyle change or simply become entrepreneurs themselves.
This was exactly what I set out to do for the year and a key step to creating representation for women in our industry. More than 90 percent of consumer food purchases are made by women, yet the vast majority of food companies, particularly food technology companies, are led by male founders. This doesn’t make sense because without the partnership of women consumers, we can’t transform the food system. There is nobody better to understand the needs of women — than women!
The future of food is one of the only industries in the world that touches the lives of every single human being on the planet. As we innovate on solutions to humanity’s most pressing issue, we cannot take for granted how deeply intertwined both culture and emotion are with what we eat. With this in mind, I plan to focus my efforts on a message that resonates with many, not just the few.
Maggie Monast, Senior Director, Climate-Smart Agriculture, Finance and Markets, Environmental Defense Fund
My aspiration is to align finance with farmers to provide support for the transition to new practices and recognition for the risk reduction benefits of long-term climate-smart farming. In 2022, the private and public investments in climate-smart agriculture that I’ve been advocating for finally became real.
I collaborated with Farmers Business Network to launch a farm-operating loan program for farmers that meet climate and water quality standards. In this first year, we wanted to learn whether farmers were interested in being rewarded for their financing for environmental stewardship. We found that the answer is a resounding yes — the $25 million fund filled up with 48 grain farmers and a growing waitlist for next year.
As co-chair of the Field to Market: Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture Innovative Finance Committee, I was thrilled when our climate-smart commodities project was selected for up to $70 million in funding by USDA. Our partnership will connect farmers with the package of finance, market demand and measurement that they need to grow and sell climate-smart commodities. I’m particularly proud that more than 40 percent of our funds will improve access to finance for Black and Native American producers.
It’s amazing to see my efforts turn into real financial opportunities for farmers. I’m excited for more of that in the year to come.
Eva Goulbourne, Founder and CEO, Littlefoot Ventures and President, Upcycled Food Foundation
One of my proudest achievements was watching my client Hellmann’s reach the $2 billion mark with the help of their “Make taste not waste” campaign. For a brand of that size to quantify the positive impact that purpose-driven marketing efforts can have, including driving the brand’s financial goals, cannot be understated.
I participated in the ReFED summit, which felt like a homecoming seeing how many amazing things have happened since I co-founded the organization. I felt exceptionally proud because the first grantee of ReFED’s $100 million fund was the Upcycled Food Foundation, where I sit as board president. It’s beautiful to see the organizations that I’ve supported doing extraordinary work at scale, and I feel grateful to have played a small role in their journeys.
A valuable insight I learned is that my approach to food waste solutions is quite unique, so it’s time to scale Littlefoot Ventures. I approach the food waste problem with an emphasis on pre-competitive collaboration, multi-stakeholder engagement and strategic philanthropic giving. This framework offers a proven amplifier effect for partners looking to make food systems change to address the climate crisis, and I feel an even greater responsibility to contribute more impact in 2023.
Anne Palermo, Co-Founder and CEO, Aqua Cultured Foods
This year has been marked by many wins, but the one that I’m most proud of is the unparalleled success we’ve had with our product tastings. Through these tastings, we’ve honed in on which products are most in demand by our consumers and will allow us to laser-focus on bringing these hyper-realistic products to market at an accelerated pace. As a mission-driven business, our main goal is to save our oceans while feeding the world for generations to come and by creating delicious, nutritious and affordable products. These tastings tell us we are positioned well to make a truly remarkable impact on saving our oceans and solving food security issues.
However, we also understand that in order to reach these goals, we must not only focus on the creation of high-quality, delicious foods but also work towards undercutting the price of traditional animal proteins. As much of the world is extremely price-sensitive, the sooner we can bring products to market at a price that is affordable and accessible to all, the faster we will see the tables tilt toward mass adoption by the consumer at large.
Joan Salwen, Co-Founder and CEO, Blue Ocean Barns
In 2022, Blue Ocean Barns celebrated notable achievements in customer traction, talent acquisition and regulatory approval. I even presented our solution at COP27. My proudest achievement this year, however, was closing a $20 million financing round in May. The lead investor is a giant global dairy company that is fully committed to taking responsibility for the climate impact of its supply chain (rather than trying to skirt regulations or demand government subsidies). While much of the focus on climate action centers around what governments are doing, we are seeing that corporations want to and can be a major driver of change.
The most important insight I gained is how important — and impactful — it is to say “thank you” to the people who do our work and support our work. Domesticating a marine plant that has never been cultivated in captivity is so difficult. Growing it at scale as a crop is even more so! I have come to appreciate our team’s grit and will continue to express gratitude to our team of faithful pioneers as they learn — sometimes the hard way — how to bring this innovation to an eager market.
Andrea Learned, Founder and Climate Influence Strategist, Learned On
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I magnetized the needle out of the haystack in two standout ways this past year. I facilitated the dot connection of climate policy with food policy for a federal lawmaker in a mainstream business publication. I also identified the opportunity and used my networks to get a corporate leader an invitation to a high-level, closed-door food systems transition event at COP27. In both cases, I used my 30,000-foot view of how climate influence is built and leveraged, along with my on-the-ground insights on who needs to know who and what will become a win for all involved to make it happen.
We’ve seen the energy space long get its due climate action attention. Now is the time for a few innovative leaders to absolutely OWN the food systems shift in the same way because animal agriculture is a greenhouse gas source that continues to get far too little attention in national and global climate conversations.
In 2023, I’ll keep expanding my ability to guide and amplify these bold leaders — for example, through my new Living Change podcast that launches in January.
Wendy Coleman, Founder and Partner, LA Urban Farms
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Our proudest and most meaningful achievement in our LA Urban Farms business this year has been a project that’s near and dear to all our hearts. We created a new farm on the rooftop of Hudson Pacific Properties right in the middle of LA, which was just months ago an unused space. We now have 30 of our vertical gardens in just 560 square feet, growing 840 edible plants per month. That’s 10,000 edible plants per year!
What makes this project so special is that our team grows the produce in our gardens with love, intention and hearts full of gratitude and then donates it to veterans in need in collaboration with The Westside Food Bank and the Veterans Administration. Often when food is donated, it’s leftover or rescued food. It’s been a gift to meet with the veterans and learn what produce they enjoy and then plant those seeds and grow them with love!
By far, the biggest lesson we have learned in having our LA Urban Farms business is choosing the right partner. Just like in life, having partners you can trust because they keep and honor their word, share your goals and values and make you proud is everything!
Alia Malik, Senior Director for Data and Traceability, Better Cotton Initiative
We’ve been busy. My proudest achievement this year is that we are on track to deliver something that many said was impossible — a mainstream system to make cotton traceable. Cotton has one of the most opaque supply chains in the world and the process of bringing transparency has been highly complex. We started off with a $260,000 project to explore what to do and how to do it, and this year have brought in nearly $2.1 million to deliver on our early plans.
At the beginning of 2022, we only had a plan. Now, we have developed new Chain of Custody and Data Standards, started our technology build using best-in-class solutions, and initiated three on-the-ground pilots, so we are many steps closer to reality. At the heart of this is an amazing team that is translating the vision into action, ready for the go-live in Q3 2023.
Ultimately, we are determined this will benefit farming communities at the heart of our work. We have a target to improve farmer livelihoods and keep seeing that there is a real opportunity to create parallel tools to pay farmers a living income.
Women have an unequal role in cotton — they participate in core activities of cultivation or operations but are often not the “decision-maker.” I have joined the board of the International Cotton Association and am keen to contribute to their work on Women in Cotton. We are also mainstreaming gender into our Standards documents. If you don’t ask for change, how will it happen?