This week UpField was among a group of food and agriculture leaders who attended a Farm Illinois event in Chicago. The theme of the event was meeting the demands of the new and future consumer. The room was filled with a diverse group of people, representing the entire farm to fork supply chain. Everyone from farmers to software developers to college students participated in a thought-provoking conversation around some very important topics – Consumer confidence, sustainability, nutrition, technology, public policy, and funding the future of food and ag, to name a few.
We love what we do (and the view is pretty great too!).
By design of the event planners, attendees moved around the room and sat at different tables to encourage dialogue with like-minded, as well as differing opinions to discuss these topics. At one point, the table where I was seated discussed the sustainability of row-crop production and large-scale farming versus local, urban farming and which was better for the environment and our communities. The table was divided by crop farmers, organic food companies, and NGO’s that have built businesses on locally sourced meals. From my perspective, this was great insight, because there was a hint of animosity from opposing sides. Both sides providing expertise in their respective fields, and both sides obviously committed to their respective businesses. However, as I sat back and listened to their points, I couldn’t help but think this is not a right or wrong discussion; it’s a both conversation.
Farmers made the point of feeding a global population and NGO’s talked about the environment… sounds all too familiar. The real highlight I thought came from the college students who were not afraid to take the microphone and ask difficult questions. From my perspective, the future consumer was in the room, their demands were on display while the NGO’ and farmers were talking about what they wanted and thought was best. To my knowledge, no-one asked the college students to sit on a panel, or speak on topics. Seems to me if we listen, evolve, innovate and scale – we will understand how to meet the demands of the future consumer.
We may not like it, or agree with it, but for us latchkey kids, baby boomers and millennials, we had our time to drive the economy, and social media for that matter. We do not need another article written on the spending power of Millennials. Got it. We are the present, not the future. The future of food is driven by Gen Z, and they care about the environment – a lot. From what I was able to gather from those represented at the Farm Illinois event, how we respond, evolve, innovate and scale our industry to meet consumer demands, will be in large part to our ability to listen to, engage, and involve those with the microphone.