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Vertical Farming

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USA Pavilion Innovation Program

Expo Milano 2015

Expo Milano 2015

The Urban Pastoral Team just returned from an incredible month in Milan, Italy, showcasing our company at the World Expo. Urban Pastoral was 1 of 10 teams selected to participate in the USA Pavilion's hallmark Innovation Program, "Feeding the Accelerator." The notion of how our planet will sustainably feed 9 Billion people in 2050 is extraordinarily complex. Therefore, the U.S. State Department teamed up with the James Beard Foundation, Microsoft, FedEx, and urban design firm, Atelier Slice, to leverage the forum of the Expo to pinpoint entrepreneurs from around the globe who were tackling this problem from vastly different angels. 

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At its core, innovation is the intersection of multidisciplinary minds. It creation occurs through friction, and illusory barriers collapse. To capture this notion, Savinien Caracostea, Atelier Slice Partner, and Curator of Feeding the Accelerator directed a film titled, "Mentor Minds," which is a series of short interviews with thought leaders from a wide range of fields discussing creativity, food, architecture, and expression. 

Savinien also filmed the entrepreneurs who brought all of these concepts together in the manifestation of their businesses, demonstrating the philosophy behind Feeding the Accelerator.

Our team had the opportunity to engage the conversation around food in the global arena. We collaborated with world renowned chefs, architects, investor, government leaders, and tech innovators to better understand our business model in a multidisciplinary construct.

It was an incredible opportunity to be involved in such an incredible gathering, and the amount of work that went into this Expo was astonishing. However, the work is just beginning, and we are creating a legacy of innovation so that the Expo will not simply be remembered as an event, but a nexus for global change.   

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#MadeinBaltimore Vendor Fair

June 8th, Humanim Social Enterprise, City Seeds, held the #MadeinBaltimore Vendor Fair, at the historic Lexington Market. The fair connected local food businesses with prominent institutional buyers such as Johns Hopkins, MICA, and the City Government. There was an eclectic group of food entrepreneurs, ranging from coffee roasters and bakeries like Zeke's and Dooby's, to juicers and fermenters like Gundalow and HEX.

Mayor-Rawling-Blake was also in attendance, interacting with the vendors and speaking to the audience. The Mayor, along with City Seeds Director, Deborah Haust, spoke about the importance of buying local and stimulating the Baltimore economy. Food entrepreneurs are not only feeding the city, but also creating jobs and empowering local communities.


UP had a blast showcasing our Vertical Farming wall, and demonstrating to the crowd how we will change the landscape of urban food production in Baltimore. We were also excited to announce the launch of our first modular facility, BoxUP. We partnered with Humanim, American Communities Trust, and the Abell Foundation to demonstrate next generation urban food production on the site of the Baltimore Food Hub. BoxUP plans to be operational by the end of the summer.

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Vertical Farming Showcase at Johns Hopkins

The Urban Pastoral team showcased our vertical growing system on the Johns Hopkins campus over alumni weekend. There were over a thousand alumni in attendance, and our team was able to engage the community to demonstrate the importance of local and sustainably grown food. 

It was a great experience for the team. Baltimore has a vibrant community that supports sustainability and local foods, and we had curious attendees of all ages stop by. Food is the common thread that connects every person on the planet. Food in many ways is deeply entrenched in our cultures and is a defining piece of who we are. A smell, a recipe, or a feel, can evoke powerful emotions. It is our mission to demonstrate connectivity through food, and empower our community by building a local food economy.

UP has two showcases coming up on April 27th, and June 8th. On April 27th, the UP team will be speaking at the Johns Hopkins Hospital for the Social Innovation Lab Impact Forum. On June 8th, UP will be apart of the Baltimore Food Hub Vendor Fair, at Lexington Market. More exciting details to come regarding the Food Hub.  

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UP Selected as Global Health & Innovation Prize Finalists

2015 Unite For Sight Global Health & Innovation Prize (Yale University)

2015 Unite For Sight Global Health & Innovation Prize (Yale University)

J.J. had the honor of being selected to represent Urban Pastoral as both a Social Impact Lab Speaker and an Innovation Prize finalist at the Unite for Sight, Global Health & Innovation Conference this past weekend. The 12th annual conference, hosted at Yale University, brought together thought leaders in Medicine, Healthcare Innovation, Public Policy, International Development, and Social Entrepreneurship, from across the globe to engage in an interactive open dialogue with over 800 participants. The conference began primarily as a medical themed forum 12 years ago, and has evolved into an expansive discussion that explores the social determinants of health through many different lens.

Healthcare innovation was a prominent topic throughout the conference, but one could not help but notice that themes of tied to agriculture, nutrition, and environmental sustainability seemed to permeate through every discussion. There was a shift from surgical techniques, and advanced technology to preventative care and human centered design. 

J.J. began the first day of the conference delivering a talk on the importance of urban food production. On his panel was Joe Whinney, Founder & CEO of Seattle Based fair-trade chocolate company, Theo Chocolate, and Rodney North, spokesperson for Equal Exchange, a worker owned co-operative dedicated to conducting fair-trade business around the globe.  

This year, Unite for Sight launched the GHIC Innovation Prize to award social innovators $15,000 in grants to help facilitate an impact project. Over 200 applicants went through multi-rounds of submissions, until the competition was paired down to 22 semi-finalists, who have to deliver a 2-minute pitch in front of industry judges and over 350 conference participants. Our pitch was 1 of 6 selected to move on to the finalist round, where J.J. engaged in a 5-minute presentation and 20 minutes of questions with judges and audience members. The prize was one by Yale'13 Alumna Lucy Topaloff for her concept MiracleFeet, which created a low-cost solution to treating clubbed foot disorder. Although, Urban Pastoral did not walk away with the prize, it was a tremendous honor to share our company, and interact with such bright social entrepreneurs.  

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NYC UP: TEDxManhattan 2015

Change the Way We Eat
— TEDxMan

UP had the opportunity to attend TEDxManhattan this past weekend, and interact with some of the most influential global thought leaders in food system sustainability. This incredible event has been engaging the question of how our world must "Change the Way We Eat," for the past three years. TEDxMan continues to bring together innovative and driven people who not only share a passion for food, but a belief that food and its origins can and should be a vehicle for social, economic, and environmental change. What was so special about TEDxMan was the scope and diverse backgrounds of all of the speakers and attendees. There were scientists, photojournalists, chefs, farmers, doctors, political activists, investors, students, restaurateurs, and musicians; all from vastly different fields, but all sharing the common thread of food. This global conversation facilitated by TEDxMan, illustrates how food permeates through all facets of society, and how we all, no matter what vocational or social distinction, must take responsibility in restoring health and sustainability.

The conference began with opening remarks from celebrity chef, and food activist, Tom Colicchio, on how food policy must be at the forefront of political action. He explained how it is his mission to have stances on food policy as major debates carrying tremendous influence on election day. Food impacts all, and it cannot be a side issue. He challenged the audience to leverage our collective voices to have an impact on Washington. 

Colicchio then introduced arguably the most successful restauranteur in the U.S., Danny Meyer. Starting with one small cafe in Union Square, Danny Meyer built a global food empire including iconic brands such as Shake Shack, Gramercy Tavern, and Union Square Hospitality Group. Over the past 35 years Meyer opened dozens of successful concepts, won James Beard Awards, and published renowned books. However, with success and scale, Meyer has not compromised his mission of transforming his restaurants into extensions of the community. As a restauranteur he stressed that he has a greater responsibility than profits. Restaurants provide a sense of place making in the community. 

What you ate tasted like where you were
— Danny Meyer

Meyer reminisced about traveling throughout different regions in France and Italy saying "what you ate tasted like where you were."  The flavors and atmosphere of a restaurant must be drawn from the environment that surrounds them. Without this connection a restaurant becomes an empty shell, and its food has no deeper meaning. Meyer closed with a symbolic anecdote on the origin of restaurants. He explained how the word restaurant, is a french term meaning to restore. This notion of restoration must not be lost. 

“People must be transformed from passive eaters to informed shoppers.”
— Michele Merkel

The role of women in food and farming was also a major theme that drew tremendous engagement at TEDxMan. Michele Merkel, lawyer, food system sustainability activist, and Director of Food & Water Justice, gave an emotionally charged talk on her battle with Big Ag over the detrimental pollution caused by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), from the industrial meat and dairy industry. She explained that with the power that Big Ag has over the industry, many people feel powerless or have a sense of emotional disconnect with food. However she emphasized that every consumer makes an impact. Merkel expressed that "people must be transformed from passive eaters to informed shoppers," and that " eating is a moral act." It was this sense of individual responsibility and call to action that really resonated throughout this incredible day.

TEDxMan was a very charging experience for the UP team, because it illustrates that we are not alone in our mission. In fact, it demonstrates that we are apart of a burgeoning global movement led by bright, multidisciplinary minds that will redefine the way food is produced and consumed. This food revolution can be seen from all corners of the globe, and we see it here in Baltimore everyday. Whether it is activists protecting the Chesapeake, restauranteurs showcasing local ingredients, or the local government creating legislation to support urban agriculture, change is happening all around us. We hope to be one of many that will help rebuild our community through good honest food.  

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Agritecture Vertical Farming Workshop

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Agritecture Vertical Farming Workshop

Keep Growing
— Agritecture

The UPC team had an incredible opportunity to participate in the 2015 Agritecture Workshop on behalf of the Association for Vertical Farming. The workshop was held at Columbia University in New York, and it attracted a passionate group of scientists, engineers, designers, architects, and entrepreneurs from around the globe who seek to use urban agriculture as a vehicle for social, economic, and environmental change. The event began with remarks from Dickson Despommier, author of the Vertical Farm. Despommier is widely regarded as the father of the movement, and was an immense inspiration for the UPC team and many other aspiring urban agricultural entrepreneurs across the globe. Despommier spoke about the inception of this idea in the walls of his Columbia classroom, and how it has blossomed into a global movement. Urban agriculture is the future of food production, and innovation in this field is of vital importance to the resiliency of our cities. 

Three multidisciplinary teams were formed and given 24 hours to build a feasible model including architectural renderings, business plan, and financials for an urban agricultural development in 12 locations across the NY. Julie's team selected a brown field site owned by the National Grid company for the purpose of remediation. J.J.'s team selected a site in Far Rockaway, a community that was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. All groups utilized a mix of innovative technology, ecological processes, and community development strategies to help empower these downtrodden communities. Below is a video of the "Rockaway Collective," team, pitching their concept to a group of industry experts and venture Capitalists.  

The UPC team was incredibly honored to participate in a special event with such an amazing group of brilliant minds. We would like to extend a special thanks to our hosts, Henry Gordon-Smith, Founder of Agritecture, and Max Loessl, Founder of the Association for Vertical Farming. Similar to Tesla, Henry and Max are collecting invaluable industry data and building an open source database tool to share with the planet in order to progress the industry forward. As we strive to build a more sustainable future for our planet, we must unite and facilitate innovative collaboration.

As our friends at the AVF and Agritecture say, "keep growing."

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