The Future of Food: Alpha Food Labs
A Biodiverse Future
by Blue Fletcher/18th-May-2020
Bringing sustainability and taste together, food biodiversity not only encourages healthier diets but also thriving ecosystems. The technical meaning of food biodiversity is defined as ‘the variety and variability of the plants, animals, micro-organisms, and biocultural systems linked to food’.
The diversity is essential to maintain food security and sustainable movement, supplying services vital to the ecosystem, for example, providing healthy soils and pollinating plants. It’s hugely beneficial to the food production system as the soil develops resilience to shock and stress, allowing a higher quality yield.
In 2019 a worrying amount of evidence suggested that the biodiversity that sustains our food is disappearing, causing concern for the future of our food, livelihood, health and environment. To gain a better insight into what can be done to reverse this decline, I investigated the market leaders of this issue – Alpha food Labs.
The Benefits of Biodiversity
Biodiversity is key to mitigating farming and supply chain risk.
Having a wider and deeper gene pool in our agricultural system makes crops and livestock more resilient to pests and diseases, climate change, and extreme weather, which secures our food system.
A diverse diet, consisting of nutrient rich sources of food, is key to health.
As diets homogenize, diet-related disease, obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies are increasing quickly. There are many untapped foods with superior nutrient density that are outside of our major commodity crops: wheat, soy, and corn.
A more biodiverse food system is a more sustainable system.
Planting a wider variety of symbiotic crops either simultaneously or in rotation from season to season can rebuild soil health, reduce the need for pesticides and fertilizers, and provide a habitat for pollinators and pest predators.
Diverse food species means diverse flavor experiences.
As eaters become more discerning and worldly in their food tastes, introducing more varieties of crops and animal species from around the world can bring value to eaters looking for new foods and flavors.
Ensure that the world will have access to affordable, nutrient dense food
In the face of population growth, diminishing resources, and environmental degradation, a biodiverse agricultural system can better adapt to climate change and other threats.
Biodiversity helps preserve cultural traditions, local farming, and flavor.
Creating demand for a wider variety of foods from various cultures help support the farming communities and ways of living from many different countries.
What exactly do Alpha Food Labs do?
Alpha Food Labs is a modern innovation consultancy, aimed at the food and beverage industry. The agency claims to find unmet needs and opportunities within the market, responding to this with innovative ideas and prototypes. However, they also claim to build the future of food, this is due to their focus on creating biodiverse food products. You may be thinking that our food industry is widely diverse with endless restaurant choices.
However, around 75% of the food we consume comes from just 12 plants and 5 animal species (Source: LS:N Global).
This not only creates environmental issues but also limits our taste buds to a fraction of the unutilized foods across the world.
Who are they?
Alpha Food Labs was founded by Mike Lee and Danielle Gould, who claim to have a track record of building, connecting and investing in breakthrough brands. Meaning that Alpha Food Lab’s are supported by their sister companies:
The Future Market and Food+Tech Connect. The Future Market is ‘a futurist food lab that explores the impact of food systems change over the next 25 years’, it envisions what the food of the future will look like today, questioning the problems currently facing the food industry. This creates a database of relevant knowledge used to inform decisions made at Alpha Food Labs. Their other sister company, Food+Tech Connect is ‘a media and research company building a network of innovators transforming the food industry’. They aim to help and understand the market needs, emerging technologies and successful business models.
What’s the benefit?
Throughout the founder’s careers, they have developed a contemporary understanding of how our food industry should work. They’ve recognised the potential that obscure ingredients hold, encouraging brands to take advantage of the diverse spectrum of plants and animals that our world holds. All species of plants, animals, microbes and fungi have all developed a natural way of collaborating. However, modern agriculture eradicates this self-sufficiency, more so when the farming monoculture is exhausted due to greediness aiming for a higher yield. Not only does biodiversity prevent this destruction, but it also contributes to healthier diets and encourages our ecosystems to obtain the nutrients they need to survive.
What does the future hold for Alpha Food Labs?
Alpha Food Labs has taken a step in the right direction by developing concepts into real products on the market, launching its first brand, Varietal. Mike Lee stated that ‘the idea for Varietal is to promote a progressive mentality around agriculture with familiar products’ aiming to celebrate improved agriculture pleasing our environment as well as our stomachs. Varietals first product, Crop Crackers contain a diverse mix of wheat, legumes and seeds.
Not only do Crop Crackers use unusual ingredients, but they also use the planting technique: Crop Rotation. Crop Rotation is the process of planting a variety of crops sequentially on the same plot of land. This improves the quality of the soil, optimises the soil’s nutrients and combats pest and weed pressure. Unlike Crop Rotation, conventional farming draws the same nutrients from the soil year on year. However, the Crop Rotation method recognised that all plants have different nutritional needs, allowing them the maximise the soil’s qualities.
As of right now, Alpha Food Labs seem to be the only active company tackling biodiversity. For the sake of our environment and the future of food, Mike Lee is encouraging the food industry to step up and discover a whole new variety of ingredients, encouraging brands to do more good for the environment.
WHAT IS CROP ROTATION?
Crop Rotation is the practice of growing specific groups of vegetables on a different part of the vegetable plot each year. This helps to reduce a build-up of crop-specific pest and disease problems and it organises groups of crops according to their cultivation needs.
BENEFITS OF CROP ROTATION
- Soil Fertility: Different crops have different nutrient requirements. Changing crops annually reduces the chance of particular soil deficiencies developing as the balance of nutrients removed from the soil tends to even with time.
- Weed control: Some crops, like potatoes and squashes, with dense foliage or large leaves, suppress weeds, thus reducing maintenance and weed problems in following crops.
- Pest and Disease Control: Many pests and diseases are plant family specific. By rotating crops between sites these pests tend to decline in the period when their host plants are absent which helps reduce build-up of damaging populations of spores, eggs and pests. Common diseases that can be avoided by a good rotation include clubroot in brassicas and onion white rot.
WHY IS THIS A GOOD ROTATION?
- Brassicas follow legumes: Sow crops such as cabbage, cauliflower and kale on soil previously used for beans and peas. The latter fix nitrogen in the soil, whilst the former benefit from the nutrient-rich conditions created.
- Potatoes also love nitrogen-rich soil, but should not be planted alongside brassicas as they like different pH levels.
- Very rich soil and roots don’t mix: Avoid planting root vegetables on areas which have been heavily fertilised, as this will cause lush foliage at the expense of the edible parts of the plant. Therefore parsnips/carrots etc are grown after the brassicas – a very nutrient heavy crop.