By Gretchen Schisla
Looking back on 2016, I’ve been reflecting on the moments that opened my heart to humanity and also helped me to grow as a leader. Attending Esca Bona, a conference of several hundred ‘disruptors’ who gather to think big and make big change in Austin, did just that. Enlightening conversations with entrepreneurs who devote their careers to addressing tough problems made me aware that our food supply chain is in serious trouble.
My takeaways from this humanizing experience:
1. It’s fun to dig in the dirt.
Ron Finley – The Gangsta Gardener
Sixty curious volunteers boarded a bus with Ron Finley, better known as The Gangsta Gardener. We headed to an elementary school in a south Austin food desert with one agenda — to restore the vegetable garden that the kids nurture in their after-school program. Each youth told charming stories about why they love their community garden, including one girl who looks forward to harvesting fresh plants so her mom can cook them at home. Many hands make light work — after three hours of clearing crab grass, weeding, and building raised beds, we all chatted and laughed on our bus ride back to our hotel.
2. Extraordinary people are leading the way.
Esca Bona event speakers included policy makers, influencers and impact-minded investors who are helping companies to reach consumers and elevate their missions to greater heights.
Fred Kirschenmann – Sustainable Agriculture Guru
Fred is the pioneer of organic farming who sparked an international movement. At Esca Bona, he spoke to an admiring crowd who recognized his profound contribution of over 40 years studying and practicing soil restoration and sustainable agriculture.
Mark Tilsen – Buffalo Snacks from Native Americans
Mark is a lifelong supporter of Native American causes and believes that the buffalo has always been key to the survival of his culture. He created the Tanka Bar and shared inspirational stories of how the success of one product provides jobs and hope for his native American community.
Elizabeth Candelario – Biodynamic Farming
Developed in the 1920s, biodynamic farming integrates soil fertility, plant growth and livestock care, while emphasizing spiritual perspectives. Using her experience with a winery’s transition to biodynamic farming, Elizabeth works to expand Biodynamic Certification through Demeter USA, whose vision is to heal the planet through agriculture. Practiced worldwide, biodynamic farming certification is available in over 50 countries.
Tyler Lorenzen – Non-GMO and Organic Soybeans
In 1985, Tyler’s parents developed “The World Food System” as a response to global population growth and nutritional shortages in protein supplies. Their organization, World Food Processing, fills an important void by breeding and processing non-GMO organic soy, peas and corn. At Esca Bona, Tyler shared his father Jerry’s keen understanding of the major role that plant-based proteins play in providing protein to a growing world.
3. Food outlaws take on a creative challenge.
The Future of Food Blitz, led by Mike Burn and Greg Galle of Future Partners, engaged 120 ‘food outlaws’ in a collective brainstorm with astounding results. Our task was to answer one question — how might we fix the broken food system by 2025? Participants broke into groups and chose a topic that captured our interest: Healthy Food for All, Regenerative Ag, Plant Revolution, Ethical Meat, and Nourish Tech.
As Mike and Greg led us through their THINK WRONG process (see their new book below), strategies and campaign ideas arose to disrupt the status quo that paralyzes us from creating change. In a few hours, 23 disruptive solutions to our food challenges were imagined. My team chose Healthy Food for All and generated Meatless McDonalds. Our campaign concept was bold — the largest fast-food restaurant in the world would switch overnight to a plant-based menu. For one day, customers would taste fresh food for free – while being introduced to more healthful food choices.
Other standout campaigns:
Carne Card / Meat Responsibly.
The pitch: “Farming practices are inhuman, it takes a tremendous amount of water and the cost of meat production is increasingly prohibitive. While we can’t legislate the ethical treatment of animals, we can pass legislation requiring consumers to educate themselves about animal production. Education is in the classroom, in the field and on the farm, teaching what it takes to raise animals in a humane way. Each graduate will receive certification allowing them to buy meat.”
Luxury ≠ Waste / No food waste.
The pitch: “If the most luxurious hotel in the world can create a zero waste kitchen, who can’t? Four Seasons leads by example with a free, downloadable ‘How To’ manual on how to take a kitchen to zero waste — including videos with top chefs explaining how they did it over a 2-year period. It’s a complete hospitality content platform.”
We are Real SHIT Food / Sustainable, Healthy, Innovative and Tasty.
The pitch: “We believe that everyone deserves access to healthy food. We are reconnecting the world to its symbiotic relationship to nature. How do we do it? We hire innovative farmers to teach people how to grow their own food, we change distribution models to make it easier for food to get from the farm to your plate.”
After spending time at Esca Bona, my biggest discovery was ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ I now feel more dialed-in to my environment and to the people who are working so hard to protect it.
Think Wrong: How to Conquer the Status Quo and Do Work That Matters
By John Bielenberg, Mike Burn, and Greg Galle, with Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson
If you want to infuse your organization with new ideas and a creative spark in 2017, check out Think Wrong. It’s a just-released, brilliant tool for leaders and creatives developed by Future Partners. Gretchen tried out the ‘Think Wrong Practice’ at Esca Bona and loved it!
The authors believe that “the way we solve problems is broken – we’re trapped by techniques and assumptions of a prior era.” Think Wrong is a process that disrupts status quo by allowing unconventional, inspiring and bold ideas to emerge. The steps show us how to: Be Bold, Get Out, Let Go, Make Stuff, Bet Small and Move Fast. Check out the case studies, they demonstrate inspiring solutions to tough challenges!