FoodCon 2017, Good for All: Sustainable. Accessible. Profitable.

90% of North Carolinian seafood is consumed outside of North Carolina, and 90% of seafood consumed in North Carolina is imported from out of state. 25% of North Carolina children face food insecurity. Family owned farming is becoming less and less prevalent in the state.

Despite how intractable these problems seem, solutions exist. It just takes getting the people with the answers to the puzzle together. FoodCon is an annual conference in North Carolina that is dedicated to the business of sustainable food systems. On December 8, 2017 it was hosted at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School. The theme of the event was “Good for All: Sustainable. Accessible. Profitable.” The intent was for the conference to hit on the three key elements of a sustainable triple bottom line: environment, profit, and people.

The highlight of the conference were our two keynote speakers. First, Megan Shea, CEO of the Soulfull Project, spoke about her inspiration for starting a social enterprise and how she has turned it into a success. Soulfull sells healthy hot breakfast cereals and for every cup sold donates another to a food bank, including many in North Carolina. Soulfull helped conference attendees see how it’s possible to balance business financial success along with having a positive impact on people.

Our second keynote speaker, Joel Salatin, the owner-operator of Polyface Farm, tied together the three elements of the triple bottom line and spoke about his vision for sustainable agriculture. Joel has built a successful family business that is in sync with the natural patterns of the Earth and the animals that inhabit it. He feels that smart government policy can help invigorate economies and bolster our food supply chain, benefiting even the least well off among us.

FoodCon is more than just two keynote speeches and some related panels. More importantly, it’s a community where growers, farmers, food manufacturers, retailers, consumers, activists, academics, and students can all get together and share their perspectives on issues in food sustainability. FoodCon is also a collaboration between UNC, Duke University, and North Carolina State University. The schools are best known as fierce sports rivals, but by bringing together the intellectual talent from the three schools important issues like improving access to local foods and reducing the extent of food deserts in the state can be solved.

The highlight of the networking aspect of FoodCon was the Moveable Feast at lunchtime. Four local food vendors were joined by three local beverage producers to offer a menagerie of delicious and innovative food items. I heard multiple people exclaim that the Korean style fried broccoli was the best broccoli they had ever eaten in their lives! Many people were also introduced to shrubs and switchels, expanding their fermented beverages knowledge beyond kombucha. Best of all, one of our conference sponsors, Hungry Harvest, provided our food vendors with fresh local produce that would have otherwise gone to waste.

Beyond the Moveable Feast and the wonderful keynote speakers, FoodCon attendees learned about the wonderful initiatives that are being undertaken to solve sustainability issues in the food system. The NC 10% initiative is promoting the consumption of locally grown food and in turn supporting family farms. Refugees are receiving assistance to become farmers and to begin contributing to the local food system. The Soulfull Project is donating healthy breakfasts to NC families in need, all with the help of other NC consumers. FoodCon is a conference that brings these people together and provides an environment where they can come up with these sorts of solutions. We look forward to FoodCon 2018 at Duke University!

FoodCon is an event that was in part, a collaboration with The Soulfull Speaker Series - a program available to Net Impact chapters in the United States. Bring a speaker from The Soulfull Project to your campus or community to speak about food security, the role of businesses in tackling local community issues, and the nuts and bolts of starting a social enterprise within a large corporation. Click here to apply today!


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Eric B. Insler - MBA Candidate | Class of 2018 | UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

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