Exploring the future of food: Lessons for the next generation with Mike Lee


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Mike Lee

During a recent online workshop, the current cohort of AgriFutures Horizon Scholars were challenged to reimagine the future of the food industry and the role they would play in building this future.

Each year, the AgriFutures Horizon Scholars come together for an annual 4-day workshop in which they build crucial leadership and career-readiness skills, explore industry issues and challenge their thinking. Following the cancellation of the face-to-face workshop this year, the team developed a Horizon Virtual Summit experience for the scholars which involved a series of online sessions exploring the current and future landscape of Australian agriculture.

One of these sessions was focused on innovation in food systems – from the way we think and talk about our food, to the way we grow and sell it. Joining the scholars for this session was Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Alpha Food Labs, Mike Lee.

In addition to his work with Alpha Food Labs, Mike is the founder of The Future Market, a futurist food lab that explores what our food system could look like in the next 5-25 years, through experiences and concept products.

Dialling in all the way from New York City, Mike led a captivating and interactive two-hour discussion around the future of food in a global context. The discussions were shaped around four key themes:

  • The disruption of the modern food system
  • The rapidly evolving needs of the 21st century eaters
  • Biodiversity and flexibility vs. monoculture and yield
  • The next generation farmer

Earlier this year, Mike delivered a keynote session at evokeAG. 2020 which examined the consumer behaviours and innovations that are shaping the conversation around sustainable food now and into the future. During his discussion with the scholars, Mike built upon these topics and challenged the scholars to rethink what they had already been taught about the future of food and to start thinking about the roles they would play in building this future.

Horizon Scholar Emma Moss says that the session with Mike really opened her eyes to the importance of diversity of people and practice within agriculture and the increasing need to innovate how the industry is communicating with the broader community.

“Mike’s session was a great reminder that agriculture is just another trade and sell industry. We’re not that different to other customer-based industries. We’re producing food and fibre products that we need to market to the people who consume them. I think as an industry we can forget this sometimes,” said Emma.

A common thread in Mike’s session, which underpinned a lot of the discussions Mike had with the scholars, was the role of storytelling in agriculture and how industry can harness the power of marketing and storytelling to reposition agriculture and shape future practices.

“It really excites me that the topic of improved communication keeps popping up. As Mike talked about, I think it is important that we are looking outside of agriculture when talking about how we can improve our communications,” said Emma.

“Making crop rotations and other regenerative agricultural practices a reason for people to buy food really excites me. It’s adding financial incentive to better practices – something I think we have been unfairly pointing the finger at government, as something they should be doing.”

Mike ended the session with some very pertinent insights into what he thinks the next generation of farmers should look like based on his experience and observations of the holistic food system. Drawing on these insights he presented the scholars with four key lessons for how they can start preparing themselves to help contribute to the future of food in Australia and globally. These lessons were:

1. Creativity is crucial to innovation and one of the keys to unlocking your creativity is in diversifying your ideas and exposing yourselves to thinking outside of food and agriculture – you need to build your dots before you can connect them.

2. Find structured and ongoing ways to stay connected to the people who are eating your food or consuming your products and don’t lose sight of your own experiences as a consumer.

3. Stay on top of all new and emerging agtech solutions that are being pushed through industry and begin developing a filter for which solutions are actually adding value and align with your own ideals.

4. There is a real need to redefine what storytelling means for the agricultural sector. The real story exists with food and the people who grow it, so find an innovative way to tell your farm story.

In partnership with a range of industry sponsors, the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship is an initiative to help grow and support the next generation of leaders, game changers and thought makers in agriculture. We would like to thank our current sponsors for their ongoing support.

2020 AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship sponsors: Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC), the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), Australian Eggs, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), Dairy Australia, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), Hort Innovation, Cotton Research & Development Corporation (CRDC), McCaughey Memorial Institute, AgriFutures Rice Extension Program and AgriFutures Australia.

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