Ten Questions with Shayna Harris, Chief Operating Officer at Farmer’s Fridge

From foodtank.com
Marisa Tsai

Food Tank, in partnership with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, is hosting the 1st Annual Chicago Food Tank Summit on November 16, 2016. 

This event will feature more than 40 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for interactive panels, networking, and delicious food, followed by a day of hands-on activities and opportunities for attendees.

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Shayna Harris, Chief Operating Officer at Farmer’s Fridge, who will be speaking at the summit.


Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?

Shayna Harris (SH): When I was 20 years old, I lived on a coffee farm in the remote Sierra Madre Mountains in Oaxaca Mexico.  Farmers there were growing top quality coffee that was being sold in high-end retail stores like Whole Foods, and yet they could not always put food on their own tables; they were reliant on family members working in the US to subsidizing their incomes.  I realized that while there were so many paradoxes with the situation, there were more opportunities to re-think food production, distribution, and access.  That “ah-ha moment” launched my lifelong passion to build a more sustainable food system.

FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?

SH: Everyone deserves access to fresh, healthy food, but a lot of our food production, processing, and distribution infrastructure has broken down.  Rebuilding this infrastructure so that farmers have the ability to process locally (fruits, vegetables, meats) would open up numerous micro and macro market opportunities in the US and abroad.  For Farmer’s Fridge, that would increase our ability to support local food producers as often as possible because we hand-assemble our fresh salads and snacks daily, and we are always excited about possibilities to support small-scale and local food producers in our products.

FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?

SH: Well, there are so many, but I would be remiss if I did not mention Farmer’s Fridge!  We sell wholesome, delicious and very fresh salads and snacks out of retro-fit vending machines.  We also require only a very small footprint to operate, meaning we can sell our food in the most unlikely places where people need it most – office buildings, hospitals, schools, and airports, to name a few.  Our mission is to democratize access to fresh, healthy food.  We believe the model we have created is one that plays a part in changing the food access system.

FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?

SH: Jane Goodall has inspired me since I first watched her work with the chimpanzees in the Gombi on the National Geographic channel when I was five years old. Many people only think of her in terms of animal conservation, but I view see her as a food hero because she sees the multidimensionality of issues like ecosystem health, biodiversity, and economics.  In addition, her conservation efforts are pragmatic.  For example in Tanzania, she involves local coffee and farmers and communities around the Gombi wildlife reserve to earn a dignified living from farming, and not from poaching, protecting local flora and fauna. It all came full circle for me when I watched her receive an award at the Specialty Coffee Association conference for these efforts.  She is someone who thinks innovatively and out of the box, and works tirelessly for what she cherishes most.

FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?

SH: I am encouraged to fight for a better food system because the issues we are facing are totally solvable. There are enough calories produced on earth to feed everyone well.  According to the FAO, 800 million people go hungry every day and yet we produce enough food to feed them twice over… about a third of the food that we produce gets wasted. That means wasted capacity that is harming our earth, its people and our climate.  We are trying to play a small part in changing that dynamic.  Farmer’s Fridge donates every single leftover meal to charity every day via our partner Zero Percent, but we also actively strive to reduce food waste as a core concept of our business.  

FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with?

SH: The greatest problem to today’s food system is climate change.

FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?

SH: In my opinion, the most pressing obstacle we must overcome is finding a way to make healthy, affordable food accessible for all. I am constantly amazed and frustrated that despite the fact that we grow enough calories on this earth to sustain everyone on the planet, farmers, restaurant workers, and children go hungry every day.  It is a totally solvable issue.  At Farmer’s Fridge, we are working to optimize the costs of food production in order to demonstrate that fresh food is not only a right, but can be made a reality regardless of community or income level.  We have some creative ideas up our sleeves that will hopefully shift that paradigm. 

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

SH: Everyone must be vigilant and pay attention to where they buy their food  As a society, we must support local, seasonal suppliers whenever possible.

FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?

SH: I dream that in the world our children inherit, healthy food can be enjoyed by all, and the over/under nourished gap is closed.  It’s not just about people having enough to eat, it’s about having enough of the right calories to eat, which is why at Farmer’s Fridge we are working so hard to expand a model that is about accessible food - location, price, menu, convenience.   We believe that everyone wants to eat well, they just need to be afforded more opportunities to do so.

FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?

SH: More investment in critical programs like double SNAP points for low income communities to support local growers and purchase local produce.  Grants to encourage innovation to re-build, re-envision, and re-create the food production / consumption paradigm.  And, most importantly, a big dose of love, respect, and compassion for everyone.



To find out more about the event, see the full list of speakers, and purchase tickets, please click HERE. Interested participants who cannot join can also sign up for the live-stream HERE.

Want to become a sponsor of the Food Tank Summit? Please email Bernard at Bernard@foodtank.com

Want to watch videos from previous Food Tank Summits? Please click HERE

Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Chicago include: Almond Board of California, Annie’s Inc., Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Blue Apron, Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Clif Bar & Company, Driscoll's, Elevation Burger, Farmer’s Fridge, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Inter Press Service (IPS), Niman Ranch, and Organic Valley. More to be announced soon.

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