Food Security & the Irish American Experience

I’m often asked why or how I became obsessed with soil health. I’m scared of famine. My maternal family came to the United States because of the Gorta Mór, or Great Hunger, which you may know as the Irish Potato Famine.  Between 1845 and 1849, 1 million people died (that’s 20%+ of the population, with another 100,000 death outside of Ireland) and 2.1 million migrated to another country because of the potato blight.  I’m scared of what famine does to political stability, inflation, and humanity’s better nature.  Political alliances, friendship, kindness, even sanity can be lost to hunger.

Elizabeth Pearce, CFA founder of SymSoil Inc

It is also true, I’ve always been a bit of a science nerd.  I took organic chemistry, anatomy, and physiology with the pre-med students at UC Berkeley.  But the truth is more raw or visceral, or perhaps even, epigenetic.

The Asian Rice Riots of 2007/2008 occurred while I was a Portfolio Manager at Northern Trust.  I was contemplating forestland as an asset class, and a friend had just recommended Fritz Stern’s book, Gold & Iron and described Gerson Bleichröder’s theories on forestland as an inflation/deflation/revolution hedge for family wealth.

As an equity analyst who had followed Nucor and AK Steel, I had observed changes in the steel industry, including the rise of steel beams in residential construction. I was contemplating the historic uses of lumber in a world where the paperless office was becoming a reality and construction use of lumber was declining.

Into my awareness popped food riots around the world and a strange factoid: Worldwide supply of cooking oil, which had always been more than 6 months, was down to 30 days.

Cooking oil? Really? Who even thinks about cooking oil?

The availability of cooking oil is a given. As a cook, you might think about peanut oil (for high temp cooking, like frying shrimp chips) vs olive oil for flavor in lower temperature cooking, but you never consider what it might be like if you couldn’t buy cooking oil at a store.  That’s when I, personally, started thinking about food security, food production and the logistical system that puts food in my local grocery store.   

The 2007-2008 food crisis was a product of several years of poor harvest.  Global food security is tied to a few mega-crops, on which civilization developed and rests: corn/maize, wheat, rice and soybeans.   International trade provides a global market and has reduced food costs for billions of people.

During the 2007-2008 crisis, 30 governments imposed export restrictions in attempt to control spiraling food prices. Protests erupted in 61 countries and turned violent in 23. Severe weather will ripple through the food system and is likely to ignite wider political instability.

To quote Tim Benton (Research Director at Chatham House and Professor of Population Ecology at University of Leeds and head of their Global Security Program and) and Rob Bailey (now with Marsh McLennan, formerly with Chatham House) in a New York Times Op Ed piece Extreme Weather and Food Shocks,

Once shocks to the food system spill over into other areas, they can cascade through economic and political systems with sometimes devastating consequences. … were two events to happen in the same year…”  Say a war in the Ukraine, heat waves in India, drought in California (pick your poison), “… it would result in 5% to 10% of the major crops to fail, more than enough to supply the basic calorie needs of the United States for a year.” For a larger context, a 2°C increase in the average temperature, will cut global agricultural production by 15%. 

When I say SymSoil has scaled Soil Food Web concepts, and can increase the speed at which farmers can convert to regenerative agriculture. And 20 million acres of RegenAg farmland can offset the entire US carbon footprint while increasing the resilience of the food production system, I am presenting a solution to a non-trivial problem.

The soil microbiome can make plants more drought tolerant, but also sequesters carbon at a faster rate than any other approach. 

So please, forward this to others and support us through donations of RegenIowa, a 503c1 NGO, or contributions to SymSoil through Kickstarter or contact me directly about investment in the company.

Published by Elizabethp

RegenIowa restores the indigenous soil ecosystem and seeks to convert 1 million acres from conventional, fertilizer based farming to biological farming by 2025, in Iowa. This is done with soil conditioning, minerals and a combination of a broad biodiversity of local fungi, protozoans, bacteria, microscopic insects and other soil life. This microbiome cycles plant nutrients which feeds plants the way nature intended. Mitigating climate change and better food are additional benefits.

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