Highlights from Esca Bona 2016

I love disruption.  Not the annoying distraction of someone walking late into a lecture, but the deliberate, thoughtful disruption that completely upends an established (and probably broken) system. That kind of disruption is what Esca Bona is all about.

New Hope’s Esca Bona (literally, “Good Food”) conference in Austin, Texas brings together a diverse and lively group of “food renegades:” young entrepreneurs, industry pioneers, CPG leadership, retailers, activists, suppliers, marketers, investors, and everyone in between. For three glorious days we gathered to collaborate on the mission of changing the food system.

I heard so many inspiring stories and intriguing ideas while at the conference. Even though this is only my second year attending, I’m still amazed by the depth of passion and breadth of creativity represented there, such as  I wish I could tell you about everything, but I’ll just share a few of my favorites for now:

Day 1: Gangsta Gardner

Who: Ron Finley, Ron Finley Project (The Gangsta Gardner)

Why It Resonates: You may have seen Ron’s TEDTalk — if not, now’s the time to give it a watch. Finley disclaims “I’m not a farmer,” but he is a designer who is beautifying South Central LA through acts of guerilla vegetable gardening.  These guerilla gardens also serve to challenge the food deserts that exist in the area.

Day 1: Plants vs Animals

Who: Robyn O’Brien, Founder, AllergyKids Foundation

Session: Plants vs Animals: Finding a Healthy & Sustainable Middle Ground

Why It Resonates: As Marty Butler and Robyn introduced this next session, a panel conversation featuring food leaders and innovators, Marty joked that it was “like a veggie burger with bacon on it.” It got a laugh, but was really the perfect metaphor for a cooperative, thoughtful conversation about increasing plant consumption while considering an ethical future for meat and dairy. What can be a polarizing and divisive debate in other forums was incredibly considered here — it really summed up the nature of Esca Bona itself.

Day 2: Heavenly Organics

Who: Amit Hooda, President/CEO, Heavenly Organics

Session: Partnerships for Impact: Collaborating Our Way to Change

Why It Resonates: Heavenly Organics wowed me. Amit Hooda started his presentation by stating the organization’s belief that “you can’t have long term peace without having sustainable economic recovery.” Their model is based on providing ethical work for people in conflict zones, and they focus on developing a relationship between the producer and the consumer. They also make ethical products: by harvesting honey from live wild hives in the untouched forests of India, Heavenly Organics’ honey is completely clean.  Many commercial brands, which the FDA recently reported, can contain glyphosate residue — even organic mountain honey.’

Day 2: Finian Makepeace

Who: Finian Makepeace, Co-Founder, Kiss the Ground

Why It Resonates: As part of the closing keynote, Finian Makepeace took to the stage to speak and perform some original songs. He shared a powerful dream about being in a refugee camp in Brazil because of climate change. In the dream, his granddaughter finds a hole in the fence, and they walk together in the night, eventually finding a destroyed city. His granddaughter looks up at him with tears in her eyes and asks, “Why didn’t you stop this from happening?” That question drove the song that followed, “2016” (starts at 04:40:20), and inspires his work with Kiss The Ground.  Kiss the Ground is an organization dedicated to fighting climate change by raising awareness and focusing on restoring soil health. His music was heartfelt, and gave us an opportunity to end the conference with a moment of reflection that renewed everyone’s dedication to the fight for good food and our planet.

Final Thoughts

All in all, it was a great conference, and I’m already looking forward to next year — but as I look back on my time in Austin, I’m finding myself wondering why I wasn’t surrounded by more peers from the supplement space. I’ll be talking more about this in a future entry, so stay tuned.