Q&A with TFF Founder and CEO Christine Gould & Sustainability Strategist Olivia English.
Fast Food, Fast Fashion, Fast Furniture, Fast Relationships: the way we humans rapidly consume and discard everything around us is breaking our planet…and our souls. That’s why GenerationFest2022 by Thought For Food took a more conscious and holistic approach towards convening food and agriculture’s most visionary entrepreneurs, rockstars, and dreamers in Brooklyn, New York.
When designing this ambitious event, our measures of success were to optimize human connection, creativity, and positive impact. We experimented with bold new ideas and approaches to prove that sustainability isn’t restrictive, but rather something enhancing for all.
As a result, GenerationFest was a boundary-breaking event that took risks, included new voices, and was deeply respectful of the planet. From the set design to the food; from the merch to the speakers program; all the way to the choices of sponsors and partners, the event was meaningful, innovative, mind-expanding, delicious, and fun.
Q: What was GenerationFest?
GenerationFest is a new concept and format that builds on TFF’s track record of unforgettable events around the world. Our previous global summits were held in places like Berlin, Amsterdam, Zurich, Lisbon, and Rio de Janeiro, so we are no strangers to hosting world-class events on all kinds of stages. But, this was the first time we’ve organized something in the USA – and what better location than the innovative city of Brooklyn to host our inaugural Generation Fest? It was an honor to join forces with NYC Agriculture Collective, and to be named the flagship event of NYC AgTech Week and an official partner of Climate Week.
GenerationFest’s vision was to unite everyone working on the “next-generation” version of the world. Be they entrepreneurs, scientists, farmers, corporate leaders, investors, or creatives, we brought together change-makers and culture-shapers from 60+ countries who possess the vision, power and ambition to transform the future.
We created an immersive space for all of us to get inspired, connected, and mobilized towards our shared goals of sustainably feeding and nourishing people on an increasingly hotter planet. We tasted, touched, and experienced all kinds of exciting solutions so that we could discover new opportunities to collaborate and achieve greater impact together.
Check out the playlist of mainstage talks!
Q: What did GenerationFest do differently than usual conferences?
I would say we did everything differently! This is the TFF way: to be pioneering and experimental. We want to showcase what “could be” if we dare to break the mould. All of our session topics, speakers, performances, and experiential immersions went beyond what you would normally see at any other agtech or foodtech conference.
Let’s talk about the stage itself. The set design incorporated sustainable, upcycled materials. The main feature was stunning rolls of bio-fabricated leather that we hung from the ceiling, and were generously donated by Modern Meadow (see video below). The leather they make is real and genetically indistinguishable from animal-based leather, but theirs is made in bioreactors instead of with animals.
The rest of the stage was made with cardboard and recycled plywood, based on a “Glitch Art” design concept created by TFF’s longtime artist collaborators Oupas Design. We honed in on this design theme of “glitch” because it represents the state of the world. We have all emerged from Covid lockdowns and are entering into a new paradigm for work and life – the transition definitely feels glitchy and uncertain. We wanted the stage concept – and the whole GenerationFest vibe – to remind us all that perfection isn’t the goal. It’s about finding hidden and unexpected opportunities in the chaos.
2022 was a tough year financially, and, like everyone, we faced budget constraints and unforeseen challenges. At the last minute, we had to change some of the program flow to account for this. But, like any good innovator knows: constraint can also be an opportunity! We cut out our planned 2nd stage and moved all of the talks to the mainstage and made them shorter -“TikTok” style. We realized that with this format there’s no time for blah, blah, blah and the usual high-level, boring messages we’ve all heard before. We decided this could actually help us bring the best of today’s communication style to Generation Fest – to expand our audience experience and embrace the parts of our collective culture that are unique and inspiring.
Q: What did you cover in your program?
We explored a diverse array of important and emerging topics affecting our food systems that are caught in “the glitch” of change.
These topics included:
- Soil Carbon Farming
- Alternative Proteins / Plant-based Foods
- Gene-editing / Crispr
- Web3 for Climate Action
- Regenerative Agriculture
- Food Waste
- Food Justice
- Innovative Non-Profit Models
- Vertical Farming
By fostering thoughtful and open discussions in a safe and open learning environment, we knew we could built trust and friendships between each other that would propel all of our work forward. That’s ultimately the goal of TFF’s in-person gatherings – to transform our thinking, challenge our assumptions, and create connections that will accelerate the transition to more resilient, regenerative, and inclusive food systems.
Q: The immersions were a really special touch – can you tell us more about them?
Definitely the immersions were one of the best parts of GenerationFest! These were all carefully designed with an aim to help our audience re-experience wonder and awe – the essential ingredients for innovation.
In this space, we could touch, taste, smell, see, and even hear a vibrant living soil system, teeming with beneficial microbes, worms, and fungi. This immersion featured:
- Organic soil and mycelium blocks from Smallhold
- Soil-based electronic music specially composed by Vintage & Morelli 🎧
- “Roots and ‘Shrooms” tasting plate by Indigo Jones
- Mycelium throne designed by Iyvone Khoo, Miguel Guzman & Ecovative.
- Designed by Jake Keller and Olivia English.
In this gallery of petri dishes, we could see mind-blowing works of art that were made by yeast and microbes and bio-designed by Indie Creative Director Karen Ingram. Biotechnology is beautiful: it us up to us to use it this way. We have power to do meaningful and important things with it. The impermanence of the living art was also nice juxtaposition to the blockchain-based NFT gallery next door.
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) offer the promise of a new decentralized digital economy that can topple the current power structures that mainly benefit corporations and “middlemen,” and instead empower creators and consumers. With this installation, we showcased digital art works by artist Jennifer Mien Mien Lin who uses smart contracts on the blockchain to direct proceeds from art sales towards validated forest stewardship projects led by indigenous people. The NFTs were viewable on the Frosty Whale marketplace at our event.
Our next-gen snack bar featured delicious, nutritious, and sustainable products from NYC and around the world, such as Spira Electric Sky, WhatIF Bambara Nut Milk, Lolliware Seaweed-based Straws, Climate Candy, Born Juice, Thugg Juice, KIND Bars, Natulatte, Connect Snacks by Pivot Bio – and many more.
Participants could recharge their minds, bodies, and phones in a space dedicated to the future of beauty and rest. We offered bio-designed, vegan face creams by Geltor and Algenist, colorful flower elixir drinks, and rechargeable power-up battery packs by RePowerEco. For the afterparty, we had biodegradable glitter and reusable and non-toxic glow sticks by LÜMI.
We didn’t want to contribute to the problem of polluting conference swag, so offered our participants the chance to take home upcycled tees that we decorated with our hand-drawn Generation Fest “mushroom DJ” mascot.
Led by plant-based Masterchef Abang Brian, we called on our audience to uncover their blind spots when it comes to food choices. We tasted foods made from parts of the banana that are usually thrown away -such as the peel and flower – and asked ourselves, “what else can we be exploring when it comes to food that is good for you, good for farmers, and good for the planet?”
Our custom Instagram lens celebrated the power and possibility of mushrooms. It was designed by augmented reality leader Lucas Rizzotto, Co-Founder of AR House LA.
Q: What was the sustainability strategy of the event?
As we designed GenerationFest, we continuously pushed and challenged ourselves to explore how we could go further towards sustainability and the circular economy:
- Decor was mainly recycled, rented, or made from upcycled materials.
- Futuristic biomaterials were used throughout – such as the bio-fabricated leather from Modern Meadow on the mainstage, Geltor’s animal-free collagen at the Recharge Spa, and Smallhold’s mycellium blocks at the Soil Room.
- No single-use plastics or swag, and we minimized our footprint by having no name badges, bands, etc.
- Event t-shirts were upcycled, vintage tees.
- Collaboration with NYC Department of Sanitation to compost.
- Food was innovative, zero waste, and local – for example, the dinner was a Jollof Rice Face-Off, prepared by Brooklyn-based chefs from Nigeria and Ghana and we incorporated plant-based products from Impossible and Bowery Farms.
- Reduced food waste by minimizing portions and donating leftovers to Rescuing Leftover Cuisine – they transported it to Bowery Mission’s important work feeding the houseless.
- Food and supply partnerships sourced from local businesses owned by and in support of women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ communities.
- Offset our GHG emissions through a pioneering blockchain-based offsetting system with KlimaDOA for the carbon emissions we did create, where event emissions werecalculated and then offset live during the event. Check out this article about how the offsetting worked.
Q: What’s next?
We’ve just released the Generation Fest playlist of MainStage talks, and hope that everyone reading this blog will dive in to listen and learn from them. There’s some seriously amazing content in there!
We’re also looking to bring our unique GenerationFest event format and innovator network back to Brooklyn in the future, and to launch versions in more cities across the USA and around the world.
We’re always trying out new ways to gather people and unleash creativity and innovation for impact. TFF’s Generation Fest is one blueprint we are taking forward. We also piloted another concept last year called TFF Generation Destination – this is about smaller, curated retreats in iconic inspiring locations fueled with good music, nutritious food, and deep conversations. Check out this video for what we did with some TFF startup leaders in a secret location in the Middle East.
If you’re interested in partnering with TFF about your event or supporting ours, do get in touch! We are excited for all that is to come.
Olivia is a US-based landscape architect focused on regenerating urban spaces with food gardens and native grasses. She has passion for sustainable living both on and off the planet, and is on a mission to eliminate plastic waste in all forms. Olivia has a love for all things biotech and space - and on the need to do more to champion the visions and products of up-and-coming innovators.
Christine GouldFounder & CEO of Thought For Food, UN Food Systems Advisory Committee Member