The New Agricultural Revolution: B2B, Nano-drones and Organics


Picture Credit: DroneOmega

As an Upper (Connecticut River) Valley denizen, IAI admires the courage, toughness and resiliency of farmers who are entrepreneurs who start their days early and end them late. Stop some time to talk with an organic farmer- they are focused, overburdened by regulations, but committed to the Farm to Plate movement. What also may be surprising to city folk is that they are not uninformed, they are committed to pride in their production, and they are indefatigable. Now, there are a lot of new technological developments that are breaking in their favor.

So here are examples of some new tools to support farmer-entrepreneurs:

I. Commodities Exchanges: Wikipedia provides a 50,000 foot view: A commodities exchange is an exchange where various commodities and derivatives products are traded. Most commodity markets across the world trade in agricultural products and other raw materials (like wheat, barley, sugar, maize, cotton, cocoa, coffee, milk products, pork bellies, oil, metals, etc.) and contracts based on them. These contracts can include spot prices, forwards, futures and options on futures. Other sophisticated products may include interest rates, environmental instruments, swaps, or ocean freight contracts.


Equal Exchange- Pioneer in Championing Small Scale Farming: In 1986, EE founders Rink Dickinson, Jonathan Rosenthal and Michael Rozyne embraced the mission to build long-term trade cooperative partnerships in Nicaraguan coffee that were economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world.

II. Farm Management Software: Capterra lists a diverse group of FMS suppliers including these top six web-based offerings rated over 4 stars and 1000+ users:

  • Cropio: a satellite farm monitoring system that supplies real-time data on crop conditions in the fields (View Profile here).
  • Agrimap: simple, power farm software to make farmer’s lives easier. (View Profile here)
  • Agrinavia: helps reduce costs, increase efficiency, and promote exchange of data for precision agriculture. (View Profile here)
  • Agroptima: easy-to-use App & Farm Management Software that allows farmers to record their tasks and have an overview of the farm. (View Profile here)
  • FarmLogics: a full fledged web based on-premise or cloud installable agriculture ERP including contract farming module. (View Profile here)
  • FarmLogs – Data Science Tools to Farmers:  Jesse Vollmar and Brad Koch created web and mobile software that gives farmers instant access to soil maps, rainfall statistics and heat mapping and growth analyses to help make farming more efficient and profitable. After participating in the Y Combinator tech accelerator, FarmLogs raised $15 million in venture capital, including a $10 million Series B round funded late in 2015. (View Profile here)


Picture Credit: FarmLogs

III. B2BMarketplaces: Business-to-business (B2B) exchanges or marketplaces provide dramatic opportunities to automate collaborative business processes with customers and suppliers, generate internal efficiencies, and reach new markets at minimal cost. B2B Ag marketplaces have been undergoing rapid adoption over the past fifteen years and improved dramatically in the last three due to big data aggregation, cloud computing and early adoption of distributed ledgers or blockchain. The Chinese Agricultural University analyzed the benefits and critical factors of B2B e-marketplace in agriculture product marketing case study by Shandong Shouguang Vegetable Trading Market Online (SSVTMO) in this 2009 paper here.

F4F Exchange: Here’s an example of the B2B ag revolution that is focused on integrated “supply-centric” grain, seed, crop protection and fertilizer sectors. The F4F vision is to create a transparent, open farmer and consumer centric integrated agri-food supply chain. But the mission is much broader: to work with all parts of the agri-food market in providing business solutions aimed at helping their customers meet the challenges of:

  • Legislation on assurance and compliance with rules and standards
  • Supply chain consolidation – across every sector
  • Need to increase – productivity
  • Intensifying competition – on price, service, quality, green factors, and value
  • Challenges in data management – volume, types, web enabled devices, speed of change, real time
  • Sustainability – the need for our industry to rise to the global challenge of creating more from less
  • Food safety – provenance and assurance on food origin and treatment is high on the list of matters concerning consumers
  • Rapid evolution of technology – allowing changes to be made to business processes that were previously not possible

IV. Drones and Other Reporting Technologies:  DroneOmega explains that “the advancement of drone technology has seen many emerging use cases including the expanding use of drones in agriculture. The availability of imaging sensors provide farmers with new opportunities to increase crop yields, minimize crop losses, and thereby maximize their profits. Farmers are now using technology that was once reserved for the military to monitor their crops from the air, instead of visually inspecting their crops on foot. The information gained from drone crop imaging provides a larger, and more accurate view of crop health.” Canadian farmers have been aggressive in adopting both B2B exchanges and ag drones as shown below and they focus on these key “in-field” farmer concerns:

  • Confirmation: Frequently checking that plants are growing at the rate expected
  • Early Detection: This is key to addressing plant health issues in order to limit the impacts, and provide time to implement a solution
  • Fertilizer Planning: Crops seldom grow evenly, and distrusting fertilizer based on plant health, instead of spreading evenly and reduce costs.


Picture Credit: Canadian drone adoption from

For further reading, Equal Exchange offers this list of resources here.


Anti-innovation: Lessons from the Lone Ranger


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Hat Tip to Forbes as IAI started writing this blog and realized that the coin can be flipped. But, really, anti-innovation is retrograde !

As companies experience success, their emphasis tends to shift to protecting and maintaining the status quo versus considering new opportunities and products. Unfortunately, clinging to what has worked in the past puts the brakes on innovation. It also puts you out of touch with your customers’ changing needs — a dangerous circumstance in today’s highly volatile markets. If you’re trying to innovate but not having success, see if any of these apply to your organization.

1. Stuck thinking. This occurs when individuals and teams get so locked into old ideas, attitudes, and assumptions that they don’t take the time to update them. If you haven’t asked yourself within the last three to six months, “What has changed about our customers, our markets, and our industry?” you’ve just taken your first step toward anti-innovation.

2. We’ve always done it that way. When the organizational focus shifts to protecting the status quo, people stop looking for new processes or solutions. When problems arise, people tend to default to the solution that looks most like what has worked in the past rather than exploring new ideas or different ways of doing things.

3. Playing not to lose. As leaders spend more time protecting current assets rather than defining and executing edge-centric strategy, the organizational mindset changes from “play to win” to “play not to lose.” This subtle shift in attitude has a profound impact on how decisions get made and how people behave at all levels of the organization.

4. Customer disconnect. Who has time to talk to customers anymore? We’re running as fast as we can just to get the product out the door! Besides, we know what our customers need and we know the best way to give it to them, right? You won’t hear this attitude spoken out loud. But if you look closely, you can see it driving behavior on a daily basis. If you’re not talking with customers, it also means you’re not listening. And if you’re not listening, it’s just a matter of time before you’re no longer relevant to their world.

5. The lone ranger approach. In many companies, one team or small department gets tasked with innovation. That’s like asking a single NASA engineer to develop a new rocket ship to take us to Mars. Innovation requires a combination of skills and talents from all areas of the organization. It does not flourish in isolated silos or hidden corners of the organization.

6. Failure not an option. Most organizations don’t tolerate failure very well to begin with. And once the mindset shifts to protecting the golden goose, failure becomes anathema to the organization. But failure goes hand-in-hand with innovation. If you’re not failing to some degree, you’re not trying or pushing hard enough.

7. Follow the leader mentality. Too often, attempts to innovate occur as a response to a new entry into the market or an existing competitor’s innovation. However, true innovation leads the way rather than attempting to catch up. Don’t ignore what your competitors do in the marketplace. But don’t let it drive your innovation efforts either. Figure out where your customers will need you to be in six months to a year and get there first.

8. Weak hires. Companies looking to protect their success often make a subtle shift in hiring. Rather than new ideas and new energy, people get hired for their ability to “come in and hit the ground running.” Which is another way of saying they won’t rock the boat. As the overall talent level begins to decline, so do new ideas, new thinking, and successful innovation.

9. Lack of know-how. Employees need to have the appropriate skills and abilities to discover, evaluate, and execute on the best ideas. If you don’t invest the time and money to constantly develop those skills, don’t expect people to innovate on a consistent basis.

10. Unrealistic expectations. As success begins to slip away, management often begins looking for that one “killer” product or idea that will save the company or at least prolong the life of the cash cow. This tendency to put all the resources into one make-or-break innovation effort usually ends in disaster and disappointment.

Remember, innovation should always link directly to your strategy. And it works when it becomes a way of life rather than a one-time event. Stop clinging to past successes, update your thinking constantly, and you will find it much easier to innovate and thrive in today’s hyper-paced world.


Exciting New Solar Roofing Solution from Tesla/Solar City – How Much?


Picture Credit: Solar City press photo

Leave it to Elon Musk and his engineers to being out another revolutionary product suite– solar roofing tiles that are attractive, efficient, can serve as snow melters and can be East-West mounted ! Very cool (Bloomberg video here) ! The solar roofing tiles are also complimented by SolarWall which provides residential standby power to combat outages. The tiles come in four configurations and consist of tempered glass, colored louver film and a high efficiency solar cell. ” Though geared to the residential market, SolarCity has scale: “SolarCity is the national leader in clean energy services and America’s #1 solar power provider. Our national scale, in-house experience and world-class technology are only a few of the solar energy advantages that make us the clean energy company of choice for small businesses, commercial companies, governments, schools, farms, water districts and more.”

SolarCity is operating as a de facto solar utility with the goal of making money on the financing. However, the economic payback periods are widely variable as “a 3 kW system starts at $25-$100 per month with an annual increase of 0-2.9% each year for 10-20 years, on approved credit,” according to SolarCity that will work with third party financing, though “our in-house team takes care of every part of your project, including financing, custom system engineering, installation and ongoing system maintenance and monitoring.” But, in addition to up-front costs, residential solar installations face the challenge of price distortions caused by net metering imposed from the local utility – you generate the power but they often take your WHOLE production onto the grid, charge you a distribution overhead, and then sell you back electricity from the grid ! Concerns about “cost shifting” have generated debates (like the NARUC “rate design”) with MIT Professor Richard Schmalensee claiming in a detailed report that it’s in solar’s “best interest” to do away with retail pricing in net metering policies, and to treat utility- and residential-scale solar “more or less the same.”  Several other reports have come to a similar conclusion, such as a recent report commissioned by the Louisiana Public Service Commission that drew ire from solar advocates. However, several more studies (including in Nevada, Vermont and Mississippi) have found just the opposite: that distributed solar does not impose a significant net cost to ratepayers, and in many cases produces a net benefit to all ratepayers, as reported in GreenTechMedia.


Picture Credit: Solar City

So regulation, financing and the variability of the subsidies plus cash flow problems at SolarCity are key elements of execution risk as SC has to build a geographic infrastructure to support this network. Some experts are concerned about the lifetime system cost, projected to be as high as $100,000 by Consumer Reports. The Buffalo News explains their calculation and quotes Nick Gilewski, owner of Go Green Electronically, an e-commerce store based in North Tonawanda that sells energy efficient consumer products and favors geothermal energy in the northern U.S. states. Brian Potts of Perkins Cole LLP also notes that , “companies like Elon Musk’s SolarCity have flooded the market with cheap home solar deals, relying heavily on federal and state subsidies and creative loan agreements to keep prices low.”

However, the SC approach might work for community solar as it offers utility-scale photovoltaic (PV), battery deployments and advanced grid services (for distribution systems). Mr. Potts explains,

Shared solar systems offer many advantages over home rooftop solar systems. Rooftop solar is much less efficient; generally speaking, if you take a rooftop solar panel and put it into a utility-scale, shared solar system, it will produce more power. This is primarily due to siting considerations to capture solar energy, whereas utilities can site solar farms in a manner that maximizes the amount of energy they produce. Utilities also do a better job of cleaning and maintaining the systems to optimize performance. In fact, according to a recent Brattle Group study, rooftop solar is about twice as expensive on a per kWh basis as utility-scale solar, mainly due to these inefficiencies and economies of scale.

Putting solar panels on your house is part of a non-utility, off the grid system  that allows you to use your whole production in situ, along with other elements, according to HomePower online.

Nonetheless, $11 billionaire Elon Musk is a remarkable innovator and, as Forbes acknowledges that he “is trying to redefine transportation on earth and in space. Through Tesla Motors he is aiming to bring fully-electric vehicles to the mass market; at SpaceX, he launches satellites and is working to send humans to other planets.” Musk make innovation appealing as his pitch at Universal Studios in Los Angeles offered an integrated view of Musk’s clean-energy ambitions, as Bloomberg crows: “The audience was able to step into a future powered entirely by Tesla: a house topped with sculpted Tuscan solar tiles, where night-time electricity is stored in two sleek wall-hung Powerwall batteries, and where a Model 3 prototype electric car sits parked out front within reach of the home’s car charger.”


Picture Credit: Tesla 3 Prototype


Mapping Breakthroughs, Bayesian Big Data and the Mad Queen of Game of Thrones!




Sixteenth century Turkish admiral and cartographer Piri Reis was well positioned to pursue his passion for mapping as he was reported to be a frequent visitor to the Imperial Library at Constantinople. Admiral Reis reportedly compiled his maps by collecting data from maps dating back to the 4th Century AD when Emperor Constantius founded the great library (a background video is here). Wise Themistius, a “Hellenic philosopher-statesman”, assembled a great number of calligraphers, librarians and cartographers to document the realm of the empire. He advised moderation, advised Roman emperors, and advocated tolerance of pagan religions – and helped to assemble 130,000 volumes. Wiki notes that, “the merchant class became a force of its own,  achieved through efficient use of credit and other monetary innovations. Merchants invested surplus funds in financial products called chreokoinonia (Greek: χρεοκοινωνία), the equivalent and perhaps ancestor of the later Italian commenda. Eventually, the purchasing power of Byzantine merchants became such that it could influence prices in markets as far afield as Cairo and Alexandria.”  The Sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade destroyed the library so locating this surviving fragment of a 1513 Piri Reis map on gazelle skin is rare- it shows the Central and South America shores with his annotation offering that “the map of the western lands (is) drawn by Columbus.” Florentine intellectual Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli proposed that sailing west would lead to India eventually. So Christopher Columbus, rumored to be a charmer, zeroed in on Queen Isabella in search of funding for his “quest to find India” – instead he enslaved the Caribbean natives in search of gold and spices.

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With the launch of satellites (Sputnik 1 in 1957) and the continuous improvement of radar, mapping has become more precise. And India is taking the lead in satellite launches with a genuine achievement of putting 20 satellites on one rocket this summer. The UK Telegraph explains that, “India’s bulk launch makes clear India’s ambition to become a key player in a growing commercial space market, undercutting rivals such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. In May (2016), India tested a “reusable” space shuttle, and in 2013, launched a probe that reached the orbit of Mars for just £50m. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has achieved a number of milestones in space including:

NAVIC: Completion of the seventh consecutive successful launch of the navigation satellite with IRNSS-1G, which is the last of the constellation that will make India self-sufficient with indigenous navigation system. With NAVIC providing vital information about the India and its surrounding terrains with a special positioning and a separate precision service, it will reduce the country’s dependency on US Global Positioning System (GPS).


Picture Credit: Navinet and ISRO NAVIC

Mangalyaan: ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)  successfully entered the Martian orbit on September 2014 in its maiden attempt at a minuscule cost of $74M. India became the first country to successfully complete maiden Mars mission and also the fourth country to successfully venture into Mars.

Mission PSLV C28 and GLSL: In a push to service the commercial market,  PSLV C28 was the heaviest commercial mission undertaken by ISRO which successfully launched five UK satellites weighing over 1440kg. GLSO MK3 is a space crew module that will allow India to undertake a manned space program by 2020. The payload on GLSL MK4 will increase by two thirds to 6.5 tons.

Chandrayaan Lunar Exploration: The Chandrayaan-1 mission carried the Moon Impact Prob payload that discovered water on the Moon. India’s second lunar mission, Chandrayaan 2, is slated for early 2018 aboard the heavy duty GSLV Mk II rocket.


Picture Credit: Wikipedia

Forecasting and predictive modeling has useful applications in agriculture crop planning, construction insurance, infrastructure planning, stock market analysis, and other applications including trade route planning (brings back to the Byzantine trade routes). Google acquired Terra Bella in 2014 which pioneered a new approach to satellites: TB is “building an entirely new class of imaging satellites. We’ve developed a high-resolution, small satellite platform capable of rapid response, high-resolution imagery at a fraction of the cost of traditional imaging satellites. Our second generations satellites (SkySat-3-7) include a propulsion module to support orbit-stationing and enable improvements in resolution.”  ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket launched the SkySat3-7 using SSC Space propulsion into a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit on June 22, 2016. Another player in the weather monitoring and prediction space is Weather Analytics with provides geo-stable data for decision and operational support. Bill Pardue conceived of a global weather and climate database back in 1983, worked on big data at Lexis-Nexis and then teamed with climatologist John Keller, a Senior Research Meteorologist at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and at AIR Worldwide.  Another third competitor, ViaScience, applies big math to solve complex business problems but also to use Bayesian modeling to analyze “Game of Thrones.” REFS™ is their software platform that automatically generates Big Math algorithms directly from data with limited human input across a wide variety of problems.

Spoiler Alert for Season 7: It’s All About the Mad Queen !


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Entrepreneurship in Rural America, EPA Innovation Programs & Community Solar


Fast Company published an interesting story today about the “solopreneur” trend citing,”the latest survey by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, there were 55 million Americans—or 35% of the U.S. workforce—doing some form of freelance work this year.” Almost a fifth of these solopreneurs (defined by the Urban Dictionary) live in rural settings suggesting that independence, safety, and a high quality of outdoor life are high priorities for them. Are they distinct from “entrepreneurs”- yes, Entrepreneur says. But the scientific research is lacking in this area as ScienceDirect cites a paper that declares that rural entrepreneurs are “Type A personalities” and, “psychological traits do not seem to pose constraints on expansion of entrepreneurship in rural areas.” Psychology Today declares that Type A’s exhibit traits including, “hostility, impatience, difficulty expressing emotions, competitiveness, drive, perfectionism and an unhealthy dependence on external rewards such as wealth, status, or power” (here, take their test, rural entrepreneurs!) FC Entrepreneurs profiles Tara Young, a communications strategist with a MBA who lives outside Prairie Farm, Wisconsin (population 473) whose advice is, “Don’t get discouraged if people glaze over when you explain your job to them. As long as you love what you do, that’s what matters. “

The American Farm Bureau has an entrepreneur’s competition and it is showcased here. The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship offers community resources and e-Education. Not surprisingly, India has a template for what the US could undertake: job creation, skills upgrades, government matching funds, market development assistance, export market promotion and group insurance, among other programs. Whty can’t the US embrace these types of programs? With the chronic underemployment problem in the US and the Bureau of Labor Statistics “footnotes” on the absurdly low labor participation rate, John William’s ShadowStats currently pegs U6 unemployment at 23% !

Picture Credit: Pen Sherwood


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So, say you are committed to helping the environment and find the EPA on Twitter? IAI decided to investigate what the Environmental Protection Agency offers for innovation promotion:

Sadly, as the Flint, MI water travesty and a recent EPA Inspectors General report showed, the EPA has suffered from a “culture of complacency” over the past decade. So, rural entrepreneurs might be better served to find ways to participate locally in community-driven initiatives. In IAI’s backyard, Solaflect Energy installs award winning suspension photovoltaic  (or “PV”) trackers for single family use or in a community solar model.

To join the Solaflect Community Solar Park, purchase a Solaflect PV Tracker and have it installed at the Park. Your Green Mountain Power (GMP) bill will show a credit for 80 percent of the solar output from your tracker. The other 20 percent is allocated to the Solaflect Community Solar Park to cover the costs of providing hosting: land rent, taxes, insurance, and operation and maintenance of the Park. There is a 20-year hosting agreement to participate in the Park, with an option to extend beyond that time.


Picture Credit: Solaflect Energy Community Solar

Of course, our local utility named Green Mountain Power needs to embrace the model of citizen energy producers (or “CEPs”) as our PV was delivering 100% of our production into their grid and GMP was delivering grid power with the 6 cents/kw markup to “rent” their distribution network. Why don’t we use what we produce in situ (Merriam Webster defines this as “in the natural position or site”) rather than pay the markup, I asked? To their credit, GMP has an extensive Innovative Power program here. Start by understanding core concepts like net metering. Also draw on resources such as the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) to inform yourself about state and local energy policies. You don’t have to be Type A to make a positive change !



Save the Bees ! Flow-Hive is a Crowdfunding Success but Not All are Buzzing…


Picture Credit: HoneyFlow

Flow-Hive from New South Wales start up HoneyFlow was the brain-child of the third generation beekeeper family, the Andersons. And their invention represents the sixth most successful crowdfunding initiative ever. Father-son team Stuart and Cedar reported, “the Indiegogo campaign was launched in February, 2015, with the humble goal of US$70,000. That goal was reached within minutes of the campaign going live.  Within 15 minutes, the campaign had attracted US$250,000 in pre-orders and was soon breaking Indiegogo’s website and a slew of crowdfunding records. ”

  • They surpassed their goal of 70,000 in less than 10 minutes and raised $2.1 million in one day, setting a record for the most funds raised in 24 hours.
  • The fastest to reach $1, 2 and 5 million, becoming the most successful campaign ever launched on Indiegogo.
  • The most successful crowdfunding campaign ever launched outside the US.

The Flow Hive has already raised over $12 million and counting. Perhaps folks genuinely want to help the bees and think this gadget is the answer. Meanwhile, this is a testament that urban beekeeping is thriving. But HoneyColony, Bee Culture Magazine and others argue that Flow-Hive is animal husbandry with a negative twist due to the heavy use of a plastic frame, the lack of bee-keeper engagement in maintaining a healthy colony, and the failure to respect the true craft of beekeeping. “One wants to see this be successful, easy to use, and contribute to the world of improved beekeeping,”  adds Kim Flottum, beekeeper and editor of Bee Culture magazine. “But there’s the concern, far in the back of my mind, that it may appear to make things too easy, fostering not improved  beekeeping, but reduced attention to maintaining healthy bees.”  As anyone who knows how threatened bees are should also note that they are threatened by systemic pesticides and loss of habitat.


Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, CCD causes significant economic losses because many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by western honey bees. A family of pesticides called neonicotinoids have emerged as the key new factor which has caused a doubling in hive deaths in the last decade. In early 2016, the EPA admitted that neonicotinoids weaken, disorient and kill honeybees. Imidacloprid as particularly harmful and is used on over 30 million acres nationally- showed clear damage to hives and honey production as it has been identified by the European Food Safety Association (EFSA) as having “high acute risks”. (of course, when you try to hyperlink to these sites, you find the articles about the suppliers dropped into the Memory Hole.) And a NBC reporter Anne Thompson filed a courageous story FOUR years ago detailing findings by Dr. Christian Krupke from Purdue University who remains active in entomology research and the seed-induced CCD disaster .

“Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops. “No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions,” a number of agricultural scientists wrote in a 2016 statement submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. The problem, the scientists say, is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honor company patent rights and environmental regulations. But the agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes. So while university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the seed companies. And sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, they say.”

And, in a wholly uncovered field of investigation, it turns out Bayer infuses its Advantix pet collars with imidactoprid so pet poison is another element of this “allegedly” carcinogenic chemical which scientists are forbidden to research.

The Tree of Forty Fruits – a “ToFF”


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As a lover of gardening, IAI’s first business combined entrepreneurship and landscaping (dba PMS Management – The Royal College of Obstetricians offers some advice!). Landscaping was more fun than weeding, but the real fun is in using rootone to propagate azaleas and for more challenging tasks like horticultural grafting (a HG history here).

An artist names Sam van Aken at gained attention a couple of years back for creating a “Tree of Forty Fruits” (or ToFFs) and gave a TED talk to explain his inspiration and his process and dedication to heirloom tree preservation:

The tree of forty fruits | Sam Van Aken | TEDxManhattan – YouTube- The Tree of 40 Fruit is an ongoing series of hybridized fruit trees by contemporary artist Sam Van Aken. Each unique Tree of 40 Fruit grows over forty different types of stone fruit including peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries, and almonds. Sculpted through the process of grafting, the Tree of 40 Fruit blossom in variegated tones of pink, crimson and white in spring, and in summer bear a multitude of fruit. Primarily composed of native and antique varieties the Tree of 40 Fruit are a form of conservsation, preserving heirloom stone fruit varieties that are not commercially produced or available.

The story is inspiring and, there were enough copycats that these ToFFs are now much more affordable than when Sam got publicity from CNN, CNET, Business Insider, Epicurious, among others. Van Aken explained, “My primary source for most of these varieties was the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York. When I began the project there was an orchard at the Experiment Station with hundreds of different plum and apricot varieties. They planned to tear this orchard out, so I picked up the lease until I could graft all of these varieties onto the trees in my nursery.” To date, Van Aken has created and placed over 50 trees in museums, community centers, and private art collections around the country, including in Newton, Massachusetts; Pound Ridge, New York; Short Hills, New Jersey; Bentonville, Arkansas; and San Jose, California. His unique process of “sculpture through grafting” yields  trees that grow and support more than 40 varieties of stone fruit, including many heirloom, antique, and native varieties.
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But, aspiring innovators  (Hat tip to George E.L. Barbee and his book 63 Innovation Nuggets) , you won’t believe what actually inspired the ToFF project:
At the time this project began I was doing a series of radio hoaxes where I hijacked commercial radio station frequencies and played my own commercials and songs. In addition to becoming acquainted with FCC regulations I also discovered that the term “hoax” comes from “hocus pocus,” which in turn comes from the Latin “hoc est enim corpus miem,” meaning “this is my body” and it’s what the Catholic priest says over the bread during [the] Eucharist, transforming it into the body of Christ. This process is known as transubstantiation and [it] led me to wonder how I could transubstantiate a thing. How could the appearance of a thing remain the same while the reality changed? And so, I transubstantiated a fruit tree.
Syracuse professor Van Aken says that his work has always been “inspired by nature and our relationship to nature. First and foremost I see the tree as an artwork. Like the hoaxes I was doing, I want the tree to interrupt and transform the everyday.” – hear, hear !
In tribute to the rapidly arriving fall in New England, I am offering “Tall Ambrosia” via The Poetry Foundation from Henry David Thoreau – one of our favorite American poets.

Tall Ambrosia

Among the signs of autumn I perceive
The Roman wormwood (called by learned men
Ambrosia elatior, food for gods,—
For to impartial science the humblest weed
Is as immortal once as the proudest flower—)
Sprinkles its yellow dust over my shoes
As I cross the now neglected garden.
—We trample under foot the food of gods
And spill their nectar in each drop of dew—
My honest shoes, fast friends that never stray
Far from my couch, thus powdered, countryfied,
Bearing many a mile the marks of their adventure,
At the post-house disgrace the Gallic gloss
Of those well dressed ones who no morning dew
Nor Roman wormwood ever have been through,
Who never walk but are transported rather—
For what old crime of theirs I do not gather.