Melissa Brandao, a former Apple engineer, wanted to find ways to give back to her rural agricultural community in southern Oregon. Rather than traditional farming, though, she began designing robots to provide farmers with extra sets of eyes, ears and wheels out in the field.


SwissCognitiveBrandao developed such breakthrough innovations as the first autonomous ATV for hauling loads and navigating narrow rows between tightly planted crops. Most recently, she created the HerdDogg system of smart wearable devices for cattle management, which was first piloted with the Dairy Farmers of America. Today, more than 50 farmers nationwide use these tools to monitor and improve the health of their herds.

Her story shows how emerging technologies are not just the province of Silicon Valley or major metropolitan centers; nor are they only for the benefit of major corporations and investment firms. Rather, independent farmers and merchants alike are helping to drive new innovations across the nation’s food supply chain, as stated in the recent “Refresh: Food + Tech, from Soil to Supper” report produced by Google, Food Tank, Swell Creative Group and their partners. It features more than 20 concrete examples of the ways technological innovations are helping not only food producers, but distributors and consumers as well — from farm to fridge to gut.

These innovations are vital to our economy, our society and our planet. They could be real game changers for folks working across the food sector, which supports roughly 28% of all American jobs and accounts for 20% of the total economy, according to a recent Dunn and Associates report. 

New technologies offer the necessary tools to nurture the growth and sustainability of local and regional food systems, a cornerstone of healthy communities and economies. A prosperous national food system requires investment and economic growth in rural America in order to support sustainable food production, optimize food distribution and manage food waste efficiently. In the United States alone, the USDA estimates that 30-40 percent of the food supply is wasted. That’s enough food to feed the more than 20 million Americans who don’t know where their next meal will come from or who go hungry.

While this problem is not just a technical one, the Refresh report shows some of the ways that software solutions are helping to address food security. An artificial intelligence (AI) program called FreshAI reportedly reduces perishable food waste to under 10% by using algorithmic software to redistribute perishable food rather than allow it to spoil on the shelf. Ushering in the food bank of the future, the Fed40 app leverages AI technology to deliver nutritious dehydrated meals made up of lentils, rice, oats and apples to food-insecure families who might not have the time to drive out to a food bank.[…]

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