The 2016 SPRNG (Sustainable Practices Raising Net Growth) conference’s theme may have been a “Food Fight,” but organizers said it was a civil event, with representatives from seemingly polarizing backgrounds thanking each other for a lively and thoughtful discussion.
Held on Earth Day (April 22), this year’s conference explored the history of sustainability within the food and beverage industry, as well as what’s on tap for the future. Panels, complete with witty titles, included “Drink It Up!,” which focused on sustainable practices within the coffee, tea, beer, and spirits industries, and “Fresh Beet!,” in which entrepreneurs shared their challenges, mistakes, and success stories when entering the sustainable food space.
The “What’s at Steak?” panel was arguably the most ripe for conflict, as a diverse panel took on the dynamics of food sourcing, what it means to be organic, the use of genetically modified organisms, and the environmental impacts of food production. Director of state and government affairs for Monsanto Company James Curry joined regional president for Whole Foods Joe Rogoff, director of government affairs for NW Food Processors Association Ian Tolleson, and senior director for Organically Grown Natalie Reitman-White on the panel.
“The biggest takeaway from the ‘What’s at Steak?’ panel was that people should look at farming from a broader perspective by examining the cumulative carbon footprint of all activities. Hearing from the perspective of a producer and manufacturer of seeds (Monsanto) to a buyer and retailer (Whole Foods) helped the audience think differently about what they traditionally thought about food production,” said Jenna Salazar, president of student-club UO Net Impact, who plans to graduate this spring with an accounting degree.
Center for Sustainable Business Practices student Joey Jaraczewski, MBA ’17, said he wasn’t able to join the planning committee so he used his food service contacts to help secure the representative from agribusiness giant Monsanto. He said he tries to remain agnostic in what he terms his “food belief.”
“We had two systems coming at sustainable food production from two very different perspectives. Food production needs to take into account all costs—environmental, biological, resource usage, resource depletion. People spoke from a place of informed passion and conviction. It was really cool to see that level of engagement,” Jaraczewski said.
Along with the panels, SPRNG also featured information and sample tables, as well as a chance for professional networking with a focus on sustainable business development.
Launched in 2013, the annual SPRNG conference is arranged and presented by students in the undergraduate chapter of UO Net Impact group in collaboration with the college’s Center for Sustainable Business Practices. In previous years, the conference was held in Portland. It moved this year to the Lillis Business Complex in Eugene.
“In Portland the number of students who could attend was limited,” said Harkanwal Singh Sra, MBA ’16, a member of the logistics committee for the event. “The event was moved to Eugene so that people from the campus community could attend and learn more about how businesses are using sustainable practices.”
The location change proved a hit with attendance numbering approximately 190 people, nearly doubling the 2015 count of 100.