Imagine extending the shelf life of produce without using commonplace modern techniques such as refrigeration or freezing, which can reduce the nutrition of the product and is unavailable to much of the developing world. The benefits could be endless, from giving developing countries access to fresh produce to significantly reducing food waste without sacrificing nutrition. Roughy one-third of food produced globally for human consumption is lost or wasted, making this a key issue many individuals are attempting to solve.
This idea is central to the startup built by Mike Annunziata ’11, MBA ’17 and Vipul Saran MPS ’17. Their startup, Farther Farms, has a name rooted in the idea of taking food “farther” and placing emphasis on the idea of sustainability. They developed a technology that extends the shelf life of fresh potatoes for 60 days without using refrigeration, freezing, preservatives or GMOs. According to their website, their technology uses a combination of “high pressure, dense carbon dioxide and moderate temperate” that allows them to “stop enzymatic activity throughout the entire vegetable, and meet control points for pathogenic micro-organisms.”
Saran had built a successful business in India, exporting the produce of local farmers to international markets. However, frustration arose when much of the exported food would be spoiled due to a lack of access to prohibitively expensive freezing and refrigeration processes. Driven by a desire to create a solution, Saran came to Cornell to develop the technology that would extend shelf life and eliminate freezing and refrigeration.
Knowing the idea had commercial potential, Saran sought out resources within the community, finding classmates in different Cornell departments to help him bring the idea into fruition. Annunziata and Saran first met in an entrepreneurship class focused on strategic business development. They found that combining Annunziata’s business and finance background with Vipul’s science and agribusiness experience enabled them to build a sustainable and effective company. Annunziata emphasized that the breadth of background within their lean team adds different dimensions to Farther Farms.
In only one year, Farther Farms has gone from a mere concept to tangible product, and the team expects to begin institutional fundraising in the next few months. Annunziata credits eLab with helping to catalyze the business. He also points out that the team’s success at entrepreneurship competitions at Cornell and throughout New York has built confidence in the business concept — a testament to the community’s commitment to promote entrepreneurship and innovative, sustainable ideas.
Eventually Farther Farms would like to sell their first product, a shelf stable, never-frozen French fry, in restaurants and grocery stores before and expanding into the international markets where the food preservation infrastructure isn’t necessarily present that helps to keep food.
While Idaho potatoes appear all over the world because of mechanisms in place such as freezing, Farther Farms’ technology would introduce the first fresh potato to the market without these systems. In addition, New York potatoes are currently being used mainly for retail and chipping but not in products such as fries. Therefore, Farther Farms would be the only New York State French fry maker — a truly exciting feat. This concept could revolutionize currently established ideas about sustainability and the successful transport of fresh produce which are based on the idea of modern preservation techniques and outdated methods.
It is no accident that the ideas came to fruition with the support of Cornell Food Science. Cornell’s Food Science department has recently emerged as a leading program for innovation in the field. Its cutting-edge research and development range from food processing technology like Farther Farms’, to the discovery that Cheribundi juice positively impacts athletes. Today the department has international recognition, and draws people from around the world, including Saran himself.
In my opinion, the next wave of innovation will center on food and creative solutions associated with sustainability. With the growing presence of GMOs and environmental challenges to our food supply, it will be necessary for the industry to adapt to the needs of the growing global population.The combination of Cornell’s leading food research institution and Ithaca’s strong entrepreneurial spirit ensures the area will remain a hotbed for food innovation and entrepreneurship. Startups such as Farther Farms are producing tangible products and more importantly solutions to a market that desperately needs a new injection of fresh ideas. The technology that Farther Farms has created and implemented is a sustainable answer to a food world ripe for a solution to a complicated food system. Cornell and the Ithaca community will give us first-row seats to a tasty revolution and the inception of imaginative culinary processes and creations.
Alex is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is passionate about food entrepreneurship at Cornell. Each month, she highlights notable developments in the food entrepreneurship community including outstanding startups and revolutionary research, seeking to give a voice to the increasingly prominent food community in Ithaca. She can be reached at [email protected].