by Jeffrey Sussman and Jocelyn Zhu

A report from estimates that “fifty percent of all produce in the United States is thrown away, some 60 million tons valued at 160 billion dollars.” Also, according to the EPA, “wasted food is the single biggest occupant in America’s landfills.” Worldwide, 34 million children suffer from severe malnutrition and another 1 million children die each year from hunger related causes.

Many great minds from Bill Ayers to Bill Gates have tried to provide fresh ideas to old problems and have made inroads, but as the numbers suggest, they still have light-years to go. Who would have thought they would find a partner in their quest, right here in Tempe Arizona?

Tempe, Arizona is the home of reNature, an innovative biotech startup that dares to imagine and invent a real “solution” to the wasted food crisis. reNature takes tons of wasted produce destined for landfills or wildcat dumps, and literally converts it, with the assistance of the microbial bioreactor, into a solution or “biostimulant.” This biostimulant liquid is then used by farmers, instead of, or as a complement to, traditional fertilizer. Described by reNature CEO Jessica Marquardt, “reNature’s biostimulant does for plants what probiotics do for humans, insofar as the biostimulants create happy bacteria that increase the soil’s fertility.” This means the farmers will have an improved opportunity to decrease their salinity by an average of 53%. That number is especially audacious when you take into account the challenges presented by the climate, and low rainfall in Arizona.

The Brown University graduate was effusive in her praise for a team that includes an impressive array of backgrounds in fields like engineering, bioengineering, sustainability, research science, and analytics. Collectively this team is processing the staggering number of two tons of food waste a day.

Are the farmers buying it though? You bet they are, and the reason is simple: the science works.  reNature’s amazing microbial bioreactor functions like a giant Petri dish whose settings can be tweaked based on each farmer’s specific soil requirements. Taking into account more than seventy components, reNature has two climate-controlled environments that allow them to ascertain how farmers’ soil will react to minute changes in its characteristics until they come up with the combination that responds the best under their dynamic circumstances.

This technology is especially useful in an ecosystem like Arizona’s where the soil is high in salinity, a vexing problem that undermines the soil’s viability. Compound that issue with unforgiving heat and parched earth that collectively make growing crops a daunting task.

That is how reNature is relieving the burden for many Arizona farmers. With a vision of processing 16 tons a day by the end of the year, reNature is changing the landscape in terms of how we approach reducing food waste, while simultaneously enabling farmers to get better yields under the harshest of circumstances.  There can be no question about AZSA’s willingness to endorse reNature as a paragon of  sustainability right here in our backyard!

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