Meet affiliated faculty Chase Farnsworth

The Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems focuses on innovative ideas and solutions to the many challenges of current food systems. In this series, we’re sitting down with the Swette Center affiliated faculty to catch up on food systems, innovation, and what makes a good meal. Read the rest of the series here. 

Chase Farnsworth, Senior Sustainability Fellow, Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation and Senior Project Development Manager, Phoenix Office, Mortenson 

How did you get interested in food systems issues?

I started to get interested in food systems in 2016 when I was working with Mortenson. We have an advanced leadership development program to cultivate the next generation of leaders out of our 5,000 employees. Every year, 24 employees are selected to participate in the program. They are broken up into four teams and over the course of the program, each team addresses a business problem for the company, or industry. In 2016, I was chosen to be one of the 24 and my cohort was asked to study the food and beverage industry to understand how it might become part of our company. I started becoming passionate about food systems when I studied the history of the food and beverage industry. After learning about how the industrial revolution impacted our food system, my eyes were opened to how far afield we’ve gotten. I realized that continuing down our current path is unsustainable for future generations. I am very passionate about setting up the next generations to live better than we did. 

Share a glimpse of your current research/work and how it applies to food systems transformation. 

My day job is working for a corporation that exists in the commercial development and construction space, and on the side I work with ASU as a faculty associate. There is a cross-section here where I continue to dive after the food systems space and I’m trying to help advance it by exploring partnerships. My purpose is to help those entities achieve their business goals through the intentional development of their real estate portfolio. 

A lot of my time is focused exploring potential partnerships around food systems and helping them limit electricity and water use. The situation we’re in from a water perspective is no secret: we’re entering a shortage now and getting ready to make some cuts, and the agriculture industry will be significantly impacted. I’m focusing on the advancement of controlled climate agriculture, or vertical farming. I’m especially interested in finding ways to reduce water and energy consumption in order to execute vertical farming in a sustainable way. It is a great solution to many food system challenges, but it is still very resource intensive. We need to find a better way.

I’m currently working with an ASU employee doing research on vertical farming at the Polytechnic campus. I am trying to source people that will invest and fund her research to advance it. I’m also constantly on the look-out for companies that are doing something innovative in this space, and trying to see how we can accelerate them. For example, one of these companies called One Point One is bringing a controlled climate farm to an industrial warehouse in Avondale. They found a way to significantly reduce their water and energy consumption. Another innovative thing about them is that we, as consumers, can subscribe to them, and they increase their square footage of agriculture based on our demand. This model allows us the opportunity to modify and monitor our crops that we’re going to get from their product. I find it absolutely fascinating, so I’m actively trying to help them expand. 

What’s an innovation in the food systems world that you’re excited about? 

I’m excited about the whole idea of individualization. I think one of the main problems in our food system is that we’re producing at scale. While consumption scale is real, the actual consumer is variable. It is not uniform. We are over-producing food which leads to waste.  

What’s your go-to weeknight meal? 

To be honest, I don’t have a go-to weeknight meal. I love food and love the process of cooking food. I love experimenting and helping people try new foods, so therefore I don’t really have a specific go-to meal. I can say that my favorite meals include fresh, whole foods and involve something that I can teach my kids. I like to teach my children how to cook and garden to provide for themselves and live sustainably.