Lifestyle | September 08, 2020

Friend of Ned: Loren Cardeli

By Rory Coulter
Friend of Ned: Loren Cardeli


Meet Loren Cardeli — Founder of A Growing Culture, advocate for small farmers and sustainable farming, and friend of Ned. Loren travels the world learning firsthand about the innovations that have allowed societies to feed themselves for countless generations — without the use of harmful chemicals. He has visited farmers of the Himalayas, Bedouins who cultivate the desert oasis, and indigenous tribes who herd the great great rift of Africa, and he’s helped set up and run organic farms in Kenya and Vietnam. We chat with him about the food justice movement, the ingenuity of smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples, and the local solutions to feeding the changing planet. 

Ned: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Loren: My name is Loren Cardeli. I am the founder of a non-profit organization called A Growing Culture, a grassroots organization committed to a just food system. 

Ned: What are the core values that guide you in your daily life?

Loren: Food is a right, not a privilege. Collaboration is the world’s most renewable resource. Innovation is a verb. 

Ned: What’s something you’ve learned this year?

Loren: Hunger is not caused by a lack of food; hunger is always related to power, to who can access the food and who can't, and to who controls the food system (hint: it isn't the farmers). When we perpetuate the narrative around yield and production as necessary to feed the world and end hunger what we are doing is playing into the hands of the industrial mindset. Injustice is woven into the very fabric of our food system; we will not solve hunger by simply producing more food. We will solve hunger by dismantling the systems of oppression in our food system, returning the agency and power to those who grow our food, and addressing the deep inequalities that the global capitalist system has created that prevent people from accessing food. The bottom line is that without dismantling patriarchy, economic injustice, and racism, we will not end hunger. Any solution that claims otherwise is failing to address the root causes of why we ended up in this situation in the first place.

Ned: What’s your idea of contentment? 

Loren: Purpose.

Ned: What’s a super simple practice you do that’s improved your life?

Loren: Placing an espresso machine next to my computer.

Ned: Who do you follow that inspires you most?

Loren: The people that inspire me the most are not on social media. Emma Goldman, Paulo Freire, Thomas Sankara, Frantz Fanon, Buckminster Fuller. 

Ned: What’s something you’re grateful for?

Loren: The ingenuity of the world’s peasants. Smallholder farmers and Indigenous Peoples produce over 70% of the world's consumed food on only 19% of cultivated land. They also protect 95% of agricultural biodiversity. That’s ingenuity. If they could produce more food than industrial agriculture with all the barriers (social, economic and environmental), imagine what they could do if we tipped the balance in their favor?

Ned: What’s an example of the ingenuity of farmers that you have seen in your work?

Loren: I’ve got two for you!

In the end of 2018, a German Agri-Business firm developed a method of determining the sex of chicken eggs, preventing the massive culling of male chickens. This innovation was recognized as a breakthrough as in Germany alone, 45 million male chicks are culled a year. However, the European and white scientists weren’t the first to develop a method for sexing eggs. Christine Kilonzi from Kenya has developed a low-cost technique for doing the same since 2012. She discovered a method for determining a pre-hatched egg’s sex by the shape of its curvature. Using her method, she separates the eggs, then incubates only the female eggs. The male eggs are sold to others in her community to eat. The rare method has earned Kilonzi accolades and clients, with the concept being researched on by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation. The method also won her an award in the East African Farmers Innovation Fair in 2013, which attracted contestants from five countries. 

Pig farming and odor go hand in hand, making Pham Nhu Trang’s odorless pig farm in Vietnam a stand out example of our work. Her Living Bed Technology swaps industrial concrete flooring with a thick bed of microorganism-inoculated carbonous material. The bed is an ecosystem of naturally occurring probiotics that solve pig immunodeficiencies without antibiotics, natural waste management with no toxic runoff, and (most importantly!) soil production. This easily-scalable innovation, developed by Trang and documented by AGC, has been seeded throughout Vietnam, Laos, and the Philippines; imagine the impact if scaled across Iowa! This is just one example of the innovations AGC is designed to root out and disseminate. The approach isn’t a tool or result, but a human-centered, farmer-led design process with AGC as the conduit.

Ned: What’s something that would make the world a better place?

Loren: A food system that nurtured the ones who grow our food. 

(Is there anything specific you would like us to draw attention to and link to?)

Follow A Growing Culture on Instagram and find out more about how you can get involved in the global movement for a just food system.


Hear from activists on the frontlines of the global food justice movement on A Growing Culture’s weekly series highlighting local solutions to feeding the world on a changing planet.