Develop farmer knowledge networks — When it comes to innovation, shared information — both from farmers and from publicly available research — is critical. This farming shift must be supported by a knowledge network. Just as software engineers have innovated in leaps and bounds using “open source” shared code, farmers will innovate at a much faster rate if they can access information on what practices work for which crops, under what conditions and in which geographies.

Some forward-thinking farmers are already moving down this path. In 1999, a group of farmers affiliated with the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society formed the Farm Breeding Club. Their goal was to share knowledge and seed stock for seed saving and crop breeding. The FBC provides information to farmers so they can directly participate in public plant breeding efforts. Today they have 13 different crops being researched by farmers, including potatoes, oats and sweet corn.

Rethink: How We Move Food

Beyond farming, we need to rethink how our food travels from farm to plate. Along each step, there are ample opportunities to improve this journey.

Transition to a more regionalized system — Experts have long argued that feeding hungry people is not a problem of production, it’s a problem of distribution. In a May 2012 report, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization found that even if we increased agricultural productivity by 60 percent by 2050, we’d still have 300 million hungry people because they lack access to food.

About one-third of the food produced globally each year is wasted somewhere between farm and plate. This translates to 1.3 billion metric tons of food.

By regionalizing global farming, communities can feed themselves and rely less on imports. A region should be defined based on its ecological dimensions — the geographical area that accounts for ecological parameters, such as water and land resources, and the conditions necessary to feed nearby populations.

Regionalization does not necessitate eliminating exports. After all, much of farming is about responding to nature — droughts, hailstorms, monsoons, etc. — and production yields vary by the season. But in transitioning to a more regionalized system, farmers would be required to rely on their local markets, too.

Reduce waste — According to the FAO, about one-third of the food produced globally each year is wasted somewhere between farm and plate. This translates to 1.3 billion metric tons of food. In the U.S., the waste percentage is 40 percent. If total U.S. food losses were reduced by just 15 percent, says an August 2012 report by the National Resources Defense Council, more than 25 million Americans could be fed every year.

With a keener eye to where losses are taking place, we can begin to address the problem. In wealthier countries, we can raise consumer awareness about reducing food waste at home, create incentives for municipal composting systems, improve post-harvest handling and storage, and find ways to market products that aren’t “perfect,” such as fruits and vegetables with cosmetic blemishes. In lower income countries, improvements in harvesting techniques and low-cost storage and cooling facilities can make a significant difference between spoiled and edible foods. Regardless of where the losses occur, businesses should work to address the challenges. Losses like these are equivalent to throwing money away, and no one can afford to do that.

Empower employees — Rethinking how food moves from farm to consumer requires a new level of engagement with employees. In his book Drive, Daniel Pink draws on four decades of scientific research about what motivates people, highlighting three elements: mastery, autonomy and purpose. While traditional rewards and compensation still have a role, these more intangible elements are key to unlocking high performance and innovation. And innovation comes from people who know their jobs best — employees on the ground and on the shop floor.

Morning Star Company, based in Woodland, Calif., is the world’s largest tomato processor, managing 25 to 30 percent of the tomatoes processed each year in the U.S. It created a business model where employees are empowered to achieve goals through collaboration, and no one holds titles or hierarchy. As one person at the company said, “nobody’s your boss and everybody’s your boss.” This model has resulted in many benefits, including increased initiative, expertise, flexibility and loyalty.