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Q & A: Danielle Nierenberg, Cofounder of Food Tank

Creating an open dialogue among food industry stakeholders is her mission.

Growing up, Danielle Nierenberg was a city kid unwillingly living the country life.

“My parents wanted to raise their kids in the fresh country air, so I grew up in a very small farming community in Missouri,” she says. “I wanted nothing to do with farmers, so I joined animal and environmental organizations that argued against agriculture.”

In college, her conviction to expose agriculture’s villains continued as she studied environmental policy and government. A stint as a Peace Corps volunteer transformed her thinking. 

Today, Nierenberg champions for the food industry as she works to open dialogues among the diverse stakeholders. 

SF: What happened in the Peace Corps to change your view of ag?

DN: On a journey to the Dominican Republic, I found myself working with farmers. I saw firsthand the connection between farming and environmental preservation. That experience made me realize that food was where I wanted to focus my efforts.

In graduate school, my studies centered around how to better communicate complex scientific and nutrition issues in a way that everyone could understand.

SF: How did the idea for Food Tank come about?

DN: When I worked at the World Watch Institute, I spent about two years studying agricultural innovation across mostly sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Asia and Latin America. Like most environmental think tanks, it was very gloom and doom. However, I was seeing a lot of hope and success in really unexpected places like Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Nigeria. I knew that if these success stories had a little more attention and investment, they could be replicated and scaled out in different ways.

In 2013, my partner, Bernard Pollack, and I founded Food Tank to really highlight what was working on the ground.

SF: How does the Food Tank Summit build on your mission to showcase success stories?

DN: The Food Tank Summit lets us focus on the solution rather than on the problem. We bring together individuals and organizations from as many sides of a debate or an issue as we can.

For example, we had two justice advocates share the stage with representatives from Monsanto and Cargill. We also had Republicans and Democrats, who may never speak to one another on the Hill, engage in a conversation. It creates some really honest dialogue and forces people to interact. They share their tactics on how they solved a certain problem so others can learn from their experiences.

SF: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing our food system in the U.S.?

DN: We’re all going to be facing the impacts of climate change. The urgency of addressing the food system’s role in that is greater than ever before. Agriculture contributes 30% to 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is not something most consumers, eaters, policy makers, or businesses have taken a big role in addressing. 

While we need to highlight what farmers are already doing that they’re not being recognized for, I believe we also have a lot to learn about the regenerative practices others are using to deal with the impacts of climate change. 

SF Bio:

Title: Cofounder of Food Tank

Background: In 2013, Nierenberg cofounded Food Tank, a nonprofit organization focused on building a global community for safe, healthy, and nourished eaters. Food Tank is a global convener, research organization, and nonbiased creator of original research impacting the food system. Nierenberg has a master’s in agriculture, food, and environment from the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. She spent two years volunteering for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.

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