06/21/2013 10:41 am ET Updated Aug 21, 2013

Hack Meat

If you care about how your food is produced and where it comes from, there's cause for celebration. We've succeeded in convincing a growing sector of the population that food matters. In fact, demand for sustainably produced and organic food in the United States is growing so rapidly, its far outpacing supply. Yet the sustainable food industry is having trouble scaling to meet this growing demand. We need to level the playing field by bringing the same data-driven efficiencies to the small-and-medium food supply chain that industries like healthcare, advertising and industrial agriculture are using to improve their operations, increase profitability and engage with consumers. And we need to do it a holistic way that ensures that farmers, ranchers, butchers and chefs are able to maintain the integrity upon which their businesses are built.

Let's look at the meat industry, for example: Four companies control processing of over 80 percent of U.S. beef, three of these (along with a fourth) control more than 60 percent of U.S. pork and half of U.S. chicken and turkey is similarly provided by just four companies that don't maintain "good agricultural practices." Yet despite this unprecedented industry consolidation, we've managed to increase sustainable meat consumption significantly in the last several years. Why? Food safety and health concerns have more of us wanting better meat. Companies like Applegate and Chipotle have built big brands on their responsible sourcing, yet they face huge challenges getting enough supply in the United States. With ever-larger food service operators like Bon Appétit Management Company and McDonald's making bold commitments to serve more sustainably raised meat, the question of sufficient supply looms ever larger.

At Food+Tech Connect we believe that technology and design thinking, a process for solving problems and discovering new opportunities, can help bridge this gap between pasture and plate, helping the industry realize efficiencies that allow it to scale while maintaining the integrity of its production methods. And we're lucky to have found two partners, Applegate and GRACE Communications Foundation, who share this belief and want to work with us to drive new models for food system innovation.

To test this hypothesis, on June 21-23 we'll be convening the best and brightest entrepreneurs, technologists, creatives, farmers, processors, butchers, restaurateurs, industry leaders and policy advocates to bring these innovations to the sustainable meat industry. At Hack Meat//Silicon Valley multi-disciplinary teams will work together to rapidly prototype new software, hardware and communications tools to help the industry improve efficiencies, profitability, supply chain communications and marketing. Teams will be coached by industry insiders and pitch their final prototypes to and expert panel of judges and venture capitalists.

As we've seen from many other hackathons, now famous in Silicon Valley and across the tech community worldwide, incredible ideas can be spawned by applying technological and user-oriented mindsets to institutional problems. As we witnessed from our very own, first-ever Hack//Meat in NYC last winter, the innovations are amplified when multidisciplinary teams work collaboratively to tackle the issues. So this coming weekend, we invite you -- whether you're a designer, developer, entrepreneur or industry "steakholder" -- to help us prototype game-changing innovation with potential for market viability and large-scale impact. Together, we can build a better future for food in this country.