North Carolina is a great place to grow. Our family moved here when the growing company I started in Silicon Valley back in 1989 was bought by a faster-growing company here in North Carolina, Red Hat. North Carolina is home to a great community of innovators, and today we are proud to stand with many of them as we unveil what has truly been a community effort.
When I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2006, I realized that the question “what should we eat for dinner?” had life-changing implications. We are what we eat. But as a society, we also decide what we grow, how we grow it, how it comes to market, and at what price. In 1903, commercial seed houses offered 288 varieties of beets; by 1983 the choice is down to 17. From 544 types of cabbage, we’re down to 28. From 307 types of sweet corn, we’re down to 12. Our dinner-time choices are a function of many choices made before we were even born. The Omnivore’s Dilemma teaches that when the question “what can we do?” becomes too limiting, the question of what should we do becomes all the more urgent. And not just when it comes to food.
I started the world’s first open source software company, which means I’ve been trying to explain how you can make money by giving away software for 22 years. During that time I grappled with the question of whether or not the open source movement was sustainable. This was a question I could not answer until I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, specifically the chapter about Joel Salatin and Polyface Farm.
As Pollan explains, the industrialization of agriculture has increased yields per acre 12-fold over the productivity of farms from 150 years ago. But the fact is that farms of 150 years ago were basically a renewable energy resource, converting solar energy into food energy. Today the average farm feeds a system that consumes 10x more fossil fuel energy than it produces in food energy, and we’re burning up or washing away 40 years worth of topsoil every year. This is not sustainable, even before we consider the question of the tasteless tomato. By contrast, Salatin’s farm produces 6x as much yield per acre as did the farms from 150 years ago, without fertilizers, pesticides, or antibiotics. Moreover, it grows an inch of topsoil a year, 500x faster than would grow without cultivation. And that’s before we consider that the quality of the food is simply off-the-charts good. When Pollan asked Salatin how he did this, his answer was simple: “the animals do most of the work.” I suddenly realized that the sustainability of the open source model was due to the organic nature of community activity. I realized that my next contribution to Red Hat would not be in the form of some new technology, but learning about and translating sustainability teachings, thereby sustaining Red Hat’s growth long into the future.
In 2011, Raleigh was again voted the #1 place to live and work in America, and with good reason. Great people, great jobs, and a great university bring everything together. When I sat down in my office on the Centennial Campus to find the best possible partner for my new mission, the search led me across campus to Nancy Creamer and the CEFS team. Participating on their Board of Advisors and visiting many times the amazing farm facility in Goldsboro has helped me bring new ideas    to Red Hat and the software industry. I was pleased and honored to share some of these lessons at the Institute for Emerging Issues‘ 2010 forum on Creativity, and I am grateful that the IEI has undertaken the mission of engaging policy makers at the highest levels to really think about how the decisions we make today affect the choices we will have in the future. That’s important.
But it’s not just what’s happening in Raleigh that makes a difference in North Carolina. Here in Pittsboro, Piedmont Biofuels, is a veritable engine of creativity and innovation, and a great practitioner of sustainability. Lyle and Tami became our friends, mentors, and collaborators. When Amy and I decided to start a new venture, Manifold Recording, we thought long and hard about Lyle’s own teachings about sustainability and the local economy. For our building, 15,000 concrete blocks were manufactured less than 25 miles away. Beyond that, more than 95% of what we spent on construction stayed in state, most of it in Chatham and its adjacent counties. We committed to make the facility carbon-neutral on an ongoing basis, even though we didn’t know how to at the time. You can think of that as a choice we made that would influence future choices.
Two months ago, a US Senator from North Carolina stood before the Agricultural community and said “North Carolina doesn’t need green jobs. North Carolina needs Ag jobs.” North Carolina needs both. Nearly 2500 years ago, Thucydides said “the state that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its wars fought by fools.” Our high-tech future needs energy, and our people need food. We cannot solve these twin challenges by treating energy and food as two separate problems. The choices we make today greatly influence, perhaps even determine the choices that future generations will have.
The solar double-cropping system we present today fully offsets the power production requirements of our studio, and it does so without removing an acre of land from agricultural production. Indeed, one of the novel ideas of this system is that the shade it produces actually benefits the crops that Farmer Doug Jones will cultivate. This system demonstrates that we can power our dreams and feed our selves from the same acre of land, sustainably. We hope that others copy these ideas, improve upon them, and share their improvements with others, the open source way. Together, we can move beyond the assumptions of zero-sum economics and enjoy the fruits of the positive-sum game. Thank you!