Founder CEO of Re-Nuble and Sustainable PR client Tinia Pina is interviewed by Authority Magazine for a series about modern American farming:
Modern farming is actually very different from common conceptions. Farming today is dramatically different from the farming done a few decades ago. In this interview series called The Future Of Modern American Farming, we are exploring the modern technological changes that American farms have been making. We are also exploring how farmers are adjusting to the supply chain challenges, the challenges of climate change, and the challenges of sustainable farming. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tinia Pina.
Tinia Pina is the Founder and CEO of Re-Nuble, a social enterprise and agriculture technology company headquartered in New York City. A strong advocate for sustainable waste management, regenerative agriculture, and climate-smart agriculture, she has been involved in management and business development roles within the sustainability industry for the last ten years. Her professional interests focus on using unique and distributed technologies to extract the optimal value from organic waste streams for upcycling into value added products.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Food became personal for me as a former volunteer Prep-SAT teacher in Harlem with New York Cares. Every Saturday at 9 am, I noticed how the options for nutritious food within a two-block radius from where I was teaching not only impacted the productivity of my kids in class but also ultimately dictated their future. By working to indirectly help increase the production of more produce supply, I am committed to helping more healthy food become affordable as a result of more organic farms servicing densely populated areas.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
This is more shocking than interesting perhaps, but I was once in an investment meeting, as we were fundraising at the time, and I had four investors, all from the same firm, ask “why weren’t we paying to take fresh produce and use that as our raw material instead of relying on food waste?” Though I appreciated the mindfulness related to mitigating risks in a business model, it was a senseless suggestion given the value of food. I bet that’s todays food prices would quickly make them suggest otherwise.
You are a successful leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Persistence — I remember encountering instances during our earlier days, ripe with uncertainty, where my personal bank account and the business’s both had negative account balances due to overdraft transactions occurring left and right. I had to remind myself that I was focusing on all the right things (product development, at that time, and customer market fit) and only allowing things that I had control of to consume my energy. There wasn’t anything I could do at that instance to change the circumstances. As a result, I had to just let things be. Eventually, our account balances recovered and we’re doing much better now.
Focusing on a cause that’s greater than oneself. Talking about your brand, mission, idea early and often — this allowed us to create a movement, community, and a base of supporters that have witnessed how I have personally demonstrated resilience and commitment to this cause.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“No matter how successful you get, always send the elevator back down” — Jack Lemmon. This quote has stuck with me ever since college. It is so timely and hyper relevant as it relates to agriculture where the number of U.S. farms continues to fall. In the most recent survey, there were 2.02 million U.S. farms in 2020, down from 2.20 million in 2007. Our ability to produce food for the world lies in how we educate and inspire others to want to do the same and make our value chain more resilient, efficient, and environmentally friendly. The least I can do is to spend time advocating and educating with our youth in addition to sharing some of the same resources I have been exposed to.
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
We work with non-profits such as Teens For Food Justice and NY SunWorks in NYC whose mission is to educate and empower today’s youth to be skilled and/or inspired to become future farmers. By directly contributing to these educational experiences by providing resources and mentorship, we are creating direct impact to an agronomic pipeline that is severely lacking labor and capacity as most of our farms struggle to find successors. More importantly, by sharing our approach of transparent and ethical upcycling, as the world is increasingly embracing the concept of circular business models, we are training others to think differently in order to create dire system changes.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about Modern Farming. It seems that most industries have all converted to tech and modernized their old ways. Can you share with our readers a few of the ways that modern farming has modernized? Can you share how tech has improved your business model?
One aspect of modern farming that has become important, due to technology shifts, climate change, and COVID, is the value of hyper-local sources of supply to minimize the carbon footprint of modern farms to the furthest extent possible. NYS currently has perhaps the most stringent climate law in the country. One project that Re-Nuble has been working on to address these issues is a pilot farm in Glens Falls. A small city in upstate New York on the cusp of the Adirondack Park. There, Re-Nuble has partnered with the city government to create a unique box-in-a-box micro-farm indoors at an abandoned third floor of a downtown building. In addition to repurposing the space with a minimum capital investment, the vertical farm will service restaurants and other consumers with fresh produce within walking distance of the facility. Not only will this bring immense sustainable and economic benefit to the community, but hopefully inspire other cities to create access to localized fresh produce.
Do you think modernization for farming is a slower process than for other industries? Can you explain what you mean? Are there farms resisting the “tech bandwagon”? Why do you think this is so?
Agriculture is largely relationship driven and decisions based on trusted and (sometimes) scientifically validated methods. To command the willingness and time for new technologies to be tested by farmers, especially when the risk is largely absorbed by the farm, is not the easiest and for rightful reasons. Unlike other industries, farmers have more variables such that are beyond their control (e.g., erratic weather, supply chain conditions). The desire to keep variables from deviating from their projections is a never-ending challenge.
However, this is where new solution providers and technologies can assist. If the risk is shared or the adoption is incentivized in the long-term, then these types of barriers will have less resistance. Farmers just want the confidence in knowing that if they give up their time or grow, plot, or square footage that there is a return (or some form of insurance) to help them recover what may have been lost. Both parties should opt for partnerships. This will not work if this is transaction — new technologies hoping to simply gain users.
The idea of farming has a very romantic and idyllic character to it, especially to some people living in a busy cosmopolitan context. Do you think now would be a good time for younger people with no farming history to get involved in the farming industry? Can you explain what you mean?
Traditional farming is difficult and has become even more vigorous given the persistent challenges specific to erratic weather patterns and lack of consistent pest and disease control. According to the UN, the average age of farmers in the United States and other developed countries is approximately 60 years old. Questions are abounded regarding the future of food production. With a constantly rising global population, more mouths need to be fed. Team this with the global youth unemployment rate which stands at three times more than adults across all regions of the world. We need to ask ourselves if we’re doing enough to prepare the next generation for their lives ahead. The re-engagement of youth isn’t merely to boost statistics. It’s a way to empower them to connect with their own food, bring their fresh ideas to the table to transform local food systems, and to then build economies that lift up entire communities.
Where should a young person start if they would like to “get into” farming?
Agritecture has incredible content providing insights on what has been done, what can be done to improve, and the drivers on why there isn’t a better time than now for more people to help develop solutions for more efficient and resilient farming and increase capacity as it pertains to food production. I have always advised for others interested in exploring a new field to closely study those that have failed first. You can reduce the learning curve, not repeat the same mistakes, and very quickly pinpoint patterns for challenges that still have an unmet need.
How does inflation affect farms? What steps have you taken to keep costs down?
Inflation is only exacerbating the challenges for farms, which have already been burdened with reduced margins caused by the high costs of inputs (e.g., fertilizer, grow media, etc.), labor, and energy. The Glens Falls Urban Agriculture Pilot has been continuing active conversations to make the farm energy independent by utilizing solar energy and an accompanying battery for storage. Additionally, it’s inputs (e.g. grow media and organic hydroponic nutrients) have been secured for the next two years providing security of pricing and supply. As a research driven and experimental farm, we are always looking for unique opportunities to increase self-sufficiency and sustainability of water and energy sources.
There are of course different revenue streams that can be generated from a farm. What are your current avenues of profiting from your farm? What would you suggest to other farm owners to add to expand their revenue streams?
Our primary focus and immediate revenue stream is from our crop production inclusive of leafy greens, basil, microgreens, and eventually strawberries. However, we plan to explore pathways leading to additional revenue involving the sale of excess energy capacity returned to the grid and the upcycling of any on-site waste byproducts into other agricultural goods.
Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Things That Need To Create A Successful Career In the Modern Farming Industry”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Be Adaptable
- Strong Facility for Business Planning
- Strong Networker
- Become an Apprentice First
- Be Resourceful
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oprah Winfrey — knows how to influence and sway the perspectives of a large and diverse population. Her communications strategy and is masterful for us to truly reduce the emissions in our food value chain (and agriculture at large). It will require someone that can create a ubiquitous, relatable (multi-channel) message that will immediately get the buy-in of the general consumer equally as much as a commercial farm.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can follow the progress and insights of the Glens Falls Urban Agriculture (Vertical Farm) Pilot by subscribing to our newsletter here and by checking out our partners at Sustainable PR’s efforts in sharing progress on this project.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.
This feature was originally published by Authority Magazine on March 24, 2022.