Forces of Nature is a talkshow miniseries featuring dynamic leaders from across food & environmental movements. Tune-in for a dose of optimism.

– six-part miniseries –


VP, Global Food Portfolio

The Rockefeller Foundation


Food as Climate & Social Action

Sara Farley in episode 114


by: Aaron Niederhelman




For 110 years it’s been the mission of the Rockefeller Foundation to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. But this year something has changed. The existential threat of a changing climate has become so great that they’ve evolved their primary focus to become a climate-first foundation. The reality is the climate crisis is a human crisis, so this all makes sense. Looking ahead as conditions and impacts worsen, benefactors like The Rockefeller Foundation seek strategies to stabilize the planet and improve the human condition in one fell swoop.

We’ll see climate action in many forms over the next decade, but what feeds us may just possess the greatest potential to drive lasting change across large and diverse populations. Food and its production impact everyone; everyday. In fact, improving food systems and supporting the proper management of the resources required to produce more food in the years ahead is a pillar of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Climate-First mission.

From reducing externalities, protecting biodiversity, evolving extractive and input heavy production models, promoting ample nutrient security, banking carbon and reducing wasted food – improving the food system is chock-full of opportunity where sound investment leads to actions with mutually-beneficial rewards for people and planet. It’s clear that actions to improve food for more has potential for sustained impact on all.

“Climate change is already hurting the most vulnerable first and worst. If the world continues with business as usual, and the planet grows warmer by 3 degrees or more, life will become unbearable for many of the people we serve.”

– Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation


With a storied history supporting the greater good, The Rockefeller Foundation investments in food-as-climate-&-social-action will cast a long-shadow over the future of giving. Furthermore, documenting the lasting wins for the poorest to the wealthiest populations will influence State sponsored resources and traditional investment dollars seeking the mutually-beneficial returns from taking food actions.

watch the full 40 minute episode



Sara Farley leads the global portfolio for The Rockefeller Foundation’s food team. In this capacity she is driving the Foundation’s inaugural regenerative food systems strategy and leading the articulation of a “Big Bet” for Food + Climate for the foundation. Sara is leading such signature initiatives as the Food Systems Vision Prize, and directs the diet quality portfolio and is expanding the good food purchasing portfolio and true cost accounting work globally with the aim of shifting the diet quality of 500 million underserved people by 2030.


“We’re working to advance the evidence. Where looking at how to build a network of proof points.

We’re evaluating how to leverage those proof points to activate Regenerative Natural Resources and all of those wonderful (supporting) conversations, to transition from synthetic conventional agriculture to this alternative paradigm.”

– Sara Farley

The Rockefeller Foundation has earmarked fundamental changes to improve the U.S. food system

The Rockefeller Foundation has explored how to transform the U.S. food system with long horizon investments to promote healthy people, thriving communities and a stabile planet. The components detailed in their research are as follows:


1) Integrated Nutrition

2) Regional Systems

3) Everyone Wins

1) More integrated nutrition security system

  • Strengthen nutrition benefit programs to ensure children and families are fed.
  • Invest public and private funding in school food programs as anchors of community feeding.
  • Expand Food is Medicine.

2) Reinvigorated regional systems

  • Ensure relief and stimulus policies improve the resilience of supply chains and strengthen local systems.
  • Direct the purchasing power of large institutions along a values-based (equitable, ethical, sustainable) supply chain.

3) Equitable prosperity throughout the supply chain

  • Enforce mandatory guidelines to keep workers and the food supply safe.
  • Provide credit, loan servicing, and debt relief for farmers and ranchers.
  • Increase prosperity of farmers, ranchers, and fishers by more equitably distributing risk and profit.

“3 billion people can’t afford a healthy diet. That’s almost 50% of the people on the planet. And then, many of the people that just barely can afford a healthy diet are reliant on government systems that have not been optimized for the sustainability footprint, and often not optimized for nutrition.”

– Sara Farley

promoting Regen

as food & climate solutions for a just and stable tomorrow






At the Rockefeller Foundation they have embraced the benefits of regenerative food production across a spectrum. The transition away from big ag won’t be easy, but from what Sara tells us – it’s all about the long game. “Regenerative agriculture is not just one thing. It covers a range of outcomes, and the practices to achieve beneficial impact on varied landscapes,” says Farley, VP of Global Food Portfolio at The Rockefeller Foundation.

Sara talks to us about just how important it is for like-minded benefactors to collaborate on big Regen efforts moving forward. “It’s not just the size of the undertaking to transition towards regenerative that requires funders to go at it together; it’s because of the multiple complexities that we’ll face in supporting the transition,” explains Farley.

“Well, sure… regenerative is just a term for the natural ecological process where everything is renewed in the process of using it. Regenerative agriculture is knowing how to work within that natural system to grow our food.”

– Fred Kirschenmann, SMs guest ep. #001

The Rockefeller Foundation Regen Overview

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach to food production that starts with the soil and includes the health of people, animals, and the environment. Regenerative farming principles have roots in Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge and food systems that have been with us for thousands of years. Now, braided with fresh innovations, they offer direction and hope for a planet grappling with the extremes of climate change and an industrialized food system operating outside of planetary boundaries.


  1. No disturbance (no-till, no-synthetics)
  2. Bolstering Soil’s Natural Defense (the outer-layer protecting all that life)
  3. Bio-diversity (marrying nature’s way keeps the system healthy)
  4. A living root in the ground as long as possible (cover-crops & seasonal diversity)
  5. Animal & Insect integration (nature relies on the system working together)

– Gabe Brown, SMs guest ep. #052


“Food arrived at COP27. We no longer the little kid at the back of the room. We did have a voice. There were 200 food focus in Egypt. There 4 or 5 Food-focused pavilions. It felt like a feast. What was also existing was the food conversation wasn’t only in the food pavilion, but food was central to climate discussions in all COP pavilions,” Sara shared while explaining some of the good things that came from COP 27.

“I think within the food tent we need more discipline. We need to get clearer and sharper for what we’re advocating for. Let’s tighten up the aperture. Let’s become very clear about high ambition countries. Let’s come clear about Regen financing mechanisms, and I think we’ll come to a shorter list to COP 28.”

– Sara Farley on what to expect in UAE

COP 28 will take place in the United Arab Emirates. The summit will be held at Expo City Dubai from November 30th until December 12th, 2023. Enthusiasm and anticipation are already building. Farley explains, “There’s a series commitment going into COP28. With the leadership that minister Al Mheiri and her team are showing in the UAE to put food at the absolute center of this year’s climate summit will be. We would be foolish not to take the opportunity and really get serious about trying to be as deeply collaborative as we can to advance that agenda.”


Previously to the Rockefeller Foundation, Farley co-founded the Global Knowledge Initiative, which she led for a decade, nurturing it from a concept to an organization designated as one of the “Top 100 Social Innovations for the next century.” During her time at GKI, Sara cultivated a dynamic team that she led in the design and execution of GKI’s programs in systems research and evaluation, network optimization, and collaborative innovation strategy setting, work that included serving as The Rockefeller Foundation’s Social Innovation Lab on Waste & Spoilage.

With “80% of the $600-800 Billion in global (food) subsidies still supporting industrial agriculture,” Sara sees a great deal of upside for the whole Regen movement. According to recent Rockefeller Foundation analysis, between $5B – $13B is being invested in Regen. So, what kind of critical-mass would develop with even 10% of the total subsidy budget being allocated to Regen?

One idea that the Rockefeller Foundation is spitballing with other funders is the creation of acceleration facilities that would offer technical assistance and matchmaking into current fragmented regional landscapes. The ultimate goal here is strategic investment for lasting climate & social benefit.




“For The Rockefeller Foundation food team – our food & climate strategy is around Regen and agro-ecology. We will be working on: 1. a (food quality) measurements framework, 2. this global network – connecting the proof points, 3. trying to link-up, mobilize and facilitate multiple funders to bring substantial financial commitment to Regen.”

– Sara Farley, ep. 114 guest


(t) @InnovationWoman


photo credit:  Rockefeller Foundation || Sara Farley Twitter media


Sara Farley

“I think within the food tent we need more discipline. We need to get clearer and sharper for what we’re advocating for. Let’s tighten up the aperture. Let’s become very clear about high ambition countries. Let’s come clear about Regen financing mechanisms, and I think we’ll come to a shorter list to COP 28.”



As part of the FORCES OF NATURE series, in this episode you’ll hear from inspiring folks making good things happen to benefit people and planet.



Benedikt Bösel – Pioneering Land Use
Eric Soubeiran – Forging a Value Chain

complete catalog >>


– guest: Todd Barker

In this series I speak with leaders fighting climate change, biodiversity loss, malnutrition and hunger through a focus on SYSTEMS CHANGE. Tune-in for a dose of optimism.

Subsidies with Favorable Outcomes


CEO of Meridian Institute


CORE SYSTEMS CHANGE: the 6-part miniseries >>


ep. 108: Todd Barker – Chief Executive of Meridian Institute


ep.108: ‘Repurposing Subsidies for Favorable Outcomes’

Host: Aaron Niederhelman
Guest: Todd Barker of Meridian Institute


Favorable Outcomes

In this episode you’ll hear that when subsidies are dolled out based on positive outcomes instead of crop type – good things happen. 

You see, according to a Sept 2021 UN FAO briefing, agriculture contributes a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of biodiversity loss and 80% of deforestation across the globe. And, it’s also true that nearly 90% of the $540bn in global subsidies given to farmers every year are “harmful.” It’s true that the majority of well-intentioned agricultural support now damages human health, exacerbates the climate crisis, dwindles nature and drives inequality by excluding smallholder farmers. For real food systems change – support needs to be better aligned with favorable outcomes.

To learn more about this whole ball of wax we connected with Meridian Institute CEO Todd Barker on the myriad ways that the organization is bringing together stakeholders in the U.S. and around the world to take action.


Incentivizing Collaborative Efforts




“Interest in food systems has never been greater. As challenging and controversial as the problems are, we at Meridian are seeing that while issues about partisanship, polarization, and conflict are capturing media headlines – the hunger for collaborative solutions to these problems has never been higher,” explains episode 108 guest Todd Barker.

A Novel Angle at US Crop Insurance

The AGree Economic and Environmental Risk Coalition (AGree E2 Coalition) advocates for federal policy improvements to drive broader adoption of conservation practices on working lands. Conservation practices such as cover crops, no-till, and other recognized good farming practices can reduce farm risk to extreme weather events while improving environmental outcomes and soil health. Meridian Institute launched the AGree Initiative more than 10 years ago after more than two years of collaboration with a diverse group of food and agriculture stakeholders.

“The risk reduction benefits of agricultural conservation practices were not being adequately represented in the federal crop insurance programs. We wanted to focus on the crop insurance program. Our objective was to find ways for farmers to be supported not by crop, but instead for outcome measures like improved soil health, enhanced biodiversity, and climate mitigation.”

Todd Barker, CEO Meridian Institute

ep. 108: AUDIOGRAM – 90 sec. video short

Multi-Stakeholder Initiative (MSI) Juggernaut

Meridian is a mission-driven, nonprofit consultancy that has helped clients and partners develop and implement solutions to complicated, often controversial problems—big and small, global and local—for over two decades. They do it with an innovative approach that brings together a deep understanding of the issues at hand, as well as the people, politics, and power dynamics that surround them. Meridian not only shapes meaningful consensus and action in the near term, but also builds partners’ capacity for cooperation that often continues for years, even decades.

“We bring our skills to bear on a diverse range of issues, including environment & natural resources, climate change, agriculture & food systems, forests, health, oceans & coasts, resilience, science & technology, and water. Across issues, boundaries, and systems, our work is a catalyst for powerful impact.”

Todd Barker – CEO of Meridian Institute


Finding Common Goals to Drive Change

The Meridian Institute offers five key services: collaboration, implementation, strategy, research, and philanthropic support. Meridian has a dedicated team of 80 experts and an ability to foster constructive discussions, manage decisions, and support actions that shape the world for the better.



feeding the planet ✔️

employing communities ✔️

stabilizing the climate ✔️





“There’s growing interest in a global treaty for Ocean plastics pollution. Think about it as the Paris Agreement for plastics. We have now brought together over 500 stockholders in six countries to get a jump start on developing national action plans,” Barker describes Meridian’s role in fighting against ocean plastic pollution.


facilitating change: Todd Barker

Todd Barker is CEO of Meridian. He currently leads projects that focus on agriculture, food systems, water, climate, big data, and clean energy. A highlight of his over 20 year tenure at Meridian has been the AGree Initiative, which successfully advocated and lobbied for changes in the 2018 farm bill that support soil health. He also has extensive international experience, including current work with the Global Alliance for the Future of Food.

Todd cut his teeth as a mediator, facilitator, and strategist over 20 years ago, working on the cleanup of Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility. He is a trusted advisor to foundations and funder collaboratives working on agriculture and food systems. He serves on the board of the DendriFund and chairs the board for the Clean Energy Group.



Subsidies with Favorable Outcomes


Meridian Institute

As part of the Core Food Systems Change series, in this episode you’ll hear that when subsidies are dolled out based on positive outcomes instead of crop type – good things will happen. We all have more resources to fuel a movement.



social media tile

Listen-in to the full conversation with Todd and Aaron as they discuss ag. subsidies.



photo credit:  Melissa DiPalma || Meridian Institute || Bryan Liscinsky



the rich & lasting benefits of:

CORE SYSTEMS CHANGE – content series

The thing is… all sorts of folks will be embracing the values gained from good food and its production. Good food is simply an investment in your own personal health and performance. It’s also a venue to take real climate action in every bite, and a daily dose of benevolence for the folks that keep us well. Good food is a boom-town innovation economy that’s ripening to become invasive throughout verticals and global marketplaces. That’ll begin as more local jobs, and with regional food security.


for complete series catalog CLICK >>





Ep. 99: Jennifer Morgan – Executive Director, Greenpeace International ||

Joining for ep. 99 is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan.  For 50 years, Greenpeace has been fighting for ecological justice.  Now, arguably the pre-eminent non-governmental voice instigating environmental action, Greenpeace has a focused lens on addressing climate change, deforestation, overfishing, commercial whaling, genetic engineering and orchestrating anti-nuclear campaigns.



In 2019, there were approximately 4000 Greenpeace staff working for Greenpeace International and its offices around the globe, alongside tens-of-thousands more volunteers and passionate activists!  The co-ordinating body of Greenpeace International represents the collective actions of 27 independent national and regional organizations in over 55 countries and regions across Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. In our 45 minute discussion we cover how Jennifer and her global team makes sense of all of the moving parts.  We learn how the preservation of biodiversity is the lifeblood of Greenpeace’s activism. 


We hear more about the lineage of the organization, and how Jennifer came to lead efforts with this world renowned ecologically focused juggernaut set on “ensuring the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity”.  We discuss where Greenpeace plays in the Paris accord, and how the United States should not just be re-entering the agreement, but lead in future efforts to define substitutive and quantifiable climate actions.


A focus area of our conversation is the utilization and shepherding of regenerative natural resources. Specifically, with the production of food.  What humans eat from land and sea has a vast impact on the planet and its inhabitants.  In our conversation we explore how food values may materialize as a unique angle to drive environmental awareness with broader audiences.  How much of the global population can choose these food values as a way to take environmental action, 3-times daily.  We also explore concerns of food insecurity, for those who don’t have access to enough food or nutriment in the developing world and within some of the richest countries on the planet.  Food insecurity is real, and we learn what Greenpeace is doing to address impending problems throughout these diverse corners for often marginalized communities.   One thing is for sure, we can’t keep exhausting regenerative natural resources just to generate more calories that may never reach the target audience. It’s ecological suicide.  


Jennifer Morgan became Executive Director of Greenpeace International in 2016. Formerly, Morgan was ‘Global Director for the Climate Program’ at the World Resources Institute.  Additionally, she was ‘Global Climate Change Director’ at Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G) and she led the ‘Global Climate Change Program’ at the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).  She is passionate about helping countries, governments and individuals take positive action to achieve a zero-carbon future, and is a strong proponent of the need of companies to “go green” and invest in sustainable technologies.


Tune in to hear Jennifer’s thoughts on how antagonizing and instigating change has  set forth numerous efforts by Greenpeace to realize lasting impact on a shrinking planet.


photo credit: Greenpeace International & Roland Berger


Ep. 98: Joel Makower – co-founder & chairman of GreenBiz ||

For episode 98 we welcome Joel Makower, chairman of GreenBiz. For more than 30 years, Joel has been a well-respected voice on business, the environment, and the bottom line. Joel Makower is co-founder, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group, Inc. Among his duties at GreenBiz, Makower hosts the annual GreenBiz forums and is author of the annual ‘State of Green Business’ report.



A former nationally syndicated columnist, Joel is author or co-author of more than a dozen books, titles include: ‘The New Grand Strategy’, ‘Strategies for the Green Economy’, ‘Beyond the Bottom Line: Putting Social Responsibility to Work for Your Business and the World’, ‘The Green Consumer’ –  just to name a few.  Awarded the Hutchens Medal by the American Society for Quality, The Associated Press has referred to him as “The guru of green business practices.”  In 2014, Makower was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.
Much of our conversation in this episode focused on the Circular Economy.  The United Nations Industrial Development Organizations (UNIDO) describes this holistic approach as, “A circular economy is a new way of creating value, and ultimately prosperity, through extending product lifespan and relocating waste from the end of the supply chain to the beginning – in effect, using resources more efficiently by using them more than once. In a circular economy materials for new products come from old products. As much as possible, everything is reused, remanufactured or, as a last resort, recycled back into a raw material or used as a source of energy. ”


Offering a more concise description of what a circular economy could do for the stability of the planet, Makower explains the system as “keeping molecules in play“. Joel leverages an in-depth understanding and appreciation to evolve common practice of businesses and consumers alike.  As such, his work focuses on three principal topics:

  1. How companies of all sizes and sectors are integrating environmental thinking into their operations in a way that produces business value. 
  2. The creation of new companies and markets for clean energy, clean water, and advanced materials.
  3. The strategies and tactics that companies use in order to communicate and market their environmental efforts and leadership, especially to consumers.


In our 50 minute discussion we cover stakeholder value vs. shareholder value.  We discuss a bit of politics and the potential for sustainability and Green Business under the Biden administration. We learn where things stand with the Paris Accord and what we should do, now.  We explore if biodiversity could replace the siren song of Carbon.  I learn more about the history of GreenBiz and how Joel and his talented team have been able to not just weather the storm in 2020, but thrive.  Additionally, we discuss the role of business leaders in climate action and how business itself as an arm of the voter/ consumer can influence policy moving forward.  


Joel Makower has been a commentator on environmental topics for public radio’s “Marketplace” and appears frequently in both broadcast and print media. He serves as a board member or adviser to both for-profit and nonprofit organizations and speaks regularly to companies, industry groups and business schools around the world.  I encourage all of listeners to get on the GreenBiz mailing list, to attend his conferences, and seek out other speaking engagements featuring this expert in all things sustainable.

Tune in to ep. 98 to learn from a man with unique sagacity about what it’ll take to save the planet through better business.  As Joel explains it, “this is a massive economic opportunity masquerading as an environmental problem.”





photo credit: New York Times & Gage Skidmore