Why I Sent a top Sabra Executive to the North Pole with Martha Stewart

A Q&A with Frank Armetta, Global Vice President Supply Chain for Sabra Dipping Company

Visiting the Global Seed Vault

I grew up surrounded by fig trees, orange groves and an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. As a child, living in the heart of the Mediterranean, I had no idea how fortunate I was to be surrounded by such plentiful abundance. As an adult, I am unceasingly startled by the lack of access so many Americans face when it comes to providing the nourishment of produce to their families. I believe access to affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables is a human right and we as individuals, as neighbors, businesses and leaders must invest time, effort and energy into improving access. This as the impetus for Sabra’s Plants with a Purpose initiative. And it is the reason I decided to send Sabra’s Global VP of Supply Chain to the North Pole in the middle of January.

Sabra was invited by the Crop Trust to send a representative to join thought leaders in food and technology to visit the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard. Prior to departure, we had to keep details of the excursion itself cloaked in a shroud of mystery, even for Frank who was game to go once he heard his mission was to weigh in on the future of food security.

I believe the conversation is important and we don’t always give enough thought to the seeds that provide our sustenance. I sat down with Frank to discuss what he saw and to challenge myself and the Sabra team to think beyond the borders and boundaries of what we know today:

Frank, when you quietly disappeared one Thursday in January, talking about the ‘future of food’ some Sabra employees wondered if you were on SpaceX with a tub of hummus. Let’s spill the beans.

Well, I did take an Uber to the airport, but no space travel was involved. However, my journey took me far away from home. Before you presented this opportunity, I had no idea that deep inside a mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, lies a building called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. But that’s where I went with some really interesting people who care deeply about the future of food for this planet. The Seed Vault houses the world’s largest collection of crop diversity. In February of 2018, the 10th annual deposit of seeds to the vault took place.

I am proud that Sabra has become a supporter of Crop Trust, who else joined the expedition? Was there a Santa of Seeds waiting for you?

No Santa, but I did travel to this incredible spot on the globe with Martha Stewart, who has arguably contributed more to the holiday traditions in this country than even Santa. In Svalbard, I met with Stewart and environmental enthusiasts like Sophia Bush who was there to help raise awareness and with thought leaders at the forefront of innovative thinking about the future and food like Marie Haga of Croptrust, Danielle Gould of Food Tech Connect and executives from other major food and technology brands who are invested in safeguarding the future of food. While there, we were surrounded by the undeniable beauty of nature, snow, mountains and wildlife which provided an awe-inspiring reminder of all that nature has to offer us and how critical it is that we cherish and protect it.

You are passionate about food safety and sourcing, how concerned should we be about safeguarding seeds specifically?

At Sabra, we care about food and food access. We support efforts to increase availability to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables to Americans living in food deserts today through our Plants with a Purpose initiative. We invest in helping plant urban gardens that will feed the next generation. And, we are looking further into the future. As such, I am proud that Sabra is supporting the work being done by the Crop Trust, the only international organization dedicated solely to conserving and making available crop diversity. Our team believes that real food, fresh fruits, vegetables and grains should be available to everyone, everywhere and we need to keep our eye on the future. Our entire business is based on providing plant-based foods to American consumers. Farmers, and the seeds they plant in the ground are the backbone of everything we do. We have an obligation to help drive the thinking and the conversation and yes, that should include the seeds. 

What did you do once there, what can you share about the vault?

First, let me say this. There is a lot of talk in the zeitgeist about mindfulness right now. Just walking toward the Global Seed Vault was an exercise in mindfulness. Surrounded by feet of snow, crisp air and silence for miles was a powerful antidote to the short-sighted problems we aim to solve on a daily basis.

Walking into the seed vault was quite an experience. It was space-age looking and a visually compelling representation of how we must protect the future of food. Once inside, I was overwhelmed not only with the cold… the seeds are stored at -.4 Fahrenheit but by the volume of seeds already safely secured within. I can tell you as well that it was quite moving to see seeds from nearly every country in the world from the US to North Korea to Syria stored within arm’s reach. It’s a good reminder that the seeds, and maybe the future, won’t care about whatever conflicts we face today. We are all united by our need for sustenance and can work together to secure that future. The seed vault is in a way like an Olympics of seeds but there is no competition, only collaboration.

As Global VP of Supply Chain for Sabra, I am always thinking about the safety of our food chain and supply. It was an honor to weigh in with what I know and share some thoughts for the future. Preserving the genetic diversity of crops across the globe is a complex endeavor that will require partnership between leaders in government, businesses and agricultural arenas. It was inspiring to be there with dozens of individuals who are actively working to secure the future of food and to learn about the vault’s role in securing biodiversity and ensuring food safety for the future.

Have the seeds ever been used?

Actually, yes. Poignantly, with the war in Syria, a seed bank in Aleppo had to draw from seeds they had sent just months prior to the war. Seeds for crops like wheat and beans were used to grow new crops and seed stocks. While it is unfortunate that a community suffered so profoundly as to have lost an entire crop in this day and age, we should be encouraged by the fact that the Global Seed Vault is preparing for the uncertainties of the future.

Some Fast Facts:

· Svalbard is 78 north, one of the northern most inhabited cities in the world

· 45 of us joined this excursion

· The Global Seed vault is cut into a frozen core of Northern Norway and holds copies of nearly 1 million varieties of seeds from the world

· These seeds could be used in the event of blight. Or war. Or floods. Or hurricanes.

· The goal is to safeguard the biodiversity of the world

Are there chickpeas?

I'm not one to spill the beans, but I think we can agree - no one wants to imagine a future without hummus. 

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