Sustainability is at the heart of the plant-based foods industry, and this game-changing sector is rapidly evolving innovative ways to integrate sustainable practices that promote biodiversity, nutrition access, and soil health. And with the fragility of the global supply network laid bare by the ongoing pandemic and other crucial factors, there’s never been a more opportune moment for this cutting-edge and forward-thinking industry to explore the wide range of benefits that domestically sourcing ingredients has to offer.

The Plant Based Foods Institute’s Domestic Sourcing Initiative (DSI) encourages and empowers plant-based food companies to source ingredients grown domestically for direct human consumption. Many plant-based food companies use imported ingredients, relying on global supply networks vulnerable to significant disruptions and delays that can hinder company access to critically important materials and consumer access to their products. By sourcing key ingredients here in the United States, companies can build more resilient, sustainable networks to support long-term growth and stability for our farmers and supported industries.

The Domestic Sourcing Initiative connects plant based-food companies with domestic supply network partners (farmers, processors, ingredient suppliers and manufacturers), creating collaborative, future-facing opportunities for American farmers and rural communities. Through the DSI, our team also generates actionable business opportunities for small-to-mid-sized growers and processors of diverse and socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and maintains a commitment to learn alongside these communities at the heart of our food system.

To see what domestic sourcing in action looks like, look no further than plant-based milk titan Oatly.

Video: Building Sustainable Supply in Iowa

When Oatly decided to explore viable domestic sources of their primary ingredient—oats—they turned to Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), a community-based organization dedicated to connecting farmers and empowering them to adopt regenerative agricultural practices. Through PFI’s wide-ranging farmer network, Oatly was connected with Ann and Landon Plagge, family farmers whose roots in Iowa date back nearly 100 years. With support from PFI’s grain cost share program, the Plagges have been able to enhance and diversify their rotation with oats, build a more sustainable, resilient operation, and forge a strong partnership with a major plant-based brand that serves customers across the US and around the world. 

“It’s great to tell [customers] that we work with farmers here in the US,” says Sara Fletcher, Communications and Public Affairs Director at Oatly. “We’re able to say that we’re working with farmers here who are trying to rethink agriculture and think about new ways to improve it.”

The Plagges can see that farm-to-customer impact firsthand: They also own a grocery store not far from their farm in Latimer, Iowa, where they sell Oatly products directly to their community and can proudly tell them that some of the oats that make those products possible are grown in their own backyard. “I think they’re surprised that the food they eat can actually be grown around here,” said Landon. And the impact of that revelation can’t be overstated. “We’re able to say and show that this is where product ends, this is the endgame for the product that you see in our fields,” said Ann. “That’s just a cool and unique thing we can bring to our community.”

Domestic sourcing connections, including this rich partnership between Oatly and the Plagges, are a source of hope for those in the Iowa agricultural community—a promising first step towards a more sustainable food system that benefits farmers, ecosystems, and the public. “If I could wave a magic wand over Iowa, I would love to see more diversity,” said Lydia English, Field Crops Viability Manager at PFI. “I’d love to see more crops, more animals, more farms, more types of farmers…we really see diversification as paving the way to make [building resilient farms and communities] possible.”

For more information and domestic sourcing partnership stories, visit PBFI’s Domestic Sourcing Initiative website.