design · environment

UW students focus on how to get local food to their dining hall tables

local food madness
getting local foods to a big institution can be tricky.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I am a huge proponent of consciously choosing locally sourced food and products for consumption. Not only does it use less fossil fuels, I think buying and eating local also creates a better, healthier, and more enriching environment for us all.

It’s easy enough for individuals to choose and cultivate local food, but how does a larger institution like a university, or individuals living on campus, get access to the same local goods? One class at the University of Washington did a problem-solving project to come up with solutions to eating local. From the University of Washington:

Recipes that come boxed with fresh ingredients ready to cook? How about a monthlong incentive program inspiring a commitment to fresh local food? What would it take?

The class was Introduction to Interaction Design, Art 381, and the assignment Tad Hirsch gave his students was straightforward: Design a way to improve access to fresh local food on the UW campus.

“The students looked at how the UW community currently feeds itself,” Hirsch said, “and considered a range of factors that currently make it hard for students, faculty and staff to eat locally.” He said they took an interaction design approach to the problem, asking what experiences they wanted to provide for people. “They then had to come up with concrete proposals to make local food more accessible.”

It’s all pretty theoretical for this undergraduate class of mostly juniors, he said. “But we hope to take some of these ideas and make them tangible. There’s the notion that this stuff is meant to go out into the world.”

Hirsch is an assistant professor who came to the UW a couple of months back from Intel Corp. in Oregon. He said he is pleased to be part of the UW’s “small but mighty” program in interaction design.

So, what did the students come up with? Some pretty interesting stuff, actually:

Read their solutions at From crate to plate: Students study how to improve campus access to fresh local food

anthropology · behavior · community · culture · education · health

Different reactions to urban farm economics

Downtown Bellingham as observed from Sehome Hi...
Bellingham, WA, which prides itself on buying, selling, and producing locally. Image via Wikipedia

The question of how to connect us back to our food is commonly asked these days, from local communities to big companies like IDEO and their Open IDEO challenges. One way to do this is through urban farms, or bringing the farm and local food production to the people. But the logistics of doing this can take on very different looks and feels.

I came across three stories in the past couple of days that all showcase a different reaction to the concept of economizing on local food growing and selling. The different styles seem to be very pro, con, or “social wellness” focused:

For example, in Bellingham, WA, local farms are offering kids classes on local farming practices, and make more money locally through education than actually selling their produce:

Common Threads’ goal is to connect children to food, their community and the environment through what she called seed-to-table education.

At Farm Camp, that included plenty of hands-on stuff for the 3- to 10-year-old children, who split into groups and take turns caring for the turkeys and chickens – do they have enough food and clean water? – as well as the garden.

“Growing stuff takes work and attention,” Plaut said, which is what the camp’s workers and volunteers emphasize to the children.

more via Bellingham program teaches children where their food comes from – Top Stories – bellinghamherald.com.

In Seattle, WA, the approach is definitely more entrepreneurial focused with backyard egg sellers and bee keeping:

CORKY LUSTER is hard-pressed to explain why his beekeeping idea turned into a full-time business and then some.

“People are interested in pollination and food . . . and honey bees have become the poster child for environmental concerns,” he muses.

Luster had a German roommate in college who introduced him to the idea of keeping a few chickens and beehives in the backyard. So when Luster heard about bees dying off and colony collapse disorder a few years ago, he decided to do his bit and set up a few beehives in his garden. Friends were fascinated with the bees — but not so much with all the work involved. The Ballard Bee Company was born, and two years later Luster doesn’t have time to remodel houses anymore.

more at Keeper brings bees to Seattle gardens.

In Missoula, MT, regulations make it a little bit tougher to sell wares:

Owners of small food enterprises continue to face hurdles doing business in Missoula even as the local food movement grows. At the state level, an effort is beginning to methodically review food safety laws and regulations. Leaders in Missoula say it’s time for some scrutiny on the local front, too, and one food vendor is already on the move.

Kim Olson, the “Empanada Lady,” is working to change at least one rule she said is arbitrary and hurts food vendors. Olson said the Health Department is obligated to enforce state laws, but the rules favor big franchises and leave homegrown shops adrift.

Which approach makes for a better experience of community food selling overall? With the E. Coli outbreak in Germany recently I understand the need for good food regulations, but what if they accidentally favor one kind of business model over another? I’m also curious if a more education focused approach works better than throwing local food sellers into the deep end with all the other commercial ventures? Thoughts? Experiences?
behavior · community · culture · environment · happiness · Social

“The Economics of Happiness” documentary argues buying local will save the planet, ourselves

Helena Norberg-Hodge
Helena Norberg-Hodge, director of "The Economics of Happiness" and founder of ISEC. Image via Wikipedia

I am a huge fan of buying local (although I could be a lot better at it). This film makes an interesting argument that buying local is not only good for the environment and the local economy, but also connects us back to our spiritual sense of community.

Economic globalization has led to a massive expansion in the scale and power of big business and banking. It has also worsened nearly every problem we face: fundamentalism and ethnic conflict; climate chaos and species extinction; financial instability and unemployment. There are personal costs too. For the majority of people on the planet, life is becoming increasingly stressful. We have less time for friends and family and we face mounting pressures at work.

The Economics of Happiness describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, an unholy alliance of governments and big business continues to promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, people all over the world are resisting those policies, demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance—and, far from the old institutions of power, they’re starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm – an economics of localization.

more via The Economics of Happiness | Full Synopsis.

I have seen this same community/spirituality argument proposed as well with farmers in Hawaii trying to preserve traditional knowledge of taro planting, as well as other indigenous groups in South and Central America, and all over the world, so it is interesting to see this documentary maker make the argument on a larger scale, saying it can benefit all of us. I tend to agree.

I also like the idea of “grandmother universities,” which fit in well with the current trend of DIYers.

Has anybody seen this film, or know more about it? It’s sponsored by the International Society for Ecology & Culture, and directed by Helena Norberg-Hodge.

community · culture · education · environment · health · Nature

Urban farming in NYC

Just read about this cool example of urban farming: Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in good ol’ New York City.

From the site:

On the shoreline of the East River and with a sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is a 6,000 square foot green roof organic vegetable farm located atop a warehouse rooftop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.During New York City’s growing season, the farmers at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm supply a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, an onsite farm market, and bicycle fresh produce to area restaurants.

In partnership with food education organization Growing Chefs, the rooftop farm hosts a range of farm-based educational and volunteer programs.

 

Eagle Street Rooftop Farm offers educational programming in partnership with Growing Chefs: Food Education from Field to Fork.

 

 

They also offer talks, events (today was their annual pie eating contest!), and other ways to engage with urban farming. If you live anywhere near there, go check it out; it is amazing to see a true working farm in action, and to see it done in an urban environment is really exciting. Although, you might want to wait until the weather isn’t, you know, freezing!, to go visit:

The Farm is a bit windy & chilly this time of year, so we’re waiting ’til spring for visits.  To register for a workshop, contact us Education@RooftopFarms.org.

What a great way to learn about where your food comes from, and it’s healthier and fresher since it doesn’t have to travel as far or receive so many pesticides or preservatives for transport. And apparently these urban farms are now popping up all over the United States; check out some of the links below to read about other city’s urban farms. Eat up!