Archive for the ‘design expo’ Category

FarmBridge: 2010 Design Expo Winner

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I am happy to announce that our team and our project, FarmBridge, has been selected to represent ITP at the Microsoft Design Expo conference this summer.  This means that Cindy, Noah, Tianwei, and I are going to spend several days with Nancy Hechinger in Seattle this July.

FarmBridge Logo 839 186

Here is a long overdue update regarding our project and our final presentation. Over the past several weeks we worked hard to pull together initial design mock-ups and get our presentation ready for prime time. Here is a brief overview of the flow from our final presentation. Unfortunately, we are not able to post the entire presentation because it contains some content that we would rather not share online yet. That said, we have included a brief video that walks through some key features of the design.

Our Inspiration: We all live in New York and are passionate about food.  But even in this city of extreme wealth, entire communities do not have access to the kind of fresh, healthy that we care so much about. The question that motivates our project is how can we use technology to get locally farmed produce to more of the city’s residents.

Our Product: FarmBridge is an online platform that makes it easier for neighbors to form groups and gain access to locally farmed food. It provides two main sets of tools: 1) Management tools for community leaders 2) Social software for community as a whole.

Why CSAs: CSAs are grassroots community that are run by local communities that are dedicated to making healthy foods available in their neighborhoods. We decided to work with CSAs for three reasons:

  1. It is the only truly grassroots approach to the problems that the local food movement aims to address
  2. It is the model most able to get healthy food to neighborhoods in the city that need it
  3. Our research points to a tremendous demand from for foods from these communities

In the past 1-2 years there has been an explosion of interest in CSAs. The volunteers that run these groups are already responsible for organizing larger communities. They are also trying to bring more food offerings from more local producers, and add more payment options and subscription packages to allow a more diverse group of city residents to join their communities.

User Research: To inspire and guide our design we needed to gain a deep understanding of how these communities work. So we attended the annual CSA conference in New York, and held one-on-one conversations with more than 20 organizers and members from these communities. There are two main take aways from these conversations:

  1. First, local community organizers need tools that help them manage memberships, subscriptions, volunteers, communications and transitions.
  2. Second, we realized that running a successful community is too much work for just one person. These communities need social tools that enable organizers to actively engage members and farmers in the day-to-day activities of the community.

Initial Design & Experience: I’ve put together a brief video that walks through the design and experience slides from our presentation.

Here is a link to a post from Cindy regarding farmbridge.

FarmBridge Scenario: Setting Up a CSA (Part 1)

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Sarah is a core group at the Park Slope CSA. Her CSA recently found out about FarmBridge through a food-and-technology meet-up. After a lot of debate with her CSA’s core group members, they decided give FarmBridge a try. Since Sarah is responsible for managing membership and subscriptions, she took the responsibility of getting the CSA set-up on FarmBridge.

Tuesday evenings are Sarah’s CSA work night, in usual fashion she makes herself a big cup of herbal tea, grabs a couple of cookies and sits down in front of her computer. She gets settled in, pulls up a web browser and accesses the FarmBridge website. When she arrives at the site she clicks on the “register & create CSA” button. Sarah had visited the FarmBridge before, while researching the product, but she had not signed up for her own account.

Next she is taken to a registration page for her personal account. Sarah notice from the graphic at the top of the page that this is part one of a two step process. On this page Sarah inputs the required information for her profile: first and last name, address, phone number, and email address. Then she clicks the next step button. On the next page Sarah is prompted to input optional info such as birthday, personal interests, and a profile picture. To complete the sign-up process Sarah agrees to FarmBridge’s t&c’s and click the submit registration button.

Once Sarah has finished creating a personal account she arrives at her personal “My Box” page. Across the top of the screen she sees a menu with three main options: “CSA”, “My Box”, and “People”. A second-level navigation menu reads: “Home”, “Messages”, “Events”, “Post”, and “Pictures”.

In the center of the screen there is a message bar towards the top that features a welcome message. Below this message box is a section labelled “This Week’s Share”, followed by another section titled “Recipes”. Since Sarah’s account is not linked to a CSA these areas feature a “Join or create CSA” link.

Sarah clicks on one of these links, which takes her to her personal CSA dashboard page. The page features a map that show all of the CSAs in her area that she can access through FarmBridge. Since the service is new, she notices that her CSA is the first one in Brooklyn to use FarmBridge. Along the right-hand side of the page a menu provides Sarah three options: “do you have an invitation code?”, “join an existing CSA”, or “set-up a CSA”.

She chooses the appropriate button to register her CSA. She is then brought to a page titled “Basic CSA Information”. From reading the graphic she knows that this is step 1 of 3. On this page she inputs her CSA’s name, location, and contact information (which she links to her personal details). She clicks the “Next Step” button and is brought to a page where she inputs information for a CSA profile page. Sarah adds a brief CSA description, followed by an overview of shareholder expectations, and information about share pricing and uploads a picture with people from community posing in front of the CSA’s banner at a pick-up. Lastly, she chooses what contact information to share (email or phone).

In the last step of the sign-up process Sarah is able to customize the look and feel of her CSA by selecting color palettes, and uploading a logo. Since the Cobble Hill CSA has had a simple blog with a white, green and red palette for a long time, she decides to honor tradition and chooses these color for her CSAs FarmBridge community site. She clicks submit to finish the CSA registration. A confirmation message appears that confirms the CSA registration.

Next Sarah is brought to her CSA’s main page. On the top-level navigation bar a new tab pops up called “Park Slope CSA”. Under this tab the following options are featured as a second-level navigation: “Home”, “Members”, “Events”, “Gallery” and “CSA Settings”. In the center of the page overview information about the CSA is featured along with a map of all CSA members. On top of this screen a window appears that informs Sarah of the next steps associated to setting-up her CSA (featured below). This information is also sent to Sarah in her CSA set-up confirmation e-mail message.

Next Steps to Set-Up a CSA (copy for content only, not style)

Step 1. Set-up Partner, Subscription and Payment Options

  • Identify local supply partners (vegetable, fruit, flower, meats, bread, dairy, other)
  • Create subscription offerings list (full, half, custom. logistics for each)
  • Define payment options and guidelines (upfront, pay-as-you-go, approvals, etc)

Step 2. Set-up Membership Database and Calendar

  • Set-up membership database and input planning numbers (min and max capacity)
  • Sign-up members by creating invitations, manual input or uploading data
  • Set-up calendar with recurring events and request volunteers

Local Fork: Competitive Analysis

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Local Fork Home Page

Local fork seems to be the service that competes most directly with the service that we are currently developing. During our meetings with CSA managers this was also the only service that was mentioned. People who had experience using this tool had achieved varying levels of success.

With this in mind, we decided to do a detailed analysis of their CSA/Co-op Toolkit. This exercise will help us identify new ideas regarding site structure and organization, and it will enable us to learn from good and bad design decisions made and implemented by the localfork team. At the end of the day, this analysis will help us develop a service that is truly differentiated.

As you will note from my analysis below, we believe that there is a lot of opportunity for us to create a tool that is especially catered to the needs of urban CSA organizations.

A Little Background on Local Fork

Local fork is a lot more than just a CSA/Co-op Toolkit platform. It is an organization that is dedicated to stimulating local food networks. In their own words: “Local Fork is the first website where local food consumers, buyers, and producers can fully collaborate, network, buy, sell, advertise, and find needed services.”

The main services that Local Fork currently provides include: CSA/Co-op Toolkit, Locavore Guides, Local Foods Directory, Communities, and Videos. The focus of this analysis will be on the CSA/Co-op Toolkit, as this is the focus of our current project.

Information Architecture

The system is designed with two main account types: personal and organizational accounts. This simple structure provides the scaffolding upon which the entire system was built. Here is a brief overview of the main features and functionalities associated to each of these account types:

Each user of the system has his/her own personal account. Each organization also has its own organizational account. User accounts are created by individuals via a short registration process. Anyone with a user account can create a new organization account using a short registration process. They can also request to join an organization with an existing account.

The system is designed to separate Personal and Organization-related data. For example, when a user is logged into his personal account he is not able to access any data that is CSA-specific. To access this information he/she needs to view CSA-specific pages. This means that an individual’s calendar and volunteering information is only visible when he/she accesses his CSA’s page, which is several clicks away from his initial log-in.

Personal accounts can exist without being connected to a user, however, organization accounts are always created by, and linked to, users at a “personal” account-level. Personal accounts can be linked to multiple organizations. Similarly, organizations can be related to multiple personal accounts.

There is little to clearly differentiate when the user is in his own account versus when he is viewing a CSA page. The only noticeable difference is that the top navigation bar changes. I personally found this a little bit confusing, both the lack of contextual cues and the changing main navigation bar.

From a high-level standpoint we will likely structure our system in a way that is similar to Local Fork’s, we will also feature personal and organizational accounts. That said, we plan to create more linkages between the two account types to provide users with a more seamless, community-focused, and streamlined experience. We also will provide users with more contextual cues regarding their current location and will design a more effective global navigation system (likely using secondary navigation elements more consistently).

Member Management

Roles, Subscriptions and Status: The Local Fork system does not allow organizations to differentiate between their members role (admin, shareholder), subscription type (vegetable, half-share), and status (paid, waitlist). All of this information is encapsulated into the roles attribute. When users initially join an organization they are given the role of a “member”, or “subscriber”. After joining, their role can be changed to a wide variety of options such as: “shareholder”, “administrator”, “waiting list”, “historical shareholder”, “flower shareholder”, “winter co-op”, “owner”, “half-shareholder”, “paid in full”, “fruit shareholder”, “summer CSA”, “other”.

This is definitely an area where our design choices will differ from Local Fork’s current approach. Local Fork’s current set-up leads to potential conflicts and confusion since status items such as “paid in full” or “waitlist” cannot be specified to a specific type of share (e.g. vegetable, fruit, or flower share). It also limits the value that the system can provide in enabling CSA managers to track payments for multiple shares for the same member.

Adding New Users and Members: To add new members to a CSA the admin can either invite users to join the CSA, add the user directly to the CSA, or create an offline user. The first two options identical from the invitees perspective. The CSA admin inputs the invitees email address into a form that generates an email to that individual with a link to a registration page. In both cases the invitee needs to complete his/her own contact details.

The third option enables the admin to add an “offline” user to the CSA (essentially a user without an email address). Unfortunately, it does not allow the admin to add offline contact information for any of the “offline” users.

This is another area where we can innovate. We plan to offer more flexibility for the CSA admin to manage the contacts from his/her database. For example, we hope to provide CSA manager with the ability to create new members fully, including inputing all contact information. This will enable the system to better support offline users as well. CSA managers would be able to input these members’ contact information into a single system so that they would have a single source for all CSA-related contact information.

Ideally, we would even like to enable CSA managers to upload existing member lists in excel or csv formats. The system would add the members and send an email (to all members whose email is available) requesting that they confirm their contact information and privacy preferences. This same system could be used to help CSA managers transfer shareholder lists from one year to the next.

Payment Tracking and Processing

Local Fork offers limited support for payment tracking and processing, especially for CSAs that work with multiple partners. Though we noticed that an “order” features exists we were not able to understand how to use it.

We believe that we can add value here by enabling CSA managers to customize the set-up of their CSA to better support multiple partners. We plan to create a tool that supports tracking of sign-ups and payments for each type of share independently. Ideally, we would like to link the tool to an online payment gateway so that CSA shareholders could pay for all of their dues online.

Event Management

The event management tools in Local Fork are simple. They provide basic event and shift management capabilities. Admin users can create events, and request, approve and track volunteer sign-us. All members are able to see the events created by the admin users, and to accept volunteer requests. Event reminders can also be scheduled for volunteer signups.

Here we plan to differentiate our service by making it easier to use the calendar and providing additional logistical support. First, we aim to enable CSA managers to create repeating events. Next, we will enable all users to create events, though we will clearly differentiate CSA-organized events. We also hope to provide inter-operability with most calendar applications so that users can easily add commitments to their own calendars. From a logistical support standpoint we will provide CSA managers with the ability to print sign-out sheets for use at the CSA deliveries.

Privacy and Community

Local Fork currently does not allow its users to share their contact information with other members of their CSA. They are only able to share their contact information with administrators. The system is designed to enable the admin to send messages to members without even knowing their emails.

Our service hopes to provide a better platform for CSA members to be able to reach one another. We plan on allowing (and even encouraging) CSA members to share their contact information with other members. We would like to go so far as to ask people to add their pictures and addresses so that they can be added to a community map.

CSA Customization

Local Fork provides little opportunity for CSAs to customize their organization. I’ve already addressed above the opportunities we’ve identified associated to the subscription and payment tracking system. However, another important area for customization is the look and feel of each CSAs site.

We believe that CSAs would appreciate the opportunity to customize the look and feel of their organization’s pages. We haven’t defined how much customization we plan to include in our service, however, at the most basic level we will enable them to customize colors, fonts, and add logos and pictures.


Unfortunately, we were not able to test the reporting functionality available in Local Fork. However, I can stress that reporting will be an important feature of our service. We are looking at as a design inspiration for our work in this area.

Local Foods Conversation with Holley Atkinson

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to chat with Holley Atkinson about the FarmBridge project (here is a link to old posts about this initiative). Here is an overview of our conversation and the valuable input that was provided.

Holley’s Background
Let’s start with a brief description of Holley’s background and her involvement in the local food movement. I was introduced to Holley by Claire Hartten, who has been extremely supportive of our project by getting us in contact with several people dedicated to making local foods available in NYC. From a career perspective, Holley is a seasoned digital media executive who has over 20-years of experience.

She became involved in the local food movement about 3-years ago driven by concerns related to sustainability and health. Holley is a member of the her local CSA in Cobble Hill, where she enjoys her summer and winter shares. In the last year she has become more involved in supporting initiatives related to local food access and land preservation working. Holley currently serves on the board for the organization Slow Food NY.

Feedback Regarding Ideas
During our conversation I shared with Holley the two ideas that we were considering pursuing for our project. We were happy to have Holley confirm our intuition regarding our initial focus, namely developing a web-based CSA management support service. Here is an overview of the two ideas along with her feedback.

  1. CSA management support service: a web-based service that provides CSA organizers with tools to more efficiently and effectively manage their operation, including collaboration tools for working with CSA members.
  2. Greenmarket real-time fresh food service: a mobile and web-based service that enables greenmarket vendors and organizers to provide real-time updates to customers with special offers and offerings.

Holley’s perspective was that the first idea had a tighter focus and was easier to test, making it more appropriate to the resources available for this project, including time, skills, and stakeholders. We also both like the fact that this idea supports grass-roots organizations that are independent and volunteer-based, and have little budget.

The other idea, though promising, had a much larger scope that requires active participation from a wide number of stakeholders (on the consumer and merchant side) even for initial testing. Also, Greenmarkets in NYC have more access to institutional support from local government agencies and non-profit organizations.

Important Considerations
Holley also provided valuable input regarding the requirements associated to running a CSA. There are numerous types of activities and artifacts that need to be managed and tracked. Helping to streamline the process of managing this paperwork is an area of opportunity for our project. Here is an overview of activities and artifacts associated to running a CSA:

  • Track subscriptions (spreadsheet, contracts, emails)
  • Track payments (spreadsheet, receipts, emails)
  • Manage waitlist (spreadsheet)
  • Manage food deliveries (schedule, sign-out sheet)
  • Coordinate volunteers (schedule, sign-up sheet, emails)
  • Manage newsletter (address book, recipes, share inventory, emails)
  • Schedule meetings (schedule, message boards)
  • Manage farmer relationship (address book, emails)
  • Promote sustainable practices (address book, emails)

Another important consideration that we discussed is the platform type and business model. For platform type we talked about whether the solution should be designed as a centralized managed service or as standalone installation on local computers. In regards to the business model, we talked about whether this service would be free of paid and how we may be able to get funding or grants to cover the actual implementation of the concept.

CSA Interview Questions (Draft)

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

This week and next week we will be meeting with a few CSA managers to find out more about their needs and how we can help them. We think we have a sense (or at least expectations) regarding where we can make the most impact and we hope these interviews will give us more insights to guide our designs.

Basic Information

  • Name of interviewee, role of interviewee, and name of CSA

General Information on CSA

  • When was your CSA founded?
  • How many shareholders does your CSA have?
  • What does food offerings does your CSA offer?
  • What type of subscriptions do you offer?
  • What seasons does your CSA offer?
  • Do you offer financial support or half shares?
  • How has your CSA changed over the past 2 years?

Overview of Challenges

  • What is the biggest challenge that your organization currently faces?
  • Are there any other challenges that you foresee will arrive in the next 5 years?

CSA Structure

  • How does your CSA run and how is it structured?
  • How many core members does your CSA have?
  • How are responsibilities divided between these stakeholders?

Personal Responsibilities

  • What is the biggest challenge you personally face as a CSA organizer?
  • Why did you choose to play an active role in the CSA core team?
  • What are your main responsibilities?
  • What are your favorite responsibilities associated to this job?
  • What are your least favorite responsibilities?
  • How much time per week do you devote to this job?
  • How often do you work on the CSA? Every day? Weekly?
  • Can you walk us through your weekly routine?

CSA Relationship with Shareholders

  • What is most important to your shareholders about the CSA?
  • How involved are most shareholders in the running of the CSA?
  • Do the shareholders volunteer on a regular basis?
  • Do they also form strong relationships with others from the CSA?
  • Has the membership changed over the past years? If so, how?

Management Tasks and Tools

  • How do you maintain your membership records?
  • How and what do you communicate to members?
  • How do you track payments?
  • How do you manage volunteers?
  • How do you manage the deliveries?
  • What types of online and desktop tools do you use to manage the CSA?
  • Productivity software? Social networks? Blogs? Databases?
  • What functions are each of these tools used to support?

Conversations About Greenmarkets

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Earlier this week I had a conversation with Davy Hughes, from Union Square Greenmarket, and Annable Alafriz, a designer who is working with Davy on a mobile application to support all NYC Greenmarkets. From this talk I learned a lot about the current needs of the Greenmarket. I also had the opportunity to find out the cool phone application that Annabel has designed. Here is a brief overview of our conversation.

Grow NYC
We first talked about the importance of greenmarkets and the mission of Grow NYC, which is a non-profit organization that runs most greenmarkets in New York City. There are over 50 greenmarkets in the city. These markets serve as important points of distribution for local farmers, and sources of healthy food and culture for city residents.

Grow NYC is dedicated ensuring access to healthy, fresh, and local food for all New Yorkers. They also focus on safeguarding vibrant green spaces throughout the city. Their programs aim to provide resources and support to local foods and environmental organizations while using education programs to reach out directly to the general population.

Greenmarket Services
Next up we talked about existing services that support greenmarkets in NYC. First off, the greenmarket publishes its own monthly newsletter. This newsletter tends to focus on seasonably relevant information.

Other organizations also provide services that support our local greenmarkets. The two main services we talked about were Annabel’s new web-based phone app, NYC greenmarkets, and the website Both services focus on providing maps with local greenmarket locations, lists of farmers and products that are sold at each market, and dates and times of operation for each market. The NYC Greenmarkets app will soon also feature videos of some of the vendors (I will likely be involved in the development of these videos).

Greenmarket Opportunities
The main opportunity that Davy identified was the need for a system that enables farmers and greenmarket operators to inform customers in real-time, at any time of the day, about special offerings. This would encompass the need to highlight especially fresh offerings and to communicate special prices.

Such a service would enable the market operators and farmers to communicate to their customers about new offerings. It would also enable farmers to respond to slow days by being able to communicate special offers in the afternoon. However, we do not envision the need for farmers to list all of their offerings on this service.

CSA Management & Collaboration Tool User Scenario

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

One of the concept ideas that is under consideration is a CSA management & collaboration tool. This is by no means our final direction. That said, we have done an initial narrative exploration of what the user experience may be like for a CSA manager and member. Here it is:

“As the month of March comes to an end, the deadline for collecting payments from all CSA shareholders also nears. Jen decides to send a follow-up note to all shareholders who have not yet paid. So she logs in to the farmbridge system to send the reminder.

Jen decided to try out the Farmbridge’s CSA management and collaboration tool based on a recommendation from Kathy, who works at a local organization that has been supporting Jen’s CSA with advice and resources.

Once logged into farmbridge, Jen is able to access a CSA management dashboard. This page contains easy-to-read graphical displays with information such as how many shares have been sold, how many are still available, and how many payments are still pending.

Jen decides to select one of the available actions: “follow-up on payments”. By making this selection the system creates a follow-up e-mail addressed to all shareholders who have not yet submitted payment. Jen customizes the template note and sends it out. Once the email is sent Jen is prompted to send a text message to members who have requested communications via this channel.

Maggie logs in to her email account and finds a note from her CSA manager, Jen. The note is a reminder regarding payment for her CSA share. Margaret joined her local CSA because she felt that this was the best way to secure the food that she serves to her young daughter.

Maggie follows the payment link on the email, which takes her to an invoice page. From here she selects to make a payment via paypall. Since she is already logged into farmbridge she decides to update her contact information, and schedule her CSA workday. She looks examines the calendar and chooses July 12th so that she can work on the same day as her friends Akbar and Hannah.

Before logging-off, Margaret posts a suggestion to the community board about organizing a pot-luck dinner in mid April, to celebrate the arrival of the first share. She logs off farmbridge and immediately starts calling some of her friends to lay the groundwork for the dinner.”

CSA Audience Profiles

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

During the past two weeks we have focused our research on CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). These self-organized groups form a small but growing part of the overall local foods movement.  Based on the the work we have conducted we have developed three high-level of profiles of key stakeholders from CSA communities: CSA managers, CSA members, and CSA support organizers.

These profiles are intended to provide some insights regarding the typical lifestyle, values and preferences of these audience groups. Let’s start with CSA support organizations. Thanks to Cindy for taking the lead on these profiles.

CSA Support Organizers
Meet Kathy. Kathy is an advocate for making locally-grown and healthy food available across urban neighborhoods. She is 49 years old and lives in Brooklyn Heights. She loves nature, food culture, and baking. She has been involved in activism or community organizing since college.

As a JustFood administrator, Kathy’s full-time job is advise over 100 CSAs in New York City. She spends her day helping people set-up new CSAs by organizing workshops, and providing resources via email, phone, in person.  She also helps existing CSA managers who are dealing with challenges such as finding new farm partners and managing a growing base of shareholders.

Kathy is comfortable with technology but does not have a deep interest or expertise in this area. She uses her computer to go online daily to read her favorite blogs and to check her emails, most of them from CSAs asking her for tips and advice on managing CSAs. Her phone is primarily a voice tool, though she uses it for text messaging and emails when she is away from her office.

With the market growth from the last several years, Kathy is feeling overwhelmed. She is swamped on a day to day basis and wished she had more time to answer people’s common questions and develop new tools that could help them.

Today, she may get an email from someone like Jen, a CSA manager.

CSA Manager
Meet Jen, a local CSA organizer.  Jen is a people person.  She enjoys having face-to-face conversations with her neighbors, loves to try new things (especially foods), and is well-known around where she lives – whether it’s at the local coffee shop, yoga center, or block party.

Jen is a 35-year old woman, who works as an education consultant. She lives by herself in Park Slope, sharing an apartment with her cat, Mr. Bigelow. Jen is a vegan with a passion for documentaries and yoga. She has been actively volunteering in the CSA for 3 years.

Jen recently became the main manager of her neighborhood CSA and has been getting a handle on her CSA’s operations. She is working hard to juggle her work, personal and CSA-manager responsibilities. She does not get paid for her work at the CSA but is passionate her commitment.

For the CSA, Jen is responsible for managing the finances and lead the coordination with the other core team members who manage space logistics, communications and farm relations. She is struggling to figure out how to handle her CSA’s growth of new subscribers and trying to find affordable food options to broaden the economic diversity of her CSA’s membership.

Jen is not a tech whiz but she wants to make her CSA more available online. They have a weekly newsletter and an old website that doesn’t get updated often enough. She wants to set-up a blog to and engage the CSA members online. Jen is familiar with productivity software, such as the Microsoft Suite, because of her work and owns a Mac.  She’s heard of online-based tools such as Google Docs but hasn’t played around with seeing how it’ll be useful to her.

She contacts her subscribers via email, tracks personal information and billing status using spreadsheets, and creates other documents using word processor. She doesn’t enjoy the tedious work of updating spreadsheets and paperwork that is associated to managing CSA members. She wants to find an easier way to do this work.

CSA Members
Meet Brian, a member of the LES CSA. Brian is a graphic designer who lives in the Lower East Side with his wife, Margaret, and son, Jason.

Brian is adventurous in that he’s willing to try new things, whether it’s the newest cuisine, or the latest tech gadget. He joined the local CSA as soon as he heard about it 2-years ago.

As a family man, Brian strives to ensure that his family eats healthy food. He enjoys cooking and believes in buying food that is “honest”. By this he refers to foods whose source is known. Brian believes that buying from local farms (that you can visit) is the only way to know the health and social costs of the food you are consuming.

Since he signed up for his local CSA Brian has volunteered a few times to help out on pick-up days. Brian gets along with most other CSA members and usually spends at least an hour chatting with them at the pick-up sites.

Brian loves technology and wants his CSA to be easily accessible and provide information online. He’d like to get up-to-date information from his CSA such as what vegetables/foods will arrive this week, what are the upcoming CSA social events, 5 recipe ideas for seasonal vegetables. As a busy parent, he may not be able to attend all the CSA’s events but he’d like a way to still be involved and up-to-date.

Just Food CSA Conference Notes

Friday, March 5th, 2010

This past weekend I spent all day Sunday at the Just Food CSA Conference in New York. I attended this event with the team mates from my design expo class, who are working with me to develop the farmbridge concept.

We had a great time at the event. We met many local CSA organizers, CSA members, and people involved with supporting these small organizations. Tom and Judy from the Park Slope CSA  were very helpful in helping me better understand the day-to-day needs of CSA core groups. Noah and I also also got a chance to have a brief chat with Kathy Lawrence after her participation in the morning panel.

Here is an overview of my notes from this full day.

Background Regarding CSAs

  • Begun in the 1960s in Switzerland, Germany and Japan in response to concerns about food safety.
  • Coinage of the term “community-supported agriculture” stems from Vander Tuin and Robyn Van En, the founders of the first CSA in America.
  • In New York the number of CSAs has increased exponentially from 13 in 2000 to more than 100 today.
  • Nationwide, there are 12,549 CSAs that exist as of 2007, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
  • This expansion has also impacted the variety of farms that are involved in CSA programs to include poultry, beef and dairy products.

History of Just Foods in New York City

  • Founded in 1995 under the new New York City Sustainable Alliance
  • From the beginning the mission was to make food more visible
  • Initial focus on conversations with stakeholders about food system.
  • Goal to provide platform for communities and people to take action.

Relationship Between Farm and Core Group

  • The relationship between the farmer and CSA core group is based on respect and built over time via multiple conversations/interactions.
  • Each site has one to three liaisons that are responsible for regular maintaining regular conversations with the farmers.
  • Frequent communication is very important important for expectation setting, since the CSA participants are sharing risks with the farmer.
  • Farmers often have limited access to technology, such as broadband internet access, which means that email is their primary digital communications channel.
  • Experienced CSA farms often create weekly, or bi-weekly, newsletters for distribution to their CSA members (sometimes this is done by the CSA core group).
  • Farmers and CSA members will always have slightly opposing perspectives: the farmer wanting to maximize profit while CSA members looking for value.
  • On the positive side, consumers who are involved in CSAs usually value many service attributes above price.

Difficulties Associated with Young CSA Organizations

  • Finding the right CSA/Farm partnership is often difficult. Organizations such as Just Foods help in this matchmaking process.
  • In order for a partnership to work both of the stakeholders need to feel comfortable and confident about their partners.
  • New CSA members often have difficulty changing their mindset from focus on immediate gratification to focus on planning around what is in season.
  • Farmers who are new to CSAs often have difficulty with the diversity of crops that they are asked to plant, and the relationship/communications requirements.
  • Usually, when the relationship is younger there are more planned events such as trips to the farm (as CSA member want to acquaint themselves with new partner).

Best Practices from Successful CSAs

  • Core group that consists of several people taking on roles such as farm manager, finance manager, site manager, communications manager, etc.
  • Support for CSA members with information regarding foods from share. For example, what should be eaten first along with sample recipes.
  • Often the more successful CSAs have a newsletter and website, though communications are in no way limited to these channels.
  • The organizers and managers within a CSA often receive free shares from the farmers.
  • One challenge faced by CSAs that want to serve diverse communities is the management of the financials.

Current Challenges Facing CSAs

  • Most CSA organizers and members have day jobs, therefore, they often feel overwhelmed by the amount of work required.
  • This is especially true of CSA organizers that are not supported by a core team that can help divide the responsibilities.
  • The demand for CSAs, and locally-grown foods, has increased considerably in the last several years. This demand has been hard to keep up with.
  • Finding a farmer that is willing to service a CSA can be difficult, though it is becoming increasingly easy due to support of organization such as Just Food and the success achieved by many CSA farmers in the last decade.

FarmBridge & My Inspiration

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Recently our team from Design Expo came to agreement on the community with which we want to work for our social service design project. We choose to devote our efforts to support local food communities in New York City. Everyone on the team has a different motivation behind wanting to partner with this community. Here will share why this choice was meaningful to me.

In a broad sense, over the past couple of years I’ve been nurturing a new relationship with food and having a slow realization about the complexity, importance, and dysfunctional nature of our food system.

New Relationship with Food
In the last year I have started to appreciate the power of food from a cultural standpoint. This began when I was inspired to learn how to make several of my favorite dishes from back home, Brazil. The process of learning to make these dishes, and then the experience of cooking something that is meaningful to me and sharing it with friends and loved ones has changed my relationship with food.

In a similar way that music is a channel through which I often connect with friends, food is also a channel through which I connect with my mom. Now-a-days, when I visit my parents I always get one or two cooking lessons from her. In traditional Brazilian fashion she cooks almost everything from scratch. When I make these foods in New York from scratch they make me feel like I am being cared for.

Dysfunctional Food System
My concerns about our food system have developed over the last several years. This process has been slow, the first step catalyzed by Eric Schneider’s infamous book, Fast Food Nation. Though this book had only a moderate impact on an immediate level, it did put food-related issues on my radar.

More recently, I have read several books for one of my classes that focuses on systemic issues facing our society. The problems with our food system is obviously a pivotal one that is directly or indirectly mentioned in all three: The Shopping Our Way to Safety by Andrew Szasz, Expose: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products by Mark Schapiro, Shaping Things by Bruce Sterlling.

The problems with our foods systems are numerous. Here is a brief rundown regarding some of the main issues we need to address:

  • How can we change people’s relationship with food. Food does not play a central social/communal role in our society. Values such convenience and low-prices often trump other considerations and there is little to no connection between urban communities the consume food with the rural communities that produce them.
  • Lack of availability of fresh and healthy foods in many urban areas, especially poor neighborhoods. This problem is often coupled by an abundance of fast food in the same neighborhoods leading to obesity and other health problems.
  • Big agriculture’s laser focus on profits with little regard for health, sustainability or cultural impact. For example, the rampant centralization of production to reduce costs and price, without any concern for the associated environmental and social impacts.
  • Disrespectful and unethical treatment of small farmers by big agriculture, especially in regards to genetically modified seeds. Currently, many small farms who depend on growing organic products are having their crops infected by genetically modified genes from neighboring plots.
  • Personal health risks associated to eating foods that may be contaminated by potentially harmful chemicals that have been used as pesticides or for other purposes. These types of chemicals are often found much further afield than where they are used due to absorption by water and other elements.

I am the first to admit that I still buy apples from Washington state, and lettuce from California (not to mention the occasional fruit from Chile). I also have not eliminated fast food, nor cut down on my addiction to soda. I am now working to understand the impact that I have on my community on a local and global scale so that I determine how to live in a more sustainable manner.

My goal is to play a part locally by supporting communities that are already working to ensure that a more balanced approach can be found. Like most things in life, the solution for this problem will involve finding the right equilibrium. Our current approach is definitely not right, it will continue to reduce our options.

We need to make sure that small farmers are not wiped out, that all crops don’t end up containing genetically modified genes, and that the toxicity level of our lands and water does not reach unhealthy levels. These are all systemic issues that can only be addressed through increased participation by concerned, or at least interested, citizens acting on many different levels.

Enough preaching from me. This is pretty much it, why I was inspired to work with my team on this project.