Coders, hackers and designers came together at the Wired for Food 24-hour hackathon at the University of Bristol Campus on 21-22 September 2012 to help transform the way we produce and consume food. The event was organised by Forum, with support from the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute, and the Ordnance Survey. It is part of our Wired for Change series, designed to inspire and engage the digital communities in the global problems we face.
The idea of a hackathon is to build networks, spread the word about interesting challenges and help demonstrate what technology can do through simple prototypes. The prototypes are not answers in themselves but rather signs of what is possible. The winning prototypes from Wired for Food are described below.
JOINT WINNER – Best solution to real problem
Challenge: How do small scale growers make their produce visible without having to jump through hoops – what is the digital equivalent of the handwritten sign by the gate?
Description: Egg sellers simply text their address to Hatchtag (020-3322-1868). This registers their location on the database and includes them on the desktop and mobile egg map for potential purchasers. The account is entirely managed via their mobile phone – further information about which products are on offer or whether they are sold out can all be managed via SMS. No smartphone, ADSL, laptop and so on is required, just a simple mobile phone that can send text messages.
Buyers can locate the nearest foods to them through a mobile digital eggmap. By visiting HatchTag on their device and clicking the phone icon, HatchTag automatically draws walking directions on a map to their nearest producer.
Implications: One of the key issues with local food is visibility. Hatchtag have created a very simple tool that does not require you to register on a website. It shows what is possible with geo-location technology combined with a simple SMS front end. The potential to build on this is endless – eggs are displayed at the moment, but the same system could just as easily handle a range of other products, and map them accordingly with their own icons.
JOINT WINNER – Best solution to real problem
Get on my land – farmers for the future (DEMO)
Challenge: 50% of farmers are over 60. We are in danger of losing a wealth of knowledge and we need to inspire a new generation of Farmers.
Description: Farmers for the Future is a resource for budding food producers of all kinds. The aim is to provide the tools and information possible to make each of the 8 steps from being interested in food to becoming a fully-fledged farmer. Each time you take a step up you are encouraged to help those in the steps below you. It inspires people to get involved, and connects people to help by providing peer to peer mentoring between the ‘stages’ of transition. It also aims to benefit farmers by providing access to labour in exchange for passing on knowledge and skills.
Implications: A key issue is that an urban lifestyle is rapidly becoming the standard for humans – since 2008, for the first time in history, more of us have been living in cities than in the country. This shift comes with a corresponding drop in the agricultural skills that we ultimately need to support us. Get on my land helps address that by leading people through simple steps from being interested in food, to becoming a fully-fledged farmer. It connects people, encourages collaboration & skills development, makes complex information easily available, and can take some of the stress out of being a farmer by providing the best information on growing to identifying market opportunities.
WINNER – Best use of OS Open data
Challenge: How can we use Tom Hunt’s Sourdough project to connect people around making better bread, and how can we track where ‘Cleo’ has gone in order to join the revolution?
Description: Tom Hunt wants to create a Sourdough revolution to counter our bad bread culture. He has a sourdough culture called Cleo which he has been passing on to friends and interested breadistas who come to events. Finding Cleo tracks where the sourdough has gone – how far as Cleo travelled, and what does the ‘family tree’ look like. It will show lines of connection radiating out, and it can help you find Cleo for yourself, along with the people who can help you make sourdough bread.
Implications: Food waste is a permanent issue, and the foods most wasted in the UK are fruit, vegetables and bread. Sourdough is not only a longer-lasting bread, but by connecting people and enthusing them with simple and satisfying food skills (baking bread) it drives a deeper engagement and appreciation for food. Plus we can all vouch for the fact that Cleo bread is delicious in its own right – having eaten it as part of the Wired for Food event meals.
Food EQ (DEMO)
Challenge: There is growing evidence that suggests that what you eat has a major impact on your emotional health and happiness
Description: Food EQ is a platform for tracking what you eat, what you spend and how you feel as a result. The aim is to show patterns highlighting how your food contributes to how you feel, and to help you work out how you might improve your diet. Its calendar function allows you to compare your diet, happiness, and spend over various periods of time (a week, a month, a year) in order to clearly reveal patterns that motivate you to make improvements yourself. It doesn’t preach, it doesn’t bully, it just makes your own inner thoughts and feelings clear.
Implications: Technology can simplify complex information. Our feelings are immediate and transitory, so that looking back it is often very difficult to remember (or experience) day-to-day, or meal-to-meal changes in how we felt. A motivation to change or improve often requires us to first experience the need for change – Food EQ does that by playing back how we felt in regards to our food, and so helps people make better food adjustments that improve their lives.
Mapping Local food (DEMO)
Challenge: Local businesses are at the heart of a community – without them, there is nothing for people to coalesce around, nothing to keep them there, and the community dies. But local businesses are also under threat from big business, often supermarket, competition. Supermarket shopping is popular for a number of reasons, not least convenience – you know what you’re going to get there, and you know you can probably get most of what you need on one half-mile walk through the aisles. But in many cases you could probably get most of what you need on a similar walk around your local businesses – if only you knew where they all were. There wasn’t an easy way of knowing this, until now.
Description: By mashing up data from Sustaination and information from organisations like the Bristol Pound a user-friendly map was created that shows where local food businesses are, and so promotes the consumption of local food by making the buying choice easier. For the first time, I discovered which local food businesses were nearby (some I knew of, many I didn’t), and it also shows me that there are many locations nearby, closer than my major supermarket, that can meet all of my food buying needs in a small area.
Implications: It is vital that we support local food businesses and, often, the local produce that they sell. This will help us to maintain vibrant communities, cut down our food-producing & food-buying miles, and reduce our dependence on imports.