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Project ELF (Education, Local, Food)

Project ELF is designed to deliver a sustainable business model for personalized healthy food solutions at a local level through education

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Government

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

• The Green Bronx Machine – Stephen Ritz: Will provide the Hydroponics Curriculum for Schools. This is currently being used in 20 states in the USA and 5 countries.Handout with details is attached in the application. • Enactus USA teams – Our team works closely with other chapters of the Enactus USA. This would help us disseminate our solution to other communities as a part of our scalability strategy. We currently have working relationships with teams in Kansas City, MO; Billings, MT; Syracuse, NY; Charleston, SC. Fort Atkinson (WI), Chamber of Commerce – This is a partner for our pilot project that we would like to launch in Fort Atkinson, WI • La Union Language School in Antigua, Guatemala – While the focus of our program is in specific locations in North America, we plan to conduct a test of our solution through our partners in Guatemala. Besides a dire need for our solution in this community, it also requires a minor twist to our model, which is an important experiment.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater:

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Whitewater, Wisconsin

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

• Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin • Milwaukee, Wisconsin (South Side)

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We have focused and selected two places to pursue our Vision. Fort Atkinson, WI was picked because our project lead lives in that community for 20 years and has watched the community face the issues discussed in our project. Also Fort Atkinson, WI represents thousands of similar communities in the USA that could benefit from this model. While there are unique characteristics of the community the underlying fabric is similar.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Fort Atkinson community is filled with those who both have pride and love their town. This stems from the community-based facilities available whether it is in the summer supporting the Fort Atkinson Generals baseball team or meeting at the local Frosty Freeze for ice cream. In terms of food, there is little variety. The old saying “1-dollar beers, cheap brats” during the baseball games pretty much encapsulates the community’s spirit.

Much of what the community does revolves around the schools and specifically high school sports and events. They are always thinking about the kids and education, which makes it unique. The role of agriculture is huge in the community, and there is a split between families that grew up in a typical rural setting and those that are within the “city” that have zero to minimal experience with agriculture. With the decreasing interest in farming, as well as the need for adaptation in the farming industry, many of the rural industries in the area (dairy, beef, etc.) are running into trouble. The hope of the community and the pride of the community is in the school system and the students. They represent the families here, and if a child from that family does well there is a legacy that is established.

The south side of Milwaukee is a different situation. In 2010, Latinx made up more than 70% of the Historic South Side's population, and African-Americans constituted another 11%. The relative handful of Polish Americans who remain are older adults too deeply rooted or too poor to move. Almost overnight, in demographic terms, the neighborhood has completely turned over.

South side of Milwaukee is considered urban, but somehow still keeps that classic “Wisconsin city/town” feel. However, within the city proper you see clear signs of industrialization, neglect and city life. As is typical in Wisconsin, the winters are harsh and the summers are fairly hot, with everything moderate in between. The social dynamics and culture are largely impacted by the fairly prevalent Latinx communities.

The area (as defined by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation) is considered to be an “economically distressed” area. However, this means there is clear opportunity, especially to make a difference with the right vision. The diet of the community is largely based on fast food with grocery stores shutting down. This is becoming a health epidemic and the area is NOT filled with healthy, readily available, organic, and fresh food.

There is a massive opportunity for both food education and nutritional literacy in this community. The health of the community will benefit, and the job opportunities will increase, helping with the declining rate of employment in South Milwaukee. Our team has been working on a small-scale version of our project with a local predominantly Latinx school with incredible results. In 2018 the state of Wisconsin has already awarded us the Ann Lydecker Education Diversity award. But our goal is to have a much bigger impact on the community and develop a truly sustainable solution that can empower the community to take charge of their destiny. It all starts with education and food.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The biggest issue facing both these communities in 2020 is the lack of vision for the community. Given the tough situation with jobs and the general economic downturn, things are spiraling downwards every day. Here are the specific current challenges we considered:

Consumers and communities do not understand their food – how it is grown, how it reaches them, what infrastructure is needed and how it impacts them and their families. (Environment, Diets, Culture)

Lack of access to fresh, healthy food. Cost is also a factor. Fast food becomes the order of the day from children to older adults. (Diets, Economics)

Food used to be a time for family and community bonding but now its seen as a hassle or inconvenience. (Culture, Economics)

Because food is traveling great distances to reach consumers across the country, this has a domino effect on the planet because of the infrastructure requirements, cost issues and other related items. The Food Map on the SecondMuse website presents all the dimensions clearly. This impacts the community because the food is now loaded with preservatives, chemicals (which also cause run offs into the water system), water usage, and the big one, food waste. (Policy, Technology, Economics, Environment)

Another key challenge is the difficulty in finding food that is personalized to “you” given your health requirements. Organic and specific food requirements may be achieved but at a great cost. (Diets, Economics)

These communities are depressed all the way from the community level to personal level. The solution must address these issues but must tough on three values: (1) Empower the community (2) Deliver a solution that is tied to a sustainable business model and (3) Enables the community to adapt and move forward to 2050. However, there are a few future challenges to keep in mind:

  • The technology might change dramatically over the years and the proposed solution must account for it or be left behind. This goes hand-in-hand with changes to consumer tastes and lifestyles.
  • Water issues will continue to be a major factor as we move towards a future state. This will have a bearing on the solution. Though our solution uses less water – almost 5-6% of current water used for traditional farming.
  • Infrastructure costs will have to be considered – building upkeep and making sure that all technologies and systems are funded in an appropriate manner

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Trends and assumptions that drive our vision:

· Consumers do not understand food, source of food, and delivery. Our Green Bronx Machine (GBM) education program engages the students and community to participate in growing and maintaining its own food source. This has been successfully implemented by our partner Stephen Ritz in multiple communities.

· Current (fastest) rising food trends are home food delivery such as Home Chef and Blue Apron. A big reason for this trend is consumers lack time. Before emergence of such options, food take-out or restaurant delivery was the norm. Online and mobile app ordering is the trend. We leverage this trend and add personalization as an added feature. Now consumers can receive fresh delivery of produce and groceries that are packaged for their particular meal from a fresh local source. This also implies less food waste.

· Given the health epidemic in our community the community needs to work together to solve and develop a sustainable solution that balances people, planet and profit. The Community Center(s) where the food is grown is a gathering place. In addition, the business model will allow workers to gain “credits” for food helping them reduce their monthly cost.

· Food infrastructure is under tremendous pressure but there are opportunities to reuse large retail and grocery spaces that are sitting empty in such communities. Each of these buildings offer a protected ~36,000 square feet of space that can be used for hydroponics and aquaponics, which, when combined with vertical farming, is an effective way to grow food. This uses less water, almost no chemicals, and can be grown throughout the year, even during the severe winters of Wisconsin.

We believe our simple but elegant solution can achieve the following clearly measurable outcomes across each of the six themes.

· Environment – Reduce transportation costs, reduce chemical run-offs, repurpose assets (infrastructure) and directly reduce food wastage.

· Diets – Meal orders based on personal health and taste needs. This is healthier and by partnering with the local + regional healthcare system it enables a proactive approach to food consumption.

· Economics –A more educated community, jobs, and community economic development. By implementing a model that charges on a monthly basis it enables the provider to reduce risk. Expandable and easily replicable.

· Culture – Community and family impact, may enable families to find more time to have meals together leading to a healthier lifestyle.

· Technology – Several technology items can be included in this model including energy and water management.

· Policy – The stakeholder approach is to include various constituents in our vision to enable the community to take a holistic approach to the solution. The local city or town is part of the solution working closely and enacting policy to help support the community.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Perhaps the best approach to conveying the high-level vision for the place and people will be to address it by one person at a time:

  • Students: The children/students in the community will be healthier and be better prepared for jobs that require science and math. They will also be able to contribute directly to their community through volunteer work, which teaches them work ethic.
  • Consumers and families: This solution will directly and indirectly impact families by creating an environment where food is not viewed as an issue but is actually creating a healthier lifestyle through personalized meal management. This human-centered solution truly gets to the heart of the social structure.
  • Stakeholders: Key stakeholders that are currently struggling such as the chamber of commerce, local farmers, the city and townships and regional hospital, can all benefit from this project given the holistic approach taken to solve the problem for the community.
  • Place: The reuse of large buildings and jobs in the community brings back a vibrant community and with it the place is a “happy” pace to be. Key resources such as water, energy and infrastructure are preserved for the future generation. The ability to leverage new and emerging technology is possible in this design.
  • Community: Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this solution is that the community is empowered to take charge of its own destiny. They are not dependent on food sources across the country and instead are able to create a thriving local community that everybody participates.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The key to our Food Vision 2050 lies in changing the fundamental fabric of the two communities we have selected.

We achieve this by first implementing an education program (GBM - Green Bronx Machine) based on hydroponics that has been proven to achieve multiple outcomes:

  • First, it provides the students with an understanding of food and also helps them develop a respect and relationship with food. They start to make better choices and this leads to healthier lifestyles.
  • Second, the curriculum is used to help them learn science and math in a far more effective way. Our partner has demonstrable outcomes that support this assertion. By the way this also provides them community with extremely well-trained workforce.
  • Third, these students start to impact their families – parents and siblings begin to get involved and this radiates out to the entire community.

While implementing the education program we also work with the city, the chamber of commerce, the hospital and the farmers in the community to start converting the large retail, grocery, or even malls that are sitting vacant in the region. Each of these is converted to a community center with the main goal to use hydroponics and aquaponics to serve the local community food needs.

The business model to support the community center is to invite community members to pay a monthly fee for personalized meal delivery plan similar to Home Chef, Blue Apron, Freshly, etc. Consumer trends show that these are becoming super popular and people are not necessarily interested in groceries and to cook from scratch. The model will allow consumers to purchase grocery items in the traditional way but we believe that the trend for packaged meal items will continue to grow. People will still cook their meals but all the ingredients and items are packaged for that one meal. Also, the personalization will allow consumers to modify their meals based on personal health needs. This also has a significant impact in reducing food wastage. An interesting twist to the model would be the volunteer program. Students and families willing to work at the community center to help grow the food, package it, and deliver it will receive credits towards purchasing their own food. This enables some of the lower income families to participate in eating healthy food, that everyone in the community has access to.

The community center will be used to teach adults skills for this new Food Vision and to participate in a productive way. For the entrepreneurial individuals, there will be programs to help them launch similar initiatives in other communities.

Policy issues to help support this vision will be provided by the city in consultation with the local or regional hospital. The goal of these policies will be to create a healthy community, use resources such as energy and water in the most optimal way. The final stage of this effort is to empower the community in a way that this vision provides a regenerative and nourishing food future for the people and the place.

Below we are also providing some of the major impacts for each of the themes outlined in the grant. We have discussed this in a previous section but we have provided greater details below. We believe we are taking a very holistic view of the future and our model could work in multiple communities.

  • Environment – Reduce transportation costs associated with trucking food across the country, reduce chemical run-offs since our process does not use chemicals, reduce pressure on current and traditional resources for growing food, reuse assets in the community (empty buildings) in a productive way and directly reduce food wastage because of the meal on demand local approach.
  • Diets – Meal orders based on personal health and taste needs. This is healthier and by partnering with the local + regional healthcare system it enables a proactive approach to food consumption. Personalization is the key to consumer satisfaction and this ensures the future of our business model.
  • Economics – There are too many economic benefits to list but here are the key items. This starts with a more educated community, jobs, and community economic development. By implementing a model that charges on a monthly basis it enables the provider to reduce risk and have a sustainable business. The impact on the community including health benefits and quite significant. The empty buildings that are usually an eyesore will now become a vibrant space where the community gathers. This model can be expanded and replicated easily in other communities, including globally. We plan on phase 2 to launch a version of this project in Antigua, Guatemala since we have partner eager to work on this project for their community.
  • Culture – Community and family impact is significant and may enable families to find more time to have meals together leading to a healthier lifestyle.
  • Technology – Several technology items can be included in this model including energy and water management. We have mentioned self-driving vehicles and drones for delivery as an example. These would all be local with minimal footprint but those decisions will be made as technology evolves over time.

 Policy – The stakeholder approach is to include various constituents in our vision to enable the community to take a holistic approach to the solution. The local city or town is part of the solution working closely and enacting policy to help support the community.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website


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