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HEART BRAIN FARM - (Updated-Model making process- Red worm and SBF : 10.13.2016)

The main objective with Heart Brain Farm is the creation of a zero-waste community.

Photo of Mehrafza Mirzazad
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Circular economy framework in food system design

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Deconstructing the current food system

Each of us must eat in order to survive. Food is one of our most fundamental biological needs. Humans are omnivorous and can obtain food from a variety of living systems.

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Before the Industrial Revolution, human beings adapted to nature, consuming what nature provided for them. With the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent emergence of larger cities and more advanced technologies that it enabled, human diets changed dramatically. Food has become more than just what we eat daily. Technological advances in agriculture, branding, media, advertising and pricing all influence contemporary human eating patterns. Pollan writes “The fact that we humans are indeed omnivorous is deeply inscribed in our bodies, which natural selection has equipped to handle a remarkably wide-range diet”. However, the biology of most of the food found in US supermarkets today is comprised of a very small number of plants, such as corn and soybeans. “For the past 50 years, U.S. farm policy has been increasingly directed toward driving down the price of farm commodities, including corn and soybeans.”

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In this millennium, the economy is driven by linear consumption culture. The business model is product and money-oriented and food has been commoditized along with other mass-produced goods. As in other industries, the linear culture (take-make-consume-throwaway) has penetrated the food market. “In the USA, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month.” Such wasteful habits have devastating environmental effects. According to Georgia Griffin, all of this food waste is sent to landfills, where it then generates greenhouse gasses equal to produced by two million cars annually.

Furthermore, processed foods account for a major share of the food market and a full 70% of American’s diets; meanwhile, 85% of Americans cannot afford to buy vegetables or fruits. This reality helps explain “where man lost his way and ended up on a path to obesity, diabetes and heart illness.”

According to the organization State of Obesity, rates of these chronic diseases have doubled over the past twenty years. These diseases are associated with lower productivity in the community, job and school absences, and “42% more for direct healthcare cost.”

The commoditized linear food system does not sustain a balance or harmony between production, consumption, and nature.

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Slowly and surely we are killing ourselves and our planet. There is no away left!
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Circular economy framework

The circular economy framework is based on creating values. The business model is based on use and is result-oriented. Capitalist products play smaller roles and the values (sourcing, environmental, customer, information and labor values) are emphasized instead. Sharing experiences and services within the community is also a key element of this system. Harmony exists between nature, community, industry, economy, and (on a wider scale) humanity in general.

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Reconstructing the food system based on Circular economy framework- Heart Brain Farm:

Heart Brain Farm applies a circular economy framework to a food system. It is designed to transform the current food retail store (commodity-based) to operate on a circular pattern (community/service-based). With Heart Brain Farm, the consumer is directly involved in the production of food, and receives credits and discounts for her/his contributions to the system.

Heart Brain Farm’s users collaborate with local farmers by supplying them with organic, healthy, and free resources. This eliminates the need for costly fertilizers and other products that currently render organic produce impossibly expensive for many people.

The Organic fertilizers have a higher cost per unit of nutrient than synthetic fertilizer sources which make the crops price higher.  Synthetic fertilizer would be cheap but it has a long-term negative effect. It kills all the beneficial microorganism in the soil and “Nitrogen- and phosphate-based synthetic fertilizers leach into groundwater and increase its toxicity, causing water pollution.”

Furthermore, most farms add hormones to animal feed, which in turn creates health risks for people who eat the resulting meat products. The cost of organic food for these animals makes organic protein very expensive in the retail store.  

Heart Brain Farm User Experience

The main objective with Heart Brain Farm is the creation of a zero-waste community. In Heart Brain Farm’s food retail model, users’ purchases are placed in paper pulp shopping bags made from the community's paper waste. This shopping bag then turns into a garbage bucket for organic kitchen waste. The customer disposes of any leftover food in this bucket. The user then returns with the bucket to the retail store and donates the kitchen waste to the system. Heart Brain Farm then transfers this waste based on the

user’s wishes, which are articulated through a convenient application. This application is modeled on the Farmville computer game, which is currently the highest rated game of its type worldwide. People enjoy planting and growing food in this virtual environment. The Heart Brain Farm system allows users to “play” with their own kitchen waste and in turn, help to produce real food.

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There are two main circle systems in the application: black flies and red worm circles.* Based on his/her diet, the customer can decide on the journey of the bucket.

  1. Black flies emerge, mate and die. Each time they go through this life cycle, they create 200-500 eggs in one bucket. These eggs then turn to larvae, which eat the kitchen waste and become mature. These larvae are wonderful protein sources for pigs, fish, and chickens. In the end of this circle, users are awarded credit or discounts for eggs, chickens, fish, or pork products.
  2. Red worms break down kitchen waste, transforming it to fertilizer. The fertilizer can then be transferred to local farms. In the end of this circle, users are awarded credit or discounts for vegetables, fruits, roots, or grains.

These 2 circles create resources for farmers while reducing prices on healthy food in the community. Using natural methods of transforming kitchen waste to food resources is slower than the technological methods applied by today’s commercial farmers, but red worms and black flies duplicate easily and can therefore be conceptualized as a sustainable resource. These two living species are also highly sensitive to chemical materials. They react and die if there is chemical contamination in the bucket. This helps to ensure that the farming materials that they produce are safe and will support the growth of healthy plants.

Heart Brain Farm supports the maintenance of a healthy community while reducing the price of organic food. This, in turn, helps to reduce the costs of healthcare. Moreover, everyone in the community would know where their food came from and because they are involved in the processes of production, the amount of wasted food would decrease.

Butterfly diagram

*Two main circle systems:

Black Soldier flies and Larvae

“Insects as food and feed emerge as an especially relevant issue in the twenty-first century due to the rising cost of animal protein, food and feed insecurity, environmental pressures, population growth and increasing demand for protein among the middle classes.” In most of the countries these edible insects are forbidden for human. “Recent high demand and consequent high prices for fishmeal/soy, together with increasing aquaculture production, is pushing new research into the development of insect protein aquaculture and poultry.”

Black Soldier Flies Larvae (BSFL) are best alternative for animal feeds, “fly larvae can convert low value organic materials into protein and fat.”  In 1959, three researchers, Furman, Young and Catts made the first contemporary studies about Hermetia Illucens or in another word Black Soldier Flies (BSF) and their larvae. They are from Stratiomyidae family and commonly found in tropical areas. “ As adults, the BSF does not possess a stinger, nor do they possess a mouthpart or digestive organs to allow them to consume waste( BSF main energy sources is the fat which remain from Larvae stage.); therefore, they do not bite either.” According to Sustainable department Ph.D candidate Shwe Sin Win in Rochester institute of Technology, this is one of the reasons BSF die in 5-8 days.  

Red worms

“As key representatives of the soil fauna, earthworms are essential in maintaining soil fertility through their burrowing, ingestion and excretion activities. There are over 8000 described species worldwide, existing every- where but in Polar and arid climates.”

The earthworms are working as a sensor to the ecosystem. “They are increasingly recognized as indicators of agroecosystem health and ecotoxicological sentinel species because they are constantly exposed to contaminants in soil.”

Eisenia fetida, well known as red wiggler or compost worm is a species of earthworms family. In most of the countries, these worms are sold commercially for composting and fish bait.  According to Jim Robbins, a writer in NY Times, Red Wigglers compost called black gold for growers.


  1. Michael, Pollan. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, n.d.
  2. Heather, Schoonover, and Muller Mark. “Food without Thought How U.S. Farm Policy Contributes to Obesity,” n.d.
  3. “United Nations Environment Programme, Regional Office of North America.” Food Waste: The Facts, n.d.
  4. Georgia, Griffin. “Leftovers--Into the Trash or Kitchen Disposal? Essential Answer,” n.d.
  5. Kai, Ryssdal. “Processed Foods,” March 28, 2013.
  6. Latetia, V. Moore, and E. Thompson Frances. “Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations — United States, 2013,” n.d.
  7. Michel, Montignac. “Montignac Method.” Official Web Site of the Montignac Method, n.d.
  8. “The Healthcare Costs of Obesity.” The State of Obesity, n.d.
  9. Natasha, Gilani, and Media Demand. “The Effects of Synthetic Fertilizers,” n.d.
  10. Arnold, Huis, Itterbeeck Joost, Klunder Harmke, Mertens Esther, Halloran Afton, Muir Giulia, and Vantomme Paul. n.d. “Edible Insects Future Prospect for Food and Feed Security.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation.
  11. Gary, Burtle, Newton G.Larry, and Sheppard D.Craig. “Mass Production of Black Fly Pre Pupae for Aquaculture Diets.” University of Gorgia
  12. R, . Rozkosný. A Biosystematic Study of the European Stratiomyidae (Diptera). Vol. 2
  13. Haeree, Park. “Black Soldier Fly Larvae Manual.” University of Massachusetts- Amherst
  14. Mehdi, Pirooznia, and Gong Ping. “Cloning, Analysis and Functional Annotation of Expressed Sequence Tags from the Earthworm Eisenia Fetida.” BMC Bioinformatics, n.d.
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The challenge: How to change a community’s behavior

One of the challenges in this project is changing people’s behavior, routines, and norms. A linear system has penetrated almost every part of modern life. This linear system introduced convenience culture, which generates enormous amounts of waste and ruins our natural resources. Drawing from the theory of change, new and more sustainable approaches can be used to improve human behavior.
The system of change has several different levels: personal, social, and political. My plan is first to change the individual’s behavior and norms. After that, social change will follow, as behavioral change is contagious. The behavioral changes of individuals and communities will change demands, ultimately forcing companies and distributors to respond.

I use different methodologies to address this challenge:

1) I use the Consequence Model of creating change (Heath and Heath 2010, 153). This approach means that if people know about the benefits of change, they will gain satisfaction through the pursuit of change in their lives.

2) I also draw upon Gamification and Game Theory methodologies (Acaroglu 2016). By developing a smartphone application, people can be encouraged to play with their kitchen waste as a way to maximize the effectiveness of their participation and to enhance the experiences of the wider community. Gamification creates motivation, enhances pleasure, and increases success, and at the end of the game individuals (and the wider community) will be rewarded with a discount on healthy foods.

3) I lastly apply Slow Education to the educational toolkit I am designing with two different target groups: First, the toolkit helps designers to apply a circular economy approach during their design thinking process in order to maximize the value of the materials and resources that they use, and also to encourage them to think about the bigger system rather than just the individual products. Second, the toolkit helps families to adopt the circular system in their daily lives to minimize their carbon/slave/waste footprints. The Slow Education will help to educate both the community and designers and to lead them to deeper learning.  

  1. Heath and Heath. 2010. Switch. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
  2. Acaroglu. 2016. UnSchool Disruptive Design Workshop, 15-18 July. New York, NY.
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Field survey

I made a trip to a red worm farm in Upstate New York to find out more about how these farms are working. The farm, called WORM POWER, is in the college town of Geneseo, NY. Ted Miller gave us a tour of the farm. He started the tour by explaining the raw materials used for red worm compost. He mentioned that the waste of cow manure in a farm close to their facility is roughly the same amount as that of the town of Brighton, NY per year. They use three different materials in the first phase of compost making. Cow manure, which they buy from a neighboring farm, corn plant waste, and worm compost (worm compost behaves like a yeast in bread). They mix these three materials together and leave them in big reservoirs. Then they add air and heat for couple months to get rid of CO2 and bacteria. They give this mix to worms to add their waste to it. He mentioned the nutrients content amount in the mix before redworm is half of the nutrients content after worms in the same mix! The consistency of the quality of output in this facility is very important for them.

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I highlighted a few "AHA!" moments during this trip:

  1. During our conversation related to the three materials that are mixed, he mentioned corn. Corn, again, is in the cycle of organic compost. I asked him if they used organic compost to grow this corn. The answer was that the organic compost was prohibitively expensive for farmers. They generally sell it to golf clubs or organic berry farms. For growing corn they use chemical fertilizer. This means thet they are adding chemicals to the soil in order to produce corn to turn it to organic fertilizer!
  2. He also mentioned they send their fertilizer to Los Angeles and Seattle. Their organic fertilizer is expensive to beging with and shipping costs further raise the price. However, organic producers in different places do not care that much about these costs because organic food is pricy
  3. He mentioned that the grocery chain Wegmans offered to donate their food leftovers for compost production. The facility did not accept it because of two reasons: 1) Different fruits in different seasons create different qualities in the compost, which would mean that there would be no consistency in the outcome, which would go against their policy. And, 2) They would need to get a permit from a waste institution which is very long and complicated process.
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Claudia Kessler

Lives in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul

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Dear Claudia,

The paper pulp shopping bag is designed from the community's leftover paper and the detail on the edges of bag helps the user flip the edges to close it. This prevents the smell from coming out of the bag. Here are some photos demonstrating how the paper pulp shopping bag works.

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Jim Kuras

Lives in Rochester, NY, USA

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Dear Jim,

Your feedback was definitely helpful for thinking about the behind-the-scenes parts of the project. I have to think about how all participants in the system interact, such as communication between farmers and sellers. I have to think about how to convince sellers to buy from farmers who are working with soldier back flies and red worms. 
Also, what is the best way to bring kitchen waste from a kitchen waste collection center to the farm? 

Gurpreet Minhas

Lives in Gurgaon, Haryana

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Dear Gurpreet,
Thank you very much for your feedback! Comparing Western and Eastern cultures is a productive and helpful way for me to conceptualize the system from a different perspective. Heart Brain Farm is not only useful for Western cultures to repair their broken food systems but may also be useful for countries in the Global South that seek ways to cultivate cheaper and healthier foods. I have researched many examples of worm farm in Africa which help families create rich soil for agriculture. These were family-scale examples which helped maintain organic and fresh diets for family members. My goal is to expand this approach to something sustainable at a community level. 

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What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I have already been experimenting with this idea. Over the past several months, I have kept a red worm bucket in my apartment for composting kitchen waste. I use the compost in my university-provided garden plot and during the summer I harvested vegetables from it to donate to homeless shelters. Now, my family members are also using red worms at home. Furthermore, RIT's Sustainability department has started to feed the kitchen waste of our university to black soldier fly larvae in their lab.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Collaboration with the OpenIDEO team would help me to reach more people and to educate them about circular economy on a community scale. Also, collaborative design thinking with the OpenIDEO team would help me to identify gaps or shortcomings in my system design.

Tell us about your work experience:

I recently started my own design thinking group, which is called Heart Brain System. The group focuses on designing with a deep awareness and understanding of our own biases. We emphasize empathy as the core value of all of our design solutions. We apply the theory of change and circular systems thinking to our work. I am the creative director of RIT's Title IX-sponsored Yes Means Yes campaign. I have also worked as an industrial designer since 2008.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

How far along is your idea?

  • It was in the works before this challenge – it’s existed for 2-6 months

How would you describe this idea to your grandmother?

Hi, Grandma. The circular system is inspired by living systems in nature. Every system's end is another system's beginning. I am trying to apply this natural harmony to our food system. Our food leftovers can be used as food for redworms. The result of their waste products can be used to improve the soil that we grow our food in. There is no beginning and no end, just a cycle.

How is your idea unique to the space?

Heart Brain Farm is the first circular, playful, interactive, incentive-based, and transparent community food system. The system promotes healthier living while demonstrating the sources of food to the community. The simplicity and transparency of each step of the system helps the participants, both consumers and producers alike, to maximize interactivity during the process.

Who needs to play a role in your idea in order to make it successful?

1) Software engineer to design the application and create the connections between the app, farmers, producers, distributors, and customers 2) Red worm and soldier black fly farming expert 3) Agricultural engineering expert 4) Paper pulp manufacturing expert 5) Sustainability scientist to measure the impact of the system 6) Sociologist to measure the impact of the system on communities 7) Farmers 8) Accountants and lawyers 9) Community-based users

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

I will collaborate with scientists working at RIT's Sustainability department to learn how much nutrition can be created by kitchen waste. I will work with sociologists to determine the rates at which a community improves its diet by using Heart Brain Farm. I will measure how much the donation of kitchen waste to the system reduces farmers’ production costs for organic food.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

I plan to first apply this idea on a small scale in my community. I am working to create toolkits for communities and designers to apply a circular system approach toward food and other elements of daily life. I am also planning to present my design ideas to Wegmans, the largest grocery retailer in the Rochester, NY area.
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Team (5)

Mehrafza's profile
Mert's profile
Mert yıldız

Role added on team:

"I know Mert from my Undergraduate degree university and he is very eager to work on "Design for social change" and I think this is a great project to collaborate with him."

Aslıcan's profile
Aslıcan Aydın

Role added on team:

"Aslican helped me to see the business side of this project with her comment. I started to work on the business plan of Heart brain Farm after her feedback."

SHWE SIN's profile

Role added on team:

"I know SHWE SIN Win through my experiences with Soldier Black flies and Larvae. She is Ph.D. candidate at sustainability department at RIT. She is mentoring me during this project."

Serpil's profile
Serpil Karaoğlu

Role added on team:

"Serpil is a very good friend and designer who is an expert on User experience Design."


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dimitri

Hi Mehrafza,

Great idea to reduce food waste with intriguing pictures/animations. I'm wishing you all the best for this idea!!

Photo of Mehrafza Mirzazad

Hi Dimitri,
Thank you very much for supporting Heart Brain Farm. 

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