Note to IDEO: This concept is same as the ones entitled "Connect Local Food Vendors with Inner-City Schools," and "Get Your Vegetables at Lunch Break," except for the additional idea at the bottom, which details a website which would facilitate this idea. I and Krassimira Iordanova found similarities between our ideas, so we have submitted this new concept as a collaboration.
Access to local, fresh, organic produce is often correlated with elite, over-priced, and often difficult-to-reach Farmer’s Markets. However, the energetic, efficient food and vegetable vendors of the developing world show us that local, organic produce does not have to be difficult to bring to the masses.
The low-income residents of food desert, Detroit, Michigan, similar to low-income residents of other cities, are forced to rely on the expensive, unhealthy selection of food at convenience stores. There are no chain supermarkets in the city, and few residents can afford to drive to the suburbs to buy fresh produce. Also, even if fresh produce were available, many families do not have the time, knowledge (how to cook), or tools (pots, pans, etc) to make healthy food.
So, an approach bringing fresh produce to inner cities must be multi-faceted, including:
a. a convenient, safe location to buy produce.
b. affordable prices
c. raising awareness about the importance of good nutrition.
d. tools (cooking classes, pots/pans) to make healthy food.
We can create collaboration between local vendors (local farmers/urban food entrepreneurs doing urban farming) and inner-city schools. Vendors will sell their wares outside schools when parents are picking up their kids, making it convenient for over-worked parents to buy fresh produce and raising awareness at a family level.
Simultaneously, vendors and other community members will host cheap cooking workshops for middle and high school students in school kitchens, in order to bring fresh food, cooking knowledge, and a deeper understanding of food systems into homes. Students will pay a nominal fee for all ingredients and the workshop, and then bring the food home to their families. Students themselves could be empowered to host or co-host these classes.
This collaboration between vendors, schools, and other community members will:
- Lower the price of the produce by keeping it local (low transportation costs), simplifying the packaging and presentation (since they will not have to pay for a market stall and branding, as they might in a Farmers’ Market), and increasing demand (since produce will reliably be bought weekly for cooking workshops)
- Foster food entrepreneurship. Linkages could be made with microfinance institutions to help new entrepreneurs. We could possibly empower women that work part-time to start a food business as another source of income.
- Allow vendors to become a part of the fabric of the community and move hearts and minds toward good nutrition.
- Allow students to be the conduit to bring food knowledge to their families, and conversely, family and ethnic recipes to other students.
- Engage students in constructive activities after school and bring parents into the conversation.
- Allow buyers to interact directly with growers and hear their stories.
The collaboration between vendors and other community members could take the form of a cooperative that shares the costs, risk, and profits of the venture. Throughout the process, the cooperative could target teenagers by making fresh produce trendy. (For example, attractive reusable shopping bags would be environmentally sustainable and catch the interest of young people.)
I am combining my idea (above) with Krassimira Iordanova’s idea (below). Krassimira’s idea is to create a website connecting the vendors selling fresh, local, seasonal produce with the inner-city schools (as well as companies in the inner cities.) The main points are bulleted below:
- Set up a simple webpage that is created and hosted by the local government of Queensland. [Note from Nilima: The government may have to be involved in facilitating initial connections between schools and vendors and get the program off the ground.]
- Vendors register for participation by filling in a simple form, submitting a short description what they produce and how they produce it. They mention their price range [Note from Nilima: If it’s expensive, perhaps the government could initially subsidize the produce until demand picks up?]. The vendors enter possible weeks they would be available to sell their produce (depends on the seasonality of what they produce).
- Schools (and companies) register to host the local markets. The schools provide the space, having the incentive to foster healthy communities. The vendors bring their own equipment- stalls, boxes, etc.
- Schools (and companies) can invite local vendors or local vendors can send requests to schools (and companies) if they would be interested in visiting. Based on the schools’ needs in terms of timing, vendors that are coming from outside the city would be able to plan their traveling schedule to the city.
- Information about which school is hosting which vendors in a given week could be made available in a calendar that is available to everyone: schools, employees, parents/grandparents/nannies who go to pick up the kids from school, etc.
- I can also imagine some kind of vendor rating- employees and parents can rate vendors on the webpage.