Design Jam brings big brains together to help solve food security problem

How do you connect newcomers to local farmers selling their wares? Problem solvers from all different sectors come together

  • Jun. 12, 2014 9:00 a.m.
Shane Austin hosted Kelowna's first Design Jam

Shane Austin hosted Kelowna's first Design Jam

The food system is a complicated beast.

Twenty people tackling one of its key foibles at Kelowna’s inaugural Design Jam learned one cannot cherry-pick a solution when it comes to farming, particularly to create more visibility and transparency.

The challenge set out by the Design Jam hosts appeared simple: Develop a system or technological solution to help newcomers to the Okanagan access organic and locally-grown food quickly and efficiently.

“A newcomer is going to come in having familiarity with systems that were built in their communities and it’s not necessarily comparable to Kelowna,” said Shane Austin, host of the jam.

Austin is based out of the Kelowna Innovation Centre. He founded a co-shared work space call co+Lab, and has worked in web and graphic design in engineering environments and government, and now focuses on user-experience design.

“Design Jam is sort of the weird amalgamation of all my different backgrounds and interests,” explained Austin, who spotted the trend in Europe and decided to put Kelowna on the vanguard of the North American movement.

At its best, the event-based collaboration technique breaks down professional silos, pulling in a wide variety of talent to solve a surprise problem. In it’s infancy, it can mean simply trying to define the problem, as the Okanagan participants learned.

One jam Austin used to learn addressed ways to support cancer patients through treatment. The group wound up developing a social networking solution, merging counselling professionals and people who might be able to offer an empathetic ear from within the patients’ social network in a technological format even those confined to a house or hospital could access.

The track record for farming did not produce similarly yields, but Austin believes the group learned a lot in the process.

“I think it took a whole day to really get a sense around the space of food sustainability, that it’s incredibly complex,” he said. “We really needed a second day.”

The group concluded a welcome wagon, of sorts, is likely the most effective way to draw in residents new to the area, provide information on local farmers and farmers’ markets and perhaps offer an incentive to get the new customer through the door.

Sitting in the room, madly taking notes during the final presentation, was a member of the Soil Mate team. The new tech startup  is hoping to be provide the solution to the problem through its farm-to-table social networking site.

The idea to tackle a food system problem came from the Central Okanagan Food Policy Council and Austin says the next Design Jam, tentatively set for this fall, will likely take a full weekend.

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