Reflections on F5://Food!

Refresh GroupIt’s not every day that local food and agriculture experts team up with technology and business professionals to work collaboratively on food system issues. A couple of weekends ago that’s exactly what transpired at F5://Food (Refresh Food) in Wolfville, NS, where over 50 professionals gathered for a 48 hour “idea lab” to design creative solutions to current Agri-food challenges.

It was an interesting (and inspiring!) two days to say the least. On a snowy Friday evening, attendees were invited to “pitch” their savvy food idea to the larger group. There were 17 ideas presented, ranging from consumer driven apple breeding projects, to a matchmaking service that links visitors with local farms and businesses. Through a vote, we narrowed it down to 7 projects, and by the end of the evening, we were down to five.

Over the course of the weekend, teams dissected the issues, problem solved, and applied technological and new media solutions. At any given time, a number of business mentors and industry experts were circulating the room to offer guidance and realistic feedback.

team workThe team I worked on was looking at food distribution; specifically, the development of an online platform that would both leverage and optimize the current food distribution network in Nova Scotia.

We’re faced with big challenges in food distribution across Nova Scotia, in that the majority of our current system is monopolized by a handful of key players, and this is coupled with limited infrastructure that is often poorly coordinated and underutilized. As a result, small and mid-sized producers and fishers have extremely limited accesses to existing and new markets, or simply can’t get a fair price for their goods. Without more options to process, package and market their goods, these producers are unable to reach a growing demand for sustainable and traceable food. We could spend a great deal of time trying to solve these issues, but our team just had two days, so we came up with this:

An interactive, web-based platform that creates a network (or a series of small networks) of producers and distributors, that can be used to identify and develop transportation routes. Users pay a monthly subscription fee to be a part of the network, and user profiles would allow individuals to connect internally through a messaging system. Routes become sortable through lists by geographic area, and visible via an interactive map. Essentially, the network serves as a way for distributors to post existing networks, and producers to propose new and enhanced ones.

presentationThat’s the summary, but the most critical part of this whole experience was the rich conversation, the intense mix of passion and innovation, and the real desire for collaboration.

And of course, there was a “winner” of the event. On Sunday afternoon, each of the teams presented their ideas to the attending audience, as well as a panel of three judges. They had some key criteria they were looking for (such as strength of the team, and potential of getting the idea off the ground), and the winning team was awarded $1000 cash, and another $1000 in kind support. Unfortunately our team didn’t win, but we did get People’s Choice!

peoples choice

Written by: Aimee Carson, Community Food Coordinator

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