The teams competing in the Urban Greenhouse Challenge#3 are well on their way. What have they learned so far? Quite a lot, it turns out. And they got the opportunity to learn even more during the virtual visit to the East Capital Urban Farm, during which they spoke to local experts and volunteers.
The Urban Greenhouse Challenge #3 is almost half-way. The quest for a new concept for East Capitol Urban Farm in Ward 7, Washington D.C., is up and running, with teams developing a diverse range of plans for the food hub. On 3 February the twenty best student teams were announced. The jurors were enthusiastic and commended the inclusive the design of their concepts, with significant social impact. ‘The twenty teams moving forward have highly-developed or nearly complete proposals’ commented Dr. Dwane Jones (UDC CAUSES), the chair of the selection committee. ‘We were amazed by the many innovative ideas brought forth’.
Within the top twenty, three teams were selected as the top three. LettUs Design was singled out for the scalability of their concept, which is applicable on the local and global level. AMS Caterpillars’ concept ‘creates a sense of place with community engagement,’ according to the selection committee. And the jurors were impressed by the design of the production facility by Mouseman Studios, ‘you just want to go in.’
The local context
What have the student teams learned so far? On their way to the top twenty, LettUs Design had to refocus on the main goal of this year’s challenge. After starting out in separate groups, they realized that they ‘ran the risk of deviating from the focus of the challenge.’ So they took a step back to develop a design vision that emphasizes social impact. ‘This meant that we are now putting the people of Ward 7 and their specific needs at the centre.’
The East Capitol Urban Farm also challenged team AMS Caterpillars from AMS Institute in Amsterdam. ‘Learning about the cultural, geographical and economic differences between the site and our own city changed our perspective since our design for the farm needs to fit the local context.’ The interviews with local experts during the virtual site visit were essential to reach a new level of understanding of the specific needs of the residents of Ward 7 and their urban food hub.
The passion of the community
One of the highlights of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge#3 was recent virtual site visit to East Capitol Urban Farm. All top twenty teams joined got the chance to learn more about the neighbourhood and the farm, by joining virtual walk around Ward 7 and talking to local experts and volunteers. This led to valuable encounters. One student was impressed by ‘the passion of the community to make a change’ after the first day of the visit.
Many interesting insights and anecdotes were shared. Chef Herbert “Herb” Holden, a local food educator, and Meagan Miller, dietician and nutrition educator at local social enterprise Dreaming Out Loud, gave an informative and complementary picture of the necessity and methodology of food education in the ward.
When asked what kept people from cooking healthier meals, Miller introduced the concept of being ‘time starved’, having too little time to care for a nutritious meal. ‘I try to keep time down in my demonstrations,’ explained Chef Holden. He emphasized the importance of convenience when educating the local citizens on healthy meals. Adding nuance to that, Miller explained that it is also a matter of confidence, which is why it’s so important to show that healthy cooking can be simple. ‘You can do it with just four ingredients!’
With these new insights the challengers are now hard at work towards the second milestone. The perspectives of the local experts and residents of Ward 7 should help them in advancing their concepts. As a member of AMS Caterpillars concluded, ‘an urban farm can be a place for social activities, education, and much more.’ It’s up to the teams to further develop those opportunities to create an urban farm concept that facilitates not just food production but also social change.
In the coming months top 20 teams will continue working on their concepts supported by coaches with broad urban farming expertise. They will join two on-line consultations days and receive training in using business model canvas and pitching. They will also make a pitch video and get support in creating on-line presence for their team. The finalists of the Challenge will be revealed on 8 June, the Grand Finale will take place on 29 June at the Wageningen Campus.