This work is the result of a 14-week collaboration between a variety of community partners involved in the Chicago food ecosystem. Designers began with the challenge of developing infrastructures to support the goals of the Good Food Purchasing Program; over the course of the semester, the challenge evolved into an attempt to define the most equitable and sustainable system for the movement of nutrients throughout Chicago. Designers gained an understanding of the complex challenges and assumptions that underlie the current food system in the United States through site visits, secondary research, and prototyping; they eventually identified five areas in the current system where intervention is likely to have a high impact: production, distribution, procurement, consumption, and disposal.
This report outlines sustainable solutions designers believe could create systemic change at these points, transforming the food ecosystem of Chicago from one in which low prices and mass quantities prevail to one focused on collaboration and justice.
1. SCALING PURCHASING REQUIRES SCALING PRODUCTION
Finding locally grown food to meet local demand is challenge shared by all the partners; the resulting competition for local produce can only be alleviated by scaling local production.
2. A NIMBLE, FLEXIBLE SUPPLY CHAIN IS A RESILIENT SUPPLY CHAIN
Food systems are incredibly complex, and it can be difficult to transform deeply embedded processes and relationships. A supply chain that optimizes for flexibility and fluidity will be more resilient to sudden changes in the macro context.
3. COLLECTIVE IMPACT CREATES COLLECTIVE GAIN
The GFPP has the potential to increase its impact by fostering individual involvement, in addition to institutional participation, through collective purchasing (e.g. cooperatives). This would shift some power from producers to consumers, empowering citizens to demand higher standards of nutrition, labor, sustainability, animal welfare, and local food.
4. SMALL CHANGE LEADS TO BIG CHANGE
By facilitating grass-roots development, local businesses and communal stakeholders are able to leverage new technologies and infrastructures in service of large-scale change.
5. YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
A food system designed with the ethical, environmental, and cultural dimensions of eating in mind restores food to a position of centrality in individual and communal development.
In April 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, an Idaho farmer was forced to consign tens of thousands of pounds of onions to decompose in trenches—all because customers are no longer buying onion rings at restaurants in dense urban markets, such as New York and California. We continue to witness the innumerable shortcomings of the mass-production paradigm upon which the current system is built. Even before COVID-19 laid bare the limitations of our global supply chains, our work sought to address the known blindspots of an industry designed to compete on cost alone, ignoring issues of equity, accessibility, quality, nutrition, animal welfare, and fair labor. Such categorical oversight represents the backbone of what the GFPP value system and policy attempts to address. But policies alone are insufficient. We need new markets, behavioral incentives, modes of production, governance models, distribution systems, and infrastructures. The proposals we offer represent achievable micro- and meso-level interventions in service of macro-level paradigm shifts. As such, they are intended to expedite the development of new methods of production, distribution, procurement, consumption, and disposal of food.
We propose four macro-level paradigm shifts:
1. from standardized, mass-produced offerings to made-to-order, small-scale batch-based offerings.
2. from opaque, rigidly optimized global supply chains to transparent, agile forms of distributed production.
3. from subsidizing single-source calorie-rich foods (e.g. dairy, refined grain, meat) to cultivating crop diversity among nutrient-rich foods (e.g. vegetables, fruits, fish, and whole grains).
4. from conceiving of the choice of healthy, nutritious as a premium offering to a mainstay of ethical and culturally enriching eating practices. Defining the Problem
Defining the problem:
The American food system is one of the most advanced in the world. But partway through the 21st century, we are just now beginning to reckon with its systemic weaknesses, which include inhumane treatment, unfair markets, unequal access, unsustainable production, and wasteful consumption.
As the Good Food Purchasing Policy (GFPP) rolls out and expands across the Chicago metro area, design presents unique value in envisioning the infrastructures needed for its sustained success. Designers took a non-linear, prototype-led approach to explore and respond to the social, cultural, natural, political, manufactured, financial, digital, and human implications of the proposed infrastructures, and envision and experiment with alternatives.
SYNTHESIZING SYSTEMIC FEATURES
After 12 weeks of prototyping, the team synthesized common features into six high-level systemic requirements:
These abstract concepts were then explored through situated actions tied to GFPP goals, which form our system of solutions.
SYSTEM OF SOLUTIONS
FROM POLICY POLICE TO SELF-GOVERNING SYSTEM
As it stands, GFPP is a policy compliance framework, leveraging the buying power of large actors to drive systemic change. Expanding on this existing model, we envision a future in which GFPP goals are embedded into a structured marketplace (i.e., a platform or set of platforms) in which not only buyers but also suppliers are encouraged to engage in transactions of mutual self-benefit. Intelligent systems facilitate the flow of relevant economic, environmental, and consumer data, allowing for greater agility and flexibility for suppliers. The use of blockchain injects trust into the system. Both lower barriers of entry to local entrepreneurs and cooperatives, while the application of real-time scoring systems around GFPP compliance enable the marketplace to drive toward socially just practices that facilitate the distribution of nutrients to undernourished areas. A hyperlocal focus encourages a fragmented, albeit coordinated and resilient, system of supply to move nutrients where they are demanded.
How to distribute the power of market governance throughout this system remains a topic of some debate. Policymakers, procurers, and suppliers large and small, clearly, all have a stake in the metrics of compliance.
As a result, we envision that a balance of power between these different actors will be maintained through tiered blockchain-enabled permissions, enabling all involved throughout the supply chain to participate.
COMPLIANCE PROFILING & SIMULATION FORECASTING
In aggregate, profiles of compliance (screen 1) would enable governance stakeholders to identify patterns of success among individual or collective actors in the system according to the five GFPP values. Contrarily, the dynamic system would allow for shifts in incentives to counterbalance the natural ebb and flow of demand for a particular GFPP value (e.g., workforce) in order to continually push system participants toward compliance on all five values.
On a complementary note, simulation forecasting (screen 2) would enable one to assess the implications of large-scale behavioral shifts (i.e., "variant") or stress test the resiliency of the system against a hypothetical or forecasted threat (i.e., "emergency")— whether it's an unforeseen global pandemic, like COVID-19, or a predictable trend, such as rising temperatures due to global warming.
Localizing Food Production
Increasing the supply of food available within Chicago through a network of local, urban farms is a sustainable way to offset the negative impacts of food transportation. These farms would provide meaningful, equitable work for those living in historically disinvested communities while repurposing the city's stagnant brownfields. Connected, intelligent systems lower barriers-to-entry, all while monitoring nutrient quality and environmental sustainability.
SMARTER PRODUCTION PLANNING
Organizing outputs from hyperlocal producers to support community needs and institutions is critical to our envisioned infrastructure. To foster local supply, we must encourage system participation through low barriers to entry and de-risked enterprise. By embedding soil and light sensors on each lot, smarter profiles can be built for each farm down to the individual bed. With visibility into the system modeled demand projections (provided by institutional smart contracts), farmers can create custom plans that specify the type of crop to plant, where it should be planted, and when the plant should be harvested to support peak demand within the area.
Farmers embed RFID sensors into their lots, establishing infrastructure that trace local food supply from farm to fork. The product view (screen 1) communicates the initial entry point of the crop or product into the system. When farmers enter new crops to the system, it records their production timeline. The farm view (screen 2) shows local producers a snapshot of their products through the supply chain. The city view (screen 3) incorporates data from all active producers, distributors, and retailers. This dashboard indicates the flow of produce throughout the system and highlights new scans that occur within the system.
Flexible, Traceable Distribution
In service of a fully accountable supply chain, packages are tracked throughout hyperlocal modes of transit. End users verify their order arrived as expected and contribute knowledge to the network. Transactions are supported by smart contracts that allow individual actors to join the ecosystem.
Vendors keep track of their inventory and real-time GFPP scores through the smart contract platform. The vendor profile is tagged to each purchase order, enabling dynamic feedback.
CREATE PURCHASE REQUEST
Purchasers input their order, desired quantity, and sourcing parameters (single vs. multiple suppliers). Their GFPP preferences are integrated directly into the purchase request, indicating the threshold scores required on each of the five GFPP values.
REVIEW VENDOR BIDS
Purchasers are presented with vendor options that meet their desired quantity, price, and preferred GFPP scores. In this example, collective purchasing allows the purchaser to achieve more of their GFPP goals by bundling several vendors together. The platform's machine learning component learns purchasing preferences over time to make the best recommendation for them.
Once a purchaser accepts the vendor bid, the smart contract is complete. Funds are dispersed automatically according to the agreement. All this activity is captured in a blockchain ledger associated with the specific order.
By understanding what foods people want to eat, farmers and suppliers can be better informed of what to grow. Likewise, people can investigate the source of food to make better-informed choices. Food consistently not consumed is also noted by the system, enabling a shift to alternative options.
People can personalize their meals to suit their cultural-, lifestyle-, and taste-based preferences. More choice allows for more flexible meal planning, so foods don't need to be selected based on their ability to be scaled to hundreds of meals per day. This opens the door for more locally prepared and balanced meals.
A QR code label on the package makes the food traceability information accessible to consumers. People can discover the journey from farm to table: the ingredient and nutrient breakdown, a 3D tour of the farm responsible for production, and the history of culturally relevant recipes.
Managers and operators can monitor downstream waste generation to target upstream sources, manage their waste disposal methods, and construct potential waste recovery strategies by evaluation that is provided by this software based on GFPP standards.
CONTROLLING WASTE BINS
Based on waste evaluation and existing waste management methods, this control pad helps organizations manage their smart trash bins. Bins must be diversely purposed in order to handle various kinds of waste and to predict potential waste disposal methods. This ensures that different waste can obtain maximum value later in the waste stream.