Last week the Mixing Bowl– in conjunction with Apps for Ag and the UC Davis World Food Center and Innovation Institute for Food & Health — held a multi-day event called the Solution Summit for Food, Ag & Health. As the name would indicate, the purpose of the event was to marry up the great academic minds of UC Davis– the world’s leading food science and agriculture school– with practitioners from California’s agriculture and food industries and Silicon Valley’s venture and tech scene.
The final day culminated with a Solution Summit Forum intended to inform the ramp up of the newly formed Innovation Institute prior to its open call for innovation in January. Speakers, ranging from early-stage entrepreneurs to rock star UC Davis researchers, had us reevaluating our understanding of “what is food”, “what is health”, how agriculture interplays with the environment, and what values and behaviors we relate to food.
The Mixing Bowl led a solution-focused Idea Hack on December 2nd that ran alongside the Apps for Ag Hackathon. A large number of the 100 or so Idea Hack participants were unfamiliar with “hacking” and get serious kudos for showing up and trusting us to pull off an impactful event worthy of their time.
At the Idea Hack we had representatives from UC Davis, the food industry, non-profits, venture capitalists, farming and ranching introduce four “challenges” to participants. (Slides of their challenges can be found here). They were:
1. How can California restore its Soil Health?
2. How can we get Bay Area Californians to Eat More Nutritious Food?
3. How can we make California’s Ag more Climate Resilient, using Strawberries as a case study?
4. How can we increase Food Recovery in California, using Yolo County as a case study?
Each of the participants chose a challenge to work on and formed teams. A few hours later we had 8 teams present ideas to help solve the challenges. Idea Hack participants voted for the top three (with first place getting $3,000, second place $2,000 and third place $1,000) with our winners being:
• 3rd place went to Smart Receipts who took on the nutrition challenge. They developed a concept to leverage simple explanations derived from food transaction receipts to make consumers more aware of the quantity and nutrition of the food they purchase.
• 2nd place went to The Dirty Dozen who took on the soil health challenge. They designed soil health data monitoring software (soil health dashboard) for farms and a collaborative network for soil health organizations.
• 1st prize went to Food RezQ who took on the food recovery challenge. They scoped out a solution to maximize food recovery through time-sensitive matching of food producers and processors with emergency food providers.
Expressive of the collaborative, problem-solving mood of the entire Solution Summit, the Idea Hack’s Food RezQ’s concept was actually developed into a prototype– called Crop Rescue– that won second place at the Apps for Ag Hackathon. Yolo Food Bank Executive Director Kevin Sanchez was a Food RezQ team member at the Idea Hack and then went on to advise Crop Rescue at the Hackathon. Yolo County is an abundant Ag production county, with over $800m of Ag value produced in 2014 and is home to UC Davis. 24% of its population lives in poverty and 21% are considered food insecure. As Kevin said to Solution Summit attendees, “With all that Yolo County has, if we can’t make a difference here, we’re going to have a hard time making a difference anywhere.”
The great news is that Food RezQ is donating its $3,000 hack prize money to the Yolo Food Bank to earmark the development of the Crop Rescue solution. And to top it off, the Hackathon third place finisher, Greenthumb, is donating $500 of its prize money to the Yolo Food Bank as well.
From the Mixing Bowl’s perspective this event exceeded our expectations. We were pleased to create a space for a diverse range of people to meet each other, get exposed to new ideas, and to see people open themselves up to new ways of rapid innovation. But what we found incredibly rewarding was to see a new sense of community emerge amongst the Solution Summit participants, and, through collaboration and cross-pollination, translate their energy and thought into immediate action to help solve a problem right in UC Davis’ backyard.