N.I.C.E.’s Nice Advice

With both our first major event and the completion of our new Freedge prototype quickly approaching, we would like to take the opportunity to reminiscence on how we got to where we are now. We had the privilege of receiving the think-tank advice of NYU’s Net Impact Collaborative Experience (NICE). NICE is a highly inclusive consulting group aimed at advising startups and social ventures in a way that is both inquisitive and informational. Through their questions and answers to our questions, we have gained tremendous insight into some of the challenges that we might encounter, solutions to already existing issues, and altogether new, innovative ideas. At our meeting, we focused primarily on marketing, outreach, and user experience.

The exuberant group we met with provided a lot of insight into our graphic design. With their suggestions, we took an introspective look into what aspects of our current graphic design works and what doesn’t, noting that at first glance it is impossible to grasp our sustainability and affordability goals from just our project name and logo. This jump-started our redesign efforts. The first step was to rebrand. Project Avocado would remain as our team/organizational name and “Freedge” would become the title and descriptor of our refrigerator prototype. The much more intuitive and understandable name comes from our new friends over at UC-Davis, who created the Freedge brand also aimed at reducing food waste, but on a much larger scale. We also discussed ways we could improve our recognition – through an overhaul of our logo and motto, as well as the inclusion of plenty of info-graphs, a storyboard, various hashtags, and catchy phrases; in a cumulative and cooperative effort of the NICE group inspired the slogan “SHARE. ACCEPT. CONNECT.”

We also looked into how we might expand our audience and resources: distributing flyers, seeking partnerships and collaborations, expressing and spreading the need for sustainability and food security, acquiring additional food-space for other NYU facilities through company sponsorships and abandoned dorm mini-fridges, and acquiring additional food-resources through obtaining the surplus of farmers markets and free-food club events. The NICE group even highlighted specific NYU facilities that they felt might benefit most from our system, once we are ready to expand into additional locations.

NICE also helped us formulate a breakdown of how we would like our user experience to be with our system. Their advice allowed us to complete the transformation of our system from something that required manual labor and many, many sticky notes to a semi-automated system fully equipped with a touchscreen that allows the user to input food type and allergen information simply and easily –  eventually, along with a camera that provides a live broadcast of what is in the Freedge. The user experience was refined through hypothetical simulations of what the user experience would be like for varying degrees of automation. Ultimately, we gathered that near-full automation is ideal until we achieve the availability of resources necessary to hire students to manage refrigerators around NYU’s campus. This alternative will be less cost-effective than one that is autonomous, but having a Freedge ambassador present could allow the system to also build an engaged community around the Freedge – a goal that was encouraged and emphasized by the good people at NICE.

The group picked up on our initiative immediately without much prior information.
We are grateful for all the advice we received from this tremendous group.

Please feel free to check out their Facebook page and follow NICE for upcoming events, as we highly recommend it.

City Harvest Donates More Than Just Food

With our tech prototype coming together better than we could have hoped, we set out to settle our uncertainty around the legality and liabilities surrounding food sharing. If a generous student decided to share a peanut granola bar, would that student be liable if a peanut-allergic student accepts the granola bar? Essentially, we needed to be certain that any food sharing with harmless intentions would be met with unconditional support from the community (as well as legal support). Without any previous grasp of food laws, we sought advice from City Harvest, the widely-known “food rescue” agency based in NYC; noting the thoroughness and success of their enterprise, we safely assumed that they undertook such an investigation as the one we would have to undertake with our own, incomparable resources. With their help, we were able to confirm definitively that any and all participants who have chosen to share food and have done so without negligence or intentional misconduct are not liable for damage incurred as the result of someone accepting the food. City Harvest presented this information in association with Feeding America, a similarly-intentioned nonprofit, citing The Bill Emerson Food Donation Act and a portion of New York State Law which protect those who wish to share food. The federal Act is the 1996 affirmation of colloquial Good Samaritan Laws, which have popularly been used to protect generous people from unintended consequences, but have not until this Act been implemented concretely into official, permanent law. According to the enactment of:

Public Law 104–210 on Oct. 1, 1996

110 Stat. 3011

104th Congress

“A person or gleaner shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the person or gleaner donates in good faith to a nonprofit organization… A nonprofit organization shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the nonprofit organization received as a donation in good faith from a person or gleaner”

This definitively protects both those who wish to share food and us, facilitating the sharing. The only exception outlined in the law is if the ‘unintended consequence’ of sharing food is actually intentional and

“results from an act or omission of the person, gleaner or nonprofit organization, as applicable, constituting gross negligence [defined as “voluntary and conscious conduct (including a failure to act) by a person who, at the time of the conduct, knew that the conduct was likely to be harmful to the health or well-being of another person”] or intentional misconduct.”

The cited 1981 New York State Law (Article 4-D, Section 71-2) doubles down on this protection, stating that

“a good faith donor of any canned or perishable food or farm product … shall not be subject to criminal penalty or civil damages arising from the condition of the food … unless the donor has actual or constructive knowledge that the food is adulterated, tainted, contaminated or harmful to the health or well-being of the person consuming said food.”

 

Along with settling our legality and liability concerns, City Harvest aided our selection of food-inventory organization categories (based on food type). These categories are detailed below along with the parameters of “Unacceptable Conditions” that we will borrow from to form our own food sharing standards.

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Project Critique Event

October 7th marked the first DFA Project Critique, it provided a platform for our team to share our ideas about Project Avocado and report the progress of our team. We received invaluable feedback from the audience, our team  mentor Hannah Berkin-Harper and DFA faculty mentor Prof.  Anne Laure Fayard. 

Our success in May’s prototype and the Green Grant on our side, the enthusiasm and thrust to achieve our dream of a food sharing community has been propelled three-fold. With a bigger team and even bigger ideas Project Avocado showcased its plan for the future at the Project Critique. With an action plan about utilizing the fridge donated by GE and the cupboard downstairs at the Green-house of 6 Metro tech and making it accessible to students, the team broke down their presentation into the following chunks:

  1. Smart-fridge
  2. Cupboard
  3. Enabling Technology

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The team orchestrated their combined power and dedication towards achieving the food sharing dream. But with great power comes great responsibility. Our presentation attracted a lot of fruitful questions form the audience and a meaningful discussion with our mentors.

The troubles that come with this project are that of any endeavor that involves the management of food capital over human capital – as any supermarket owner would agree – you can ask an employee to work overtime, but you can’t ask an apple to rot any slower. So, we must develop a long-term system that is as automated as possible that can keep track of expiration dates and the likes. The system is simple enough writing on sticky notes the expiration dates of items stored, checking ritualistically the freshness of the refrigerator’s contents, as the initial prototypes were; however, we see more potential than that. The process of automation is twofold: prioritizing what needs to be automated on our end to maintain something self-sufficient and determining what needs to be automated at the consumer’s end to ensure a low barrier to entry. Then of course we must task ourselves with developing a system that incorporates both ends of optimization symbiotically.

We must also concern ourselves with food safety and food preferences. Having a surplus is a great sign for combating hunger, but it is a bad omen for food waste prevention. If more food is deposited than withdrawn consistently, the food that would otherwise be wasted will be wasted anyway. Developing a demand-based supply will help combat this dilemma, along with maintaining a strong variety of foods for preferences and allergens. Keeping a flow of gluten-free, vegan, kosher, halal, and various allergen-free foods will both that food safety is maintained for the consumer and that the demand is met but not too far exceeded. Along with a strong variety, we must also maintain branding and promotion that attracts more of both supply and demand.

Great ideas to build on: incorporating a social texting aspect to the Project informing people about the food available each week in the fridge were some of the great ideas from the enriching audience all gathered at the Event-Space to give valuable insights.

All and all it was an enlightening event that gave our team direction. A huge thanks to Hannah Berkin-Harper and DFA faculty mentor Prof.  Anne Laure Fayard and the wonderful audience and fellow DFA teams for their insightful feedback. Unfortunately we were so busy in our discussions we forgot to take a snap of our story board which was literally the fullest in the room with a bunch of feedback. Resembling like the one below:

 

storyboard

Thank you all for reading this post & remember if you have food to spare, remember to share! Project Avocado is the way to a food sharing community!

 

 

 

 

 

OpenIDEO Challenge on the relationship between humans and food

Recently in mid July 2016, OpenIDEO brought up the following challenge:

How might we dramatically reduce waste by transforming our relationship with food?

This challenge focuses on obtaining solutions to different kinds of food based problems that we face locally and globally. In a previous OpenIDEO meetup which was organized primarily by Sushma and me, called “Designing more sustainable food systems“, we had four teams define four different kinds of problems, and each of them tried to get innovative solutions to those problems.

This particular OpenIDEO challenge, is very important to Project Avocado. This is because when the challenge was in the early stages of being announced officially, had become one of the main inspirations behind the conception of of Project Avocado.

Currently, the challenge is in the research phase and getting many contributing posts on human-food relationship. Very soon the ideation phase will begin and the participants will have to post ideas to solve those problems.

And Project Avocado is undoubtedly a solution to this problem!

Ignorance at the NYU Grad Alley 2016

This post is off the topic. But it has to do with the sustainability of food and community building at NYU; this happens to be a major part of what Project Avocado is supposed to represent. I did not know if I should have posted this, because it happened about a month ago, on May the 17th, 2016. However, I decided to write a note on this, because of the vision of Project Avocado.

NYU hosts Grad Alley each year. This year, it was better and more fun than ever. What better place for food to be other than a fair-like event. A multitude of companies had set up booths and tents, showcasing their food products. Where there is food, there is also food waste. But NYU had taken care of it, through the Green Team, a set of volunteers, recruited by the Office of the Sustainability.

I was a part of the Green Team, which was in-charge of taking care of the garbage and recycling. Since there was prior knowledge of the foods and the kind of containers they were inside, the garbage was divided into three sections: Mixed Recycling, Compost, and Landfill. The image below shows the details of how the food was to be sorted.

Grad alley reycling

There were 6 recycling stations, each of them being manned by two or three volunteers. We were stationed at one of the extremities of the grad alley, and naturally, we had to be vigilant, so that each piece of trash went inside the right bin. One of the amazing things I observed was that, when someone threw the garbage inside the wrong bin, they were mindful and tried to take it out, so that they could put it inside the correct bin. But there were ignorant people as well.

The reason we were stationed at the bins was so that the wrong trash was not inside the wrong bin. The second reason was to create awareness about sorting trash and recycling. It was really nice to see that people care about recycling, and I would like to think that our goal was achieved… Mostly.

Now for the twist in the story:

How is it that when free things are given, people don’t care, even when they are in need? I could not believe when I saw people throwing away containers of unopened food into the trash! Wait, what? Why would one throw away packets and containers of food, when  they are not even opened? I can understand that many might not like to eat raw fruits and vegetables, people might be allergic to nuts, there might be plethora of other reasons. But is it too difficult to take them with you when you go back home, and if you don’t like them then give it to someone? I mean, they are completely sealed off and won’t create a mess on your hands. And, if allergies was a reason (or not), then there was always an option to not take something. Well, there is no point in ranting about this, because the Green Team did what we had to do… And actually, a bit more.

As and when we saw someone throwing away unopened and packed food, we grabbed it and put it inside a bag. There were six recycling stations. The following picture shows the amount of food saved by our station. Imagine how much all six stations were able to save!

Food saved at the 6th station

Of the kinds of foods I saw, the pretzels were the most discarded after just one bite or none. The ice cream boxes were the ones that were mostly empty.  It was decided that the saved food be given to the homeless. Kudos to the green team for doing an exceptional job!

Green Team Pic

First Prototype Showcase

On the 6th of May, 2016, all the projects which were a part of Design for America NYU held a Project Showacase, at the GreenHouse Innovation Space (which sadly, is not in the basement of 6 MetroTech, starting from the 2016-17 academic year). I was busy with the term projects and Exams (and let’s say that I was also busy relaxing during the week after the exams. This is the life of a student, I would like to think), and finally found the motivation to type a post.

Most of our work during the prototype event day was shown. Everyone liked the idea of a “Community Fridge”at various locations at NYU. I do not want to brag about that evening, because it was mostly a fun get together where we had an opportunity to show our work throughout the semester. The following Photos say so.

Of course, there was food (Surprise, surprise!). But the amount of food was actually way too much for us to even take back home. Since our idea at the Project Critiques, (we take back home, the foods leftover with us using small ziploc bags), the team has been making sure that all DFA-NYU events with food do not have leftovers at the table. But this time, we had a banquet of Middle Eastern cuisine, and some other vegetarian food including salads and a giant bowl of shred lettuce. This time, we took back with us boxes full of food (not ziploc). Yet a lot of food remained.

But not on Emma’s watch! She made sure that all the remaining food was neatly placed on a nearby table so that passing students could take the food with them. We also left containers and ziploc bags for students to take any food they wanted with them. One of our DFA member, Parth had an idea to put a message on a closed facebook page which tells about the events with free food to students. This was an awesome idea. Within minutes, students came from all over the campus. The table was empty within the next hour. And one of my favourite part of the day was when a student grabbed the big bowl of untouched lettuce and started eating it while sitting on a sofa at the GreenHouse.

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During the following days, we had the table open for students, and many used it to keep food there and others to take that food with them. The semester ended well and we helped to save a lot of good food from going to waste. We are going to begin working on a newer prototype from the upcoming term.

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In the next post, I want to show something horrific during the Grad Alley event at the Washington Square Campus of NYU. Well, I was exaggerating a little bit, but it was sad to experience what happened there.

The Prototype in Action

It was an interesting Wednesday, Starting from 10:00 AM, Sushma, began setting up the prototype. Students just had to write their names and NetIDs, if they had brought some food to share.

I joined a bit late because I was at the LaGuardia studio. When I reached, it was as though none of our promotion “stunts” had worked. That was a bit upsetting. But it was also true that few students had shown interest and had brought some food. Of course, with a lot of expectations, both Sushma and I had brought food to share as well. And Emma showed up a few minutes after me. But she had brought quiet a lot of food to share.

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We had, for the sake of keeping it simple, divided the food types into four categories: Home cooked, take outs, packed, and produce.

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All kinds of food was brought to our table, when it was just over noon. They included pasta, rice, beans, lentils, granola bars, instant noodles, instant mac and cheese, instant coffee powder (a lot of instants here ☺; shows how busy being a student is), salads, bread, cranberries, broccoli etc. (well, I have forgotten a few more)

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What did we learn from this prototype?

About 25 students had shown interest and participated. Seven had brought food to share.
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Since we received the netids from the students, it was possible for everyone who received food to show their gratitude. Some of them instantly sent an email of appreciation; I was there when that happened.

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Things that I observed

One student wanted to take only a few of the cranberries of the lot (we gave him a ziploc bag)
There were students who took raw foods (I mean produce) and one of their reason was because they could cook. Others did not want to take them, because they did not know how to cook.
No one had brought home cooked food. I don’t know the reason behind this, but I know that it takes a lot of time to cook food at home.
Students are reluctant to write things on paper, because they would rather scan their IDs or press a button.
Many students took an interest in reducing food waste and learning about Project Avocado (this one’s a bonus☺)

Most conversation were had with Sushma and Emma, because I was busy with the “card swipy thing”, used to give two hours of credit for taking and three hours for giving food.
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The photos speak for themselves. I think that this was a great event. It makes me happy because students did not hesitate to share food or to take food from other students. There wasn’t a lot of food that remained at the end of the day.

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Are we getting closer to building a stronger NYU community?
I’ll say we are one step closer. Because this event has given us many great ideas to work on… What if we had a sharing fridge?

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TL;DR: We can build a stronger community of students, while reducing food waste at NYU!

p.s., As of now, Project Avocado has 3 members: Sushma, Emma, and me.

I’m looking forward towards the prototype showcase…