Food Security, Food Sustainability, Local Food availability, Supporting small farmers

Sometimes, you can’t see the pumpkins for the trees


I’m still looking. But, as with any wicked problem, you need to refine and rephrase the problem as you go. I’m now working with the City of Richmond and Richmond Food Security Society, funded by VanCity Envirofund to look at the feasibility of a food hub in Richmond. But it presents some interesting problems.

Food hubs in Western Canada haven’t often worked well, at least the few that have been tried. There are a number of hoops to go through and failure is the best teacher. With the help of experienced food distribution expert, Darren Stott, I’m talking to farmers again. But the questions are different. We’re avoiding saying “food hub”. The question isn’t, “can we make a food hub work”. The question is, “how can we make distribution and sales easier for smaller mixed-crop farmers so that they can make a decent living”. I’ve talked to some keen folks, and I’ve talked to some who are dog-tired from trying to push the same rock up the same slippery slope.

What we hope to get is the answer from the farmers themselves. And whatever answer it is, the farmers need to embrace it and own it and make it work. We’re aiming for next steps come November.

If you see my pumpkin, can you let me know where it is?


Meaning is What Matters


I challenge people for a living. I find ways to ask questions that actually matter and pursue them until I have exhausted the possibilities. Because unless I’ve pushed my clients way outside where they imagine themselves, they won’t actually be able to see their organizations in a way that is meaningful to the human beings that matter to them. And meaning is what matters in business today.

Meaning is the secret sauce that businesses need to thrive. It is the key differentiator. It’s not fluff, it is the core value. If you don’t get it right, it’s only window dressing. It’s not just for outside your company. Meaning is for every single person your company touches, employees, suppliers, competitors, government, partners….People, in general, are becoming much, much more discerning and they’re looking for authenticity in everything. Nathan Shedroff, Chair of the MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts in San Francisco taught me that “Design is the process of evoking experiences. Meaning is strategic.” Every aspect of design today is focussed on looking for and finding meaning. Meaning creates value. Meaning creates loyalty. Meaning is enduring.

You can’t make meaning up. It “is”, whether you have a handle on it or not. Anyone who knows about your organization, in any way, is out there making meaning about you right now. The most successful companies know what they mean to people and they live it — authentically.

When I recently helped a medical research organization create their brand, we started with science. That’s where they were coming from. It was about beating disease through cutting edge therapies and new methods of detection. Their function was to do three things: raise, and continue to raise funding; attract the brightest minds in their field to help them; and find the most innovative ways to outsmart the disease. The surgeons, clinicians and oncologists I met with needed to step back from science and revisit what the disease meant to the patients and their families. They needed to see what meaning their organization created for potential employees, experts, partners and funders. At a human level, what did the fight with this disease mean to these people? The process was pragmatic and thorough, but it produced a brand that was steeped in meaning that they had found. I simply helped them to do that.

Your organization could be doing, making, selling the next best thing ever, but without understanding its meaning, you’re missing your upside. Because meaning is what matters.

*Also published in The Nitty Gritty

Seeing where you live

The early fall walk

The bold one owns the trail

I am walking along a trail in Richmond this morning with two small dogs — one timid, one bold. The trail cuts a path between a railway line and blueberry farms. Wild blueberries and blackberries cushion the borders. Little thrushes and nuthatches chack at us and crisscross the trail in front as we walk. I know the coyotes are napping in the underbrush, waiting for the cool of late afternoon to see what they can scare up for a meal.

It is one of those stolen fall days, outrageously hot yet it started out two-quilt cold. The air has a slight mist that softens all the colours. The trees are tinging toward gold now. As I walk along the trail, silvery threads suspend from the trees, little worms rapelling to I don’t know where — closer to, if not on, the ground. A young mother speaking softly in Mandarin, holds a bucket in one hand while she picks blackberries with the other. Her toddler holds fast to her loose pants and eyes us with an amusing mix of suspicion and fascination. 

A South Asian man, probably about 30 years old, intersects our path with a friendly Cane Corso while he chats softly on his cell phone. We nod at each other in friendly recognition. A half a kilometer ahead, we encounter an outgoing couple with one of those German Shepherds that’s “toned down”. His back doesn’t slope so he walks upright instead of slinking. He has a robust but muscular shape. He gambols around my bold one as they test each other’s mettle (my bold one doesn’t realize he weighs a mere 20 pounds). The timid one tucks his tail and turns his back to the puppy-like shepherd. I scoop him under me to make him feel safe. As the bold one and the shepherd cajole each other up the trail, they encounter a young, blonde shepherd cross who relishes the new gang he has found and bounces around the group.

As the group disperses, we circle back heading towards the car. The bold one decides he’ll catch up with us later, following his shepherd friend in a new direction. I whistle twice, and keep walking. As I start to worry, I hear his tags jingling and he rounds the bend in full run, bearing down on the timid one and I as we head to the car. The timid one pants outrageously, clearly new to this much aerobic activity in one go. They leap into the car, and we head home. To water.


Getting off the Food Truck to Talk about Transit

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 9.34.54 PM

We need to have a chat, folks.

The political rhetoric around the Skytrain shutdown yesterday is predictable. Every hack with an axe to grind is scrapping for his or her second on the soapbox. But while we’re all churning bile, let me just point out a flaw. When people start saying we need to turn $175,000 spent on art for an entire transit system in a major metropolis back into the system to make it better, you know what I think? I think you’re a person who probably should not be further contributing to the gene pool. So put it back in your pants. If we don’t have art, music, writing and dance in our society, we will dry up and blow away, negating the need for any kind of transit, rapid or otherwise. Art and culture is what separates us from animals. Not that I don’t love animals, but left to run the planet? How is it that these things are “frills”? They are not, any more than our clothing is a frill. Art and culture make us cultured people that: live with laws, live with and tolerate each other and the things we work at and create, respect each other, respect life and generally make life tolerable day to day. You want to get from A to B in a grey, concrete tube accessed by grey concrete stairs with nothing around?

Be my guest.

Food Sustainability, Local Food availability

Image from RKS

This is a very interesting article by RKS Design CEO Ravi Sawhney. The influence of greater awareness around what we eat is certainly having an effect on the way fast food chains model their menus, but it is surface at best. The business model simply would not sustain itself if food needed to be sourced locally —or even more difficult, using non-GMO or organic produce. Read my comments on the article as well. And thank you to Ravi for these fresh ideas!

FastCoDesign: 4 Ways to Fix the Fast Food Industry


What This World Needs is a Family Meeting


We are alone. This planet is a tiny, solitary spaceship sailing through a vast black wilderness.

How we  conduct ourselves on this pebble in the abyss is a massive problem. This video, Overview, puts our place on our planet in perspective. We are interdependent and capable of solving great problems when working together. But we can and do create unimaginable chaos when we pursue our own interests and see things only from our own narrow perspective.

If you picture our planet as a small island, perhaps a mile in circumference, you may be able to imagine that someone living on the other side abusing the resources there will almost instantly impact those of us on the other side. We only have so many trees and plants, so many animals to hunt. And with one stream serving the whole island, poisoning the water up island poisons the water for all of us. The feuding over borders, resources and ideology is madness when you consider that we are using what we have faster than the planet can keep up.

Until a giant asteroid vaporizes Earth, the planet itself will survive. As a species, however, we are racing headlong for the end in short order. There is only so much to go around. In the western world, we scramble for newer and better toys that require oil, metals and chemicals to produce. We make the toys where labour is cheap — and then we use more oil and metal and chemicals to get them into the hands of consumers who want the newest and the fastest.

The collective ocean touches every shore of every land mass. We are all breathing the same air. Earth is enveloped by a thin, fragile layer that protects our species from annihilation. That layer is being damaged and there is likely no going back. We are all passengers on the same little boat. We cannot befoul one part without impacting the rest of it. Battling to conquer others over ideology, wealth or resources will leave the “winner” the last person on the Titanic.

It’s time to have a serious family meeting of our species. We don’t have time to “wait a while.” We need to start thinking like a family, instead of  like a pack of rogue gangs. It may not be possible. Human history has consistently demonstrated a pattern for one-upmanship that distracts us from minding our basic human needs. In the past, the resources were usually there to feed and clothe us once we put down our weapons or sheathed our claws. But the time is fast approaching where this won’t be the case. The planet is warming. Storms are becoming superstorms. As we now grow massive swaths of genetically and chemically assisted monocultures to feed ourselves, we run the risk of catastrophic crop failures with climate change. We have created weaknesses in our spaceship, and then continue on as though nothing is wrong.

We need to talk. Together. And soon.

Food Security, Food Sustainability

Asking for Expert Input

Small, local mixed-crop farmers are a dying breed. The average age of a BC farmer is 59 years. Despite the great urban farming efforts of good people like Sole Food Street Farms and Fresh Roots, making a living as a farmer is not sustainable under current conditions. Small farmers are not making enough money for the food they grow. They have second jobs, and the farm keeps losing money.

What that means is that we depend more and more on big factory farms growing massive swaths of monocultures to be our only source of food. Think about it. Living off chemically fertilized, chemically pest-protected food that is harvested under-ripe and shipped thousands of miles. Then think about that one virus — that one pest that beats the chemicals and thrives.

Our food supply is neither secure or sustainable.

My name is Casey Hrynkow. I’ve been working on a food project for the last 6 months called Dangling the Local Carrot. My ultimate goal with this project is to find a way to make local produce more accessible and affordable in Metro Vancouver.

I am at the point where I have begun to consider the idea of a Food Hub for Metro Vancouver. This would be a place for produce to be collected, sorted, washed, bundled and shipped out to customers. It would be a place with a commercial kitchen to use during the growing season and to rent in the off season. During that off season, farmers could come in, share ideas about the next seasons’ planting and get new training in technology and business.  If you are familiar with the planned New City Market, I see this concept as slightly simpler and, perhaps, a piece that fits with the Market. I have yet to speak with anyone at Local Food First, but will follow up this week.

As my project (at least within the Leading by Design Fellows Program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco) is drawing to a close, with a presentation due November 1, I am looking for expert input on some of my very rough ideas. If you are someone in finance, farming, food processing, food retail, food education, farm education, food wholesale, a restaurateur, a caterer or someone in government who knows about food distribution and/or farming, I would be so grateful for your input. You can find my 10-question survey here.


Copyright Bert Aldridge and Heyday, Wellington, NZ

What I hope to present at California College of the Arts on November 1 is a business model for further development (see framework below). I know that the regulation and consultation around a project like this often takes years, so I am under no illusion that a perfected Food Hub will magically appear, but I see value in it, and the dozens of experts I have spoken to this far also see value in it. So, I will proceed and hope that the planets align. As a partnership with project already in development or going it alone, I think this carrot has legs.

Food Security, Food Sustainability, Local Food availability

Farmers: The Fading Heroes of Our Age


I have been focussing on farmers for the last couple of months. Farmers are the lynchpin of our local food system. Their numbers are dwindling. Fifty percent of farmers in British Columbia are over the age of 59 years. Their average age is 55. They are under threat from shrinking revenues and almost non-existant profit margins. Local farming is simply not sustainable under the current framework.

Our food issues are massive. The players are myriad, from the farmers themselves to the geopolitical juggernaut that mandates that agribusiness and international trade trump small-scale, mixed-crop farming. This is, as I’ve said previously, a “wicked problem”. No one player or solution will be able to address food security or institutional food insecurity. That’s a term I heard tonight at Good Food For All, an open discussion hosted by Vancouver Food Policy Council at Vancouver’s Roundhouse.

There is no magic bullet for food security.

There is no magic bullet for food security. On a global level, it requires agricultural science, food science, social science, political science, and many others I haven’t yet considered. In order to feed our world, we need everyone to come to the table. To feed Vancouver, we need all of that, but with a special focus on maximizing the potential of one of the most fertile growing regions in North America, so that it serves the people who live in and around it. In a world hugely dependant on agribusiness to produce the food we eat (everything from GMO wheat to the organic mega-acres like Earthbound Farm in California) a global food crisis, where monocultures grown in great swaths of land could have the potential to be wiped out in weeks, we need to strengthen our local capacity to produce food. It won’t sustain us forever, but it will help mitigate the wallop such a collapse could wield.

If we consider the focus on ensuring that farms keep growing produce in the Metro Vancouver region, we know we have to focus on small farms that grow mixed crops. In defining “small”, I’ll stick with 2 acres to 300 acres. There are smaller, urban farms. There are larger rural farms, but to narrow my focus, this is where I have landed.

Local food production, and making sure it continues to thrive, is a battle of “relentless incrementalism”…

Local food production, and making sure it continues to thrive, is a battle of “relentless incrementalism” as adeptly coined by speaker Nick Saul from Community Food Centres tonight at Good Food for All. There will be no “great battle”, no pivotal moment. It will be committed people, pushing steadily and constantly, to ensure that farmers can live decently from their labour and feel like valued and significant members of our society.

With this in mind, I have decided on the perhaps lofty goal of making farming a more reasonable living for farmers. At this point in time, my concept is a hub. This is not a new idea, but it is a good one. If farmers own their hub; if they find profitability in it; and if that hub gives Metro Vancouver greater access to locally grown produce, my goal can be achieved.

Next step: a business model. Stay tuned.


The Design of Everything. Cusp 2013.

I attended the Cusp Conference in Chicago this week. The tag line for the conference is “The design of everything”. It came at an important time for me, when I am looking for ways to keep all of my senses open to possibility in unexpected forms. The speakers lineup was wild — from Constance Adams, a space architect with NASA, to a sword swallower, to Warren Berger, co-author of Glimmer and the soon-to-be-released A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. It was an intellectual mashup of ideas and provocations aimed at the disruption of comfortable ways of thinking. Constance Adams, for instance, talked about how the design of a closed-loop system like the International Space Station relied on not only the biological necessities but the mental ones as well. The health of the station depends on the health of those working there for months at a time. And so it is with our larger space station, the planet. photo I was blown away by Dr. Gary Slutkin, who’s work in epidemiology in Africa and around the world informed his determination that violence is actually a disease, not a social problem. It is contagious, it’s born in clusters and is transmissible in epidemic waves, exactly like the plague and cholera. He has proven this theory through his founding of, and work in Cure Violence, with unbelievable numbers showing that a reverse of the spread of violence is not only possible, but highly successful, using public health-based epidemic control approaches. GarySlutkinThese ideas and many others like them are challenging me to think beyond the expected and to help my “clients” in local farming to stretch from what they know as their limitations to see a different way to do things, a way that will make local farming a sustainable way to make a living and contribute to a community. As I’ve said so many times, big D Design is about reframing problems, about disrupting embedded ways of thinking and about finding real innovation. It is about the design of everything.