Small Farm to Food Insecure: Matching Needs with Surplus

January 2021, GSD J-Term Workshop

Instructors: Kira Clingen, MLA/MDes’21, Tessa Crespo, MDes ’20, and Amy Thornton, MDes ’20
Zoom Link:
Max Enrollment: 12

In the late winter of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic threw the United States into a state of chaos an acute dual and contradictory crisis caught our attention. Due to the closing of institutions and restaurants, farmers across the country tilled under crops and poured milk down the drain, unable to sell their goods. Simultaneously, the percentage of the food insecure rose dramatically. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, it was estimated that 1 in 11 Massachusetts families or 9% faced food insecurity. Due to COVID-19, that number increased to 38% according to Project Bread President Erin McAleer. Aware that food surplus and food insecurity was already existent; we were still stunned by the magnitude during this crisis. How was it possible that food was thrown away while so many did not have enough to feed themselves?

As designers, we believe our skills can serve the challenges faced by small local farmers and the food insecure in New England, exacerbated by COVID-19, climate change, and other crises yet unknown. However, we know our answers must come from those already engaged in this work otherwise assumptions made are not only arrogant but irrelevant and inapplicable. Thus, we interviewed small farmers, institutional food producers, distributors, Food Bank employees, gleaning organizations, food skills educators, and food shelf volunteers to discover from those doing the work of growing, distributing and consuming the food where successes and challenges lie, to amplify the work already in action, and discover where change is best made to collectively create solutions. Through these interviews we found that the COVID-19 crisis amplified broader, long-standing issues within our food system such as the stranglehold of large food distribution companies, the challenges of storage and timely transportation, the difficulty in providing nutrient-rich fresh food to the food insecure, the insufficient crop yield and time of harvest data for small farms, and the undervaluing of fresh local food, the small farm, and skilled food work.

This course will be one 3-hr session starting with a discussion period about how scale and distance impact the design process, especially in regards to rural, agricultural landscape, followed by a short lecture on our key findings and the ways in which we believe designers might help. We will then hold a collaborative sketching and brainstorming session and come together to share and critique our concepts and ideas to move forward.

Date Mon, Jan 4
Time 9am – 12pm