The team opted to tackle the issue of environmental sustainability through the use of embedded technology. We identified industrial farming and global food supply chains as a key cause of the disconnect between humans and the natural environment, the source of food production. The absence of viable alternatives to large retail chains and the lack of transparency in food production practices masks the environmental impact of our food shopping behavior. Consumers cannot make informed food choices and face significant challenges if they try to adopt more sustainable food habits.
Our solution addresses the unsustainable global food industry from the bottom up. It is conceived as the most effective way to solve the tangible obstacles facing the local food economy with embedded technology. Food production is one of the biggest contributors to climate change and environmental degradation, (Eat Local, 2007). Food security concerns mount as rising oil prices and population growth put increasing pressure on land resources to meet food and energy needs. A resilient local food economy is the most sustainable way to feed the local community and also engages and educates citizens in the transition to sustainability.
We propose a scheme called “SmartBarrow”, which supports local food production and consumption in Lancaster through the use of smart technology and food provenance. Using a simple hand-held device, local food producers upload product data directly to the SmartBarrow website when fresh produce is packed and ready for market. The farmer prints a QR label which is stuck on every food crate making provenance information available to the shopper at point of sale. The website also showcases the location of fresh produce in real time. Local shoppers see which local produce is available and where they can buy it.
Long-term Development opportunities
Initial implementation costs are estimated at £20,000 although much of this expenditure is offset through labour and resources offered in kind within the SmartBarrow community. The impact of stage one is such that by stage 2 (years 4-10) we envisage the following expansion:
- Local food cooperative – An integrated network for food producers to sell products, share resources, sell wholesale and maximise distribution logistics.
- Local food hub – An online one-stop shopping site and a physical marketplace where local food is sold on a permanent and daily basis.
- Open food community – Online and offline interaction between shoppers, sellers, farmers etc through shared recipes, tips, reviews, and local food activities.
- Loyalty schemes for food mapping and data mining.
By making the supply chain visible, consumers can actively change their purchasing behavior. Local consumption is expected to achieve economical (local investments), social (formation of a community of practice) and environmental (support of more small scale, location sensitive farming) benefits for local communities which lead to increased resilience. The scheme follows the philosophy of the Open Source community and is easily scalable and implementable in other locations.