Filtering by Category: engagement

local food, graphic design, systems that make a difference

Added on by Erin White.
tricycle gardens

tricycle gardens

fresh produce on display in Church Hill convenience store

fresh produce on display in Church Hill convenience store

community garden in church hill

community garden in church hill

From informal sidewalk interviews:

Person A does not think there is local food around Church Hill.

Person B does think there is local food (at tricycle gardens ).

Brooke Chornyak teaches systems in graphic design at VCU, and spends a lot of time teaching food systems. Her premise, that one can learn graphic design by studying food, relies on consistent principles shared among all systems, and on the idea that the familiarity we have for food systems can effectively teach these consistent system principles, and can instill curiosity in general. All of which is important for the emerging designer because "the complexity and scale of today's design problems needs design practitioners with insightful research methods. . . Designers now and increasingly will be asked to collaborate with social policy advocates and anthropologists, cognitive psychologists, governmental and business leaders" (gdes 343 syllabus) 

A few weeks ago, I helped lead a workshop with Brooke's class on food systems, local food, and understanding food in urban settings. In a 20-block area of the Church Hill neighborhood in Richmond, VA, the class explored the presence of food in the city through photographs, mappings, interviews, and discussion. We talked about socially-driven design, about how systems can become stable and resilient or brittle and fragile. We read a thought-provoking interview with Sarah Rich and Nicola Twilley about food, cities, and design. We had a long talk about what local food actually is.

This is the students' brainstormed list of what local food is, on the course's tmblr. This is the flickr site they've set up to collect their Church Hill food photographs.

We went out and spent a morning in the Church Hill neighborhood, which I'd only visited the day before. The students were tasked with surveying the physical neighborhood, looking for food, any kind of food, any evidence of food. They were asked to photograph what they saw, and locate on a large map what they found. They were also asked to interview people they encountered along the way, revealing widely divergent perspectives on food in Church Hill. The area and its food assets were new territory for most of us. I enjoyed getting to know the urban fabric there, reading the apparent shifts in economy and culture typical of transitioning neighborhoods, but seeing a flavor of Southern historicism that is probably unique to Richmond, and maybe to just this neighborhood. 

So what about local food, then? We found some in Church Hill. How can local food relate back to systems, and inform the teaching of designers?

If we're talking about systems as way to teach graphic design, then, doesn't the question of local lead away from the underlying logic in systems? Doesn't the idea of local food, instead of teaching about universal systems behavior, take on us on a tangential exercise further and further from stocks and flows, from formal patterns and rules, and the real meat of systems thinking?

Well of course it does. Talking about local in food isn't like talking about graphic design's formal systems, and talking about local in food isn't equivalent to talking about the food system's formal rules. Local food is about interaction and performance, is about the subject-object relationship that every designer realizes. Talking about local food is like talking about the user or the audience in design. Framing food as local can reorient the entire food system into a relationship with a person, a family, an actual place on the map. The local that matters 'here' is different from the local defined by 'over there.' Knowing that location, situation, and context are all part of the local food experience can teach amazing lessons for designers. When a design student describes local food as: "only interactive, meaning (that) I have a relationship with those that grew or produced the food", then that designer is capable of forming a relationship with the user of their designs, and capable of valuing the individual, particular, human experience.

Local food is a relational idea. Local food leads to systems that make a difference.


New grant: Seeding Food Studies at NCSU

Added on by Erin White.

ncstate university, with decades of land-grant experience and lots of really smart people, is in a perfect position to be a flat-out, cutting edge leader in food studies. 

we just got a part of a seed grant to help it happen.

led by Sara Queen, assistant professor of architecture at NCSU, we are partnering in an NCSU foundation grant to study the state of food research, teaching, and extension throughout the university, and then create new conversations and connections among the parts. called "seeding food studies: food systems research, assessment + innovative solutions for ncsu," our project will start by taking a comprehensive look at everything about food going on at ncsu. then we'll map it, identify existing connections and collaborations, and build transparent structures and processes like a website and workshops and in-person gatherings to create new links and flows of information. in simpler terms, we are aiming at bringing disparate corners of food studies together at ncstate, so that the incredible work going on can expand through collaboration and shared investment.

attention is growing around food. globally, locally, culturally, economically, and socially. ncstate has enormous capital in mind power, statewide connections through extension, big and small research dollars, and established national and global capability. ncstate also has incredible food-centered initiatives, centers, individual projects, a forward-thinking dining service, and departments that are already gaining big attention for their difference-making work. our proposal is that by bringing all the high-powered work onto the same playing field, new partnerships can emerge and new innovations in asking questions around food, communities, and learning can get opened up.  

grant period runs through summer 2014