Design Process students' eco-park wins Thought for Food Challenge

An eco-park concept aimed at reducing food waste through public education and demonstrations, developed by an interdisciplinary Texas A&M student team, netted first place in a worldwide contest seeking solutions to the world’s most pressing food issues.

The winning group, which included undergraduate landscape architecture students Beau Barnette and Aaron Kotwal, developed a concept for a park where people could learn about they systems that bring food to their dinner tables for the 2012 Thought for Food Global Challenge. The park proposal included demonstration gardens, info-graphic boards, space for farmers’ markets and a speaker’s corner for open discussion, while also providing a park’s typical aesthetic and recreational functions.

The group, which called itself Team Giving Tree, created the proposal in the college’s Design Process class, in which students develop innovative ideas and patentable inventions.

“We want to empower communities to engage and learn about their food systems,” said the students' proposal. “This will help people to understand food waste at all points along the food production and distribution process and to act on that knowledge by modifying their personal behavior, taking part in the larger dissemination of knowledge by sharing what they’ve learned, or campaigning for regulation changes in the name of waste reduction.”

Demonstration gardens and info-graphic boards at the park, said Barnette, would be developed by volunteer organizations.

“These organizations can be businesses, interest groups or local community organizations,” he said, “conveying information concerning waste in the food system by demonstrating exhaustion of the aquifer system with a model or showing how to compost food waste using the boards to support these concepts with data and imagery.”

The farmer’s market, he said, would allow consumers to directly connect with local food producers.

“This puts a face on a previously over-abstracted system and facilitates the development of a long-term relationship between producer and consumer,” said Barnette. “It also cycles money back into the local economy and actively fights waste in the food system by removing some of the need for packaging and transportation.”

The proposal also included areas for organizations and individuals to display their own educational projects or demonstration gardens as well as a proposed website with information and guidance showing others how to create similar parks in their respective communities.

Like it or not, we are part of the food system, said Barnette. “When we see the effect the system has on the environment and populace, we learn that respecting food is tantamount to respecting ourselves,” he said.

Erin Ponsonby, an international politics and diplomacy major, Ryan Pratt, a chemical engineering major and Jailene Santana, an international environmental studies major, were also Team Giving Tree members.

Foodsionary, another group of students in the Design Process class, also made the list of finalists in the contest.

Students from universities in countries as diverse as Canada, Korea, India, Nigeria, Uganda, the U.S. and Taiwan took part in the contest.

posted August 6, 2012