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How to Use Design Thinking to Improve Our Food Systems

January 30th, 2019

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fruit on a vine

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, by 2050 the world’s population will have an estimated 9.1 billion people, and food production will need to expand by 70 percent in order to match the increased rate of consumption. The future of food security is in the hands of consumers and producers and what they can do to create sustainable food systems to account for the predicted growth.

On a smaller scale, agriculture in Pennsylvania and the Northeast region is facing some changes to its operations. Design thinking might not be top of mind for agriculture, but approaching solutions through these practices yields some fresh insights for a healthy food system.

Marilyn Anthony, director of business development for Fox Management Consulting, and the Vice President and Agricultural Lending Manager of Ephrata National Bank William Kitsch teamed up to lead an interactive workshop for the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group’s (NESAWG) annual “It Takes a Region Conference” held in Philadelphia October 26 and October 27th, 2018.

Anthony’s and Kitsch’s workshop, “Here’s the Data: Let’s Design the Solutions,” used principles of design thinking to encourage participants to create consumer and user-oriented solutions to obstacles facing farmers and producers. “What surprised me was that everyone found a topic that they are passionate about and wanted to work on,” Anthony said. “We asked our workshop audience to think from the perspective of a user, someone who could benefit from or who could participate in Pennsylvania’s strategic recommendations and to think about how they could connect.”

Anthony and Kitsch presented the results of a research study, led by Temple University’s Fox Management Consulting group, a cohort of OMBA students, and the Philadelphia-based economic consulting firm E-consult Solutions, exploring 10 sectors of agriculture in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) and Team Pennsylvania funded the research project, forming the basis for PDA’s strategic recommendations. The resulting six strategic initiatives focused on improving the branding and marketing, infrastructure of processing and manufacturing, business climate, workforce development and educational opportunities, and diversity of products within food systems in order to create more opportunities for Pennsylvania growers and producers.

Kelly Kundratic, the Manager of Agriculture Policy and Programs for Team Pennsylvania, took an active role in the workshop. “Learning the design thinking process and really stepping back, thinking from a place of empathy, looking at these goals, that’s something that I use now as much as I can,” Kundratic explains. “It can be time consuming, but really reframes how I’ll approach helping government and industry move together to act upon these six strategic initiatives. Trying to be empathetic and use the design thinking model will help me be able to do my job more effectively.”

Emphasizing the core take-away from the workshop, Anthony explains, “what was very valuable and useful was getting people to think about who, other than themselves, might be in that space and to begin to generate some ideas for how they could make an impact.”

Workshop participants brought their experience and perspectives from Vermont, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Many participants actively work to create more accessible and equitable food system as educators, nonprofit advocates, and funders.

Founded in 1992, NESAWG is a network of more than 500 organizations across Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Washington D.C. It works with

organizations and individuals involved in every sector of sustainable agriculture from farming and ecology to architecture and social services to garner awareness and support for the creation of just, sustainable food systems.

Are you interested in learning about sustainability topics? Check out “BlockChain Technology for Sustainable Procurement” in the Fox Video Vault.

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