What are the goals of this project?
The goal of this project is to evaluate the effect of a community engaged open-source website that connects users who are willing to donate, to those who are most in need. Specifically, the project aims to improve the quality and quantity of food donated to local food banks/pantries by providing direct communication between donor and the front-line food security personnel.
To facilitate communication, the Farm To Fork website will provide users with the ability to locate and review nearby food banks/pantries. Given a list of food bank/pantry specific food needs, the user will be able to identify those items that they are able to donate. This will be complemented with a list of food items provided by the user's closest food bank/pantry via automatic email on the day the user goes grocery shopping.
To evaluate the effect of the project, data will be collected to identify changes in donation quantity and quality. These data will be compared to existing baselines where possible. Moreover, weekly, monthly, and seasonal trends will be studied to improve the understanding of the food security issue. This information will be used to update and improve the website, including the development of a mobile application to harness geographically based notifications.
Why is this research important?
In a culture that wastes nearly 40% of all food produced, it becomes essential that we connect the people who have fresh food to give to those who need it.
In late 2012, a group of 30 undergraduate students from the School of Computer Science at the University of Guelph began exploring this idea. Co-founded by Dr. Daniel Gillis and Danny Williamson, and in collaboration with the Guelph Food Access Working Group, the students began developing an open-source website known as Farm To Fork. The website would permit front-line food security personnel the ability to communicate directly with those in the community with resources to donate. Over the past 8 months, the students have been actively developing a prototype website using the City of Guelph as a case study.
To determine the effectiveness of the system and its potential utility in other cities, two major hurdles remain:
- the system needs to be beta-tested over the summer to identify potential programming or design flaws, and
- the system needs to be launched to the general public (launch date: September 2013).
Successful beta-testing and launch will provide the necessary data to investigate potential changes in donation quality and quantity.
On a personal note, I have never seen students so engaged in a project. To see the Farm To Fork project awarded funds to allow the students to beta-test and launch would be, simply put, fantastic.
How will the funds be used?
The total cost for this project is $15000. The funds will cover the cost of student personnel, a new server, and expenses related to the Community University Expo in June.
The funds will permit us to beta-test and launch the Farm To Fork website, and to evaluate its effect on the quality and quantity of food donated to the local food banks/pantries. Analyses will be conducted in the fall after sufficient data are collected. The results will be presented to the Guelph Food Access Working Group.
A new server will be purchased to house the website and database. This will replace the existing 10+ year old HP server that is currently in use (and which is failing). Hardware that is up to date and reliable will ensure a smooth beta-testing period and launch.
The funds will also support the students attending the Community University Expo 2013 in June. The conference will permit the students to showcase the Farm To Fork project, discuss the process of developing the website, and provide valuable feedback regarding their experiences with community engaged scholarship.