GOOD Ideas for Wicked Problems: Access to Local Food

As part of GOOD Ideas for New Orleans, volunteers were faced with a variety of challenges, each inspired by recurring ideas here on Neighborland. One team was tasked with helping to create opportunity for mobile food vendors. Another was challenged to help folks choose a bike over a car when heading across town. A third team was asked to help solve a problem far more systemic and complex: helping to increase access to locally-grown foods, in areas that need access to fresh food most.

As team-member Paul Richard told the group, this is a wicked problem. It’s really two wicked problems: boosting the local food ecosystem on the one hand, and addressing the more urgent matter of food justice on the other.

Can local food help to fill the gaps in access that the industrialized food system doesn’t? The volunteer team consisting of Aron Chang, Ashley Braquet, Jakob Rosenzweig, Harry Graham, David and Susannah Burley, and Paul did the research to find out.

The team interviewed actors in the local food ecosystem at every link in the supply chain: growers, distributors, retailers and customers. They talked to more than 18 local growers, ranging from well known institutions like the Hollygrove Market & Farm, to smaller outfits like the Central City Growers Co-Op. They interviewed almost a dozen umbrella organizations and consumer groups, like the New Orleans Food & Farm Network and and NOLA Locavores. They talked to consumers at Grow Dat’s Pop-Up Farmer’s Market at the Tulane Health Clinic.

The findings were clear. The local food movement is a nascent one, and the system lacks capacity at multiple points along the supply chain. To start delivering fresh produce to neighborhoods in need, the whole market for locally grown food needs to grow. And to help the market grow, the GOOD Ideas for New Orleans team hit upon a “low-hanging fruit”– a common branding and marketing campaign for locally grown produce, to increase consumer awareness of the option, and ultimately to increase demand.

Co-branding has been successful in other places, but it hasn’t been tried in New Orleans. The local growers interviewed we’re almost all enthusiastic about the idea, and saw it as a potential boost to their bottom line. With a brand in place, local growers could collectively contribute to a common marketing campaign. In a city that takes immense pride in itself,  “Grow Nola” could be a household name.

The team’s research led to informed, strategic marketing concepts and some first-rate graphic design work. They formed connections between the local growers, and planted the seed of a bigger project in minds of people throughout the local food ecosystem. They illustrated what a common brand and marketing campaign might look like, making it easier to build the necessary coalition. In other words, the team sparked conversation, shared inspiration, and drew attention to a big problem.

Now its up to the Neighborland community and citizens at large to build off the momentum. Share your ideas about bringing a “Grow Nola” brand to life. If you want to access the research of the GOOD Ideas for New Orleans team, or get involved in a long-term effort to grow the local food movement in New Orleans, get in touch.