For Real Food

Rodney showing us around City Slicker Farm. An urban farm in Oakland, CA that brings fresh food to an underserved community.

For Real Food was a year-long design thinking endeavor. Our goal was to better understand the food system around us and use the design process to create a product that positively impacts our food culture. Now this is a very open-ended and broad goal. So to get started, we just dove in and talked to as many people as possible. We looked at composting, urban farms, community gardens, grocery stores, and really anyone else that would talk to us about food. We went through rounds of brainstorming, prototyping, and testing to see how people reacted emotionally to certain aspects of our food system. In the end, we designed and sold a product that systematically taught urban millennials how to grow real food.

The Team

Emily, Pat, Bethany, Eric

Our team consisted of four Stanford graduate students. Emily and I were part of Stanford’s graduate program in design, and as such, our responsibility was to lead the team through the design thinking process. Bethany joined the team as a mechanical engineering masters student with an expert knowledge in sustainable agriculture. And Eric was completing his joint degree; a MBA and a Master’s in Environmental Science. This project would not be successful without these amazing people.

My key roles:

  • Design leadership
  • Design research
  • Rapid prototyping
  • UX / UI design
  • Branding, packaging, and marketing

Design Research & Prototypes

So here is where things get messy. We had no idea what sort of product or service we wanted to build in the world. All we knew is that we wanted to make a positive impact on our food system. So we went out and did some need finding.

We iterated and cycled through every stage of the design thinking process. We interviewed, analyzed, brainstormed, prototyped, and tested. We worked on farms, with compost bins, in community gardens, and outside of grocery stores. We logged over 30 hours of ethnographic interviews and created dozens of prototypes. Here are some pictures of our process:

Some of our interviews
So many post-its
Farm Work / Backyard Composting
Worm Composting / Compost Delivery
Garden Pods / Agritourism
Plant Kits / Plant Delivery

Insights and Solution

Along the way, we began to recognize a few patterns from the people that we talked with. First, there was an obvious lack of space to grow food in an urban environment. This became apparent when we looked into the community gardens in the area.

Every community garden in the area had over a 5 year wait list.

Why was the demand for community gardens so high? We continued using our design thinking process to find out.

We focused our efforts on people currently on a community garden waitlist. After running a few prototypes and interviews, we broke our users down into two categories: expert gardeners and novice gardeners. The expert gardeners genuinely just needed space to grow their plants. A problem that is too big for a resource stricken city like San Francisco.

But the novice gardeners were looking for more:

  1. They wanted a place to reconnect with nature.
  2. They wanted convenience. A place close to home that they could easily tend their plants.
  3. And they wanted a community to support them while they learned how to grow food.

The Solution

So we decided this was the place we could make an impact on our food system. We could reconnect people to the food system by allowing them to experience nature through the growing of real food. And so, For Real Food was born.

For Real Food was a series of 5 progressive growing challenges, delivered right to our users’ doors. We provided all the materials and knowledge they needed to get started. All they had to do was add water and set it up on a sunny window. By the end of the series, our users would have a fully functioning window garden and the confidence to grow real food.

Level 1 Kits and Packaging
A young customer taking care of her seeds
Level 2 Kit
For Real Food Branding and Marketing
Maker Faire 2017

The Results

After landing on this solution, we began shipping and iterating on our product based on customer feedback. We continuously improved our packaging, branding, instructions, materials, and community. By following the design process, we were able to create, package, and ship our kits to happy customers. When it was all said and done, we had delivered 102 kits to our users. We received $2,000 in grants, made $115 in revenue, and we were a crowd favorite at Maker Faire 2017.