Sourcing It: Dawn Danby of Aylanto @ ICFF 2007

From the 2007 Metropolis Conference: Design Entrepreneurs: Rethinking Energy
May 21, 2007

Dawn Danby is a graduate MBA student in sustainable business at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. The project that she collaborated on with Jyoti Stephens and Mary Rick, Beeline: A Virtual Marketplace for Local Food Distribution, was a runner up in the2007 Metropolis Next Generation® Design Competition.

Dawn Danby: I’m here to talk about the food system and how important relationships are in looking at local sourcing. I have been working on enabling sourcing by creating an information system.

Beeline is an interdisciplinary project with two other women who have no background in design. We are taking on the food system, which as you know is a big, wicked problem. When you look into how food is grown and distributed you see the issues are really complex. I thought it was best to work with a couple of women who had far more experience in those areas than I did so we could actually design a systems-based approach.

We have been focusing mainly on the Pacific Northwest. I am based in Toronto and my teammates are in San Francisco and Vancouver. We thought Vancouver was the best place to focus on because it doesn’t have the same type of problems in seasonality for growing food as we have here in the Northeast. It is a great hybrid location.

The Beeline project is looking at a series of big questions.

What would happen if food traveled directly from the farmer to the store without wasting any travel miles in between?

What if we could track the impact of the food that we eat?

What kind of system could support local economies, decrease emissions and educate people about local food systems?

My partners on this project are Jyoti Stephens, the sustainability manager for Nature’s Path foods, which is a large organic food company in British Columbia, and Mary Rick who works with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies in San Francisco.

Beeline is basically an online system for local farmers. Many of the farmers in the greater Vancouver area have a really hard time. The issue of scale is a problem. A lot of farmers can’t grow enough produce to be able to get to grocers. One of the ways to deal with it is by aggregating—get one farmer who’s growing let’s say 80 pounds of potatoes, connect him with another farmer and another farmer all growing the same product, and aggregate that together in an online system. Then you’re actually able to give those people access to marketplaces which keep them in business. Farmers, like small-scale producers of all kinds, are endangered.

In addition to putting together an online system for small-scale farmers, we also looked at how to track the energy input. How can we track a crate of food through the supply chain? Can we tag it with a RFID [Radio-Frequency Identification Device] so that when it’s dropped off at the grocer you actually know how far it’s traveled and who the farmer was? You can calculate very easily the carbon emissions associated with that. You can also pass all that information along to the consumers so they can have a sense of where their food comes from. A lot of what we were doing was basically designing that system.

Local is an energy issue, but local is also an economic issue. If you’re buying from local producers you’re keeping that money inside the local economy. This is part of what’s called the multiplier effect.

We’ve partnered with a group of people in Portland, Oregon to put Beeline into practice. They already have an embedded group of people in the city, a whole set of relationships built up with the farmers, and buyers who can put this into practice. As somebody who doesn’t live in the city it’s hard to make it happen because fundamentally this is all about human interaction and relationships. But looking at this little distribution system you see that it really has the potential for reducing what we call food-miles, energy, and CO2.

Susan S. Szenasy, editor in chief, Metropolis: Have you actually tracked say a crate of blueberries through your system yet?

Danby: No, we haven’t made a test of it yet. We have developed relationships with buyers and farmers, and now we’re developing the software for it.

Szenasy: So the software is being developed, it’s going to be realized?

Danby: Yes. This is very much in partnership with a nonprofit and a much wider team of people. We met another group that was doing something remarkably similar and it made sense to team up with them. Now we’re moving from concept to doing all the business planning and implementation in the next year.

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