Local Roots - celebrating sustainable methods of food production

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Abstract

We are what we eat. However today, we do not know what we are, as we increasingly lose control over the quality and processes behind the foods we consume. This insecurity often inspires people to explore sustainable methods of food production. However, their initial interest is complicated by lack of locally-relevant information, supportive network and personal experience.

Surprisingly, most of the existing products and services today are not capturing these opportunities, but rather design around a specific task. On the contrary, this interaction master thesis project approaches the topic from a system perspective. It defines connections between local expert knowledge and interest groups, promotes and celebrates their enthusiasm in a more meaningful and engaging way.

Inspiration and Method

The process was approached from a few different perspectives. On one hand market analysis was done to ensure deep understanding of products and services that are available for amateurs in food production today. Observations, open-ended interviews with growers, pickers and local experts helped identify and describe different actors of the system. Surveying and action research proved initial findings and concepts.

During the workshop and brainstorming sessions with peers ideated around possible interactions we could have with plants and natural ecosystems. These ideas inspired exploration of plant touch sensing technology, which became the basis for the final solution. User tests with unprepared public were carried out on the streets of Umea. All these steps helped shape the final design proposal.

Result

Local Roots is a design of a system where local interest circles and study groups share their knowledge and interest in the context of an outdoor museum. Here, museum visitors can get inspired by a first glimpse into the local culture of traditional food production.

This thesis project mainly focuses on the introduction experience to this system, on the outdoor museum plant tour "what's my flavor". Interactive plant audio installations of this tour are placed around the territory of the museum. By touching different parts of a plant, museum visitors trigger information about its nutritional and cultural values. They start to see food opportunities in natural ecosystems, gain experience and train watchfulness the same way they would do it for centuries before, by touching, smelling and reading the signs of nature together with the more experienced peers.