May 31st and June 1st the Montgomery County Innovation Program held the Food Data Jam, part of the National Day of Civic Hacking. It was the first known event of its type in the county. The event drew professional developers, non-profit representatives, and many high school students to work on challenges related to the food system in Montgomery County. After presentations and remarks from County Executive Ike Leggett, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Joshua Starr, County Council Vice President George Leventhal, and local farmer John Fendrick, the participants formed teams and began work. During these presentations the attendees enjoyed what was touted as the “eat like a student” portion of the event, with lunch being a burrito bar sponsored by MCPS.
The teams had about 24 hours to complete as much work as possible on their solution. The teams worked through the night and in the end focused on two of the three challenge areas: food recovery and tools for farmers. The skill levels on the teams varied greatly with some PhD students working with participants as young as the 6th grade. However, all demonstrated an impressive degree of commitment and creativity as they first sketched out and then began creating their solutions. All the teams were encouraged to utilize open data, especially the data available on dataMontgomery, as they developed their solutions. Participants also received a $500 credit from Google App Engine and $50 from Amazon Web Services just for participating to facilitate their work.
At dinner the teams took a break and received a presentation on food access and security in the County from Amanda Behrens, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future who has done a tremendous amount of work mapping food insecurity in the County. The teams asked questions and learned more about the subject matter to better inform their solution. Dinner was courtesy of the Montgomery County Innovation Program and was served by a local food truck that operates in the County. The teams then began work again, this time without a break until breakfast the next morning. Their work was monitored by the Chief Innovation Officer, who stayed with them through the night.
At 8:00am the teams took a moment to enjoy breakfast courtesy of one of our sponsors, Socrata. Socrata not only provided breakfast but provided pro bono technical support to our participants in the form of two very knowledgeable technical staff and a 24/7 support desk throughout the entire event. The breakfast speaker was Kim Robien of George Washington University and the Montgomery County Food Council who spoke on the importance of nutrition and the growing challenge of obesity in the U.S.
Teams then had only a few more hours to complete their project before lunch and final presentations. By this time the students had been working almost non-stop for 16 hours, most without sleep. Through the night they were powered by snacks courtesy of My Organic Market. By mid-morning four teams remained. Two were working on a mobile application for food recovery, one was working on an interactive website for County farmers, and a fourth team was developing a detailed concept for food recovery.
Teams broke for lunch before presentations. This time lunch was sponsored by the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development (DED), which appropriated supported a local pizza business. DED was a critical partner in planning the Food Data Jam. Not only did they provide lunch, but they also had staff on hand for a significant portion of the event and sponsored the 1st and 2nd prize awards. During the Food Data Jam a film crew was also on hand to capture the event. Students were interviewed in preparation for a video piece on the event. The event was also covered by the Gazette, WNEW, Channel 4 and Channel 9.
After lunch we declared “laptops down” and teams began their presentations. The teams were evaluated by three judges: Sarah Miller from DED, Jackie DeCarlo, Executive Director of Manna Food Center, and Tim Short, the MCPS teacher that helped plan the event. Teams were judged on their creativity, effort, and the feasibility of their application to address the challenge. In the end four teams were recognized for their projects. First prize went to Team ManaFeast who developed a mobile application for food recovery. Second place was Team Taragon Basil Dill who created an interactive website for farmers using farmer data pulled from the Montgomery County farm directory. Third place was Team Cerulean who also built a mobile application for food recovery and was able to integrate health inspection data from dataMontgomery. An honorable mention was given to Team Lucky 7 who developed a very creative presentation on what they felt should go into a food recovery mobile application.
Although the benefits of any hackathon go far beyond building apps, this hackathon actually produced some results that could be leveraged in the future. DED has reached out to the 2nd place team to further develop their farm directory website and the Community Food Rescue group (an initiative of Montgomery Count Health and Human Services and Manna Food Center) will be using the work started on food recovery applications. The organizer of the event, the Montgomery County Innovation Program would like to thank the sponsors (MCPS, Socrata, My Organic Market, Google, Amazon and DED) and our other planning partners and volunteers (Manna Food Center, Department of Technology Services, and Chris Wright). We look forward to seeing you at our next hackathon!