Food Recovery

Montgomery County Holds First Ever Food Data Jam!

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.20140531_130132

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.20140531_160025

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.20140531_150201

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.

20140601_125245After 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.20140601_133905

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!

Second Open Data Town Hall Results

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 marked the second Open Data Town Hall and the first at the Upcountydatatownhall5 Regional Services Center, hosted by the Montgomery County Innovation Program in collaboration with the Department of Technology Services. This town hall was set up in response to the success of the first Open Data Town Hall in November. A unique aspect about this town hall is that many Montgomery County Public Schools students were reached out to and participated in the town hall. Involving and educating the youth of the county in these events broadens the spectrum of data and increases their knowledge datatownhall13-225x300of open government. Montgomery County continues to be a national example in the realm of open data. Data that is “open” must be available to the public in a form that is machine-readable, searchable, analyzable, and permanent. Feedback and comments on the datasets are also necessary, along with requests for future datasets. Montgomery County has over 30 already available on dataMontgomery with many more on the way.


BfJfJeDCcAAJ2DE.jpg-largeChief Innovation Officer Dan Hoffman started off the evening with a brief overview of the Innovation Program: projects must be able to scale up and they must be experimental in nature. Leading up to the Town Hall, Dan Hoffman asked residents of Montgomery County to fill out a sheet with their Open Data ideas. Many people responded with ideas from bus GPS data to public school nutrition facts.


Victoria Lewis from the Department of Technology Services presented second. She is the project manager for dataMontgomery, which went live at the end of 2012. She informed the audience that town halls such as these are important in order to receive feedback from the county about the types of data requested to add to the implementation plan. dataMontgomery is part of Open Montgomery, which consists of four pillars: dataMontgomery, accessMontgomery, engageMontgomery, and mobileMontgomery. First, dataMontgomery is the open data portal where datasets are published, readable, and requestable for the residents of Montgomery County. accessMontgomery allows direct access to important county information, such as through the non-emergency line MC311 or CountyStat. engageMontgomery is like a one-on-one conversation about open data, where county officials can post forums and answer questions about datasets, and residents can post their ideas. Lastly, mobileMontgomery is the mobile site on Montgomery County, so residents can view county information, such as library hours and RideOn schedules, on the go. Victoria Lewis confirmed that while over 30 datasets exist on dataMontgomery currently, many more remain to be published.


Ewan Simpson from Socrata, a company specializing in open data, spoke next regarding the importance and benefits of open data portals. They allow data to be searchable, sortable, and consumable. This leads to an efficient open government and a strong citizen connection.

After the speakers, attendees prepared for the main event: the feedback session. Tables set up around the room labeled with a category of data each had a representative who took notes on residents’ suggestions and discussed ideas with them. Everyone traveled around the room from table to table, sharing their suggestions and ideas about additions to dataMontgomery. Representatives from Montgomery Community Media interviewed residents and asked what types of data they wanted to see.

Here is a breakdown of the results of the Second Open Data Town Hall:

Health, Housing, Social Services

  • Date on free emergency food, clothing, and shelter
  • A community map to filter options for types of services
  • Socioeconomic data
  • Map of a concentration of health issues or diseases in different areas
  • Where basic services are located
  • Food venues that fit health or dietary needs
  • After school activities chart
  • Real time updates on events in the County
  • Locating the most affordable housing communities and properties
  • Food and housing inspection grades


  • Property tax map
  • MCPS data
  • Projections to see impacts on the County
  • How taxes are spent
  • Cross department information

Public Safety

  • Crime reports in a data format
  • Incidents on a map, indicating calls to an area
  • Police and Fire Department response times
  • Collision data
  • Geographic data


  • Pothole reports
  • Traffic directions

Elections, Libraries, Recreation

  • Recreational centers by zip code with names of facilities, types, and activities
  • Hours of centers
  • Searchable by date, time, and location
  • Pool schedules
  • Party venues and event information
  • Contextualized view of neighborhoods and zip codes


  • School financial data
  • Innovation project funding
  • Achievement gap data
  • Liquor store inventory
  • Public school test scores

The Innovation Program would like to thank all participants and volunteers for making the Upcounty Open Data Town Hall a success. We hope to continue to hear your open data suggestions and ideas. Please make your voice heard and suggest a data set today!

Photos courtesy of @MoCoDanHoffman, @SonyaNBurke, Montgomery Community Media via #opendataMC



What would a kitchen incubator look like in MoCo?

On regular basis I’m asked about the availability of shared kitchen space in Montgomery County. Sometimes it’s a non-profit working on food security and access issues. Sometimes it’s an individual trying to make a hard to find ethnic food product. Sometimes it’s a food truck owner. My answer is typically the same: depending on your needs it’s very hard to find. So for the past several months some of the Innovation Fellows have been researching this issue and looking at various models from around the county. Last week an interesting study came out that provides a clear overview of kitchen incubators around the country. Maryland seems a bit underrepresented. The Innovation Program would be interested in hearing your thoughts. The study is available by clicking here.

Montgomery County holds first Hackathon!

In today’s world there exists as much as a thousand zettabytes of data. How can we make sense of this data and put it in a useful form? Can any of it be classified as information? Information by definition is data that has been processed. And information, in turn, results in intelligence. This is exactly what more than 11,000 people successfully did on the first weekend in June, 2013 on The National Day of Civic Hacking. These people engaged themselves in finding ways to put these enormous amounts of data to some constructive use. The event was organized at more than 90 different venues all over the United States from June 1-2, 2013. Montgomery County participated in this massive civic engagement effort by holding our first Hackathon.

NDoCH T-ShirtsThe event, #Hack4MoCo, was held at the Universities at Shady Grove on June 1, 2013. The event was organized by the Innovation Program and the County Department of Technology Services. The main idea behind the entire process was to bring together local civic hackers, coders, residents, and entrepreneurs to solve some of the problems that are faced by County government. The data is or could be published on the dataMontgomery site which is the repository for County data about subjects ranging from the operating budget, employee salaries, and electrical permits to service requests from residents. The meeting started with the registration process and snacks followed by an introduction of the Open Montgomery Portal by Mr. Sonny Segal, the County’s Chief Information Officer. Mr. Segal introduced openMontgomery to the attendees and made them aware of the kind of potential it had for being beneficial to the community. After Mr. Segal’s address, Montgomery County’s Chief Innovation Officer, Mr. Dan Hoffman, laid out the rules and flow of the event.

How It Worked

We employed the reverse pitch approach, wherein every representative group had 3-5 minutes to describe their challenge to the attendees. Instead of providing the participants with a ready solution, our aim was to give them a chance to come up with the creative solutions that they thought were best suited. A total of five ideas were put in front of the attendees. These ideas were presented by officials from respective departments. Attendees were given time to question the presenters. The developers, hackers, and department representatives were then divided into different groups in order to discuss the possible solutions. Three groups presented their solutions in the end. The groups had fruitful meetings and were able to approach the problem from both the developer’s point of view as well as the county residents’. Each group was given two hours before dinner to frame the solutions which were then discussed over dinner.

The results:

A)    Food Recovery Application – Presented by Linda McMillan of the Food Recovery Working Group

Tons of food is wasted in different grocery shops, kitchens of schools, and restaurants. Food which is fit for consumption and can help feed those in need. There is no adept system available for the food donors and/or the demand centers like shelters and food pantries. The County Food Recovery group wants to devise a method so that this food can be quickly made available to the people who need it.

Solution Presented:  The conceptual solution was to develop a web platform which would connect the participants. When any donor posts about the availability of food, the potential consumers in the vicinity will be notified by an SMS. The concerned consumer can acknowledge the receipt of such a message by responding to it and mentioning the food items they will be able to pick up in a given time frame. In case of no reply, another SMS will be sent out. This time the radius of the recipients notified will be expanded. The same acknowledgement method will be used again. The process will be repeated until all the excess food is donated or goes bad.

B)     Transit Data Visualization – Presented by Kurt Raschke, resident expert and blogger

There is a lot of logged data available about the transit system in the County but it does not help the county residents. It does not enable them to know about the delays and changes in the routes. The transit data can be used to help the commuters know these things in real time so that they can plan their travel accordingly.

Solution Presented: The group suggested using Twitter to provide real time updates regarding any delay and the status of the transit routes. Different hash tags can be used for different routes and the commuters can follow tweets that have the hash tags pertaining to their routes. The team suggested using optimization research techniques employing the data that is previously available so that the routes can be effectively updated.

C)     MC311 Service Requests and Twitter – Presented by Leslie Hamm, MC311

Montgomery County’s 311 service request department has posted data about previous service requests. The data posted on the Open Montgomery website would help us identify the problematic areas specific to various regions of the county. While the department officials came up with the idea of using twitter to submit requests, the developers took advantage of the reverse pitch flow and suggested a much better solution to the problem.

Solution Presented: The developers thought of developing a native mobile app which enables the user to perform four different tasks. The first task will be to submit a new request. The developers suggested making the GUI intuitive so that the residents can easily submit requests. Secondly, the app would enable residents to check the status of their current request. The third option will let the user know the history of their requests. The fourth option – the main feature of the app – would show on a map the types of requests that have been previously made in the user’s region of the county. This would make it easier to determine whether there is a pattern to certain requests in any particular region.

Two other reverse pitches were made to the attendees. One was on the topic of My Green Montgomery. Thank you to Jessica Jones and Scott Faunce from Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection for presenting on this topic. The federal Environmental Protection Agency also presented on the clean drinking water data they publish. No reports were generated on those topics but we’re planning a follow-up event to specifically explore environmental topics.

Montgomery County’s Hackathon saw some of the best minds come together to brainstorm on the uses of the data that can be obtained from the dataMontgomery site. The event concluded with presentations over dinner and a good amount of networking and connecting. The primary desired outcome of any hackathon is the community building and connecting that occurs when developers and anyone with technical skills volunteer their time and talent for civic improvement. For this reason, hackathons are not standalone events, but part of a dialogue between the County, residents, and the tech community. In the case of Montgomery County this was the first step in starting that dialog. For photos from the event click here.

Innovation Fellow Atirek Gupta contributed to this article.