food trucks

Project Update: The Wheaton High School Innovation Lab

The Innovation Lab at Wheaton High School started spinning its gears this summer (pun intended) with the start of two projects. The program pairs rising juniors and seniors at Wheaton High School with Dan Hoffman, Chief Innovation Officer of Montgomery County, and Senior Innovation Fellows specializing in the Food Truck Regulation and Market Research and yAPPer projects. The Innovation Lab currently in Wheaton High School is a partnership between MCPS and Montgomery County Government to pilot an Innovation and Leadership class this upcoming fall.

What were trying to do: pilot project-based learning as a means of teaching students, while giving students the professional and organizational skills needed to be successful in a professional environment. The pilot course offered in the fall at Wheaton High School will meld PMI (Project Management Institute) curriculum with project-based learning. At the end of the course, students will be eligible to take the exam needed to receive a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM). Within the course, students will apply the skills acquired within the PMI/PMP curriculum to projects with real-world impact. Students working on the Food Truck Regulation project will develop a firmer understanding of the legislative process within Montgomery County. They will also be given the chance to interact with government officials within the County Government. Meanwhile, students working on the yAPPer project will be given experience in data collection and marketing strategy. Students also reap intangible benefits of the course, such as the development of interpersonal and leadership skills, through their experience with the course. They will learn to be teammates, professionals, and also project managers.

What the pilot of this class means for education: the project-based learning class at Wheaton begins to redefine the definition of a “real-world”education. Whereas so many students are pigeon-holed into taking classes that appear “rigorous”to appear “competitive”for the college-application process, the project-based learning class at Wheaton encourages students to take classes that are most engaging and meaningful to them. The class changes the meaning of “competitive,”by giving students an academic and professional edge over their peers. The project-based learning class taught at Wheaton High School will not only teach students fundamental management concepts, but also give them the “softer”skills that students need to be successful adults. The class embraces the leadership and professional skills that students can bring to the classroom; it prioritizes engagement and real-world action over multiple-choice questions and hypothesized problem sets. Furthermore, the students will be mentored by leaders throughout Montgomery County, who will serve as weekly guest speakers in the class. Within the class, the students will acquire the connections, professional skills, and personal skills to have a firmer grasp on success after graduation. They will redefine their competition.

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!

A food entreprenuer’s perspective on kitchen incubators

In order to make the case for a kitchen incubator in Montgomery county, it is important to know who will benefit and how. With that in mind, I interviewed three types of food entrepreneurs: a food truck owner, a baker, and a caterer. I discovered how they would find a kitchen incubator useful and whether or not they believe it would help others in Montgomery County. Using this information, we can simulate how kitchen incubators will benefit us.

The food truck BBQ Bus is located in D.C. It sells lunch and dinner items such as barbecue ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, but on wheels. The truck travels around and often tweets their locations to share it with customers. “Shared space like what’s offered at Union Kitchen is great, especially for businesses just starting out,” said co-owner Che Ruddell-Tabisola. In fact, BBQ Bus currently shares a kitchen incubator with two other food trucks. The rise of the kitchen incubator would be useful for them and other food trucks so they could have a preparation space and insight from other trucks on how to run their business, promoting the “incubation” of businesses through this concept.

Karen Robert’s, a food entrepreneur and baker, founded KarenKay’s Cakes. I asked her for her opinion on shared kitchens and how they would help her. “It would be the best thing to happen for an entrepreneur like myself.  When I first started my business, finding an affordable kitchen to cook out of was my biggest dilemma,” she said. Her businesses mainly sells at farmers markets and on the online store. “Because I want to take my business to the next level,” she said, “and not only sell at local Farmers Markets, I need a commercial kitchen to use.  I look forward to seeing the first real incubator kitchen in Montgomery County.”

Stone Stoup Catering is a catering company that serves D.C, Maryland, and Virginia out of Gaithersburg, Maryland. They offer a large variety of many types of food as well as a unique cookie selection. Chef Zello, the owner, stated that “[Shared kitchen space] certainly would have been helpful when we first started!”

The Innovation Program frequently hears from businesses like these that shared kitchen space is or would have been a great help in jump-starting these businesses. What do you think? Would shared, licensed, commercial kitchen space be helpful for your start-up? We’d like to hear from you.

Nightlife in Montgomery County

For the past six months, Montgomery County’s Nighttime Economy Task Force has been holding public meetings and discussions regarding nightlife in Montgomery County and how it can be improved. Residents gave their input on what they would like to see and experience to liven up nightlife and gain more County revenue from it. On October 28th, 2013, these recommendations were sent to the County Executive. The recommendations were categorized by department and improvements that involve each department.

Department of Economic Development:

-Develop a plan for marketing and attracting new companies

-Promote venues that pay musicians to perform

-Promote positive customer service

Department of Environmental Protection

-Establish Urban Noise Areas surrounding town centers to allow musicians to play for a larger audience

Department of Housing and Community Affairs

-More housing options

Department of Liquor Control

-Develop an educational Patron Responsibility Program.

-Extend hours alcohol sellers on Fridays and Saturdays to 3AM, and 2AM on Sunday-Thursday

-Modify the alcohol to food ratio under Class B licenses from 50/50 to 60/40

-Create a study with the Office of Legislative Oversight to improve the Department of Liquor Control’s services

Department of Permitting Services

-Make it easier to create an arts/entertainment venue or production

Department of Transportation

-Food trucks can operate after 10PM

-More taxis and parking

-Better late-night transit services

-Pedestrian and bicycle access

Office of Management and Budget

-Better public safety resources

Parks Department

-Allow public space to have multiple uses and attract people with design elements

Planning Department

-Incentives for allowing open space for arts groups or performers

-New zoning standards so public/open space requirements are easier to meet

-More density of people in popular nighttime areas

Police Department

-Decrease crime by using Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) techniques.

-Decrease drunk driving by extending “Safe Ride” all weekend long

Urban Districts

-Increase funding

-Maintain public spaces

-Dedicated revenue to events

The task force was made up of residents and business leaders and was staffed by representatives from the Department of Liqour Control, the Mid-County Regional Services Center, the Department of Recreation and the Chief Innovation Officer. Now that the recommendations are finalized, the task force will disband and the focus will be on implementing the recommendations. For more information on the task force and more detail on the recommendations, click here.

Best Practices in Open Data

The September 9th worksession on the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) Report 2013-7: Best Practices in Open Data Initiatives reminded Montgomery County that we already excel in the field of open data, from dataMontgomery to positions such as the Chief Innovation Officer. According to the report, Montgomery County continues to excel by providing the following:

  • Datasets that the community will find useful may not always be obvious to the government;
  • Preparing and maintaining datasets for release on open data portals can require a significant investment of resources – recommending a cost/benefit analysis to examine whether the community is interested in certain datasets; and
  • Some jurisdictions provide opportunities for stakeholder feedback to help identify datasets for release.

Having an open data policy requires sharing data in an open format where the public can view it without needing to request it from the government.  It must be updated and usable by the public.  The public also needs to be able to discuss and comment on the datasets, as well as request those that they would like access to in the future. However, the datasets the public can make the best use of are not always those which are readily available for publication. For this reason, citizens can send requests to ask for a certain type of data release. Montgomery County has done an excellent job applying these best practices. Montgomery County uses a software called Socrata to publish open data at portal we call dataMontgomery.  dataMontgomery provides “direct access to County datasets in consumable formats” so the public can “review and analyze raw data, and use it for a variety of purposes.” Some of the most popular datasets on dataMontgomery are the county employee salaries, food inspection, and service requests. Other information available involves the public school system as well as polling/elections. Residents can provide feedback on datasets and other issues in the county, as well as request datasets for release.

This open format conforms to the best practices in open data in Montgomery County because anyone can view it, and we are currently trying to apply it to applications and software so it has a variety of uses. One of our innovation projects, the interactive touchscreen kiosks, seeks to provide information to residents and travelers in town centers and dense areas. The food truck catalyst pilot will also apply open data, courtesy of dataMontgomery, in order to boost food trucks throughout the county. These applications of open data prove that the policy is successful and necessary because otherwise, a request from the government would be required and the data would be neither publicly available nor easily accessible.

We continue to be successful in providing open data as well as a portal for the public to provide feedback on this data. We are planning an Open Data Town Hall in the near future. We’ll post information on the town hall as soon as it comes available.


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.

Project Update: Wheaton Innovation Lab and Food Trucks

On July 8th, the Wheaton Innovation Lab launched. It has two components: an Autism Technology and Innovation Pilot and a Food Truck Catalyst Pilot. The latter is discussed below.

The county to assist a work-study group geared toward creating a food truck friendly environment has recruited Wheaton High School students. The students, along with the guidance and supervision of several Innovation Fellows, have immersed themselves in one of the first steps of this process– identifying optimal locations for the food trucks.

Although this program is in its infancy, food trucks have been around for a while and this is the time to welcome them as an integral part of our business community. For the past few years, the rise of food trucks in nearby cities D.C. and Baltimore has shown to be a boon for their communities. However, this does not mean Montgomery County cannot offer an additional home to these small businesses. But there is a lot to learn from the experiences in both areas and even across the nation.

As a result of our research, we have noticed some trends in concerns among the public and governing bodies of various cities. Some of the major obstacles include interactions with established brick and mortar restaurants, public rights of way and pedestrian safety. In our role, we have taken these concerns seriously and incorporated these factors into choosing the best possible food truck sites. The guidelines we have created for spotting these sites include the following factors: distance to restaurants, proximity to foot traffic, vision of signage and access to unobstructed sidewalk or open space.

The objective of this initial stage is to meet these challenges by striking the right balance between food truck and restaurant owners. We want to attract a wider range of food options that would be successful on their own and not compete with already established food venues. The first week of scouting locations appears to have been successful, as we have produced a list of 20+ workable sites in just the Wheaton, Silver Spring and Bethesda areas.

The Fellows at Wheaton High School are helping drive this project. Ultimately, their findings will lead to the formation of a more stable and consistent operating environment for food trucks.  Updates will be posted—stay in touch!