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!

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



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.

A Food System in MoCo: How are we doing?

On August 1st, 2013, this article was published by Innovation Fellow Briana Liu regarding the food system in Montgomery County. She discussed the elements she would like to see in MoCo, which are a community farm, shared kitchen space, and community involvement. Now, over two months later, we can look in retrospect over how we have addressed the issues and applied the ideas to improve this system, starting with our innovation projects.

The shared kitchen space, or kitchen incubator project initiative, is well underway and incorporates greatly the “kitchen” aspect of Briana’s plan. Having these open kitchens will allow more people to be involved in the community, jump-start businesses, and help food trucks get up and running. The specs of this project are currently being worked out and will be implemented soon. In creating the kitchen incubators, we will consider her “surplus food” initiative in order to decrease food waste and help the hungry. Both initiatives would be beneficial to both businesses and citizens.

Innovation Fellow Karen Vanegas is continuing Briana’s work and researching implementing a food hub and community farm for Montgomery County. This program allows experienced farmers to team up with new farmers and teach them the tips and tricks of the industry. This way, new farmers can gain experience and produce and sell more goods at a greater rate.

Montgomery County is well on its way to a more sustainable food system. The incorporation of kitchen incubators into this system will help create more demand for these locally sourced products. As an update from a few months ago, these projects are in their initial stages. Details are being worked out, band we will provide more updates as the become available.


Project Update: A Food System in MoCo

My name is Briana Liu. I live in Rockville and am a junior at Princeton. This summer, I’m working as an Innovation Fellow at the Office of the County Executive. My role is to write a plan for a local sustainable food system in Montgomery County.  In MoCo, there’s plenty of entrepreneurs who want to run a business or non-profit directed at food recovery, composting, job training or local gardening. The idea is to link them in a supportive network—a novel system for food cycling in the county.

I’m imagining a food system with three major components: farm, kitchen and workers.



The community farm would be placed in the Agricultural Reserve, a 90,000 acre land reserve in the county. It would be about 150 acres, and help supply around 3% of the county’s fresh produce. We’re talking about healthy table foods like fruits and vegetables, not the big crops (wheat, soy, corn) that are currently way overproduced. This farm would use sustainable growing methods such as drip irrigation, integrated pest management and tree buffers. I am also looking into the possibility of a training farm and family orchards.



The kitchens would have a food waste recovery and job training aspect. They would collect surplus food from farmer’s markets and restaurants and cook it into healthy meals for underprivileged people in the county. The kitchen staff would be composed of professional chefs, volunteers and crucially, otherwise unemployed or homeless people in need of job training and life skills support. The kitchen would thus serve as not only a supply of healthy, locally-sourced meals, but also a tool for empowerment and integration of the community.



The third component is jobs. MoCo is so incredibly diverse, and the Office of Community Partnerships envisions it as the “most welcoming county in the U.S.” Providing jobs for immigrant workers is a key part of that goal. This could be integrated with the kitchen and farm components easily, and especially with the farm, as many Latino immigrants have abundant agricultural experience. An important step is to find reliable transportation for the workers to the farms.


Urban Greening

I have a strong personal interest in urban planning and sustainability, so it’d be great if I could incorporate that element into my plan. I want to look more into rooftop gardens and green roofs, urban greenhouses and hydroponics agriculture. The more people are involved in local gardening, the more interest they’ll have in buying and eating local.


The Road Ahead

So how am I going to get this ambitious project done? Well, what’s good is that I’m not starting from scratch. Three years ago, intern Andy Lowy had already outlined a variety of possibilities for MoCo to pursue in his Sustainable Food report:

Reading his report was very helpful to get a sense of what could be done. From there, I sifted through the options and pinpointed the three or four initiatives I’d like to focus on. Then, I looked at potential models in greater detail: for farms, Intervale Center in Vermont; for kitchens, D.C. Central Kitchen and La Cocina; for urban farming, Will Allen’s projects. The next step is to apply those models to MoCo and find out which would be most feasible. There’s so much more to do. Meeting with Food Council members, using GIS technology to see the mapped out supply chains for food in the county, finding and vetting locations for the community farm…

I’ll provide an update at the end of the summer about the research and hopefully give some recommendations about next steps.