The Netherlands is a densely populated country. It is also one of the biggest agri-economies, exporting its dairy, meat and fresh produce all over the world. There is a great pressure for farm companies to grow their business, which changes the character of their businesses. The threat of animal diseases, animal welfare issues, and ‘pollution’ of the landscape illustrate some of the tensions that both citizens and farmers are experiencing. At the Dutch Design Week, one special focus was the meeting of minds between the agricultural sector and designers to begin thinking of the key values of the farm of the future.
Celebrating design thinking
Designers are great in making new combinations and finding creative solutions. The Dutch Design Week is one big celebration of design thinking. For one week, the city of Eindhoven presents the work of hundreds of designers who excel in ingenuity, originality and in telling a story by means of products and materials. Of course, it is also an excellent spot for brainstorming about the farm for the future.
Agri meets design
Farmers, designers, policy makers, researchers, have put their heads together in pressure cooker sessions called Farm Labs. For two and a half hours they were elaborating on shared dreams about the future, explaining the final results on a canvas. The topics of the sessions ranged from robots, gaming, packaging, to the farm of the future in general. What struck me that all of the sessions addressed the key values that people see for the farm of the future.
Key values for the farm of the future
Farmers and consumers are connected through the food that the one produces for the other. Consumers, children, families, elderly people need to be involved in the farm. This can be collaborative brainstorming and town hall sessions about the design and function of the farm, when farmers are testing new barns and other farming systems. It can also go further in terms of the farm being a community hotspot, where citizens buy their food, play, learn and even do their work out. Webcams, artists in residence, festivals and other events can all contribute to this. No matter how, it is vital to make the connection with citizens, consumers and other locals.
Learning people again where their food comes from
The side-effect of our large and super-efficient industrial food production system is that people have forgotten where their food comes from. The food system of the future needs to re-establish this knowledge. People have realized that the anonymity of food is doing us harm, as we see food as just for filling our stomachs. Reconnecting production and consumption of food is very important. This can be done either physically through urban farming or through packaging, or visualizing things online or through social media.
Circular thinking, building the local community and ecosystems
Farmers are part of the rural landscape. By connecting with the landscape, providing services to natural parks, using their by products as a resource for the landscape or collaborating with nature in other forms, they are part of the circular economy. This is giving something in return instead of just using the earth’s resources. As they are part of this landscape, they have an important story to tell by means of their products. This adds value and makes a food product special as local produce.
New value systems
Designers have the skills to explore new means of looking at a product or system. With their ideas and prototypes they can involve the public and explore new value systems. Through materialization and visualizations they engage people in the discussion. This invitation in the dialogue brings ideas further and step by step change the food system following the dreams that people have started to articulate. The Dutch Design Week has accelerated just that.