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Could Hackathons Fix the Food System?

Hackathons could solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

That was my main takeaway from volunteering at the recent Apps for Ag Hackathon, where over 50 people worked feverishly for 48 hours to build cutting-edge AgTech platforms and applications. The focus of this annual hackathon is on building technological solutions to challenges in the world of food and agriculture – and build they did.

Participants walked, drove, and flew in to The Urban Hive in midtown Sacramento from as far away as New York City. Many were seasoned hackathon veterans with their eyes on the big prize: $10,000 in cash and some major recognition at the California State Fair. The participants pitched their ideas on the evening of Friday, July 28th and self-separated into 12 teams. They quickly determined roles and work plans needed to complete their project before Sunday afternoon, when each team would present before a prestigious group of judges with proven entrepreneurial cred.

Dr. Green’ – an app to help growers identify crop diseases – was the winner of the competition. Other projects included an app to connect unemployed veterans with agricultural jobs and an agritourism network where visitors can find farm-stays.

The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (or UC ANR) spearheaded the event in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and The Urban Hive, and all involved deserve major kudos. To see the partners pull off such an innovative (and fun!) event gives me a great deal of hope for other government-driven experimental initiatives, like the City of Sacramento’s Creative Economy Pilot Project or the State of California’s Innovation Lab.

Valley Vision’s commitment to ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship’ (one of the six core strategies in our 2017 Business Plan) gave us reason to serve as a promotional partner for the event. We are happy to have helped the Apps for Ag team with visibility, fundraising, and participant recruitment. The concept of putting dozens of incredibly smart people into a room, while offering a big prize and on-site subject-matter experts, is a great way to begin to build solutions to tough issues of any kind. This is not dissimilar to Valley Vision’s own purpose – to make the Sacramento region the most livable in the nation.

Keep up with us by subscribing to Valley Vision’s food and agriculture newsletter, Food for Thought, which goes out on a monthly basis to over 1,500 food and ag leaders across the Sacramento region and Northern California. See you at next year’s Apps for Ag Hackathon!

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Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Associate working in the food system, broadband, and communications portfolios.

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