Last weekend, I joined over 400 computer coding developers, city officials, data scientists and Boyle Heights residents for #HACKFORLA—a mobile app creating contest at the Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center.
Sponsored by groups including, AT&T, Google, Chase Bank and Will.i.am’s i.am.angel Foundation, the event was part of National Day of Civic Hacking, where 97 cities and 38 states simultaneously participated.
The goal of the two-day challenge was to create a smart phone app to improve the lives of people living in Los Angeles. With a $25,000 cash price on the line, groups hit the ground running.
Quickly I gravitated to a group of five: mobile phone developers Robert Colin and Kalpesh Solanki; website developers Allen Scheinhaus and David Lai, and Shokoufeh Mirzael, a data scientist. Together we set out to develop a smart phone app using Dataset by USDA Farmers Market Directory Local and Regional Food Systems, one of the Department of Agriculture’s most popular consumer search engines.
Our original goal was to create an app and website that would locate the nearest farmer’s market based on geographical location; but what we quickly found Boyle Heights is considered a food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With a new perspective, we re-strategized our efforts to create a mobile app and website accessible to communities mirroring similar characteristics to Boyle Heights: low income and with limited access to healthy, fresh produce.
California is home to a Mediterranean Chaparral, a unique biome where fruit and vegetables can be grown ten months out of the year. Boyle Heights is home to an abundant variety of fruits grown in the front and back yards of most homes.
Like many Boyle Heights residents I don’t drive a car—I travel through our city on my bicycle and public transportation. Daily, I come across unharvest fruit trees throughout the city: orange, apple, guava, pears, lemons and avocado trees, as well as others.
I’ve always had the idea to create a mobile app where the owners of these trees could connect with other owners and trade their fruits. #HACKFORLA gave me the opportunity to meet my amazing collaborators and expand on that idea.
The premise was simple: create a mobile app and website platform where residents could create an account, upload images of their products and exchange fruits, ultimately creating a network of urban gardeners that promote local healthy food choices within a five-mile radius. This event, promoted my team and I to create Urbanfruit.Ly.
The adrenalin produced by collaborators fueled the two-day competition. We knew the solution to eradicating food deserts in communities like Boyle Heights need the help of innovative thinkers like us.
A total of 40 mobile apps where presented #HACKFORLA to a panel of local judges. In the end my team walked away with two tittles Best Overall Hack for LA App – 2nd Prize and the Chase Bank Challenge: Best app related to jobs, business, and economic development.
#HACKFORLA is part of a national initiative directed by The White House Office of Digital Strategies, and I’m happy Boyle Heights is being represented nationally.
Although ending food deserts through our app is still wishful thinking—we know that Urbanfruit.Ly is a step in the right direction; and who knows, maybe our hacking efforts will prove to a sweet success.
See the complete gallery of submissions and winners here.
Luis Sierra Campos is a bilingual journalist, storyteller and educator committed to bridging public health and public media through innovating community projects. He’s also a fixed gear biker, Bikram yoga enthusiast, and passionate Boyle Heights resident.