Thursday, 11 September 2014

3 September 2014. Roll out of first prototype.

The design criteria of the short term food storage unit has been summarised in the form of a systems poster. Before the design of this product can start, it is important to figure out the principle of cooling. In an effort to do so the prototyping of the principle will continue for another week. This blog is about the first effort of experimenting with evaporative cooling in a way that mimics the traditional Zeer (ceramic pot in pot with soil). This first round of experimentation is an attempt at achieving similar results to the Zeer using lighter and cheaper materials (plastic 'pots' testing a variety of different materials between the pots, namely cellulose sponge, veldt, thinsulate and soil).

Due to time limitations of when the farmers could meet with me, the roll out of the first prototypes had to happen before I could test them myself. As this post is happening a week late I have already gotten feedback from the first roll out. In hinds sight it would be better to test the principle myself in order to figure the most effective set up and then test is this is still effective in the context of a farm. The first roll out did, however bring some general insight related to resources such as time, labor, water and space. 

 As the produce on my site is limited for now, I purchased some produce from Masarame's sight in Tladi. Here I bought spinach, spring onion and carrots. Its was useful to witness the harvesting and in-house purchasing process.

Onions and carrots are pulled out the ground and the farmer shakes and cleans the roots. They measure a bunch by what can fit in your hand. They then tie the bunches. Depending on the consumer and the point of purchase, they will wash the produce and hand it over in a bag.

Onions need to be peeled before they are bunched.

The manual harvesting process is time consuming. It took about 20 minutes to harvest 2 bunches of spinach, 2 bunches of onions and 6 carrots (R47). Masarame, like the farmers at Siyazenzela express that they were unable to harvest all of their produce for the market because of the limited time and labor available on the morning of the market. Preparing, by harvesting the day before is out of the question as the produce will not be fresh enough the next day. If the short term storage unit can accommodate for harvesting the day before, farmers can be more efficient in their harvesting and selling and therefore sell more produce and waste less produce. 

 Two farmers harvest the produce in 20 minutes. After harvesting the carrots Masarame had to remove the smaller ones  that were under developed (left). 

 Happy with my first purchase, it was time to go to Siyazenzela and use these in the test.
The actual visit to Siyazenzela and the roll out of the first prototype was relatively short. I introduced the purpose of the testing and how it would work.

There were 6 tests. Four different Zeer mimics (view 2 posts ago), one test in a simple container (similar to a lunch box) and another test with no storage (produce was placed on a tree stump under the shade.

It is important to compare the four main tests to each other to see which material works best and then compare these results to control test to see if the technology is actually offering something better that a regular container or no container at all.

I set up the two control test in front of the farmers and then I set up on of the four main tests for the farmers to see how the test would work.

 I explained that in this test the lid will act as a vacuum, so as it is pushed down it vacuums the air inside to a certain extent. This is to keep control during testing. I then explained the reason of why and how it was set up and the purpose of each feature. Thermometers were placed on the inside of each transparent lid so that the testing process can be recorded (view in image below).

 I completed one of the tests after closing the lid and pouring water in between the 'pots'.

 I then asked the farmers to complete the other tests to allow them to understand and participate in the process.

 It was simple so this went quickly. All interface actions must be kept simple so that it is intuitive and the product can be used easily by any farmer.

The farmers completed the operations correctly without any difficulty or hesitation. After watering the systems, I handed Earl a simple table to record the testing as he lives on the farm. The table asked to record the temperature and quality of the food at 1 30pm and 6pm that day. At 6pm the systems were to be watered again and the temperature and quality was to be recorded at 7am the next morning (1hour after Earl wakes up). On the day of a market, farmers begin harvesting at 3am.

One week later, I returned to see how the tests went. The units were still in the storage classroom that the farmers have access to. Unfortunately Earl didn't provide a filled in table for me. He could only tell me that the four main tests fared better then the control test that was placed on the tree stump outside. He did not refill the storage with water at 6pm and only checked the temperature and produce the next day at 12am. He did, however, say that he could still sell the produce that were in the containers over night for the same price. The ones outside were not sellable in Earl's opinion. He only gave one reading for all the tests and said that the temperature went down to 24 and then up to 25 at 12am the next day. This reading was even the same for the lunchbox test. 

It is now necessary to replicate the testing in a more controlled manner. This will show if there is no difference between the four main tests as Earl suggests. Before I return to the farms with the second prototype, I will figure the cooling principle and include the one that works best under controlled testing. It must then also be successful in the context on the farms.

Once the principle has been figure out, the design on the storage unit and and all relating aspects can then be addressed. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

2 September. First farmers' market (Soweto Imvelo Market)

Informing my project up until this point were the interviews, observations and participatory activities based on different farms and RDFF meetings. Desktop research has also clarified some of the scope of the project. Something that was really missing was a good contextual understanding of a market set up in Soweto. It is an important point of purchase that small farmers are interested in, identified through a series of interviews, so attending the launch of the market was key in informing the product development of short term food storage. 

It is understood that the first farmer's market did not achieve all the goals originally set out, but the successes of the Imvelo Market promise that the future of these markets will only be bigger and better. We arrived when some farmers had already set up their display and whilst other farmers were still arriving with their produce. This allowed me to observe key themes that my storage design would have to accommodate for. This blog post is a record of the passive observations, relevant to food storage, that I made at the market. The farmers' market (top left image) was set up in an area also used by other small, informal businesses (top right images), and thus a familiar spot to the community members of Soweto.

This stall (left) was already set up when I arrived. Just like the majority of the sellers throughout the day, their produce was harvested that morning and we could tell by how good it all looked and smelled! 

First I will talk about setting up: 

A common theme here was planning to appeal to customers. This was done in a variety of ways. One of which was arranging the produce in a structured manner. This consumed a substantial amount of time and the success of this was dependent on the available resources. This involved setting up on whatever containers and surfaces that were available to the farmers who had limited time to plan this. This brought advantage the people who set up early as they could set up under shade.

Availability of shade proved key to the success of selling produce. Some farmers had to make alternative plans as shade was limited.

The storage product being developed aims to render farmers more independent of weather or not these external resources are available to them on the day of a market. It must insure these above mentioned needs to them and so, by owning this storage, they can be self empowered regarding these issues.

(left) A well considered display uses the containers that the produce was transported in, differently. The three different types of produce are showed off using space decently. 

This farmer uses a bakkie that is not his own. It is a make-shift display that is only effective to a certain extent. shade is only partially available here.

Another bakkie (left) that was previously parked in the sun moved under cover as another tent became available. These sellers came with a lot more produce than shown in this picture. They use a range of random containers that were available to them.

Produce was continuously being set up and re-set up and many things dictated this. The carrots on the box (bottom of left image) were later moved to the bakkie surface behind the spinach as shade became available in this spot. Spring onion was put in the place of where the carrots used to be as they don't fair as well in the sun. This switch also made more sense as the farmer was unpacking his carrots, as he had too many to fit on such a small surface. This was inefficient planning and the storage product can help to be more efficient in this way.

Observations during selling and maintaining produce: 

Customers like to shop and they are interested in buying what looks and smells the best. After a purchase is made, the farmer puts the sold produce in a bag and/or ties bunches with an elastic band.

There was a well skilled seller standing on the bakkie doing what he could to get the attention of customers.

In an effort to protect the produce that was drying up from direct sunlight, one of the sellers covered her spinach with black plastic bags. Attracting and absorbing the heat with this colour was maybe not as effective as a solution that can be provided by the storage product. 

Other  efforts to maintain the produce involved activities like pouring water directly over produce using a water bottle (images left and right).

This method wasted a lot of water. After I'd left the market to prototype, Naude' notified me of another preservation method using ice directly on the produce, which provides cooling and moisture (image below taken by Naude').

The secrets of Soweto continue
to      hold     my     attention :]
I saw the farmers from Siyazenzela there and they expressed that they were somewhat disappointed with the outcome of the market. They would prefer associating themselves with the market when it is better established. They do see the potential of the market, but as they are more established than some of the other farmers, they have bigger business prospects. As the market further establishes itself, it will attract more developed farmers like the ones at Siyazenzela. It is important to consider that different farmers are at different stages of development. And the storage design can accommodate for this in the way that it is modular.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

27 August 2014. Updating farmers and prototyping.

My posts are delayed by a week as writing, sketching and prototyping consumed my time... I've got a lot to update so let's get straight to it!

During last week's visit a farmer brought up his concerns regarding his IP and how he will gain from the potential future of the product. This delayed the meeting, but didn't stop the process and his participation... But it's quite important so it's currently being dealt with by the higher powers. The time we had was first spent helping Earl set up the covers for the second seedling bed. After this, the social scientist students took a walk around the farm and other immediate surroundings with Earl to gather some information. I stayed behind to update Mpila and Nkosimaye with the design process based on the feedback they gave me from last week. Jessica was with me to document the process. 


After updating the farmers they gave some brief input of opinion and it helped to get points of refinement on the already established direction. The discussion continues to revolve around issues of user interaction during packing, transporting, and displaying. 

 A basic, scaled down mock-up  (right) used PU foam, chipboard, SS wire and rivets to represent the the containers, wheels, trolley framework and trolley attachments respectively. This aided the flow of conversation when the participants and myself were explaining the system to each other. The farmers showed me the 90 litre containers (left) they usually used to transport goods to the market. The also have multi-purposes, one of which is to hold composted soil while filling seedling trays.

At this point I was well enough informed to fabricate the first range of prototypes. These would test the principle of evaporative cooling and the possibility of using the traditional Zeer system (ceramic pot in pot with soil in between).  Originally applied to food storage in Nigeria, a current trend involves the revival and transfer of this technology to developed countries and designing it for elitist domestic use. An aim of this project is to revive the traditional method closer to it's place of origin, harnessing the advantages of modern materiality to create a product that is appropriate for small-scale farmers in Soweto! Jomari and I spent an afternoon at  the almighty Wespack buying containers and stocking up for the prototyping process. My first prototypes try to mimic the Zeer system using lighter, more durable materials that will aid the transporting of these units. Smaller Tupperware containers were set into bigger ones and lids were cut to fit accordingly. 4 of these were made to be tested with different materials to be placed in between the containers.

Earlier in the day, we were at the first Imvelo farmer's ,market to passively observe and get some contextual information (view next post). I saw my farmers there and they said that they could only meet the following day (wed) to participate on the roll out of the first prototypes. This took one day away from me and I was unable to test the prototypes before the hand over. With this type of research plans made ahead of time are never guaranteed and many things are unpredictable. But the show must go on so... I prototyped at full steam !

The materials were chosen after a simple test was done (top left) to analyse the capillary action of each (showing ability to transfer and hold moisture). 

I'm just going to fast forward through a lot of cutting gluing and drilling of many of holes! I colour coded the rings that were placed on the lids. This helped the testing and recording process later...

Things sure go fast when you have an awesome workshop, thanks UJ.

Here is the pot in pot plastic replica, times 4! I then went home only to drill more holes.............................................................................................

the fourth test uses soil which works well
in the Zeer but is heavy for transportation.

Cellulose sponge (left) is a great retainer of water, it is used in mops. It also had the best capillary action results of the pre-pre-tests.

Veldt, (left) had the second best capillary but possibly better insulating properties than cellulose sponge. It's also cheaper than cellulose sponge in the small amounts that I bought both.

Thinsulate (left), used in pillows and duvets and suggested  by Angus, has great insulation properties but poor water retention.                                

Holes shown in the images on the left will encourage evaporation. It will be interesting to compare the results of these materials with different properties.

Ready to take these to the farm! The many holes on the outer containers are meant to replicate the porosity of terracotta used in the Zeer. The theory is that as moisture is suspended in the walls of the two containers, evaporation will be induced because of the warm temperature of the inner pot. As the heat energy is converted into evaporation, the inner pot is left at a lower temperature. The rate of evaporation is directly proportional to the rate of cooling. I would've liked to test it before the field testing but it is important to deliver depending on when the farmers are able to meet.

Participatory design is challenging!...But look how far we have come because of it  :)