Design from the Ground Up

A guest post by Pour Back winner Sarita Schaffer.

My first AIGA event was a Schmooze at Black Coffee Co-op on Capitol Hill, a rad worker-owned, nonprofit community space – a venue choice that earned AIGA my instant respect. Within minutes, I met several interesting people, collected a dozen recommendations of events and meet-ups to check out and received valuable career advice from a local UX design professor. I was already contemplating joining Seattle AIGA when I picked up a pamphlet about the Pour Back award. After reading about Pour Back, I was completely sold on joining AIGA – and applying for the award.

If you haven’t heard about the competition and award, definitely check out the Pour Back site and attend the upcoming brew night, Aug. 7th at Turnstyle and Duo. Pour Back works like this: with the help of local businesses, breweries, wineries, and distilleries, AIGA raises money for great causes.

All money raised is put into the Pour Back Fund and then given to talented designers who are focused on benefiting a community in the Pacific Northwest and solving real-world problems. As a social entrepreneur transitioning into design work, this was right up my alley.

13 years ago, I was accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design for illustration. Three days into orientation I had an existential crisis. I chose RISD to pursue design for good – to channel my creativity into promoting social justice and environmental protection – but I realized that I lacked a practical understanding of either. So, I withdrew from RISD and hitchhiked across the US to work on an organic farm here in the Puget Sound. From Washington I traveled to other states, then to Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru and Brazil, working with farmers and studying innovative models of agricultural education and rural development.

In 2001 I co-founded GrowFood.org, a site that connects people who want to learn about farming to internships and work on farms in all 50 states and 52 countries. In 2009, I joined forces with Washington State University to bring its Latino Farming Program to western Washington and launch Viva Farms. Viva is a farm business incubator that helps Latino farm workers and new farmers become farm owners by providing them affordable access to land, equipment, start-up capital, and marketing & distribution support. Finally, this past September, my journey came full circle. After working in sustainable agriculture locally and internationally for more than a decade, I returned to school for graphic and UX design.

Why?

Because I’ve come to see that a socially just and ecologically sustainable food system can’t be built by farmers and agricultural nonprofits alone. Everyone will have to participate. Most of all, eaters, who outnumber farm operators 150 to 1. Eaters shape the food system because farmers respond to consumer demand. Farmers always grow more of what sells and less of what doesn’t. If local, organically-grown, field-fresh, minimally-packaged strawberries sell best, more acreage is dedicated to growing them. If heavily-fumigated, plastic-packed, cold-shipped strawberries whose low price is maintained by under-paying farm workers are what sells, more acreage is converted to that. It’s that simple.

But as eaters, how do we know which food system we’re voting for when we reach for a pint of strawberries at the store? Often we don’t. That’s why I’ve come back to design after all these years, and why I applied to Pour Back.

Design informs and educates. It distills infinitely complex concepts into beautiful, recognizable symbols that guide us to act in accordance with our values. For instance, it helps signal which berries build the food system we want and which ones don’t.

The goal of my Pour Back design was to transmit Viva Farms’ mission via the medium that most directly connects farmers and eaters: the product itself. The Viva Farms label that will soon be affixed to select Seattle-bound product prominently displays our bright, high-octane logo. It briefly tells our story, and directs eaters to VivaFarms.org, where they can learn more about our work and get involved in supporting a new generation of sustainable farmers.  Keep an eye out for our delicious product at Central Co-op, Stockbox on First Hill, in Molly Moon’s strawberry sorbet, and at upcoming Pour Back events!