logoBy Ona Balkus, Clinical Fellow, Food Law and Policy Clinic of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

Have you ever considered working for a start-up or pursuing your own innovative business idea? Are you creative and do you like brainstorming with others about how to solve social problems? Are you concerned with the negative impacts of our current food system?

This school year, students will have the exciting opportunity to participate in the i-Lab Deans’ Food System Challenge, which invites creative and entrepreneurial students to develop innovative ideas to improve the health, social, and environmental outcomes of the food system in the United States and around the world.

Each year the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-Lab), a cross-University resource serving Harvard students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, organizes a series of Dean’s Challenges that encourage students from across the university to develop innovative solutions to pressing social issues. This will be the first Dean’s Challenge sponsored by Dean Martha Minow, who is co-sponsoring the Challenge with Dean Julio Frenk of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Attorneys and students from the Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) and the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation have been thrilled to work with Dean Minow to develop and plan this Challenge.

Why is the Food System Challenge timely and important?
Our current methods of producing, distributing, and consuming food are damaging both for human health and for the planet. Rates of diet-related disease, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, are rising in both developed and developing countries, and the fertilizers, chemicals and fuel used to produce and transport food are causing devastating pollution and contributing to global climate change. Further, the food system does not meet the basic social justice goals of ensuring access to food for all or supporting fair-paying, safe jobs for those working in the agricultural or food service sector.

Students will be able to submit proposals for ideas in the following four topic areas: (1) Producing Sustainable, Nutritious Food, (2) Innovating in Food Distribution and Markets, (3) Improving Our Diet, and (4) Reducing Food Waste.

What are the guidelines and timeline for the Challenge?
On October 27th, the official Kickoff event for the Challenge will feature Dean Minow and keynote speaker Ayr Muir, founder and chief executive of Clover Food Lab. All students and faculty interested in learning more about the Challenge are invited to attend. In early February, teams will submit their proposals. Teams must include at least one current Harvard student in order to participate in the challenge. Teams are encouraged to be interdisciplinary, with members from at least two disciplines. In early spring, several teams will be selected as finalists and given $5,000 and a mentor to incubate their ideas. At the end of the year, the winning team and two runners-up will receive larger cash prizes.

How can law students get involved in the Challenge?
Law students can participate in several key ways in the Deans’ Food System Challenge.
First, students can start or join a team of students to develop a proposal for the Challenge. Law students can make many unique contributions to Challenge teams, including analyzing the relevant legal and policy frameworks and helping to develop the business plan.

Second, students can participate on the Challenge’s crowd-sourcing website, where students, faculty, and others engaged in the food system can have an open dialogue about pressing food system problems and promising solutions, and provide real-time feedback on Challenge contestants’ ideas. Students can meet other potential teammates on this website, or brainstorm and give feedback without joining a team.

Third, FLPC has partnered with Harvard Sustainability Office and Harvard University Dining Services to launch a year-long “Food Better” campaign that includes events focused on food system issues to be hosted all across the university. Students interested in learning more about the Challenge and the food system more generally should attend these great events.

What do law students work on in the Food Law and Policy Clinic?
Food law and policy is a rapidly emerging field with complex challenges that require innovative and creative attorneys and experts in a wide range of disciplines. FLPC provides law students with opportunities to work with a broad range of clients and communities to improve their food systems. In the 2014-2015 school year, students enrolled in the FLPC will work on a wide range of projects, including working with advocates in Puerto Rico to establish the Island’s first food policy council; working to improve type 2 diabetes treatment and prevention by helping to develop and implement strategic law and policy reform (a joint project with the Health Law and Policy Clinic); supporting reform of the current expiration date system, which contributes to high rates of food waste in the U.S.; and drafting comments to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on ways to make proposed food safety regulations friendlier to small-scale and sustainable food producers. FLPC welcomes law students to enroll in the Clinic in future semesters!

Learn more about the i-Lab Deans’ Food System Challenge and Food Better events here.
Learn more about the Food Law and Policy Clinic here.