Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Smart APPetite App Stands Out

The Smart APPetite App Stands Out





Recently I was the guest of Dr. Jason Gilliland (HEAL & Dept of Geography at Western) and Margaret Milczarek, the project manager and research associate for the SmartAPPetite initiative, for an outstanding lunch at the Church Key Pub. Dr. Gilliland and I ordered the warm duck salad (which he highly recommended) with duck leg confit on greens, roasted mushrooms, candied almonds, Stilton cheese and white balsamic and raspberry vinaigrette. Milczarek, a passionate food enthusiast, ordered the steamed P.E.I mussels that were served with frites, and brought me up-to-date on several interesting culinary-related activities she had recently attended.

We were there to discuss the launch of the smartphone application, or 'app', and an accompanying interactive website that will help make healthy local food more accessible, and its interrelated strategies.  SmartAPPetite is a Western University community-led initiative that aims to help keep participants accountable to their nutrition goals and to maintain healthy diets. It also helps users access local food businesses, farmers and other advocates and proponents of eating and sourcing food locally.

Incidentally, I have been acquainted with Dr. Gilliland for several years in his capacity as an advisor to the Old East Village BIA and through my work at the Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market at Western Fair, where he and his team, led by Michael Clark (Old East Village senior researcher and programs administrator), conducted several studies and customer surveys, as well as an economic impact comparative analysis of farmers’ markets.

Milczarek is responsible for overseeing the advancement of the project, providing strategic direction and leadership for The SmartAPPetite team, and is the liaison for various staff stakeholders and collaborators.

The project was inaugurated last summer as a twelve-week pilot with 200 participants at the Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market at the Western Fair who provided feedback on the design and various applications of the app. A prototype app has been in the beta testing phase for months and will soon become a bona fide `farm-to fork` digital resource.

The SmartAPPetite team has two chief goals. First of all, they want to make it easier for consumers to access healthy, locally-sourced, meals by improving food literacy and the awareness of what home-grown foods are available in our local communities. Secondly, they want to shine a light on the importance of southwestern Ontario's local food economies and facilitate their roles as local economic development tools.

The collaborative project is a Labour Market Partnership, and is funded by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and Western University. It is being led by Dr. Gilliland’s lab, the Human Environments Analysis Laboratory (HEAL) and The Department of Geography at Western University, with collaboration from other partners such as Brescia University College, Department of Geography and Wilfrid Laurier University, Old East Village BIA and the London Training Centre.

HEAL is committed to research on public health and the built environment (the built environment encompasses places and spaces created or modified by people including buildings, parks, and transportation systems), Laurier is offering specialists in geography and environmental studies and Brescia’s strength is embracing the diversity of food and nutrition research.

London Training Centre (LTC) executive director David Corke said that the LTC is presently the host organization and administrator of this Labour Market Partnership (LMP) project. LMP’s are funded by the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities here in Ontario

Corke elaborates, ``Our connection and interest rest both with local food and regional economic development. A large part of the work of our organization, in addition to training and our work with food, also involves helping people find work and careers. We believe that a reinvigorated and re-imagined regional food system, one that establishes linkages between consumers and producers through technology such as SmartAPPetite, will encourage growth in the food sector and by extension – new businesses and careers for people.``

In addition to Gilliland, Milczarek, Clark and Corke the SmartAPPetite Team includes  Dr. Sean Doherty (Dept. of Geography & Environmental Studies, WLU), Dr. Colleen O'Connor (Registered Dietitian, Brescia University College), Dr. Richard Sadler (Post​​-Doctoral Fellow), Dr. Andrew Clark (Post-Doctoral Fellow), and Mark McGregor (MA Candidate and Research Associate).

While there are similar apps currently available, Dr. Gilliland stated, ``Smart APPetite is unique in its approach because it embraces the diversity of food.`` Dozens of students from Brescia gathered data and in total over one hundred academics lent scientifically validated expertise to the project. The app and an integrated website being designed by London digital agency Inner Geek Media will actively provide users with information about nearby local food options based on their preferences and/or dietary restrictions. The objective, Dr. Gilliland emphasized, ``is to develop an app that can communicate to users not only what, when and where local food can be procured, but offer reliable dietary information and nutritional recipes as well. The challenge will be keeping the content updated to maintain credibility.”

Every so often, the team will send the user short personally customized tips with information about the health benefits of specific foods, what is seasonal now, what foods are available near you, or how to prepare or store food properly. You will be able to let them know when and how often you want to hear from them. With the app, you can search for independent restaurants that are part of the Smart APPetite ideology. You will be able to get the restaurant’s address and phone number, a link to its website and a brief description of the restaurant and cuisine.

The team has facilitated workshop consultations to evaluate how best to design the app to make sure it user-friendly for the widest variety of users as possible. Attendees have represented various stakeholders ranging from farmers (from agriculture to cattle), producers, processors, distributors, niche businesses, chefs, restaurateurs, regional economic development and health unit representatives and  local food advocates. Consultations were held in Elgin County (Arts & Cookery Bank), Old East Village (London Potter's Guild), Lambton County (Wyoming Library), Essex County (Kingsville Library), Middlesex & London (Central Library), Perth County (The Local Community Food Centre), and in Oxford County (Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese).

The team has also attended many local food-focused events as well as being in touch with stakeholders from Chatham-Kent and Huron counties. Be sure to check out the launch and progress of the SmartAPPetite at www.theheal.ca/SmartAPPetite_project.php. And be sure to go to the Church Key Pub and order the confit of duck salad.


BRYAN LAVERY is a contributing editor and eatdrink’s Food Writer at Large.


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