Jenna Witzleben
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MFA Thesis: Panacea


How can we fortify the microbial interconnection between humans and the earth?


SVA MFA Products of Design

Spring 2017

Service Design, Business Modeling


Panacea emerged as a response to our earth’s degrading soil conditions and the growing disconnect people have with soil and dirt. We are disconnected from the soil when we pave over it and cover it with concrete and when we can buy our groceries in plastic bags at the grocery store, with no sense of where they came from. We are disconnected from the soil when we are constantly cleaning ourselves and our homes to get rid of the dirt. Meanwhile, we abuse and pollute our natural resources. We throw trash in the soil for the street trees. We overwork agricultural soil to the point that it’s eroding at rates up to 40 times the rate of regeneration. If the degradation of natural systems wasn’t bad enough on its own, this problem is compounded by its impact on human food availability and human health. We need physical interaction and emotional reconnection with the earth in order to maintain our existence on this planet.

Panacea is a food cart for restoring both human health and environmental health. It aims to demonstrate the connection between our health and the health of the earth, and encourage behaviors of remediation and reciprocity. Upon arriving at the cart, customers have the option to select one of four items on our rotational menu. Each of the four items has two parts: one part that feeds the customer, and another that is to be fed to the environment. A sample menu includes:

                Diatomaceous Earth Cocktail + Compost Tea

                Raw Comb Honey + Wild Flower Seeds

                Pick-your-own-carrots + Litter pick-up gloves

                Pickled veggie of the day + Earthworms

The human food either helps in clearing out bad microbes in the gut, directly adds good microbes to the gut, or aids in immune health. The earth food either adds good microbes, prevents toxic leeching, or supports pollinator habitats. For new bioremediators, there are instructions on the jar lids for how to best give the earth its portion of the meal.

To start off, Panacea will apply to markets like Smorgasburg to sell there on the weekends. Because our menu items are currently more like snacks, this positioning makes more sense than being a standalone cart, as there are many smaller portions and niche items, at Smorgasburg. We will charge $10 for each menu item. Estimating 400 customers per day and serving two times a week that brings us to around $416K a year in revenue.

The key costs include ingredients costs, labor, and the vendor fee for Smorgasburg.

This all assumes 400 people per day, or 41000 per year. But many market visitors will be tourists. In NYC alone there are at least 2 million people considered “foodies”, and NYC parks quotes about 50,000 volunteers. So in the future it seems like there’s potential to expand into retail, or potentially even small brick and mortar stores once the brand gains popularity.

I’ve started to test the menu to see whether people would want to eat these menu items. To my surprise, the diatomaceous earth cocktail was quite popular, along with the raw comb honey. People wanted to try something they hadn’t tried before. The unwashed carrots crossed the line for many people. Another learning was that people didn’t like having to select one item. They wanted to sample all four. So in the future, this could be incorporated into the menu in some way as well – giving people flights instead of single portions. Other next steps include testing for willingness to pay for these items through implementation of suggested donations or testing demand at different price increments.