42.2 million Americans – 1 in 7 households (13%) – are food insecure. Food insecurity is defined as limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Today, food insecurity in America affects families from all walks of life:

  • 6.3 million children under the age of 10
  • 6.8 million young people age 10-17
  • 13.5 million young adults age 18-34
  • 9.9 million adults age 35-64

This spring, students from 5 DFA studios joined with Hormel and the SPAM® Brand to take up the social impact challenge, “How can we increase food security for families in America?”

The opportunity provided select DFAers from University of Alabama, University of Cincinnati, Purdue University, Rice University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute access to DFA nationally facilitated design process training as well as expert guidance from Hormel staff over the course of the 10-week project. Students wrapped up the experience by pitching final concepts to Hormel employees at a final expo at HQ in Austin, MN.

Resha Hovde, SPAM® Brand manager, championed DFA student insights about hunger in communities across the country. “We want to use innovation and design principles from the work with students to open our minds to a different process,” she shared with her colleagues and DFA teams.

SPAM® Brand seeks to nourish communities with balanced diets, collaborate with local stakeholders to ensure effective relief, and motivate those who are food-secure, to support individuals and communities who are not.

“When I heard about this project, I thought to myself, what better way to increase food security and learn from people who can make serious impact on hunger than by working with a major American food company?” said Maddie Bowen, (‘20) of Rice University.

DFA teams considered many areas of focus: affordability of food, health risks of food insecurity, and the negative impact that food insecurity can have on education. Partnering with local organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Troy, NY or Brighter Bites, a food bank in Houston, TX, teams were able to observe and gain insights about the most pressing realities of hunger happening in their own communities.

Jesse Palma, a DFA Purdue student and studio co-founder, shared his personal connection to the project; “When my parents immigrated here from the Philippines, my mom used food stamps. I didn’t know much about it since I was just a kid. Seeing how my parents had to build their lives from nothing made this topic of food security for families super important to me.”

“I learned most about the Cincinnati community and all the current efforts working to address food insecurity. Seeing that there’s so much hope was really uplifting,” shared Crystal Mah, a freshman at UC.

DFA Rensselaer shares their solution, “Unboxed” – carefully curated recipe boxes feeding families of 4 for under $10.

Final concepts from each team ranged from affordable meal boxes with simple and healthy recipes, to mobile food trucks able to reach neighborhoods that do not have fresh produce markets nearby, to a handheld “Produce Picker” that shows current in-season veggies and how to match them.

SPAM® Brand employees offered feedback and gained insights about their product from each project presentation. Pairing vegetables with SPAM®, providing healthy recipe options, and the Produce Picker” were all low-cost and implementable ideas to support food security and empower families to cook well-balanced meals.

DFA Rice created a simple way to quickly choose vegetables when shopping.

DFA Rensselaer presents their meal box concept: healthy recipes that feed a family of four for under $10.

“The most interesting part for me was seeing these students come in and present fresh, impactful ideas that we could actually implement! Even without fully understanding our history or knowing the complete background of our brand.” Resha noted.

After the expo, DFA teams heard from Hormel executives and leaders about the company’s commitment to its’ heritage of integrity, innovation, philanthropy, diversity, and stewardship. Daniel Hernandez, Innovation Manager, shared inspiring stories about personally reaching out to families who needed more protein in their diets. Students also learned of social impact initiatives like Project Spammy, a global outreach program led by SPAM® that establishes educational centers in Guatemala to develop leaders and increase nutrition.

Teams then enjoyed a tour of the SPAM® Museum and continued to explore SPAM’s long history of providing food to families in the US and abroad.

DFA Rice sporting SPAM socks for the occasion.

Design for America is grateful for the support of Brett Lee, Resha Hovde, and Hormel employees who provided insightful feedback. Their commitment to learning and innovation improved each team’s ideas and helped students prepare for direct community engagement. We are also proud to want to celebrate the hard work and dedication of teams of DFAers from Purdue, Rensselaer, Rice, U Alabama, and U Cincinnati – we look forward to seeing where you take your innovative ideas next!


Each year, DFA facilitates national programs with sponsoring companies. If you are interested in participating or sponsoring next year, get in touch!