UFWH Blog latest news and updates


GODAN Hackathon

Authored by Molly Rhodes, Auburn University

At the Hilton Midtown in New York City, in a small room with 10 round tables, 80 people were bunched together in groups talking about the next way that world hunger could be solved. A hackathon event can last anywhere from 24 consecutive hours to 7 days. Computer programmers, graphic designers, and in this case agriculture and nutrition experts come together to create software or hardware. In this GODAN hackathon, we focused on food insecurity and nutrition and aimed to develop software and/or hardware to solve agricultural problems. In hour one of twenty-four, we brainstormed and pitched ideas for projects to pursue. In the end, seven topics made it through and got teams of 3 – 6 people working. The projects varied from a marketplace for farmers to sell their surplus food to distributers to an interactive map that shows users where their food comes from.

hack4My team chose to develop a portable and easy to use soil testing kit that would automatically send moisture levels, pH levels, and mineral content back to a server where the data will be analyzed and displayed on a website dashboard. My role was to develop the application programming interface (API) where I wrote the JavaScript and HTML code that would translate the soil content into digital files and push them through a database and into visualizations for the website dashboard. Our team did research, data analytics, hardware solutions for the beta of the soil testing sensor, and graphic design for the final presentation. Our table and many others sat for hours in front of the blue glow of laptops hacking out their projects. Intermittently, the coordinators would organize group activities to keep our brains stimulated and a break from coding. We debated the next revolutionary type of ice cream, pizza breaks, and refills on life-sustaining caffeine. As time wore on, many teams trickled out to go home and work or get a couple hours of sleep before returning early in the morning. After a long battle with the ever present bugs in my code, I finally was able to get a successful test run. After 12 hours of coding, my team decided we would break for the night and return at 6 the next morning.

Upon entering the hackathon room at 6 am, the pizza and coffee smell permeating the air, I realized how lucky our team was to be able to go hack1home. Bodies were laying asleep on the floor and across chairs. There was a communal feeling of exhaustion even among the people who were able to go home and try to manage three hours of sleep. Work resumed over more coffee, granola bars, and fruit. The deadline for submissions was fast approaching and the giant timer on the wall ticked on unforgiving. Our team finalized the PowerPoint, ran final tests on my code, and designed the dashboard. With a click of a button we turned in our soil testing kit that we felt like was more of our baby than a series of lines of code. Next, was the final presentation. Each team had five minutes to present their work followed by two minutes of questions from a panel of judges. Every team did a phenomenal job presenting their work and many projects I was truly amazed with the work they had done. For many participants it was their first hackathon, we weren’t really sure what would come from twenty-four hours in front of a computer. One thing is for sure, all of our work would go a long way to help agriculture and nutrition to one day have zero hunger in the world.