Food deserts—places where fresh and nutritious food is difficult to access—are sprinkled across the U.S. In response, a number of mobile farmers markets have popped up, where local farms and vendors bring their wares to community hubs.
Generally, these mobile markets are created by farmers, grocery store owners, and activists. But in Maryland, the Center for Design Practice (CDP) at the Maryland Institute College of Art took on the challenge of creating a mobile farmers market for Real Food Farm, an urban farm in Baltimore. So what does a mobile market look like when designers are involved?
The mobile market project, one of the winners of Sappi Fine Paper North America’s annual Ideas That Matter grants, was born out of students’ work in figuring out how to connect the residents of Clifton Park (a neighborhood in Baltimore) to nearby Real Food Farm. "The Center for Design Practice is a multidisciplinary studio focused on engaging students and partners in project-based learning, specifically, where results can make a positive impact on society. Real Food Farm was one of those projects," explains Mike Weikert, the director of the CDP. "We don’t engage with organizations to produce predefined outcomes. We facilitate a process and frame these projects in larger terms like how to connect farm to community."
In this case, the truck idea emerged from CDP students’ experience spending a month working at Real Food Farm. Food trucks are already popular in Baltimore, and the city has a history of hosting Arabbers, or street merchants who sell produce from horse-drawn carts.The Real Food Farm mobile farmers market is a cross between the two—and an iconic moving billboard for the farm.
Some of the original design elements have stuck. A pullout drawer system (similar to what’s used by contractors when they need to pull things out of a truck bed) lets staff organize produce on the road. An awning pulls out and attaches to the truck, and a hook system lets staffers attach baskets on the side of the vehicle. An interchangeable panel system features chalkboards, dry erase boards, and a map of the truck’s route.
Others haven’t worked out so well. CDP students didn’t think to install a refrigeration system, however; that had to be added after the fact. They also put a side window for transactions in the original design, but it was never used—instead, workers display all their wares off the back of the truck and handle customers from there.
Unlike most other mobile farmers markets, the Real Food Farm truck delivers produce to people’s homes (with a $10 minimum delivery. To schedule a delivery, residents can either email, call, or download the Real Food Farm iPhone app, which updates daily with information on available produce and what neighborhoods the truck is planning on visiting.
Now that the design process is over, CDP is no longer working on the truck. "We don’t really play a role at this point with how the truck functions. It’s owned, operated by, and facilitated by the farm," says Weikert.