How small structures fill big gaps in food access

Storefront volunteer consultant and former mOb student Colleen Brennan discusses the relationship between craft and food access. A furniture builder by trade, she has worked on two projects about food access at mOb + Storefront — through Shalom Farms and Tricycle Gardens

 

As most of us know, there are big gaps in the locations of grocery store chains that leave many without adequate supply of food. Having a background in craft, I’ve thought a lot about how removed we are from the production of the basic things we need every day, that being food and the infrastructure & tools necessary to prepare it. While the craft movement was originally founded to revive the dignity of labor and combat the dehumanizing effects of factory work, the movement has been revived with concerns that are more focused around sustainability — both environmental and economic. Now, the focus is more about locally sourced materials and makers as a form of ethical consumerism. These are largely the concerns of the "slow food/farm to table" movement as well.  The philosophies of these two movements have such similar sentiments, and in addition to the similarities in scale there is immense potential for them to intersect and expand access to good food on the local level.

  Bacon's Rebellion.  Map showing Richmond's urban food deserts by census tract (2012).

Bacon's Rebellion. Map showing Richmond's urban food deserts by census tract (2012).

There are two ways that food can actually meet food desert: physically providing access and education. Accessibility to food will always require infrastructure on some level, and small grocery markets operate on a scale that lends itself well to craft. Tricycle Gardens is a nonprofit community garden that runs a program called Corner Farm, which carves out spaces in the corner stores of Richmond’s urban food deserts to offer locally grown produce. They have 11-15 participating stores thoughotut the city.  Tricycle Gardens reached out to Storefront to get help designing shelves for shelf stable produce.

 Through Storefront's Design Session, Brennan devised a scheme to create shelves around the coolers provided through the Corner Farm program.

Through Storefront's Design Session, Brennan devised a scheme to create shelves around the coolers provided through the Corner Farm program.

Another nonprofit I worked with during mOb, Shalom Farms, literally drives to neighborhoods without grocery stores. This past spring, we designed a system that will allow them to easily load their van and convert the van into a pop-up market for sales. They're working on implementing this now. Their focus on education provides access by way of knowledge sharing. Part of Shalom Farms’ program is teaching volunteer labor about farming techniques and the science behind it.  They provide access through education and therefore, personal agency. This is early DIY movement stuff — So punk!

 Brennan managed a team of students through mOb studio to design a system that converts a 16 passenger van into a farm stand.

Brennan managed a team of students through mOb studio to design a system that converts a 16 passenger van into a farm stand.

mOb + Storefront will continue to work on issues around food access during this Fall's session of mOb. Even without building structures, healthier options can be more readily available. The Richmond City Health District will serve as a client of mOb, and students will apply the principles of choice architecture (focusing on arrangement that prioritize healthy options) to a corner store in the Highland Park neighborhood.

Check out more of Colleen's work here!