This project won the 2013 Architizer A+ Jury Award in the farming category. See the full list of winners here.
More than 400,000 people in Chicago live in food deserts—that is, areas without grocers that stock affordable fresh food. In 2011, Architecture for Humanity Chicago joined forces with the nonprofit Food Desert Action to transform a decommissioned Chicago Transit Authority bus into a mobile produce market. The project cleverly repurposes a strategy well known to Mr. Softee (and his younger, hipper cousin, the taco truck) for the cause of food justice. In fact, the Fresh Moves Mobile Produce Market makes so much sense that we're embarrassed for everyone who never thought of it (ourselves included!). And so are our A+ jurors, who, naturally, awarded Fresh Moves the jury prize in the Architecture + Farming category of the A+ Awards.
To retrofit the bus, Architecture for Humanity Chicago assembled a pro bono team led by local architecture practice Latent Design. From a universal access standpoint, using a city bus was a brilliant stroke, since it was already equipped for wheelchair access. Inside, the architects repurposed the bus aisle as a grocery aisle and replaced the seats with 5-foot-wide custom shelves capable of supporting 200 pounds of produce. They also modified the bus's battery to supply electricity for refrigeration and card readers for LINK, the city's food-stamps program.
The mobile market serves the food deserts on the south and west sides of Chicago, and runs four days a week with several stops per day. Food Desert Action, the operator of the grocery, treats each stop as a micro-event in its own right. The stops are usually at schools, community organizations, and housing complexes, which partner with Fresh Moves to offer pop-up programming such as educational workshops and cooking classes. Fittingly, the front of the bus is tricked out with a bike rack, which brings a blender and exercise bikes to each stop. "These partnerships take the experience beyond the shell of the stationary bus to an activated public space," writes Latent Design principal Katherine Darnstadt.
So far it's working. In its first year, Fresh Moves reached 11,000 unique customers, and the service is poised to grow even more. Last year the city donated a second bus to the project, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded it $70,000 in funding.
Darnstadt explains that Fresh Moves addresses the pressing need for fresh food in the absence of brick-and-mortar groceries, which take time to develop. "A new model is required to restore food access rapidly to communities, with enough agility to reach the areas of highest need," she adds. "What’s most needed now may not be a grocery store at all, at least not in the conventional conception."
All photos courtesy of Architecture for Humanity Chicago