Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) Center for Design Practice
Real Food Farm, Baltimore, MD
We had almost forgotten the reality of carrots, the names of cabbages or turnips and especially those who grew at just the right pace on fertile ground. – Marc BrÃˆtillot
This is a good initiative for a social design, renewing with market sociability, and food distribution needs. – Caroline Champion
Back to nature’s tempo, in simplicity. – Alok Nandi & Alexandre Gauthier
MICA’s Center for Design Practice (CDP) designed a campaign for Real Food Farm, a six-acre urban farm in Clifton Park in northeast Baltimore. The campaign includes an identity, stationery system, informational pieces, t-shirts, stickers, and most notably, an outfitted mobile market truck. The young farm needed a campaign to advertise its neighborhood markets and a system that allowed expansion of its brand. In essence, the campaign sought to link neighborhoods to real food.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The CDP was eager to engage with Real Food Farm because of its unique position as a solution to food deserts in Baltimore City. As of 2008, 65% of Baltimore’s neighborhoods have low or medium healthy food availability, and due to a lack of full-service supermarkets and low vehicle ownership in Baltimore’s food desert communities, many residents rely on fast food, carryout, and corner stores within walking distance.
An economically viable and environmentally responsible model, Real Food Farm works to increase access to fresh, healthy food for residents of its five adjacent neighborhoods. The inner-city farm is production-focused meaning, unlike an urban garden, the farms’ future growth emphasizes production and yield and best practices like pesticide-free produce. Real Food Farm is also an invested partner in the community and an economic asset.
The initial problem we sought to solve was to develop and design ways for Real Food Farm to increase public awareness of and demand for the farm’s products within the five surrounding communities, and to create overall support of the farm’s weekly mobile markets. Early in the project, the team realized there were several ways to increase neighborhood food access:
- Making real food available and affordable
- Creating demand for real food
- Raising awareness of Real Food Farm and its mobile markets
- Integrating the farm into the community
- Becoming sustainable and profitable
- Increasing the volunteer base
- Providing education/youth job training
The CDP is a multi-disciplinary studio dedicated to preparing the next generation of design leaders by bringing students together with outside organizations committed to education, collaboration, and pursuing ideas with solutions not yet defined. Through multi-disciplinary, project-based learning, the CDP engages in socially conscious projects using design to translate ideas into tangible outcomes with the goal of changing behaviors and making a positive impact on society.
After volunteering at the farm and and studying the surrounding neighborhoods, the design team identified several key messages that the campaign should address:
- Local (In the community, with the community)
MICA’s Center for Design Practice begins every project with an immersion period. For six weeks, the designers, art directors, and faculty visited the farm to volunteer and better understand the farm’s purpose and culture. The team also researched the five surrounding neighborhoods including local signage vernacular, availability of fresh food, and previous neighborhood markets, among other topics. Using this research, the team identified project objectives, challenges, audience, attributes, points of difference, key messages, and an overall essence.
The first piece developed was the language and branding of the farm. The team used the word “real” as a motif in a series of taglines including “Get Real” (purchasing), “I’m for Real” (volunteers), “Keep it Real” (donations), and “Real Deal” (sales and promotions). Next, the team developed a stationery system and informational pieces, including brochures, postcards, and flyers to advertise the farm and its markets. T-shirts, buttons, stickers, and bumper stickers further support the advertising goal. Finally, most notably, the team designed a new mobile market system using an old newspaper delivery truck. The truck features a payment window, hanging educational signs, and a storage unit that slides out the back door.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural (see larger cultural question below), gladdening, etc.)
Real Food Farm has been growing at a rapid rate since the Center for Design Practice began its involvement. The farm has almost doubled its size, adding an orchard, three more hoop houses, a greenhouse, and several staff members. The produce yield has been so great that the farm has been selling its surplus at a farmers’ market. In 2011, the Center for Design Practice was awarded a Sappi “Ideas That Matter” grant of $15,000 to design and produce additional materials for Real Food Farm. Three designers created a new permanent farm sign, mobile market materials like produce signs and sandwich boards, and produced large quantities of t-shirts and postcards that had originally been printed in-house. Thanks to the farm’s proven sustainable business model and professional and comprehensive design treatment, Real Food Farm has been able to educate and feed several neighborhoods in Baltimore City.6. How is your project positioned on a cultural level? Or, are there elements that show a blending of cultures or is it monocultural?
The Real Food Farm campaign is an absolute blending of cultures because Real Food Farm’s audience ranges from upscale restaurant owners to members of its immediate communities who would otherwise not be able to afford or have access to fresh vegetables. Real Food Farm’s prices consider farmers’ markets and grocery stores and provide discounts for those on government food assistance. Campaign materials emphasize Real Food Farm’s acceptance of EBT. At full production, Real Food Farm aims to sell 60% of its produce to community residents and 40% to restaurants, caterers, educators, hospitals, and other institutions.
In its unique location in a city park within a quarter-mile of two public high schools, Real Food Farm also serves as an educational and employment opportunity for students. Several students work at the mobile markets or volunteer regularly on the farm. Real Food Farm trains youth and adults in agricultural and horticultural jobs, thereby helping create employment opportunities for Baltimore City.7. Does your project have nutritional elements? If so, are these elements available and affordable on a global or local level?
Because creating a demand for healthy food is a primary goal of the farm (and our campaign), nutrition is a vital component. Everything Real Food Farm sells is grown on-site, so all products are fresh, raw, and of outstanding nutrition. The design team offered samples of the prepared foods and created recipe cards using products from the farm. The designers also created farm-to-table graphics and seasonal food charts. While all of the farm efforts are currently local (Real Food Farm seeks to address food deserts specific to Baltimore City), in the future, the farm plans to share its learnings with other urban areas.