Smart Cart Farms Out Design on Chicago Streets

Smart Cart Farms Out Design on Chicago Streets

The Mobile Food Collective, a cart designed by Archeworks, transforms from a farm stall to a communal table, as pictured.
Mason Pritchett

With interest in urban agriculture growing, Archeworks has designed a mobile cart that aims to foster farming, healthy food, and community connections in underprivileged neighborhoods. Called the Mobile Food Collective (MFC), the cart can be moved to a location loaded with seeds and tools for planting, serve as a stand at a farmers market or as a table for cooking demonstrations, or function as a distribution center for community-supported agriculture shares. In a first for the alternative design school, Archeworks’ project will also be exhibited at the U.S. pavilion at this fall’s Venice Biennale.

Tending the fields before loading the fresh produce onto an MFC.

The project is the school’s latest collaboration with community organizations to leverage design to engage local initiatives. “The project came out of an ongoing interest we’ve had at Archeworks. We’ve been looking at ways to rethink how infrastructure can be used to create public architecture,” said Martin Felsen, the director of Archeworks. Felsen believes land-rich areas like Chicago’s South Side offer opportunities to develop local food systems. “There’s also an interest in green jobs and new economies in underserved areas,” he added.

As a part of an investigation into the local food and urban agriculture movements, Archeworks students and faculty volunteered at farmers markets, community gardens, and cooking workshops. “Initially, we thought about designing something enclosed, more like a shed,” said Mason Pritchett, who co-directed the project with Jesse Vogler. “Then we realized we wanted more of an even plane, a community facilitator, between furniture and architecture.” In partnership with the Gary Comer Youth Center on the South Side, the MFC will be used to expand the nonprofit’s burgeoning farming initiatives.

Archeworks views the relative open spaces of Chicago’s South Side and other underutilized urban areas as a perfect opportunity for agriculture.

The Archeworks studio commissioned a fabricator to build the unit’s steel frame, and then students built out the rest of the structure using reclaimed lumber. They hope to add a bicycle fleet to haul boxes dispatched from the cart for deliveries. In addition to the collaboration with Comer, the school hopes to use the MFC to work with other nonprofit and community groups. “The unit can perform a lot of operations for different stakeholders,” Pritchett said.

The inclusion in the Biennale marks a global debut for the school. “It’s the first time our work has been shown abroad,” Felsen said. “Traditionally, our goals have been focused on local problems. It’s natural that our work should have a larger audience.”