Charles Mingus, the great jazz bassist, once said: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creative.”
In something as complex as our food system, which wraps around the globe and yet roots down in our backyards and corner stores, it is all too easy to make things complicated. Think about the Farm Bill, food miles, and RoundUp Ready corn. The policies, the people, and all the parts that make up our food system are complicated to say the least, but is there simplicity to be found within all that?
Can creative work uncover simple, essential qualities of food and food systems?
Can these essential qualities be used as tools to not only build healthy food systems but also healthy communities?
At Community Food Lab, a design firm based in Raleigh NC, the entire food system is treated as an opportunity for design and creative engagement that simplifies the complicated interwoven parts of the food system. Community Food Lab reimagines urban food flows and infrastructures and recognizes that the social connections that come through local food are a critical building block for healthy communities. Chatting at a farmers market, teaching a child to pick a carrot from the soil, sharing fresh food with a neighbor: these are social connections on which healthy, resilient communities rely.
As a mission-based for-profit firm, Community Food Lab uses the creativity and flexibility of design thinking to realize the social, economic and ecological opportunities found in healthy food systems. Community Food Lab believes that healthy food systems foster healthy communities, and that the designer in food systems has a responsibility to both.
In their desire to bring simplicity to food system conversations, Community Food Lab grounds its design work in three main principles: “diversity leads to resilience; systems are stronger than single solutions; and collaborative design, driven by social intentions, can create healthy physical environments and sustainable food systems.”
Working primarily with municipalities, institutions and non-profit organizations, Community Food Lab balances client-based design work with speculative research and engagement projects that investigate creative methods of building sustainable, resilient food systems and imagine new ways to increase participation in local food.
Typifying this approach, OPEN FOOD is a new Community Food Lab project to build participation in local food. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, OPEN FOOD is a series of single topic booklets that introduce, explain and share various parts of local food systems. Through clear language and graphics, the booklets promote local food by sparking conversations and curiosity. Meant to make local food open and accessible, the OPEN FOOD series will be distributed widely in print and digital form, using the marketing effort of the Kickstarter campaign as an early foundation for distribution.
In addition to OPEN FOOD, other Community Food Lab projects include:
- designing and studying feasibility for a local food hub
- building a healthy corner store program to span several counties in North Carolina
- supporting increased food studies collaboration across multiple disciplines at North Carolina State University
- building a conceptual framework to promote “Urban Food Innovation Corridors”
- facilitating the development of new farmers markets
In several ways, each Community Food Lab project is about rebuilding the relationship between cities and food, bringing new value to the health, economy and sustainability of communities. Through its projects, Community Food Lab embraces the complexity in our food system as an opportunity for design to foster healthy communities and healthy food systems.