Frog Design Imagines Urban Food Systems of the Future

What if getting affordable, local food was as simple as going to the nearest corner store or stopping by a food cart on the way home from work?  Frog Design imagines that this is possible with Mobile Market and Stones Throw Harvest, two entries in the Digging Deeper SF competition. The San Francisco-based competition invited designers to "Design an urban agricultural product, system, retrofit, service model, or communication campaign/platform that is simple to set up/manufacture/produce and/or implement/sell/distribute, and maintain within the context of the urban environment with existing neighborhood, city and state regulations"—not a simple challenge to decipher, much less take on. Frog, however, tackled it well.

In the Mobile Market scenario, Frog Design attempted to solve the issue of local food distribution from farms to urban centers. "We're proposing a new way of helping farmers get food to urban centers via carts distributed throughout the city," explained Catherine Sun, one of the Frog designers behind the project. In the proposed system, farmers bring produce to a pick-up location near their farms, and the food is taken to a central location for vendors to access. Carts are placed throughout high-traffic areas in San Francisco. They display both fresh local food and pre-packaged ingredients for meals. An RFID card-reader system for the carts mean that customers don't have to bring cash to get their produce. At the same time, cell phone applications alert customers to the types and quantity of nearby produce and pre-prepped meals. The Mobile Market system allows easy access to fresh produce—no farmer's market required.

The Stones Throw Harvest scenario empowers corner stores to distribute local organic produce. The scenario consists of three parts: store owners, growers, and community. Local certified organic growers who have, say, extra lemons in their backyard lemon tree can bring produce to a corner store in exchange for credits that can be used to purchase other pieces of organic produce throughout the city. Community members on the prowl for quality produce use the Stones Throw harvest cell phone app or website to check out nearby fruits and vegetables. Anyone using the app can rate growers and corner stores in a Yelp-like system—so community members know where to go for the good stuff.

For either of these scenarios to occur, support from the city would be needed. But considering how inaccessible local produce is to people who don't have the time to make it to the farmer's market, both proposals could end up being successful.

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  • Victor Pap

    I may be missing something about the novelty of these concepts but farm to consumer has been in place for some time in PDX. I find it shocking that SF wouldn’t have similar programs in place.

    My in-city neighborhood has both a Saturday farmers market and two temporary fresh food stands that operate in season and bring produce, cheese, meat/fish, bakery items, honey and plants in from farms operating just out of town. There is also a fresh fish retailer operating from converted bus bringing salmon in from the Columbia. This retailer operates across the street from a Costco and right next to in season fruit vendors set up under tents in a parking strip.

    The "Stones Throw" is also in place. I have a row of fruit trees on a portion of my city size lot and there are various "exchange" programs for sharing or letting gleaners come and harvest what I don’t use. Some of this activity is on craigslist but some of it is through established relief agencies that already distribute produce.

    The addition of digital tracking (RFID) and as yet developed web sites in the described concepts just adds a layer of technology and narrows the communication pathway. This may preclude participation from those most in need of good, fresh and affordable food and least likely to have the type of digital appliances needed in these concepts: the elderly and the poor.

    I’m always amazed at the figs that are all over SF. Maybe frog has other concepts for repurposing paved areas for urban gardening, urban water collection/purification or urban fisheries and livestock management?

  • Marc Fenigstein

    Couple o' committed folks doing after-hours work that matters. Nice work, team!