When city residents do not own cars or have full-service supermarkets nearby, they rely on fast food, carryout, and corner stores within walking distance for food. In 2008, 65% of Baltimore’s neighborhoods had low or medium healthy food availability. Through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art’s Center for Social Design ran a design studio that would use research and engagement with the Baltimore community to encourage healthy eating in its food deserts. The studio was led by the Center’s director with support by graduate students. To implement and test our designs, we partnered with Real Food Farm, a local urban farm, and Baltimarket, a Virtual Supermarket Program run by the Baltimore City Health Department that enables residents in food deserts to place and receive grocery orders at a local library/school for free.
Our initial design concepts revolved around creating more incentives for residents to purchase healthy food; making shopping fun with participatory games or tools; highlighting the potential of often new or foreign foods with taste tests, free samples, and recipes; and engaging other health-related resources in the community to help spread the word.
After trying to increase demand for healthy food at Baltimarket’s ordering sites, we took a step back and thought about ways to increase demand for healthy foods in a space with a much larger customer base: the supermarket itself. If customers did not buy or demand healthy food when it was available, we could not expect food desert communities to demand healthy food when it wasn’t accessible.
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- An abridged version of our findings was published in The Research Journal of the Maryland Institute College of Art (Fall 2011).
Related media coverage
- The Baltimore Sun, “City's ‘virtual supermarket’ gets national recognition” (10/17/2011)
- Bloomberg Businessweek, “Fresh Relief for Baltimore’s Food Deserts” (8/23/2012)
- The Baltimore Times, “Virtual Supermarket Program in Baltimore a success” (8/30/2013)