Master of Fine Arts
Today 49 million individuals in the US are affected by food insecurity (Whittle et. al., 2015). Low-income populations tend to depend solely on convenient stores for calorically-dense, nutrient poor sustenance, and suffer from health problems that drastically shorten or debilitate lives (Dhurandhar et al., 2016). In Richmond, Virginia there is a dramatic divide between wealthy and low-income communities in terms of the accessibility as well as the types and quality of foods available. Several communities in this city meet the characteristics of a food desert.
Grocery store chains typically avoid building in low-income communities for fear of low profits (Wright et al., 2016). The need exists for a market that sources fresh and affordable produce in an accessible location to those living in food deserts. Research has shown that in addition to product quality and price, aesthetics are a critical component of the shopping experience (Webber, Sobal & Dollahite, 2010). This store should provide an aesthetic experience that cultivates strong community by attracting users to spend time and socialize in the store. Design can have a strong positive impact on food desert communities. By designing an aesthetically pleasing, well-stocked grocery store along with community gathering and learning spaces, food shopping is elevated from a mundane task to an experience that cultivates a thriving community.
Research will include case studies of community gardens and farms as well as markets. Interviews with area natives that provide insight on the community needs within the food desert will be conducted. An understanding of the current food sources within the food deserts will be gathered. A literature review about how design and marketing techniques influence the shopping carts of consumers will provide value in understanding the strategies behind grocery design.
Studies of community gardens show that autonomy over the garden keeps participants invested in their community (Hondagneu-Sotela, 2017). Preliminary observation of the community reveals the presence of several convenience stores. Store design and marketing strategy research reveal that the marketing of nutritious foods is not as ubiquitous as packaged foods (Caspi et al, 2017), but that there is promise in marketing fresh produce to children at point-of-sale kiosks (Holmes et al, 2012). Priming shoppers to make health-conscious choices also influences the shoppers’ selection in the grocery store (Papies et al, 2014).
This research will lead to the exploration of an urban community garden and grocery store that exists to bring community together as well as provide food. A café that doubles as a nutrition education space could build connections and knowledge within the community. A kitchen could house high-quality equipment used to produce food for the store as well as teach cooking classes to the community. A community garden could engage the neighborhood in the process of growing produce for the store and offer dynamic health benefits including increased physical activity, gardening skills, and strengthened community ties. By engaging with all age groups and crafting a pleasant grocery experience that makes the shopper feel valued, design could begin to address food insecurity, dependence on nutritionally inadequate convenience store food, and health problems that many urban neighborhoods face.
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