You can hear the People’s Grocery truck long before it turns the corner. Hip-hop music fills the West Oakland neighborhood as the bright orange Mobile Market makes its way down the street, bringing healthy food to a community not served by supermarkets. Architects Paul McElwee and Jane Wason wait excitedly on the corner for the truck to pull to the curb.
The pair volunteered time and labor to get the itinerant design project on the road. Aside from providing organic produce and staple goods, the goal is to educate West Oakland residents about sustainable agriculture, nutrition, and social justice. “I wanted to get involved,” McElwee says. “I thought we could help out designing the permanent grocery store, but since they are just starting up, there wasn’t a site.” So, they found an old postal truck and went mobile.
The truck stops (but not the music) and Brahm Ahmadi, People’s Grocery codirector and cofounder (with Malaika Edwards), hops out of the driver’s seat and rolls up the rear door. Two hinged steel shelving units unfold and flank the gangplank entry. The inside space is efficiently tight; the chrome shelves hold green, yellow, and orange wood boxes stocked with supplies, including energy bars and natural toothpaste.
Prompted by Mobile Market’s success, People’s Grocery and McElwee and Wason are developing a how-to manual so that other nonprofit organizations can build their own grocery trucks. One of the biggest design challenges is the interior fabrication. Wason points to the thumping sound system built into the side of the truck, stating, “We had to design around the subwoofers when installing the shelving.” Despite such design difficulties, the People’s Grocery founders and designers hope to inspire a fleet of urban produce trucks from Oakland to Los Angeles, dropping beats and beets en route.