Tessellate Studio has partnered with Reed Foundation to design a Mobile Food Lab meant to be a traveling educational vessel—quite literally, it is a customized 300 ft greenhouse chill zone, with a lab and exhibit space. The movable classroom is meant to educate K-8 graders on everything from better eating habits, how to cook, gardening, and how all of these activities in unison can nourish our minds and bodies. This inventive approach to food education ended up earning Tessellate Studio a 2019 Core77 Design Award Runner Up win in the Design for Social Impact category.  

“The MFL’s primary missions are to help children develop a healthy connection to food by harnessing their innate curiosity through a multi-sensory experience of smell, sight, touch, and taste,” Tessellate Studio writes in their Core77 Design Awards entry, “the MFL uses food as the medium to teach a curriculum of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM).”

The design objective was to create a space that could house different learning components — an all encompassing greenhouse, classroom, science lab and art studio. The greatest challenge was how to fit 30 people on a vehicle at once while still being able to accommodate different educational activation zones within the space.

Designing the MFL was challenging in that the studio had to create robust and multi-functional experience both inside and out. The lab was designed in three sections with the central area being the social zone comprised of skylights and 4,000 ft of rope — the nest-like “sanctuary” is the center of the design, and meant to facilitate conversation and orientation. The next area is the cooking area consisting of a hydroponic garden, cook top, sink, and cutting service. Then there’s the science area, complete with digital microscopes, LCD monitor, test tubes of herbs and spices, and a “taste” chart to learn the science of taste. The Art Area includes storage for the materials and two carts that can be wheeled off the bus for additional flexible countertop for storage,  and a countertop for arts and craft activities. The flexible learning stations allow each student the opportunity to engage in hands-on experiments, group work, and independent investigation.

The bus is scheduled to visit schools, parks, and public events and currently serves the entire state of New Jersey. As there are many subjects to teach within the larger umbrella of art, science, and cooking, different exhibits were built. The space includes a geography exhibit that teaches kids about the herbs and spices growing in their own backyard to prompt discussions around regional cooking. The lab’s plant anatomy exhibit teaches children about the structural make up of a plant and how to keep plants healthy. A flavor profile exhibit allows the students to try new herbs and spices; the exhibit also outlines the science of flavor (taste buds, plant composition) and how to combine them to form recipes. One of the main curriculum goals was to prompt curiosity around healthy food and ingredients so that students would encourage their families to make fresh food as part of a balanced meal. 

Mobile Food Lab has been highly successful since beginning the programming in September 2018, usually booked for months out. The overall project was built out to benefit participants on a multitude of levels in a cleverly holistic manner. In addition to building healthy connections to food, the bus has served to provide dozens of jobs for adults with autism who help maintain and upkeep the exhibits and programs. And of course, Mobile Food Lab has positively affected thousands of kids, many in underserved communities, in bettering both their individual and family’s food habits. Projects like this one are further proof that knowledge is power, and will perhaps even inspire students to become future change agents in food reform.

Check out the Mobile Food Lab project in full on our Core77 Design Awards site of 2019 honorees