Design Activists, Teens Build Farmer’s Market

At HOW, design activism projects are near and dear to our hearts. From the Designing Change column that appears regularly in the printed magazine to the abundance of design for social innovation projects mentioned on the blog (here and here to name a few), we’re always on the lookout for a good story about creatives who work to find innovative ways to change the world. In this post, we look at a new documentary about two design activists and high school students who built a farmer’s market in a struggling community.

If You Build It

Film poster for the documentary If You Build It about design activists and high schoolers who built a farmers market in a poor, rural community.

The problems associated with food deserts have been well-established. Limited access to fresh produce directly impacts obesity rates and other health-related diseases. Primarily a problem in poor, urban areas, North Carolina’s Bertie County also fits the bill. In addition to being a food desert and the poorest county in the state, the rural community was riddled with high drop-out and unemployment rates. Although the area has its problems, Chip Zullinger, a local “renegade school superintendent,” decided to tap two designers to help boost the high school’s creative problem solving capabilities.

The two designers were Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller. Excited to help out, the two crafted a design-build curriculum called Project H. The goal was to develop design-centered solutions to Bertie County’s problems with the hope of injecting new life into the community. In spite of a change-resistant school board and adventures acquiring enough credit and grant money to finish the project, the changemakers eventually won out, resulting in a fully functional farmers market. The market, which was designed and built from the ground up, now lives in the center of town and has created new job opportunities.

This project is the focus of the documentary, If You Build It. Opening on January 10 at the IFC Center in New York City, the film looks at the year-long project by following Pilloton, Miller and ten teenagers who work together to harness the power of design thinking. You can watch the trailer below, but if you want to read the inspirational director’s statement or find out more information about the making of the documentary, head to the If You Build It website.


Are you inspired by this social innovation project and want to put your design skills to use in a similar way? Check out the How to Change the World with Design (Or at Least Your Part of It ) With Socially Conscious Design mp3 download to get started.

How to Change the World with Design (Or at Least Your Part of It ) With Socially Conscious Design