Julie Lasky | Projects

Pizza Farm

Project M's Laura Grey with farmers at Pizza Farm

Founded six years ago by the graphic designer John Bielenberg, Project M invites young designers to engage in social activism. The multi-week program has brought attention to Costa Rica’s fragile environment, computer equipment to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and access to the municipal water system for residents of impoverished Hale County, Alabama.

On August 15, Project M at Winterhouse, hosted by Design Observer’s co-founders William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand, convened in Falls Village, Connecticut, to explore the concerns of an economically stratified rural New England county. Nine participants, from worlds as diverse as advertising, engineering, fine art and web design, were struck by an apparent divide in local attitudes toward food: Although the region supports dozens of small farms producing high-quality meats, cheeses and produce — such businesses as Rustling Wind Creamery in Falls Village, and Meili Farm, a producer of pork, beef, eggs and honey in Amenia, New York — they are unknown to a large portion of the community. As Project M member Marshall Rake, a recent Art Center College of Design graduate, explained, “We found lots of restaurants that don’t have a connection to the farmers and are using boxed ingredients. Our idea was to show them what was available.”

To call attention to this bounty, Project M organized Pizza Farm: grilled pizzas made from local ingredients and distributed for free on a Saturday afternoon in a park in downtown Canaan, Connecticut.

Once the group had refined its plan, they had less than a week to implement it. The final days saw Project M members scouting for locations, acquiring party-hosting and food-serving permits, sourcing ingredients, renting food-preparation equipment, posting fliers, granting interviews to local media outlets and producing T-shirts, posters, balloons and cards with information about the farms (including recipes). Funding came from the participants’ $1,500 program fee, which also covered living expenses. The group conceived and carried out the initiative with guidance from members of local community foundations and from visiting design critics Michael Bierut, Alice Twemlow, Allan Chochinov, Michael Vanderbyl and Marc Alt.

Pizza Farm pizzas
Pizza Farm's grilled pizzas

At 4 p.m. on August 29, Pizza Farm opened with crowds picking up readymade pizza shells that had been supplied by a local bakery and slathered with fresh tomato sauce. The diners filed along a buffet table from which they selected a choice of kale, homemade sausage, basil, mozzarella, squash, corn, broccoli, beets, chard, garlic and peaches. The customized pies were grilled and served with fresh lemonade. Three hundred pizzas were prepared in the event’s two hours.

Pizza Farm isn’t the first Project M initiative centered on food. Last year, participants distributed homemade dessert pies in Hale County, Alabama, a project that has evolved into Pie Lab, a business funded by a $100,000 enterprise grant and operated by community members. “Young people are really trying to figure out the food thing,” observes Bielenberg. Adds Drenttel: "Food is the new revolution. It cuts across economic lines, supports individual health and the environment, and is centered around ideas of community. It's the local economy at its best, at its most sustainable."

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Education , Social Good

Comments [11]

Wonderful! It's great to see John and Project M moving into the food arena. This is a great article. It was just the other day that my wife and I were talking about Project M and wondering what they were up to. Last we had heard was at the Compost Modern conference in San Francisco when they talked about their Hale County project.

Trent McNair
Surf City Growers, Santa Cruz, CA
Trent McNair

Would be cool to see more of the youth get involved... I'll certainly check it out.
web page designer

I love to see design and designers working for social activism. It is a long and beautiful tradition. Always great to hear about!
David Vosburg

Inspiring to see what enthusiasm, brains, and guts can deliver in a week. Bravissimo.
Rich Binell

I was attending Portfolio Center in Atlanta when the Project M Ambulance came by to pick up used computers for the designers of New Orleans. I was so buried in school work that I didn't even realize what Mr. Bielenberg was doing, I just helped load the truck. Being one of the older students, I realized later in the day the small things I've done in my life that were so fulfilling and selfless. Seeing Project M's involvement in food means the world to me as I have been a co-op/local farm shopper most of my life. Project M is a true inspiration, thank you!
Greg Meyers

Would like to hear of the effectiveness of such a project, are more local restaurants doing business with local farms? Follow up interviews of local businesses might be interesting, perhaps even influencing a restaurant to pick up the torch and make Pizza Farm an annual event? Sell us some Pizza Farm T-shirts.
Joshua Winship Carpenter

I agree with Joshua...I would love to see a follow up to see what change this event made. I think it sounds all warm and fuzzy, but I would love to know the long lasting effects of a pizza party. Project M seems like a huge opportunity to really do something great for communities, and it inspires me. However, I just don't see the results of this pizza party really lasting that long.
Charles Shore

Change Observer is planning to do annual updates on all Projects stories, Pizza Farm included.
Julie Lasky

One of Project M's (many) strengths is its ability to bring in community members and guest critics to the group. I'm curious if Mr. Beirut and Ms. Twemlow would comment on Pizza Farm and where the M'ers were when they came into the process.

For more Project M goodness, check out their latest project, in Detroit.


Tim Belonax


I didn't mean to question the credibility of Pizza Farm. Sharing food together is step one in opening dialogs. People have sat down at lesser meals and have made bigger decisions. I just wanted to here about the results and get a Pizza Farm T-shirt.
Joshua Winship Carpenter

I was very interested to hear of the work Project M is completing with Pizza Farm. This is the first I have heard of the project and think that it is a great idea. I am a vegetarian and find it so important to have awareness of where our food comes from. It is important to educate yourself on the impact the food your eating has on the environment as well. By choosing to buy locally, you are not only supporting your local economy but minimizing your ecological footprint. The energy used to obtain your chosen food is less, therefore your impact is less. It is not only a healthier option, but a smart one at that. With the efforts of Project M, more people are being educated on locally available items. The chosen meal of pizza is perfect! One of my favorite meals among many others as well. To illustrate to the consumer that they can have the same delicious taste and still be conscious of what they are consuming is great to teach. I hope to learn more about the efforts of Project M and follow you as I continue to change my food habits as well.

Jobs | June 14