The Charlie Cart: A little kitchen for every classroom

Charlie Cart

By Claire Perry

The Charlie Cart’s brightly colored panels invite the eye and its sturdy wheels imply it’s ready for adventure. Designed by Berkeley’s Brian Dougherty, the cart is a compact, mobile kitchen at the heart of a project — supported by no less than Alice Waters and Michael Pollan — that includes the equipment, lesson plans, and training to get kids cooking in the classroom.

Designed with reference to the cowboy Chuck Wagon, the Charlie Cart sports two burners, an oven, drawers filled with 10 sets of utensils, dishes, pots and pans, a manual-water-pump, and a drought-wise grey-water waste bucket for returning all water to the garden.

The Charlie Cart Project launched on Nov. 7 on Kickstarter. The $40,000 it aims to raise will fund three pilot cooking and nutrition programs in California, where lessons and a mobile kitchen will be tested and refined before rolling out nationwide in 2015.


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The Charlie Cart comes fully equipped to start cooking. Photos: The Charlie Cart Project

The project is a collaboration between Carolyn Federman and Brian Dougherty. Federman was formerly executive director of the Chez Panisse Foundation and founding director of the Berkeley Food Institute. She has consulted to large-scale food education programs, including the Edible Education course at UC Berkeley, and worked closely with Waters, Pollan and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Dougherty, the co-founder of Celery Design Collaborative and author of Green Graphic Design, focuses on sustainability and design innovation in his work.

The Charlie Cart, currently in Celery Design’s Berkeley showroom, is a playful solution to serious problems. The budget crisis faced by Berkeley schools’ highly regarded cooking and gardening program is a prime example. But kids’ health more broadly is top of mind for the project’s founders.

“The focus of the imagery and the way we’ve tried to frame this is that we’re surrounded by all these challenges – childhood obesity, diabetes – negative issues. But the motivation isn’t a double-negative, it’s a positive,” said Dougherty.

He describes the response of a class full of children anticipating their cooking lesson: “The Charlie Cart is excitement-worthy: ‘Oh! We get the Charlie Cart this week!’ That kind of behavioral response is designable. Positive and rooted in positive experiences with food. We want to not just solve this for one school and one group of 30 kids. We want to have a big impact. There is a strategy and theory behind that. The grown-up experience is about theories of change and health outcomes. The Kickstarter campaign is the grown-up side: why its important. The counterpoint kid perspective is about fun and engagement and discovery.”

“It’s about pleasure and joy,” confirms Federman, citing the delight of a class of children she visited in Ventura recently, where they were tasting persimmons for the first time. “You see 30 kids in a class, calm and contained and engaged, their eyes are on the food or on the teacher and they are so present and engaged.”


Chuck wagon
The Chuck Wagon: the inspiration for the design of the Charlie Cart. Photo: courtesy The Charlie Cart Project

With so many connections — The Edible Schoolyard Project, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Breville, Oxo, and Williams Sonoma are all partners on the pilot project, and Waters and Pollan are on the advisory board – why turn to crowdfunding?

“Our motivation for using Kickstarter is that it’s essentially like a barnraising,” said Dougherty. “It’s very different than if we were to go to a foundation and ask for $40,000 and when we get the grant we build one relationship. At the end of the day, hundreds of people have literally played a role in a very direct way in bringing it to reality.”

Federman concurs: “You just have such a better chance of success when everyone is shepherding the project. It’s like at a concert when someone gets carried by the crowd – they’re carrying the Cart.”

Dougherty said they will need to do more traditional fundraising in order for the organization to grow, but they hope that starting with Kickstarter will help them grow grassroots participation. “What I love about it as a non-profit is it helps us build that community support,” he said.

Once they scale up production in 2015, the project expects the Charlie Cart Project toolkit and training program to cost around $6,000-$8,000 per cart. They hope to drive down the unit cost as they build volume and develop partnerships with outside funders.


 

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Children testing the first prototype of the Charlie Cart. Photo: The Charlie Cart Project

Early on in the project, Federman sought advice from Emily Pilloton, whose REALM Charter school library bookshelf project raised $78,843 earlier this year, and from The Edible Schoolyard’s Hannah Piercey.

Federman said the advice she received included how to connect with people ahead of time, how to build lists, how to use social media to best effect and where to focus energy. “Hannah literally walked me through Mailchimp which she hails as a downright miracle tool. Which it is,” she said.

Dougherty said they uncovered some natural synergies while doing outreach. “This project is a coming together of the design and food worlds. The spirit of the whole project is like that. When we brought together lists of people we knew for the Kickstarter — we’ve both had our entire careers in Berkeley [but] we knew almost none of the same people.”

A crowdfunding project with the ethos of Berkeley, backed by some of the biggest names in Berkeley’s food movement? The Charlie Cart feels like an idea that should succeed. With 15 days to go it had raised more than $33,744 of its $40,000 goal on Kickstarter. It’s “rolling, rolling, rolling” on there through Dec. 5.

Claire Perry blogs about crowdfunding at www.thekickdoctor.com

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