We know - we have yet to write about Slow Food Nation. We’ve certainly spent enough time excitedly reviewing the events line-up to have something to say, but it is a daunting event to begin to cover (after all, it is being billed as the “largest celebration of American food in history”). It feels like our very own, home-grown Terra Madre! However, as the summer weather finally kicks in around Portland and our gardens begin to take off, this is the perfect opportunity to introduce what is taking root in San Francisco. Yesterday, the Slow Food Nation team and the City of San Francisco (along with the help of some stellar volunteers) broke ground on a very exciting project: the Victory Garden at the Civic Center. Their timing couldn’t be better.
Between July 1 and July 11, a team of Bay Area gardening organizations will lay the groundwork for a large public garden, which will be tended by a team of volunteers throughout the summer, following the Community Planting Day on July 12. Sixty-five years after San Francisco’s city hall last planted its front lawn with vegetables, Slow Food Nation will reclaim this public space for food production.
Inspired by the WWI- and WWII-era Victory Gardens that covered the nation, this effort comes at a time when many citizens are concerned with our culture’s access to healthy, sustainable foods. While Victory gardening began as a patriotic call to relieve the nation’s war-strained food production during wartime, today’s urban gardeners are re-defining the concept of victory. Healthy communities, closer connections to local farmers, and greater food security for those in need are the new goals of Victory gardens. After it serves as an educational hub on urban growing for Slow Food Nation over Labor Day weekend, all of the produce harvested from the city hall gardens will be donated to local food banks and meal centers.
The movement is not limited to San Francisco. As the Victory Gardens 2008+ team digs in at the Civic Center, urban residents and progressive projects around the country are reviving the concept of the victory garden in their own cities. Recently, as Deborah Madison notes on Culinate, there has been a surge of interest in home gardening. Across the country, the Food Not Lawns movement encourages re-planting grass yards with edible plants and the American Community Garden Association helps people find garden plots. Closer to home, we have access to the City of Portland’s Community Garden Program (although there are currently over 700 people on the waiting list!) and our very own Growing Gardens, which connects low-income residents with the resources to set-up and tend their own home gardens.
Given how prevalent food security and sustainability are in the current public discourse, it makes sense that artists and cultural institutions would begin to germinate an aesthetic response. Artist Fritz Haeg started his Edible Estates project in 2005 as a “site-specific” installation of an edible garden in place of a front lawn for a suburban home in Salinas, Kansas. His hope was to engage people’s understanding of where their food comes from by contesting the old-notion of the all-American front lawn. Since then, Haeg has replanted more lawns as vegetable gardens and earned the attention of both the Tate Modern in London and the Whitney Biennial in New York.
In Queens, Work Architecture won P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center’s annual young architects competition with their plan for Public Farm One, a temporary honeycomb produce garden bisecting the gravel courtyard. Throughout the summer, vegetables harvested from the structure will be sold at a weekly Greenmarket held for those visiting the performance art center. In creating their proposal, Amale Andraos, one of the principals of the firm, explained, “We wanted to find what our generation’s symbol would be, embodying our preoccupations, our hopes for the world.” An urban farm in a hyper-modern, progressive arts plaza seemed to fit the bill.
Not all of these artistic projects have focused on creating new urban farms; some have sought to share the history of existing community gardens. Chicago’s Walkabout Theater Company is currently in the middle of an original production entitled War Garden. Through a combination of acting and live music, War Garden will present the story of Chicago’s historic public spaces in today’s public gardens. Over the course of July, the company will perform the piece in different community gardens across the city, with the intention of re-vitalizing these gardens not just as places for food production, but as sites of public interaction and discourse.
It is encouraging to see all of these urban garden events that are converging around the nation - each happening capitalizes on the existing momentum of local food production and inspires new action. Slow Food Nation will gather these diverse strains of a nationwide movement for good, clean, and fair food, translating them into iconic and celebratory events. Taken together with the lectures, markets, tours, food halls, and dinners, the Victory Garden at Slow Food Nation will help to create a vision for the future of American food. Digging up and farming the lawn of City Hall (even with their blessing) is a bold move towards transforming the goals of Slow Food Nation into long-term change.
For information on events, tickets, and logistics, visit:
Slow Food Nation 2008
-Patrick & Amanda