Exhibit imagines urban landscape as a place to grow fresh, local food
By Monica Garske | SDUN Reporter
Imagine strolling through the bustling streets, alleys and parking lots of North Park. Now, imagine that same urban setting covered in orchards, fruit trees and vegetable gardens ripe for the picking that produce fresh food for your consumption.
That’s the basic idea behind “Eat Here Now,” the latest exhibit at the Art Produce Gallery at 3139 University Ave. in North Park.
The exhibit – which kicks off April 14 with an opening reception from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. – is truly a collaborative effort. It’s spearheaded by curator Leslie Ryan, chair of the Architecture Landscape Department at NewSchool of Architecture and Design (NSAD), and features graphic designs and artwork by various NSAD students and professors. The exhibit runs through May 15.
Ryan said the objective of the exhibit is to help people visualize North Park as more than an urban landscape, but rather as a neighborhood that can be repurposed into an area for fresh, local, sustainable food production.
Ryan said the graphic designs displayed at the Art Produce exhibit depict innovative ways of turning streets, vacant lots and empty rooftops in North Park into gardens and greenhouses where locally grown food can be produced. It’s the “farm-to-table” concept catered specifically to North Park.
“We want to open up our ability to imagine North Park as an urban farm,” Ryan said. “We want people to envision North Park’s 50- to 60-foot-wide streets as serving a dual purpose. Imagine orchards lining 29th Street or along 32nd Street or Illinois Street; think of community gardens intertwined throughout. It’s very possible. In some cases, this urban farming movement has already begun.”
In addition to dozens of graphic renderings of urban spaces-turned-green, Ryan said “Eat Here Now” will also display the testimonials and stories of locals who are already producing their own food.
“There are many people who are already doing this in the area – growing their own fig and fruit trees, [having] herb gardens and raising chickens in their yards. I’ve interviewed all sorts of locals who do it,” Ryan said. “This is what’s currently happening and we want the concept to continue to grow as a normal part of everyday life here in North Park.”
She said she thinks urban agriculture addresses several issues of living in urban areas. “Gardening helps us get exercise, helps us obtain fresh, nutritious food and helps us connect as a community. People stop to ask about someone’s garden. Also, selling locally grown produce at farmers markets can help give the local economy a boost. There are so many benefits,” Ryan said.
Lynn Susholtz, owner of the Art Produce Gallery, said Ryan’s exhibit goes hand-in-hand with what Art Produce is really all about: food, art and sustainability.
“Food brings people together. It’s a shared experience. If we can show people how local food production works, then they can begin to imagine it as part of their daily lives,” Susholtz said.
Susholtz knows about growing her own food in an urban setting. The Art Produce Gallery features a community garden in the back, which used to be an asphalt parking lot two years ago before she repurposed the space.
“Everything in the garden is edible. I have fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and flowers on raised beds out there,” she said. “The transformation over the past two years has been amazing.”
Susholtz said she also has a system set up in her garden that captures rainwater and recycles it to water her plants. As a result, she said she hardly uses water from the City.
She hosts several community events each month in her garden, including a “backyard farmer’s market food exchange” where locals can trade different foods they’ve grown among each other.
Susholtz said the garden will be open throughout the “Eat Here Now” exhibit, giving visitors another first-hand look at what really could be in spaces around North Park.
“I hope people walk away from this exhibit seeing the potential and validity of growing food locally, in substantial quantities, in an urban setting. I want people to know they can make a social and ecological difference; this isn’t a fad that’s going away – it’s here to stay,” Ryan said.
For more information about “Eat Here Now,” visit artproduce.org.