25 May 2008

Manhattan Wheatfield

(Agnes Denes in her Wheatfield)

In the Summer of 1982, Agnes Denes began planting wheat on two acres of landfill at Battery Park in Manhattan. Two hundred truckloads of dirt were brought in and two hundred eighty five furrows were dug by hand and cleared of rocks and garbage. Only two blocks away from Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange, the field was maintained for four months. The harvested crop yielded 1000 pounds of healthy golden wheat. For this brief period of time, the activities of the city and the countryside came together.

“In planting and harvesting a wheat crop in the midst of an urban environment, Denes called attention to human values, misplaced priorities and ecological concerns. The paradox of growing wheat on an area of land worth $4.5 billion, called attention to the hunger and mismanagement of resources which afflicts some parts of the world whilst others thrive.” (From ‘Land and Environmental Art’ Ed. Jeffrey Kastner, Phaidon Press Limited, London, 1998.)

(Wheatfield being harvested)

Denes’ intention with this project was to show the potential of the site, and the economic disparity between land use and its value in the city. Hunger is just as applicable today as it was in 1982 with worldwide food shortages making headlines and food price escalations on the rise. Last December officials from the United Nations warned, "In an ‘unforeseen and unprecedented’ shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels"

(Wheatfield and Statue of Liberty)

In spite of this short supply and rising cost of food, much is being wasted. There is a culture of food waste that is prevalent in many countries. Recently reported is that half of all food readied from harvest never makes it to a dinner table. In the USA, 14 percent of all food purchased for household use is thrown away. In England the number is 18 percent. The article concludes, "ultimately the problem is a cultural one. We have grown accustomed to an uninterrupted bounty and the economic impact has not yet grown severe enough to change peoples’ habits significantly."

Wasted food

The LDS Church has a great tradition of working towards alleviating hunger in the world. As of last year the Church has donated over 58,000 tons of food through its welfare services. Church members hold a fast once a month by skipping several meals and giving the money they would have spent on that food to the hungry. During one such fast in January 1985, the Church raised $6 million in a single day to help famine-stricken East Africa. Another fast in November of the same year produced another $4 million.

After visiting Welfare Square in Salt Lake City, James T. Morris, executive director for the United Nations World Food Program said, "If we all made a little sacrifice, there would be no hungry people. If others did what the Mormon Church does, the (hunger) problem could be solved." Morris said the total number of hungry people in the world is estimated to be some 840 million people and that "twenty-five thousand people die every day from hunger in the world." (source)

Edible Estates: front yard garden in Los Angeles by Fritz Haeg

In spite of the ‘charity’ of various people and groups today, where does the real answer lie? "We will have to find in the next 25 years, food for as many people again as we have been able to produce in the whole history of man till now." (source) How can we align the values and priorities of humanity with that of how we are collectively living? With all our innovation and technology, we still have not figured out how to properly feed the world.

Where space is tight, try a rainwater harvesting Vertical Garden by Michael Tampilic

Spencer W. Kimball said, "Every family should grow a garden" while Marion G. Romney stated, "We will see the day when we live on what we produce." Small gardens at the scale of the household may well provide the answer to world hunger problems. According to Sylvan H. Wittwer in a BYU Studies article, "The science and art of food production in home gardens should be exploited. Production is at the site of use. Wastes and by-products can be utilized as fertilizer. Energy expenditures from fossil fuels are minimized. Marketing, packaging, and transport problems are eliminated. High production and top quality are possible. Home gardening can be the most intensive food production system on earth." And as Agnes Denes has shown us with her Wheatfield in Manhattan, when it comes to food, any piece of land will do.

Roof Garden by Patrick Blanc The Vertical Garden was conceived after many observations in natural environments. The Vertical Garden relies on a new way to grow plants without any soil. Since its weight is very light, it is possible to set up the Vertical Garden on any wall, whatever its size.

1 comment:

Rachel J. said...

Great photo! If even for a short moment the rolling wheat and the erected steel could be friendlies...I believe, it is still a wonderful and necessary thing. I often see that others are catching on that one side needs the other. I love the community gardens in the middle of the city where I live and the twisted sticks from my shedding cottonwood that I have turned into curtain rods.
Good stuff!