What happens when city-dwellers publicly grow their own food where they live? That has been the simple and central question of the Edible Estate gardens I have been planting around the world since 2005.
Each garden is commissioned by a local art institution and planted in front of a typical residence. The first was planted symbolically in the geographic center of the United States, Salina, Kan. Others followed in Aarhus (Denmark), Austin, Baltimore, Budapest, Istanbul, London, Lakewood (Calif.), Los Angeles, Maplewood (N.J.), New York City, Ridgefield (Conn.), Rome and Tel Aviv.
This year as artist-in-residence at the Walker Art Center, I bring the project back to my hometown where it was inspired, concluding the series with garden No. 15 in the Twin Cities suburbs.
Six months ago, I issued an open call to Twin Cities residents, looking for households interested in having their entire front lawn ripped out and replaced with a diverse, organic edible garden. From 100 emails accompanied by front lawn photos, I selected the Schoenherr household in Woodbury.
Since I only plant gardens in locations where they are otherwise unlikely, providing a vivid contrast with everything that is around it, their street of endless immaculate lawns seemed perfect. And as pickling and canning enthusiasts who grow hydroponic lettuce in their basement and who commuted to a 40- by 80-foot community garden plot last year, they obviously were ready for the next step, taking it public and to the front yard.
Driving through their 20-year-old suburban development, I’m reminded of the neighborhood in Hopkins on the other side of town where I grew up. We had the lawn out front and a vegetable garden out back where we harvested our summer beans and tomatoes. Leaving home, the suburbs, and Minneapolis for a more urban experience in other cities, I came to see the suburban landscape I grew up in with different eyes.
With the front lawn as the great symbol of the American Dream, replacing it with something else — such as an organic edible garden that engages the neighbors — suggests a new version of the American Dream.
Catherine Schoenherr puts it best: “I personally believe there are many ways to live and be in the world, and as a family in suburbia, we see this as setting an alternative … our yard will say, ‘Here’s another option to think about.’ ” Their Edible Estate was planted in late May and has since grown into a thriving and productive community space featuring a children’s garden for the neighbors and a communal bread oven.
Do we really have time to grow our own food? What about our polluted urban soil, air and water? Will the neighbors think it’s ugly? Will they steal my melons? And what about those bunnies and deer? Every reason we can’t or won’t grow our own food is part of the project, leading us to consider the fundamentals of how we relate to our environment, our food and each other.
The next phase of my project with the Walker Art Center began with the opening of “Domestic Integrities: A05” in the gallery this August. Having spent years planting productive gardens, Domestic Integrities continues the story indoors, considering the ways in which local resources are used, processed, and brought into our homes.
The central element is a massive rug crocheted out of donated clothing and textiles, first presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and then the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The rug expands in each city, and for the past week I have been working with local volunteers to crochet the Minneapolis ring of the rug and get it up to its current size of 27 feet.
Behind the rug will be a 33-foot-wide aerial view of the Twin Cities where urban food production locations will be mapped, from front-yard edible gardens to Community Support Agriculture farms. Upon low pedestals on the rug will be a constantly changing display of freshly harvested, foraged and gathered materials from local landscapes, including my new installation called the Foraging Circle across the street at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Visitors will be invited to take off their shoes, get on the rug, have fresh garden tea and make themselves at home.
Living in Los Angeles for the past 13 years, I appreciate gardening year-round, but I also miss the joyful drama of emerging from our interior hibernations to a new growing season, its conclusion in the fall as we hunker down preserving what we can, followed by a winter of dreaming and planning for the next season. Domestic Integrities will celebrate this local cycle as the display on the rug gradually slows down in October with gatherings, book clubs, conversations and displays of dried, preserved and pickled local harvests.
Every time I come back to the Twin Cities, I see more food co-ops, more farmers’ markets, more organic cafes, more community gardens, more wild front-yard meadows and fewer front lawns. Perhaps I’m not bringing anything especially new to town, but it does feel like I am bringing my work home to the place that inspired it. In the process, I hope that these projects can collectively pay attention to what is particular about this place, continually asking the question ‘How do we make ourselves at home in the Twin Cities today?’
Fritz Haeg is artist-in-residence at the Walker Art Center in association with the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s 25th anniversary. The exhibition “Fritz Haeg: At Home in the City” runs at the Walker through Nov. 24.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.)