When art turns suburban lawns into edible food parks

Sebastian von Holstein
Sunday, 9th June 2013

How do we make ourselves at home in the city? What does it mean to grow and harvest our own food and resourcefully and artfully make ourselves at home?

The city can sometimes seem an inhospitable place. The clear, yet faceless glass skyscrapers, the characterless, useless suburban lawns that sprawl out of the city. 

Communication in this environment is severed by the illusion of transparency. In the home, bricks and mortar keep out the elements; in the garden, tall hedges and fences separate us from our neighbours and unknown walkers; the car gets the driver from a to b, then back to a again without having to speak to a single soul. Our relationships, be they with earth, family and friends are held in the absolute privacy of our artificial monocultures and social structures.

Fritz Haeg, artist-in-residence at the Walker Art Centre is specifically addressing these observations in a series of new projects that will aim to bring local residents and strangers together, in order to "collectively re-imagine our everyday relationships to the land, the home, the city and each other."

Edible Estates project

The first of several projects entitled 'Edible Estate #15' takes the Schoenherr's family home situated in Woodbury, Minnesota and will replace their unproductive front lawn with what is described as a "highly visible productive garden": oxymorons in the suburban landscape. 

Here were the guidelines proposed by Haeg for the ideal suburban garden site:

- The NEIGHBOURHOOD should be in the Minneapolis - St. Paul suburbs where lawns rule and residents wouldn’t otherwise consider publicly growing food, ideally at the moment where housing development meets farmland. 

- The RESIDENCE should be a typical or common local living situation opening on to the front yard with windows or doors. We would be particularly interested in a duplex or multi-unit complex where several households share a surrounding open lawn.

- Estate OWNERS should include at least one avid gardener, be enthusiastic about the project while aware of the amount of work it will involve, committed to continuing the garden as long as they are in the house, and eager to share stories about the project, including a regular journal through the first growing season.

- The FRONT LAWN should be flat, pesticide free, with good sun exposure, few large trees or major landscaping, and very visible from the street with regular traffic. It should ideally be surrounded by other front lawns where a disruption would be dramatic.

"Where a disruption would be dramatic," privacy would become public, defying the unsustainable vernacular, by simply being different. The productive, organic, edible garden will stand out amongst the unproductive lawns that surround it, bringing various participants – artists, neighbours, friends and volunteers – together and breaking down conventional notions of privacy.

Foraging Circle (May - Oct 2013)

Situated in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the Foraging Circle will double up as an education centre within one of Haeg's geodesic dome structures.  The planted area of the sculpture garden, which comprises of plants native to Minnesota, will be the backdrop to "public workshops, conversations, meals, and events related to local gardening, food production, and urban farming."

Domestic Integrities (Aug 8 - Nov 24, 2013)

What makes a house a home? Is it the mass produced items, found in thousands of similar looking homes? The trinkets of Ikea amongst other home design stores – lampshades, framed pictures of unvisited cities, modern Scandinavian tumblers and cutlery – are regularly bought from a single store to furnish a whole house. Food shipped from the other side of the world is then purchased at the supermarket, ignoring the seasons and damaging our relationship with food and the planet.

While it seems that the days of localised patterns and crafts are over, 'Domestic Integrities part 5' will explore the past "rituals of domestic interior landscapes". In collaboration with, and following on from the 'Edible Estates' projects, 'Domestic Integrities' looks at the way that materials gathered from the local environment, and made using traditional techniques, are brought into the home.  

The centrepiece – a handmade crocheted rug nearly 30 feet in diameter – will play host to this installation, where people will be invited to sit and observe some of these constantly rotating items of 'Domestic Integrities', including baked bread, foraged flowers, homemade remedies and other local foods and crafts. 

Further information

Fritz Haeg is the current artist-in-residence at the Walker in association with the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s 25th anniversary. To follow his progress and for more info, please visit fritzhaeg.com and www.walkerart.org

Domestic Integrities first appeared at London's Hayward Gallery, since travelling across the world, and will be on display at the Medtronic Gallery from August 8th 2013. 

Read our coverage of Fritz Haeg's exhibition as the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMa): Using Art to Promote Permaculture Ethics - 'Common Senses' at MoMA

Permaculture Issue 65 contains an article on art in the context of permaculture. Grab a copy here or download it here.

For more greening inspiration, have a look at Small Green Roofs, Permaculture in Pots or browse our online bookshop