It rained really hard on the 5 boroughs Wednesday night. I got stuck in DUMBO just before a magnificent thunderstorm moved across the river from Manhattan. Without many options for cover -far out DUMBO is still desolate after dark- I thought I would be drenched in moments, but fate had another plan for me. Just as the rain drops started to fall fat and heavy, I spotted a light in the distance. I ran (carefully?) across the wet cobblestones and ducked I to one of the many old warehouse style buildings, this one on a corner across from the developing waterfront park under the bridge. A steep cement staircase, soft lights and plants sprouting from burlap sacks hanging over the metal rails- that’s what I first saw when I walked into Smack Mellon gallery.
The locally sourced and brewed beer tasting was just wrapping up and the folks gathered around began to seat themselves for a discussion about a subject not previously talked about in art galleries, I’m sure…food. Political issues surrounding food sourcing was the topic of the artist/farmer panel dubbed FOODprint. As the dark clouds moved over towards downtown Brooklyn, followed by over an hour of torrential rain and clashing thunder and lightening, a group of farmer artists talked about the way urban communities can source the food they buy more sustainably. They also opened up the discussion to talk about why this needed to happen. According to both activist lawyer (farmer, artist), Jennifer Grossman and Fishkill Farms Good Eggs entrepreneur, Josh Morgenthau, urban sites are attracting more people than ever and the urbanites require more nutritional resources than ever before.
Where is the food coming from? The answer is mostly very far away. By Grossman’s numbers, over 5,000 acres of public land are vacant in New York City. Why aren’t more of our groceries coming from unused, fertile lands in the city itself? What is the cost of developing farms for communities rather than having to (in more than one sense) import goods from far-off lands? The Brooklyn Grange farmers have made it their mission to develop rooftop gardens that grow fresh, season, local produce for people in NYC. Farmers markets, while being close to their market sites, are a great place to learn about seasonal produce, but also to better understand where foods come from and what environment they grow in. We must learn where our food comes from and how to use foods properly, as artist and solo farmer Tattfoo Tan put it during the panel discussion. What could render us more independent and free than choosing what and when to nourish our bodies?
The panel and audience seemed to agree that the activism behind this basic need to support our life-force -energy, health, brainpower- should be more widespread, especially in tightly-packed communities in metropolitan areas. One important reason is because the jam-packed cities use more resources: what if we suddenly didn’t have a system to get the food to NYC from upstate? If cities are continuing to grow, they must also support their inhabitants, and this us what The Brooklyn Grange and other urban farming and green rooftop initiatives are promoting.