Originally published in Artweek, September 1998
"Plants are a good thing" says urban farmer David Lawrence, one of five people chosen by collaborative artists Jon Rubin and Harrell Fletcher to participate in satellites of FarmCity. FarmCity was one of eight projects that formed Urban Resource Laboratory, (URL) a multi-disciplinary investigation of what constitutes cities which happened from May 8 - June 20 1998 at Southern Exposure. URL featured a resource room with various tracts on the development and redevelopment of San Francisco and other urban sites, a virtual city Website and various other multi-disciplinary installations (including the Urban Resource Lavatory) inspecting and dissecting how history, community, environment, geology and politics shape urban space.
FarmCity is small scale Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) that Rubin and Fletcher see as a model for a potential city-wide system of agriculturally based collectives. They built a greenhouse in Southern Exposure and planted three troughs of various greens (collards, kale, chard, beets, mustard, tatsoi and broccoli rabe) which were available for visitors to sample during their visit. During the course of the installation Barb Eaton, Program Associate at Southern Exposure, supplemented her lunch for several weeks on the tender greens. Free seed packets were also available for visitors to take with them to start their own farms at home.
In decentralized FarmCity farms, five mission district residents grew at least one crop each. Portraits of the urban farmers and information about their lives and their crops were painted on green circles on the plastic walls of the earthy and moist smelling greenhouse. In David Lawrence's rooftop garden in Project Artaud, the tomatoes "are not doing so well" but the squash are "growing like body snatchers". Lawrence has since expanded his gardening efforts by lugging one of the troughs of greens up to the Artaud roof where it is now tended by people in that community. Thinking about the plants has changed his daily routine, he says. "Living in a concrete box, you lose touch. The plants have gotten me onto the roof every day". He views them as low maintenance pets and is looking into a vegetable sitter for when he goes on vacation. So far Lawrence has harvested one squash and one other ripe squash was stolen.
A potluck planned for the middle of August will include all the participants and the food each farmer grew. For information about setting up your own urban farm visit www.cityfarmer.org. For more information about FarmCity or any of the Urban Resource Laboratory projects visit www.soex.org/url.
- Amy Berk