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Coming to an Abandoned Lot Near You

Posted by Sisi / December 4, 2008

20081204_foraging.jpgIn amongst the pumps © 2008 illeboc-r.

Steve Brill has led hundreds of guided tours throughout the states of New York and Connecticut. He takes groups of visitors to locations like Central Park, Bear Mountain, and Sugar Pond. During each outing, he points out plants with such exotic names as chickweed, carnelian cherry, and common spicebush.

But Steve Brill is no ordinary tour guide. Although he is a naturalist by trade, Brill is best known as “Wildman,” America’s most famous forager. Foraging means living off the land, and to do that, one must have intimate knowledge of edible plants.

You thought dragging yourself out of bed to do the groceries was hard? Try braving the elements and dodging the law, all while trying to maintain a balanced diet. And yet, Brill’s tours are wildly popular. According to him, people are more likely to appreciate and protect nature if they can touch it and eat it.

Brill is not alone. Bristol Food For Free is an online resource that maps edible urban foods in Bristol, England. Visitors can find plant names, harvest seasons, and locations for each fruit or flower.

20081204_dumpsterfood.jpgEdible food found in the garbage of a supermarket in New York City, March 2007 © Lorenzo Morales.

All over the world, an entire subculture of people practice dumpster diving. The act of dumpster diving is fairly self-explanatory; it means sorting through discarded objects and taking what is still viable. Motives for dumpster diving are a bit more complicated; many do it out of economic necessity, while others do it to avoid a consumerist lifestyle. This is known as freeganism.

Living off the land and consumer excess are but a few of the themes addressed at the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s new exhibition about urban intervention, Actions. The launch party was held on Nov. 25 and was well attended by students, young professionals, and music fans. Kid Koala spun a DJ set in a suite adjacent to the main exhibition hall.

The exhibition was divided into thematic “modules” with names like “Go,” “Friction,” “Choose,” and “Guerilla.” Problems of waste, pollution, famine, and lack of space were addressed by various international projects. Most of ventures commonly emphasized simple, community-oriented, and environmentally sustainable solutions.

20081204_sheep.jpgPasture in the City project, Turin, April 2008 © Daniele Hosmer Zambelli.

In 2002, the Toronto Beekeepers Cooperative started an apicultural project to harvest honey in the city. In the first year, they kept six hives. By 2006, that number had doubled. Even by expert standards, the coop’s honey was excellent from the get go.

In Colombo, Sri Lanka, McGill University graduate students from the Edible Landscape project used recycled materials to integrate urban agriculture into the slums. Since, the government of Sri Lanka has expressed interest in applying the project nationwide.

20081204_garden.jpgVictory Garden Trike and Gardener, January 2007 © Amy Franceschini.

For an adrenaline rush, look no further than guerilla gardening. The movement takes the greening of urban spaces to another level. Adherents chuck “seed bombs” over fences and overpasses. The variously shaped bombs are planted with seeds and nutrients, offering the ideal germinating pod for the future plant. There is even a missile launcher that grows weeds: the N55 PROTEST Rocket. According to the makers’ website, it is “low tech, low cost” and “enables persons to communicate their protest in a concrete way.”

There is much more on display at Actions than a 600 word article can do justice to. For anyone who is interested in long-lasting change for a world that is rapidly growing faster, costlier, and more wasteful, Actions is a must see. The vast majority of the projects on display have already been set in motion; if they won’t make you more optimistic about the possibilities that the future can bring, then very little else will.

Actions runs at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (1920 Baile) until April 19. General admission is $10; student admission is $5.



Francis / December 8, 2008 at 11:11 am
Guerilla gardening? Seed guns? That's a type of hippie I enjoy!
Very interesting article - I had not heard of that exhibit at CCA. This museum is so criminally overlooked... / May 6, 2013 at 07:13 pm
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