You can see the full PDF archive of Desert here.
Desert is the brainchild of Randall Henderson born of a camping trip set in Santa back in 1936. in The magazine survived in print to 1985 – longer than most magazines could dream to reach. Across 534 issues, the magazine wandered across the United States desert lands exploring everything from folklore to rock hunting and survival skills. The magazine had a cult-like following. How could you not fall in love when Henderson’s inaugural salvo for the magazine spoke the desert in such passionate tones:
“One is a grim desolate wasteland. It is the home of venomous reptiles and stinging insects, of vicious thorn-covered plants and trees, and unbearable heat. This is the desert seen by the stranger speeding along the highway, impatient to be out of “this damnable country…” The other desert — the real desert — is not for the eyes of the superficial observer, or the fearful soul or the cynic. It is a land, the character of which is hidden except to those we come with friendliness and understanding.”
Henderson did more then write about the desert. He championed it. He was instrumental in the creation of Joshua Tree National Monument and protected hundreds of miles of other desert lands.
The entire archive is worth paging through. If not for the covers, then for the articles on treasure hunting in the Turtle Mountains, ghost hunting in abandoned Nevada towns or musings on Shiprock, an ancient volcano in the New Mexico desert.
At the crest of every hill in San Francisco, there is a new idea in full bloom. The latest comes from a group of friends who started Bloom That, a flower delivery service that delivers in a pinch. Featuring a curated selection of options with prices starting at $25 (they cut out the delivery fee entirely like a long, thorny stem), Bloom That dares you to leave showering the one you love with flowers to the last minute because you can. Well, 90 minutes to be exact.
Working with local florists, these on-demand bouquets are designed with style, sustainability, and simplicity in mind. Yes, the flowers are colorful and the company is green. Arrangements are wrapped in recycled burlap that have been donated by the coffee roaster, Weavers. And if that didn’t suit your eco-conscious conscience enough, flowers are hand-delivered to your door by San Francisco bike messengers. Whether you desire an array of succulents or a wild surprise from the flower market, Bloom That is the newest and quickest way to bring nature to your door.
Ever since I met the majestic Meredith Klein, I’ve coveted the recipe for her soothing, spicy Chai. I finally asked her for it but made sure to do so mindfully. For me, this meant understanding what it was about the Chai that made it so enlivening. Onward I went on an exploration of Pranaful, her LA-based catering company. Pranaful started from Meredith’s desire to provide nourishing, healing foods for individuals taking part in deep transformative work, such as yoga or meditation. She collaborates with retreat leaders to offer wholesome, mainly plant-based foods to support the work—both physical and inward/subtle—explored by those in the environment. She also caters parties, offers cooking classes, and works as a private chef in LA. A recent chat with Meredith made Wilder want to be filled with prana too!
Wilder Quarterly: What does it mean to be full of Prana?
Meredith Klein: The word “prana” is a Sanskrit word often used in yoga classes, as well as Ayurveda (the Indian healing system, which is a sister science to yoga), which means “vital life force energy.” Anything that is alive has prana. Applied to food, some foods have more prana than others—namely those that are in their original, unadulterated, unprocessed form—in other words, whole foods. Such foods are the basis for everything I create at Pranaful—veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains offer so many outlets for creative culinary expression! My intention is that by consuming foods of this nature, people feel more connected to the prana within their own bodies, and that it may flow more freely.
WQ: You apply the ancient healing principles of Ayurveda to your cuisine. What are a few key elements of Ayurveda that make their way into your menus and how important is their presence?
MK: I see Ayurveda as a system aligned around restoring balance within the body. From an Ayurvedic perspective, all forms of dis-ease can be traced to some imbalance of the elemental constituents in the body; for example, someone dealing with inflammation has excess heat in the body. Since our bodies are influenced by our environments, factors like weather and seasons can play a role in throwing us off balance.
For example, as we transition from winter into spring, many of us feel heaviness in the body associated in Ayurveda with the earth element—Kapha—which is actually thought of as a combination of earth and water. So in essence, we’re trying to clear out some mud-like gunk from the body that’s been accumulating during the colder months (including all the junk we are inclined to eat over the holidays). The desire to remove excess Kapha from the body is one of the reasons spring cleanses are so popular for many people. In the menus I prepare during the winter months, I include lots of vegetables from the Brassica family—cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc.—as they are known to have qualities that help the body break up and clear out excess Kapha.
WQ: What does it mean to eat mindfully and what are the benefits of doing so?
MK: To eat mindfully is to bring our full awareness to the act of eating, and really engage with our food using all our senses. So many people multitask while eating, and the food is there and then it’s not, and in the interim, they miss out on enjoying the sensations of chewing, feeling, smelling and tasting. When we eat with mindfulness, we naturally slow down. In this space, we tend to be more inclined to find ourselves in a place of gratitude for the food we are receiving, and the many causes, conditions and people involved in bringing it to our plates.
When we bring all our attention to the act of eating, we cut down on the excess “stuff” that the body needs to process, and generally people feel more energized after eating, instead of finding themselves in the sluggish state that some people call a “food coma.”
WQ: Let’s get spicy. Tell us about some of your favorites.
MK: The Indian spice palette is my favorite to work with (and the one that most delights my own palate!). Spices are integrated into my food not only for flavor, but also for their healing properties. I’m particularly fond of warming spices that have bold flavors and stoke the inner digestive fire—cumin, coriander, turmeric and fennel, to name a few!
One that really stands out for me right now is fenugreek. I got the most amazingly pungent fenugreek seeds from a man in a market in Mumbai last fall, and I’ve been delighting in using them. A little fenugreek goes a long way, so I’m hoping to make my stash last as long as I can! And, I’m hoping to grow some fresh fenugreek this spring so that I can make fenugreek parathas (Indian flat breads), which were my favorite breakfast food while I was there.
WQ: Is there a recipe you’d be willing to share with us? Perhaps the recipe to your glorious Chai?
MK: Of course, I’d be delighted to share my chai recipe. The key is to boil the spices the night before, then let them sit and steep overnight for the best flavor the next morning! All quantities are approximate, and can be adjusted to your liking:
2 T. green cardamom pods
2 T. fennel seeds
1 T. whole cloves
1 T. black peppercorns
1 T. chopped dried licorice root
2 cinnamon sticks
6 pieces star anise
2” piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into thin rounds
3 T black tea in a large tea ball or 3 bags of black tea
3 c. dairy or non-dairy milk of your choice
Honey or other sweetener
Add all dry spices to a medium-sized pot, and toast them over a medium flame, stirring often to avoid burning. When spices become aromatic, add ginger and 3 cups of water, turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes, covered. Turn off heat, and leave spices to steep overnight in the covered pot.
The next morning, bring the spice decoction to a boil over a high flame. Remove from heat, and add tea ball/tea bags. Let tea steep for 5 minutes, then remove tea ball/bags. Return pot to stove over a low flame, and stir in milk. After 5 minutes, the chai will be ready to serve.
Sweeten individual servings with honey, or a sweetener of your choice. You can use a tea strainer when serving to avoid spices floating in the tea (or not…some people enjoy seeing the intact spices in their cup!).
Photo of Meredith with a tender, tiny asparagus courtesy of Steven Wynbrandt.
A great treasure of food radio is Evan Kleinman’s program “Good Food” which airs weekly on KCRW out of Los Angeles. On it, she explores food consumption, sharing everything from the latest crop at the Santa Monica farmer’s market to the funkiest hole in the wall from the underground restaurant scene.
Evan often brings a foodie guest onto her show, further wetting our appetite as we hear about unique recipes from different cultures, important issues regarding food policy or the hottest new trend in eating. No topic is off the table. Before listening to “Good Food” I never knew there was such a thing as a beauty pageant for chickens nor did I know that butter carving was an art. I’m still digesting it all!
With summer weather in mind, Evan recently brought London based blogger Kate Perutz onto her show. Perutz pens the blog, “The Saturday Picnic Society,” where she writers about her outdoor adventures and the food she brings along. If you haven’t checked it out, you must. On “Good Food” Perutz pairs adventure choice (beach vs. mountains) with meal ideas (salad lettuce wraps vs. hearty soups). She says ditch the vintage picnic basket (Evan really had her heart set on using it too) and settle for the sporty (small) backpack.
Picnics should be filling, yet light weight especially if bringing them along with you. I was shocked to hear she’s moving away from the sandwich, which I exclusively associate with picnics. She shares tips on foraging while hiking, mainly ideas for what to bring back to the kitchen rather than snacking on your findings (my personal side note: be extra cautious when foraging and never eat something you can’t identity as non-poisonous).
Finally she shares her energy-filled recipe for trail mix which centers around her go-to marmalade granola (recipe here). She adds dark chocolate covered cranberries, crystallized ginger, yogurt covered raisins and assorted nuts. Food wise, I think we just reached the summit. Before you pack your picnic for the trails, tune in to the whole episode here.
Purple Orach from Wild Garden Seeds
If you are growing food and flowers, take a moment to consider your seeds- how were they developed? where do they come from? Are they treated, untreated? What is the different between OP, F1 and GMO, really? All plants go from seed, well- to seed. The selecting, saving, sharing and sowing of them is highly valuable work.
In the world of seeds, Frank Morton, and his Wild Garden project is nothing short of heroic. When I first learned about Wild Garden, I was immediately turned on by their philosophy and approach.Perhaps more importantly, however, I quickly discovered that the seeds speak for themselves. Morton’s basic arugula is my gold standard. His Purple Osaka grows with muscular strength and the taste of wasabi. Wild Garden’s lettuce mix – the company’s original offering – stays speckled, vibrant and tender even in desert heat. And I suppose that is the point. The success I have experienced with their varieties, does indeed, inspire me to save the seed from that sweetest head of lettuce and the deepest hued Osaka leaf. Regardless, though, of whether or not you’re interested in saving seed, Wild Garden is a superior source for growing inspiration and high quality varietals.
To learn more – and purchase seed – visit Wild Garden Seed
Listen to Frank Morton describe the relationship between humanity, agriculture and seeds here
We just backed the Daphnis and Chloe Greek herb project on Kickstarter:
“The Mediterranean basin is home to a large variety of aromatic plants but the finest ranges rarely cross the narrow borders of their native lands. Daphnis and Chloe wants to make this goodness available for every cook and bring genuine, dried culinary herbs to the cities. This campaign will help us fund the production of our next batch.”
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” -Masanobu Fukuoka.
Masanobu Fukuoka was a Japanese farmer and philosopher who lived and worked on the island of Shikoku, until his death in 2008. Fukuoka is famous for developing an agricultural method known as “natural farming.” It is sometimes translated as “do-nothing farming.” Although, personally, I find that to be an unfortunate title for a what is truly a rigorous and sensitive approach to growing food.
Fukuoka’s theory is based on the integration of cultivation and nature. In his 1975 manifesto “One Straw Revolution,” Fukuoka proposes a way of a farming that eliminates tillage (human or machine), prepared soil amendments, as well as weeding or pruning of any kind. Using this approach, Fukuoka was able to produce fertile grain fields and citrus orchards, while still maintaining the natural and wild qualities of his surroundings. “Natural farming” essentially describes a classic permaculture design – a sustainable, productive system in which all parts can adapt and thrive harmoniously. Fukuoka, of course, had no knowledge of Permaculture or Bill Mollison when he began farming and writing.
While not every detail of his practice may apply to your own garden, Fukuoka’s style, tone and basic concerns are easy to embrace: “I just emptied my mind and tried to absorb what I could from nature.” His philosphy reminds us why we choose to grow food in the first place. Or, it will at least inspire you to pose that question to yourself next time you are seeding vegetables, picking fruit from a tree, or simply absorbing your natural world.
Learn more about Masanobu Fukuoka and “One Straw Revolution”
With Spring coming in, the garden has naturally been on my brain. So, for some unusual reason, has nudity. Trolling the internet for gardeners a la Adam and Eve, I had to laugh when a friend sent me these. Kind of a stretch on the old fig leaf look. Forget people being pantless in a garden! Here’s to people wearing plants!
On a recent Sunday, San Francisco showed signs of Spring. With temperatures in the high 70s, people flocked to the park wearing short sleeves and cut-offs, working on their sun tans, their hula-hoop skills, and tomorrow’s hangover. Meanwhile, I spent the late afternoon making blood orange marmalade at Gravel & Gold, a shop in the Mission District. Gravel & Gold offers items made with curiosity, beauty and utility in mind. They sell clothing, home wares, books, food and so much more. Every time I go there, I want to be making, cooking and camping all at the same time and all while looking stylish and feeling rustic.
Many of their “makers” are local artisans who are able to come to the shop and lead workshops. This is when Emmy and Jonah of Emmy’s Pickles and Jams enter the scene. Emmy’s is a food business located in Oakland, specializing in pickling and preserving organic produce. Emmy and Jonah led the workshop, teaching us to make a large batch of marmalade using the season’s crown jewel: blood orange. By the end, I wasn’t nearly finished so I followed up with Emmy’s Emmy Moore to learn more:
WQ: Wilder loves a good origin story. Can you tell us what inspired you to start you pickle and jam business?
EM: A few things in life clicked just right to inspire my partner and me to begin the business. We were working for an organic produce distributor based in SF, and in addition to learning a huge amount about the often invisible side of the food industry (transportation, storage, etc), we also were witnessing a lot of food waste. There is a certain amount of loss that occurs when fruits and vegetables are being moved from the farm to the grocery store or restaurant. We began bringing the food destined for the compost home to cook, and quickly began cooking more than we could eat, so began learning to preserve. And voila! We never stopped.
We soon started looking beyond the middleman, talking directly with farms, and learned that they too grow more than they can sell during the season. Pretty soon we had enough product to work with where we decided to try out selling some of our creations. The SF Underground Farmers Markets were happening at this time as well, so we had an outlet to take our first business baby steps.
WQ: When you began, I can imagine you experimented with many recipes with a lot of trial and error. When did you make that first perfect batch and how did you know it was the one?
EM: There was a huge amount of trial and error in the beginning. Honestly, there still is. We are constantly tweaking and trying out new things, so there is always some element of trial and error. I think the first thing I made that I thought really nailed it was the pickled Turmeric Cauliflower (it won a Good Food Award last year!). That recipe went through the most iterations, I think, but when we tried the final one it was clearly the best.
WQ: We’re very excited by companies that are eco-friendly. Can you share with us your values on re-purposing food and how you implement these values?
EM: Pickling and preserving have been implemented for centuries as a way to store food for winter months when nothing was coming out of the ground. Also as a way to make use of the bountiful harvests in late summer and fall. These legacies of preservation are central to our company’s values. We offer a useful outlet to farmers by purchasing large amounts of produce that often would otherwise become compost. By sourcing exclusively from local, organic farms, we offer the consumer a chance to enjoy locally grown produce year round. While current food systems allow us access to food from all over the world, we feel that it is important to provide a local alternative.
WQ: Time to pick favorites! What fruit and vegetable do you most enjoy working with and why?
EM: Favorites are so hard! Beets are definitely a front runner. They transform so much after every step (heating, pickling). I am always stunned that such vibrant color and sweet earthy flavor can come from underground. I think my favorite fruit to work with are apricots. They taste like sunshine to me. We work with Blenheim Apricots, which have a pretty quick season, and they always go away too fast. Stonefruit in general is pretty magical.
WQ: Speaking from experience, jamming and pickling can be intimidating. What would you tell a novice who might be ready to tackle this very handy culinary art in the kitchen?
EM: My advice to a someone new to jamming and pickling would be to begin at the farmers market. Find what’s in season. Use a simple recipe – add spices sparingly. And don’t stop after the first try. It takes some time to figure out how to make what you like.
WQ: Would you be willing to share a recipe with Wilder? Perhaps something seasonal?
EM: Rhubarb jam is one of my favorite preserves to eat. It is also super easy to make!
Rhubarb Jam from Emmy’s Pickles and Jams
Chop several stalks into one or two inch pieces. Put them in a stainless steel pot. Add a tiny bit of water to the pot – this is so the rhubarb won’t burn and stick to the bottom. You can add more if you like, but you’ll need to cook the jam for longer.
Squeeze a few lemons, about half a cup or so. Add the juice.
Keep the heat on med – low, and be sure to stir often.
Add about half the amount sugar as you have rhubarb.
The rhubarb will begin breaking down and releasing a lot of liquid.
Cook the mixture until you have a thick, jammy consistency. Add more sugar if you like. I prefer things less sweet, but rhubarb is pretty tart, so you might need a little more sweetness.
When you feel like its done, put it in a jar or bowl and into the fridge. Enjoy on yogurt or toast, or as a new sandwich spread.
Special thanks to Emmy, Jonah and the folks from Gravel & Gold for sharing your stories and keeping Wilder inspired in the kitchen!
I’m just getting over my hard crush on Lili Cuzor. Not only is she a little bit magic, but she’s also the flower whiz behind the Los Angeles based, Tiger-to-Lilies. I was super thrilled to hear that she has been tapped as The Standard Hotel LA’s artist in residence for April. The choice makes total sense considering that Lili is an artist whose chosen medium is flowers. For her month long residency, she’s created an installation that will transform a large junk of the lobby into a kokedama garden and has added details that with alter a guest’s experience for the better including changes to the cocktail menu to what’s waiting for you in your suite.
Lately, I’ve been daydreaming about what it would be like if I lived in LA rather than bitter, gray Brooklyn. In thes reveries, my husband is surfing, my dog is lying belly-up in the sun, and I’m running around with Lili and Claire. Jealous of all you Angelenos right now. Tell the ladies I said hi, okay?
Most really dependable gardening tools haven’t changed in a while. Take the spade, for example. The earliest known evidence of its use is in China, over a thousand years ago. The Romans tinkered with it a little bit, adding a sharpened point, but other than that it’s stayed virtually the same. One tool that has never really gotten off the ground (and, for the life of me I can’t figure out why) is the shotgun seed disperser. It doesn’t have a widely used name because since Reginald Farrer fired the first load of seeds into a Yorkshire, England, cliff no one has picked it up again.
Reginald reasoned that plants adapted to growing on rock faces (think alpine or high altitude species, for example) would be better wedged into moist, protected crevices if shot off with a BANG. And Reginald was right. The alpine seeds he collected from the Himalayas and planted around Yorkshire are still there, beautifully blooming, to this day.
Now before you go running off to saw the end off your own shotgun, let me issue a warning statement: the patent holder for this little-used product shot seed at a plank of test plywood during trials and guess what? The seeds ripped right through it. Ahhhh, so that’s why it’s so little-used….
On Jennifer Lee Segale’s Dirty Girl Gardening website she describes herself as a horticulturalist, which is not exactly accurate. Throw in blogger, botanical adventurer, ebook author, kickstart campaigner and founder of Garden Apothecary (a killer company crafting small batches of organic bath and beauty products) and you’re closer to the mark.
This November Jennifer returned from a visit to Belize where she gathered information on medicinal plants used in a small farming community. Plants studied included ginger, cacao, and the tattoo fern- used to sooth allergies and make silvery prints from the loose spores located on the underside of the plant’s leaves. Jennifer will be compiling all her stories, info and research into an ebook titled ‘Sacred Plants’. To get a taste of her previous work check out her Dirty Girl Gardening’s facebook site and download another of her ebooks ‘Botanically Belize’ for free.
Botanist, physician, zoologist and name-calling sissy boy? The Swedish born scientist is most famous for his invention of binomial nomenclature – the system by which modern day taxonomists name and categorize groups of related organisms. Turns out Linneas used it for more personal means, as well.
Rolander, a student who collected thousands of specimens for Linneas, but then refused to turn them over, was later immortalized for his deeds when Linneas named a non-descript bug after him. The bug’s full name Aphanus rolandi means ‘ignoble Rolander’. Similarly, Linneas retaliated against rival and critic Siegesbeck by naming a malodorous weed after him (Sigesbeckia). Perhaps best of all is Carl’s tribute to Queen Isabella, of Spain. The yellow and brown striped rush Cypraea isabella was so named as, rumor has it, the queen wasn’t fond of changing her royal underwear.
Of Music & Mushrooms: Celebrating the Centennial Birthday of Pioneering Composer & Mycologist, John Cage
Today marks the would-be-100th-birthday of American composer, music theorist, writer, artist and mycologist John Cage. To honor one of the 20th century’s great cultural pioneers, we present a few of the wonderful photographs taken by William Gendey of Cage in his element, hunting for mushrooms on the forest floor.
New York area readers can attend a mycologically themed celebration of John Cage at Cooper Union University on Sept 8th, in conjunction with Roaming Urban Soundscapes and The New York Mycological Society.
Photos courtesy of Duke University’s digital collections.
Longwood Gardens was a partner in our Summer edition, so we had the chance to visit their current installation, Lights. The show is dazzling! We spoke with the garden’s director, Paul Redman, about the genesis of the program and the relationship that Longwood, as one of the leading voices in horticulture, has with the arts in general.
There’s a place where fiber-optic flowers and 200-year-old elms are living in harmony, at last. Nestled in Pennsylvania’s southeastern corner, the world-renowned Longwood Gardens is hosting Lights (through September 29th), a one-of-a-kind, site-specific installation by UK artist and light designer, Bruce Munro. Twenty-three of the conservatory’s 1,077 masterfully cultivated acres are devoted to Munro’s fields of twinkling orbs, acrylic stems, pastures of color-changing towers, iridescent raindrops fashioned from tiny bulbs, and greenhouse chandeliers of bundled glass balls.
The outdoor pieces are, for the most part, integrated into the natural landscape, peeking or sparkling through drifts of black walnut trees, English gardens, and grassy banks, provoking a sense of alien familiarity. For instance “Water lilies” is a series of large resplendent disks constructed from recycled CDs that share one of the garden’s lakes with the real variety, floating together in harmony. However, in other cases, a very different approach is take. For example, “Water Towers,” is made up of sixty-nine cylindrical towers placed throughout one of the central meadows each built from plastic water-filled bottles, fiber optics and a sound system that stimulates synchronized color change. It is in a piece like this where the suspension between nature and Munro’s artifice come together to create something entirely new.
Longwood sits upon land purchased by a Quaker family from William Penn has had several lives. In the past 250 years, it has been cultivated for farming, arboretums, nature preserves, and finally, to include a full-blown research institution and horticultural wonderland that draw thousands of visitors each year. Like many botanic centers, Longwood’s mission is to maintain the likes of rare clematis and fruit orchards, and engage in research toward preserving rare and endangered plants.
Unlike other garden’s, Longwood’s other big mission is to make the natural world comprehensible to the public. Redman, who became Longwood’s director after a long tenure at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio, says, “I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to connect the people with the plants in the most meaningful way possible. You don’t want to dumb it down. And it’s not like a museum or a science center — you’re trying to interpret the story of a living, ever-changing ecosystem.” It was this principal that led him to working with Bruce Munro, after one of Redman’s colleagues came across an exhibit of his in the UK in 2008.
“At the time,” says Redman, “we were embarking on a quest to find something that could help our guests to see Longwood differently — hopefully to a create an entirely new view of the garden altogether.” Throughout the installation process, a nearly two-year collaborative effort between Munro, Redman and the rest of the gardens’ curatorial team, Redman recalls, “The site and spirit of the place informed every part of the installation. We just had to keep asking, ‘How can we get people to see Longwood in a way they’ve never seen it before?’” The team had the unique task of blending two forms, a historically architected garden with sculpture, into a comprehensible dynamic, that both revealed things about Longwood’s flora and the artist’s work in its own right.
Redman enjoys bringing fine arts into conversation at Longwood, though he doesn’t believe that his love for a particular landscape artist necessarily warrants seeking someone out. “My goal is to find artistic partners — it’s about finding artistic partners who understand the gardens specifically. I never, ever want to impose something upon them. When [landscape art] is not imposed, it becomes part of the landscape, it has a life.”
The Hobbyist issue 3 is out. The zine is created by Paris-based Pierre Hourquet – a fantastic photographer who also shot Michelin starred chef Andoni Aduriz’s San Sebastian test kitchen for our Summer issue. The Hobbyist covers outdoor living in faded newsprint from hiking to surfing.
But oh-ho! Pierre is a triple threat – he also created booksonline.fr. The Times sums it up nicely. The site “a “free-access library” using the same codes that make the printed book familiar and made with the medium of the Internet in mind. The site specializes in photography books and retains much of what makes this genre special in its printed form: the intimacy, the intended juxtapositions and the suspense of flipping.”
Wilder Quarterly’s fantastic Art Director, Monica Nelson, was recently featured on W-O-W. She deserves it. From the interview:
Was it easy to shift from art direction in the fashion world to a magazine dealing with nature and gardening? What did inspire you?
I think it is an easy transition. I don’t think that I’ve ever been interested in Fashion in a frivolous way. Not to say that fashion is entirely frivolous, but I am interested in the culture and the presence of the people in fashion–the person wearing the clothes, the way the body moves, the shape. All qualities that translate to gardening as well. Wilder is about the person in the garden and the culture that surrounds it, the dirty hands, the colors, beautiful shapes, sunlight. (In the same way that Apartamento is interested in the mess and personality of a personal space — not the perfect alignment of the coffee table and the picture frame).
Imagine 1970s East Village, populated by blown out buildings and vacant lots, when urban gardeners first moved onto the scene in critical mass. Fertilizing the metropolitan detritus were groups like The Green Guerillas and the Plant-a-Lot Program, haggling for abandoned lots and cleaning up Alphabet City. From the heroic beautification efforts of the late Liz Christy to the first municipal-funded school garden at Marion High School, a dramatic Gilded Age in city greening comes to mind, and figures like Gerard Lordahl are the keepers of these historical moments’ key.
Lordahl is currently the Director of GrowNYC’s Open Space Greening Program, which helps to establish multiple new green spaces in the city each year. He describes the Open Space Greening program as moving through annual “themes”:
“For a long time there was a green playground theme; and we’re coming out of a school garden theme; the next theme is food production, figuring out ways to design space holistically. Permaculture is big right now… We never wanted to be beholden [exclusively] to tax dollars… But we’ve always had the fortune of being this quasi public/private service… One of the things I’m most proud of is that we’re able to give material assistance as well as financial — we’re able to give concrete things.”
Lordahl has had the unique experience of scaling multiple decades of NYC gardening from the iron curtain of Robert Moses to an era where developers actually donate their undesirable plots. Prior to GrowNYC, Lordahl served in multiple posts across the city from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens to grassroots operations in the Lower East Side.
Lordahl has also helped to establish Randall’s Island Learning Garden. What was once the command center from which Moses sat overseeing projects that threatened all manner of NYC neighborhood green space, now invites all NYC classrooms to come get their hands dirty, participate in nutrition and planting workshops.
“Sometimes I’ll stroll away from the garden and look at that magnificent Art Deco building where it all happened and think about how much things have flipped!… Back then we had to really bang on doors to get people involved. You know, only ten or twelve of us at a time… And now Developers and businesses are actually working with us.”
“I was always interested in the social service factor of gardening, as well as the scientific side. I’m an educator, primarily. I had that feeling, coming out of college, that I wanted to do something of real value — to make a difference — which I guess is what every post-grad feels. I wanted to work with people… My favorite thing was showing kids earthworms.”
One project that Lordahl is particularly excited about right now is People’s Food Project in East New York, a garden and farmer’s market in a predominantly underserved Hispanic community.
“It’s run by immigrants who are scientists, agriculturalists… The property it’s on was actually owned by a developer, but because of zoning laws, they couldn’t build anything on it other than a single residential building, and it just wasn’t profitable enough — so they donated it to this community and worked with them to bring it to fruition.” These were the people we used to fight against! And a lot of people think that these underserved communities are without people who really want to make this kind of thing happen, but it’s so untrue… People pretty much want the same things every where.”
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