Late last year, Haeg sent out a call to the residents of the Twin Cities inviting one suburban household to dig up its manicured lawn and turn it into an organic, edible garden. Planted in May, the garden is now at its fullest with ripe tomatoes, beans and carrots ready for harvest.
Catherine Schoenherr is the owner of the lawn, located in Woodbury, Minnesota, and over the summer her family and a host of volunteers have been tending to three oval-shaped beds that include a children’s garden and a communal bread oven. Its community-oriented design is similar to 14 others Haeg has been planting over the past seven years, in cities as far flung as Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Budapest.
Haeg’s edible estates, which are always part of a larger art gallery exhibition, are intended to provoke discussion around the current food industry and the concerns locavores and 100-mile dieters have been advocating for years, primarily that how we feed ourselves now is no longer sustainable or healthy. But Haeg’s project takes the conversation out of the confines of activism by situating his gardens in suburbia, where they are highly visible.
Woodbury is similar to countless other planned neighbourhoods across North America, where the front lawn is almost a sacred symbol of prosperity, and to disrupt that uniformity can be controversial, if not illegal in some instances. Schnoenherr decided to tear up her front lawn in order to get the discussion started among neighbours, with whom she says she has a good relationship. “I personally believe there are many ways to live,” she says, “and as a family in suburbia, we see this as setting an alternative.”
The central question at the core of Haeg’s project is: Why aren’t we growing food where we live? The reasons are both large and small. People often consider vegetable gardens too ugly for urban spaces, and there are concerns they attract rodents and pests. Others wonder if people will simply steal the harvest, and more pragmatically, do any of us even have time to grow our own food?
These issues are still under debate, but Haeg has decided to end his garden series in Minneapolis, where he grew up, with a front lawn exactly like the ones he now uproots. The final instalment is part of a trio of exhibits on view at the Walker Art Center, where Haeg is the artist-in-residence, and at its adjacent sculpture garden.
At the Walker, one gallery is filled with a massive rug crocheted out of donated clothing and textiles by local volunteers. Called Domestic Integrities, the rug is a catalyst for sparking and nurturing communal collaboration. At the sculpture garden, Haeg has set up the metal framework of a geodesic dome surrounded by native and medicinal plantings. The rudimentary installation is intended as a learning centre for visitors, where they can meet local garden enthusiasts, exchange information and ideas about urban farming, and discover just how much expertise in gardening there already is within the local community.
Fritz Haeg: At Home in the City runs until November 24, 2013, at the Walker Art Center and the adjoining Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis.
Read our interview with Fritz Haeg in May 2008, here.