Moveable Feast features edible art in Burnaby
Some artists use vegetables as models for still life sketches and paintings.
Holly Schmidt’s art is vegetables.
Since May, the Vancouver artist has been planting, cultivating and now harvesting heirloom vegetables like atomic red carrots, Easter egg radishes, blue Russian potatoes and lemon cucumbers in large wooden container gardens near the Burnaby Art Gallery.
The Moveable Feast is her project to engage passersby and visitors to explore issues like urban farming, food production and consumption. Besides tending to her crops, Schmidt is also hosting a series of gardening workshops for youth and adults as well as three edible events that will give participants a chance to taste the bounty of her garden.
And while it may seem odd to think of a garden as a work of art, the gallery’s public programmer, Shaun Dacey, says it’s not a great stretch.
“Art creates dialogue,” says Dacey. “For us it’s about bringing in projects that engage with the public.”
In fact, it was a similar garden project Schmidt had planted last year at False Creek in Vancouver, near the Olympic Village, that piqued his own curiosity and got him thinking about the origins of the food in his own fridge.
As Schmidt weeds and prunes every Wednesday afternoon from 1-3 p.m., and irregularly through the rest of the week, visitors ambling through Deer Lake Park pause, curious about what she’s doing.
Some snap photos. Some ask questions or offer gardening advice. Some share stories about their own gardens.
Which is exactly the point, says Schmidt.
“They’re a little surprised that it’s art. But they start to think about it as art because it does inspire dialogue,” says Schmidt.
“It makes sense in an interdisciplinary way. There’s also an aesthetic aspect to gardening.”
For a while though, that aesthetic seemed an impossible goal as persistent rain and cold through spring made for a slow start to the growing season.
“The cool and the wet has created some challenges,” says Schmidt, who doesn’t use pesticides or herbicides and feeds her plants with natural fertilizers and worm compost.
But with temperatures warming up, Schmidt’s garden is beginning to reap crops. The five varieties of tomatoes are climbing, the tendrils on her bean plants are curling skyward, the leaves on her squash plants are spreading wide, and her grains are robust.
As she digs up radishes and beets, she’s only too happy to share them with visitors. Some of the harvest will be used in the edible events. and some will be donated to the food bank.
“Eating is one of the best parts of gardening,” says Schmidt, smiling. “It gives us a chance to explore the aspects of taste and how we satisfy them.”
Which is just fine with Dacey.
“It’s the dream of a gallery to have something so accessible that anyone can interact with,” he says. “And I like all the food.”
To find out more about Moveable Feast, including a schedule of programs, go to www.moveablefeastburnaby.ca.