Jenna Spevack: The Art of Domestic Microfarming

29 Apr, 2012

Jenna Spevack and one of her microfarmsJenna Spevack is an artist and designer and an art professor at City University of New York. She is also an environmental advocate, with an art exhibition titled 8 Extraordinary Greens.

The gallery show consists of a series of furniture objects converted into what Spevack calls domestic microfarms. “My art studio landlord collects objects from junkyards,” Spevack explained to Organic Connections. “I’ve taken these salvaged objects and turned them into little microfarms—outfitting them with lights and a sub-irrigated planter that I developed.” The objects include bookcases, tables and other items, neatly fitted with planters sprouting the likes of beets, chard, arugula, cress and kale.

A small farmstand will serve as a space for the harvest and sale of microgreens, and gallery visitors will determine the monetary value of the exchange, based on a set of choices that will support local urban-agriculture nonprofit organizations. They may then choose to take the greens or donate them to someone in need.

Each transaction will be recorded in the form of a receipt—an illustrated print signed by both the participant and the artist. The participant keeps the receipt, and a duplicate will be hung in the gallery to record the collective value of the exchanges over the course of the exhibition.

“One aspect of the exhibit is to show people who may not normally think about where their food comes from that they could easily grow more of their own food at home,” Spevack said. “It also makes people consider the potential impacts of having our food shipped in across the country and delivered to us through big supermarkets.

“The underlying message has to do with value. The participatory part of the exhibit is people come to the gallery and have the choice to buy an ounce of greens. In doing so, they look at whether they’d like to take the greens with them or leave them to be donated to a food pantry. The other choice they make is how they want donations of these greens to be distributed. My hope is that people will think about added value: what they buy might actually help other people in the community to live better or healthier lives. So it’s an art and social experiment at the
same time.”

Each of the objects in the exhibit also contains an embedded jewel—the significance of which is quite interesting. “There is a theme in the exhibit that has to do with a fable titled `The Cock and the Jewel,’” Spevack related. “It’s an Aesop’s fable about relative value. The story goes that there’s a rooster and he’s scratching on a hill, looking for food for his family. He unearths a jewel and realizes that it is a valuable thing—but it’s of little value to him because he can’t feed his family with it. I weave this story through the artwork in the exhibition; each object has a little jewel embedded in it, and there are references to roosters and hens to emphasize that there is more value to growing food than we might realize.”

Spevack’s artistic work previously focused on the many issues facing humankind’s survival. “In the past, my work has centered on the tenuous relationships between humanity and the natural world,” said Spevack. “The work that I did—mostly drawings—examined the consequences of overuse of natural resources, climate change, and ignorance of the natural web of life, and had a less positive outlook.”

Not long ago, her approach changed. “I’m trying to make my work now about creating more resiliency in the human natural world,” Spevack continued. “After I completed a certification in permaculture design, I was thinking it would be nice to spend more time doing the things that I really enjoy and trying to work those into my art. I enjoy being outside, being in nature, growing food and participating in that world. This particular project—and a few before this one—aims toward a more positive outlook of ‘How can we improve the state of things?’ rather than the more apocalyptic look.”

Even prior to the opening of 8 Extraordinary Greens, Spevack has been praised. “We’ve been getting tons of positive response,” Spevack concluded. “There’s been some great press, and a lot of people have become really interested. People are fascinated—especially in New York City where you really have no space—by the idea that you could actually grow your own food, and that it could be quite simple for the average person.”

For more information on Jenna Spevack and her other works, and to see the dates and location of her exhibition, visit www.jennaspevack.com.

 

About the author

  • http://twitter.com/thax2min Mike Wach

    Why is it that people who believe in organic products all look so sickly?

  • http://twitter.com/SingleGreenMom Single Green Mom

    Maybe because Americans are used to each other looking fat, so we subconsciously equate that to being healthy. Or maybe it’s because a lot of them don’t believe in toxic tanning or make up, so they look pale. Either way, she looks like a normal woman without makeup on to me. I’m sure she is healthier than us both.

  • Clegg

    That’s not my experience. The lady looks perfectly normal to me. Organic is good, but it’s more about limiting calories, enough exercise, sunlight, good air quality, keeping stress low, dreaming big, and doing things in life that make the community and world a better place.

  • http://twitter.com/ZeroMileFarms1 ZeroMileFarms

    Microgreens will grow anywhere. I love the self contained box. Go check out the reddit discussion over at Microgreens.