Some people look at an abstract painting and see a vegetable garden. Others look at a city lot and see the opportunity to create art and foster a sense of community — through a vegetable garden.
“At the Maryland Institute College of Art, there’s growing interest in food production in the intersection between art practice and community engagement,” says MICA professor of art Hugh Pocock. This shift in thinking at the school and throughout the community encouraged Pocock — an artist, educator and gardener—to develop a class called Baltimore Urban Farming at the college in spring 2009. The class filled immediately with 23 students—more than double the 10 Pocock had expected.
Students visited eight gardens and farms in the Baltimore city area, including older community gardens, urban CSAs, the Sondheim Artscape Prize-winning Participation Park urban farm and Great Kids Farm, an organic farm owned and operated by the Baltimore City Public Schools. At each location, MICA students learned about issues of obtaining and maintaining the land and techniques for growing food in small spaces, then spent several days working the land there.
The class also worked cooperatively with Parks and People, a Baltimore green-space advocacy group, to learn about soil ecology, land security and garden networking. In addition to the community work done in class, MICA students garden on college grounds and are starting a chicken co-op and a food-waste-composting system.
“Growing food — farming, gardening — is an amazing educational vehicle to talk about myriad related subjects, from urban sustainability to nutrition to social-fabric repair, community building and survivability for young, engaged people. It’s a way to talk about these other issues while learning something practical.
“It’s not what people initially think of as art or sculpture. … [Students] think of it as social sculpture,” Pocock says.
Baltimore Urban Farming will be offered again in spring 2010. Pocock hopes to introduce the class into the college’s full-time curriculum.