Asia Dorsey argues urban farming is both public performance AND public service.
There is something about public performances that strike at the chord of those little spaces within us that say, “shine darling, sparkle like you wanna.”
The same goes for those Thursday afternoons working on the beds in the NYU Urban Farm Lab. Though the sparkle is the small bead of sweat glistening on my brow, the performance rouses the sprits of the microbes, the worms, and the green things we are hoping to cultivate. You can hear them in the audience, anticipating our next move, gasping in horror, or laughing jubilantly at our foodie jokes.
Gardening at the NYU Urban Farm Lab is like a public performance that feels both like theatre and public service. We are demonstrating how to take control of our food system and our peanut gallery includes more than the microbes. Our little stage is set on the corner of West Houston and Wooster, amidst the rush of yellow taxis and the shirtless and sprinting members of our university’s cross country team.
Amongst the structured chaos of the New York City streetscape, there is always a mom walking her kids home from school who stops to point out the work we are doing. There is always an elderly couple who slows down to observe, and perhaps reminisce about the days when growing one’s food was an act of necessity. Today’s urban farms seek to provoke all those with the opportunity to see, smell, and taste the fruits of our labor to reshape the food system and honor traditions from the past. With everything going on — from the microbiology of the soil to the macroeconomic forces shaping food policy — we sometimes forget our role and our place in our budding little corner.
Last Thursday, while we were working at the farm, a woman shouted out from the street: “ What you’re dong is awesome!”
Though the class barely heard her over the shout of horns on Houston, we felt her words resonate and remind us of the meaning behind the madness. It’s not our (often over-the-top) dietary ethics, or our commitments to cooking food slow, or our protest of the chemical industry that demonstrates to others our commitment to a sustainable food system. This off-script moment reminded us that Thursday is for our peeps, for our community. We were performing and engaging in an act of serving our public.
Urban farming is our public performance. The Urban Farm Lab is a gem, it is our gift. And every Thursday, we do awesome stuff.