The county fair–that all-American celebration of local agriculture and bad, fried food–is a foreign concept to many New Yorkers. But this Sunday, Derek Denckla and the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) will put a Brooklyn spin on this heartland tradition. From 11am-5pm, The Invisible Dog in Cobble Hill will be transformed into The Farm City Fair, a convergence of the cool art and urban agriculture projects inspired by the good food movement.
The food side of the fair, part of FIAF’s Crossing the Line festival, will be familiar territory for gardeners and locavores. Workshops held throughout the day will teach fair goers skills like canning and composting. Local farms, like Added Value and BK Farmyards, will be selling produce, and a handful of small-batch food artisans, Brooklyn winemakers and brewers will be hawking their goods. And it’s not a county fair without a few blue ribbons, so gardeners are welcome to show off their produce in a contest run by community gardening program GreenThumb, and a handful of chefs will compete in a cook-off, battling it out with dishes featuring Brooklyn-grown ingredients (and nary a fried twinkie in sight.)
But it’s the artists who are “crossing the line” and incorporating agriculture into their work that make this event unique. Among the works on view will be Mathilde Roussel-Giraudy’s wheatgrass sculptures of the human digestive system and Tattfoo Tan’s S.O.S. Mobile Classroom, a cargo bike that can be used as a traveling workshop, part of Tan’s 2-year-long art project exploring sustainable agriculture and how what we eat affects who we are. It’s this connection between food and art that Denckla hopes the fair will emphasize. “Both urban agrarians and urban agrarian artists have a tremendous amount of value to share with each other but sometimes have trouble bridging the gap of language and audience. Artists refuse to accept that they are consumers only, so they’re a forceful group to help re-examine our place in an industrial food system based on passive consumerism,” Denckla says.
The fair kicks off the three-weekend long FIAF series “Farm City: Where Are You Growing,” curated by Denckla, who has worked with artists and the environment in creative ways before. (He developed Greenbelt, a LEED-certified condo/performance space in Williamsburg.) There are films like The Gleaners and I, a movie by Agnes Varda that artfully looks at food waste and the resourceful folks who find a way to use it, followed by a Q & A about NYC freeganism. A farm tour of Brooklyn’s cutting-edge agricultural projects like the East New York Farms and Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. And ending the series on September 25 is a forum on all the food and farming-related creativity seen over the past few weeks, with participants like NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.
But Farm City itself–a larger, creative and educational project begun by Denckla–will continue. A fundraiser on September 24 at The Commons will support future Farm City endeavors that straddle the worlds of sustainable food, art, design and performance, many of which are already in the works. In addition to partnering with Cooper-Hewitt to create a show featuring 10 radical design projects that support urban agriculture, Denckla’s curated a handful of installations for the Last Supper, a multi-sensory food and arts fest at 3rd Ward on September 18. Along with Brooklyn artist Katherine Gressel, he’s also co-curating this year’s Brooklyn Utopias, an exhibition that opens at the Old Stone House on September 16, featuring artists’ takes on their ideal vision of a city. If you miss the Farm City Fair, it’s another chance to see works like Trailer Park, by people creating art to create change.
Text by Lisa Butterworth. Images courtesy of Tattfoo Tan and Kim Holleman.