Aug 16, 2009


The Big Neighborhood Supper was a delightful, mellow success! Thanks to all who came, shared, and laughed. My still photos are here.

BIG thank you to Maggie for conceptualizing, organizing, coordinating, hosting, cleaning, and now producing a workbook!
Off to Chicago, but more soon! Sharon

Aug 12, 2009

Menu (awaiting participant input...)

Chilled Cucumber Soup
(with wild dill, parsley, foraged purse lane, scallions, and mint sprigs)

Fresh lettuce greens, rainbow chard, tomatoes, cucumbers,
+ homemade dressing (yet to be determined)

Main Course:
Tomato-Basil Frittata with fresh chives, garlic
with a side of grilled sweet corn, beets and summer squash
(seasoned with garlic, sage and onions)

Musk Melon bowls containing homemade garden mint ice cream
topped with warm plums foraged using the Urbana-Champaign Fruit Trees Goodle map (marinated and baked in the canned peach jam from July Canning Workshop)
finished with local fennel sprouts

Peach Wine
Strawberry Wine
Katy's Special Punch
Peppermint and Lemon-Mint Tea
*maybe some home brew beer as well.

Aug 11, 2009

Tomato Love and Celebration Time...

Just wanted to say how much I really appreciate all of the support, words of encouragement, advise and promotion that has been offered throughout this project. Working and learning from everyone involved has done more than educate me: it has warmed my heart and confirmed my belief in the power of communities working together to create a better world. (Ok, enough of the cheesy commentary, I know, but it had to be said...)

The Big Neighborhood Supper is only days away and we've got 35 folks confirmed to participate. We will be sharing and making not only a great meal, but also a richly encompassing event (including music, kids activities, animals, installation art, etc.)!

Not attending? worries... there are still ways in which you can be involved in the project:

Donations: I have put together the tentative menu for Saturday's supper and almost all of the ingredients are coming from participants gardens or cellars (home brew, etc.)! However there are a few ingredients that we can't produce in time for this meal such as heavy whipping cream (for fresh garden mint ice cream) and oil, etc. A great way to support the project is to make a monetary donation and then I'll can use it for additional ingredients for the supper or to replenish cost concurred from canning, brewing supplies, butchering knifes, printing costs, etc. (As many of you remember, I initially was counting on the Urbana Public Arts grant to aid in project costs, but since that didn't come through, I have been covering all expenses myself.) I will be getting the additional ingredients together in the next few days, so the sooner you donate the better. Thanks so much.

Written/Artistic Contributions: Another way to continue to support the project is to give input to the forthcoming workbook about this and other yet to be determined community organizing projects. I'm working on publishing a little community organizing workbook to serve as a guide for other communities to try similar projects. This workbook portion will begin to take shape in the next month. To continue with the collaborative participatory nature of this project I'd love to have help writing and creating it. If you would like to be a contributing author, artist or adviser on portion of the project please get in touch with me. I see the workbook as including more general tips about community organizing, people as information resources, how to establish relationships between artists and communities, etc. I welcome any and all input on this and other related topics. Know a printer I can use? Email me with your ideas or questions or simply do a write up or make a drawing/photo and send it my way.

Thanks again for all of your help and happy community-produced eating. It's harvest time!
And to those of you coming this Saturday, check the blog for soon to be posted final details and start getting excited. It's going to be delicious and fun.

Aug 7, 2009

Photos from the Fall Prep. Workshop:

JP Goguen posted some nice photos from the Composting Workshop this Wednesday to his flickr page. Tips and take-aways from the workshop will be posted soon. In the meantime, check out the Four Seasons Farm link.

RSVP Reminder

Remember to RSVP now if you are planning on attending the culminating Big Neighborhood Supper. (a project participant is building custom tables for this event, so getting a final count is essential!)

August 15th, 2009
*Venue Change
113 South Poplar St. Urbana, Il

4-7 p.m food prep, cooking, etc. (Supper follows.)

RSVP by emailing with the number of guests and what goods or services you will be bringing along. Thanks.

Can't make it, but still want to help out? Donations are always welcome. Email for more info.

photos from Ohio

Chicken Butchering Workshop in Ohio

I spent last week in the woods of Ohio at Harold Artist's Residency Program. I brought Georgia, my Barred Rock hen with me to assist in leading a workshop on chicken butchering. I attended the local produce auction and met a friendly Amish woman, named Verna, who offered to teach me how to harvest and gut chickens on her family's farm.

Two days later I woke early and made my way to the Amish farm (gladly accompanied by fellow artist, Claire Pentecost). Four hours, many stories, countless life lessons learned, and 20 slaughtered chickens later I had had a much better education on how to butcher chickens than all my library books and youtube videos had provided for me. I returned to the tree farm where I was staying and held Georgia for a while. This moment encouraged me to contemplate gravity of the entire concept, of not only this project, but how and why we live the lifestyles we do in these times.

Two more days later I led a workshop with fourteen fellow artists, two local farmers and six (then live) chickens. This workshop revealed the often secret, at least not common knowledge practice, of chicken butchering and roasting. John, a Chesterhill local, built an awesome spit that we used to roast the chickens whole over the open fire. We ended the workshop with fulfilled sprits and very happy bellies.

One thing this project continues to reveal to me is that people are often the best resources we have for learning about our food. As an aspiring librarian, I can't help but initially gravitate to conventional sources of information: books and the Internet. However, in each of these Big Neighborhood Supper workshops I have learned exponentially more information about a particular subject matter from the humans involved in the project than the books or the Internet. This inspires me to reconsider what, or whom, I consult for information, especially information about where my food is coming from.

Jul 22, 2009

Thanks to Susan Rodgers and Tom Abrams for a delightful tour of their garden and a chance to forage for volunteer spices and wild plants around Meadowbrook Park. We found dill, lamb's quarters, mint, and more mint. Photos of our garden visit are here:


Here are a couple of excepts from books I've been reading. Both of these epitomize what it is about this project that excites me most!

How interconnected are we all?

“In the eye of the or the gardener or the farmer who grew it, this food reveals itself for what it is: no mere thing but a web of relationships among a great many living beings, some of them human, some not, but each of them dependent on the other, and all of them ultimately rooted in soil and nourished by sunlight. I’m thinking of the relationship between the plants and the soil, between the grower and the plants and animals he or she tends, between the cook and the growers who supply the ingredients, and between the cook and the people who will soon come to the table to enjoy the meal. It is a large community to nourish and be nourished by.” -Michael Pollan, from In Defense of Food

On the discussion of Public Art: “Is ‘public’ a qualifying description of place, ownership, or access? Is it a subject, or a characteristic of the particular audience? Does it explain the intentions of the artist or the interests of the audience? The inclusion of the public connects theories of art to the broader population: what exists in the space between the words public and art is an unknown relationship between artist and audience, a relationship that may itself become the artwork.” – Suzanne Lacy, from Mapping the Terrain, New Genre Public Art

Jul 19, 2009

Let the foraging begin!

Also don't miss this week's workshop, Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Organic Gardening and Foraging for Wild Edibles
lead by Susan and Tom at Meadowbrook Park. (Meet at the community organic garden plots off Race St. and Windsor Rd.) Keep scrolling down for more info./resources on this...
A worksheet/list to get you thinking on this subject.

Bring bug spray, drinking water, a notepad, and appropriate shoes/pants for hiking around in the tall plants!

We Can Can!

Thanks to all that attended the Canning workshop. And special thanks to Anna Barnes for the instruction. The canning workshop was great fun, not that messy or hot, and highly educational. One of the neatest parts of the workshop was all the family stories that came out during the cooking. We all shared recipes, tales of grandmothers' and mothers' methods, childhood memories, and kitchen traditions. For those of you that missed the workshop: here's the recipe for the lovely Peach Jam we made and some photos. There is no doubt that this pretty stuff will be served at the Big Neighborhood Supper in August.

Map of Edible Fruit Trees in Urbana/Champaign

View Larger Map

Jul 13, 2009

Urban Edibles

Here's a website from the West Coast about urban foraging, to prep people for Susan and Tom's workshop. Did you know that bok choy is a member of the mustard family?

Jun 26, 2009

Upcoming workshops!

Upcoming workshops!

Food Preservation (Canning)
Sunday, July 12th 5 p.m. hosted at the Red Herring in Urbana, workshop will be lead by Anna Barnes, local food enthusiast and home-preserver . The class will cover the basics of water bath canning which is suitable for jams, salsas, tomato sauce, pickles, and other acidic foods. Anyone can do this type of canning with equipment they probably already have in their kitchen. Handouts will be provided, but bring a pencil to take any additional notes. Wear older clothes or bring an apron.

Organic Gardening Techniques and Foraging for Wild Edibles
July 22nd, 6:30 p.m.
Meadowbrook Park Gardens. Workshop will be lead by Susan and Tom (sus.tom.ability)
The first portion of the workshop will include a tour of Meadowbrook'c community gardens and a how-to relating to organic gardening techniques lead by Susan. The other portion of the workshop will be a walk through the park with Tom to learn and identify wild edibles native to this area (if you think Lambs quarter is it you're wrong!). Please wear comfortable walking shoes. This workshop is outdoors.

Fall Planting, Bed Preparation and Hot Composting
August 5th, 7 p.m.
Corner of cottage grove and Washington st. in Urbana
Zack Grant, University of Illinois Student Farm Coordinator, will be hosting a hands on workshop just in time for fall plantings. The workshop will cover sexy topics such as suggested fall crops, bed preparation techniques (broad-forking, etc.) and hot composting methods among other tangent topics. This workshop promises to be extremely informative. Plan to get into the dirty stuff!

Date for The Big Neighborhood Supper celebration set!:
August 15th: 4-5 p.m. begin harvest and food prep. 7 p.m. Let's EAT! (and DRINK and be merry!) Yes, we will be cracking open that beer and wine from the June brewing workshop.
This is the time to celebrate the bounty of our community of local food and arts resources!
We may have a little harvest gathering and how to for food prep on the evening of the 14th. Everyone participating in this project is welcome!

Jun 24, 2009

There's some talk stirring about us!

Check out this article about the Big Neighborhood Supper project!

posted on the Community Informatics Initiative Website.

Photos from brew workshop...

Through a huge hail storm and a tornado alarm...
the brewing must go on!

At the workshop we bottled an American Cream Ale, started a batch of Amber Ale, racked some strawberry wine, sampled plenty of beer/local dandelion wine and started a new batch of peach wine from last year's frozen peaches!

Also see these brew terms used at the workshop:
Adjunct- unmalted grain or fermentable ingredients added to the malted barley during mashing to produce more and usually cheaper, sugars (rice, corn, wheat, etc.)
Air Lock- devise that lets air out during fermentation without allowing air into the container (avoid possible contamination)
Carboy- large narrow-necked glass vessel, used as both primary and secondary fermenters
Fermentation- a process in which yeast obtains energy in the absence of oxygen, by breaking sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol
Gravity- relates to the density of the liquid, measures sugars (original and finishing) Used to estimate percent alcohol
Grist- the crushed malts and adjuncts that are mixed with hot water to form the mash
Hops- the flowers of the hops plant, which provide both bitterness and aroma to the beer (“aromatic” hops are added at the end of the boil to insure the oils flavor the beer)
I.B.U. International Bitter Units
Mashing- the controlled steeping or soaking of malted barley to release enzymes that convert malt starches to fermentable and non- fermentable sugars (mash in and mash out)
Primary- the first container in which fermentation takes place (5 gallon bucket or carboy)
Rack- to transfer wort or beer from one container to another in order to separate it from the sediment on the bottom of the first container
Secondary- the second container in which fermentation takes place (five gallon bucket or carboy)
Siphon- a tube or conduit bent into legs of unequal length, for use in drawing a liquid from one container into another on a lower level by placing the shorter leg into the container above and the longer leg into the one below, the liquid being forced up the shorter leg and into the longer one by the pressure of the atmosphere
Sulfites- used to cease the fermentation, kills bacteria in order to bottle wine without potential explosion (not required)
Wort- The liquid solution of malt sugars which forms the basis of beer. (Sweet work precedes the boil and lacks the hops; bitter wort includes the hops)

Jun 7, 2009

30 sec. Project Trailer

Brewing/Fermentation Workshop announced!

On June 19th we will have our second Big Neighborhood Supper workshop:

Home beer brewing/wine fermentation!

Featuring instruction from Casey Coughlen and Aaron Bradley. The workshop will take place at 113 south Poplar st. The brewing process can take a long we'll get started around 4 p.m. and continue into the evening, as long as it takes... Aaron and Casey both have beer and wine batches in process already. We will be racking/processing those started batches into their next stage and beginning new batches. It's a great opportunity to see the entire process in one evening! Bring goodies to throw on the grill if you plan on staying through dinner time or just stop by to get a feel for the process and learn about tools, ingredients, process and timing! Remember these workshops are free and open to the public, so bring interested friends!

Families are always welcome at these events: plan on supervising your younger guests.

Jun 1, 2009

First meeting/workshop a success!

We had our first participant meeting yesterday at my house. Participants met my hens: Georgia (the Barred Rock), Lucile (a Rhode Island Red), and Stegosaurus (a lovely Araucana). We talked about chickens: care, feeding, housing, egg production, etc. After the meeting I realized that everyone left without even holding a chicken! Sharon said she was "chicken" to hold the chickens! Ha. They really are friendly, I promise.

There was yummy mini quiches made with fresh eggs from the "ladies in back." and farmer's market asparagus and kale. We went around the picnic table and shared ideas about what contributions/ideas each of us have for the project. Thank you to all that attended! I have a much greater sense of how folks envision the supper.

A tentative date for the event was set: Saturday, August 15th. Kitchen labor and cooking to begin in the late afternoon and the meal gathering will begin sometime between 7-8. It is set to take place at the residence of Zack Grant (he's in the Urbana city limits and really does have a small scale farm at his house!)

Also Sharon Irish offered to contribute to the project with photo/written documentation. She has already posted some lovely photos on flickr. The photos in this blog entry are courtesy of Sharon. Susan offered to host the July workshop in Meadowbrook park at her community garden plot. The workshop will be a two part informative event: first gardening methods/tips/techniques and second (hosted by her partner Tom) a foraging workshop in which we learn about wild edibles as we tour the park! Their awesome blog is linked on the right side of this blog. One of the June workshops will be "home brewing and wine fermentation." Hosted by Casey and Aaron. More details on dates and locations will be forthcoming. Others in attendance, had suggestions for publicity, experimental music/sound, table design/set-up/floral arrangements, seasonal veggies available in August, kids activities, artists, and much more.

Although the actual "Big Neighborhood Supper" will be capped at around 40 participants, the workshops will be free and open to the public! A.K.A. the more the merrier! Interested in making/distributing flyers for these workshops? Please let me know by posting a comment here. (Also if you want to keep a-breast (who wouldn't?) of this project's developments I would suggest that you click on the "Follow Blog" link at the top so you can keep track of what's going on via the Internet.) Thanks for all your enthusiasm! -Maggie

May 18, 2009

Project Description in video form...

Schedule/Promotional info.

Promotions and Marketing Plan:
I plan to use an online blog with multi-media posts (videos and music), email interested participant lists, word of mouth, and flyers at Common Ground Co-op, Independent Media Center (including WRFU) and the Urbana Market at the Square to market this event. The online blog and promotion at the Urbana Market at the Square will encourage awareness of the event for both Urbana residents and out-of-town visitors alike. Using electronic forms of promotion is an excellent tool to connect and create communities even if individuals are not located in the same geographic location. The blog, online mapping, video and music posts will provide participants with a visual and auditory exchange of ideas organized in one easily accessible place (online!). The flyers and broadcasting at the Independent Media Center, Common Ground Co-op and Urbana Market at the Square will encourage people in this community to get involved with this project. With these different marketing methods I hope to connect motivated individuals with a varying range of experiences related to this subject matter.

Schedule of Key Project Activity Dates:
• First month: (Pre-production). I plan to research who could/should be involved here and others that may be doing similar work elsewhere. Make contacts/connections. Set up online blog. Begin initial word of mouth marketing. Get input from the community. This section completed by June 15th, 2009.
• Second month: Planning/Programming/Organization. Plan and organize the specifics of meal and location. Coordinate who, where, what, and when. Work with groups and individuals involved to map event. Meet with community members to get planning input. Compile list of confirmed participants. This section completed by July 15th, 2009.
• Final month: Performance/presentation of meal! Invite audience and participants to culminating event. Last minute details that must be done nearer to the meal, such as vegetable/animal harvesting/cooking/set-up/etc. Celebrate! Exhibit! Eat! On a date to be announced.
• Final component is the documentation and evaluation of the event and “take always” for planning similar event in another location. This section completed by August 15th, 2009.

Project Description:

Performance art allows me to communicate most accurately with an audience. When I work the concept comes first, images and visual components come later in the process. The logistics of my performances are site-specific and determined by the environment in which I plan the pieces. A large body of my work is performed outdoors in public venues, such as street markets and empty lots. My performances are ceremonial in structure. My works, although personal, embody representations of common human concerns. The pieces are structurally simple, without heavy reliance upon props or costumes. My pieces thus far have been completely interactive, in an effort to dissolve the line between artist and audience. When I perform, the piece is only complete and successful when audience members participate. My objective is for participants to go away with a story, a memory and an experience.

With the Here and Now grant I intend to create a public art performance that will be in the form of a carefully orchestrated community meal that encourages education and shared resources surrounding the topics of local and urban food production. This performance will be interactive and will feed participants. All participants are producers of the meal. I plan to orchestrate the use of community members’ kitchens, farms, garden facilities, animals, and the Urbana Market at the Square. Participants may include local cooks/chefs, food growers/producers, general public, city government partners (including grant supporters if interested), the inhabitants of the participating farms (including the non-human animals), local food educators, artists, musicians and myself. Artists and musicians will create an installation table setting that will include sculptures, sound pieces and music.

I’m interested in focusing primarily on three concepts: 1. Community relationships and cooperation, 2. art as a mode of communication and 3. how we provide our food. My artistic and scholarly methods allow for participant input and flexibility in the final performance outcome. Other participants may suggest and produce additional elements not considered here yet.

Process-oriented, new-genre, community-based food performances began in the 1970s and resurged in the 1990s. I think this mode of making performances best communicates my concepts. Not only is the work time-based, live, and interactive, it can also be perceived as socio-political.

We all have the basic need to feed ourselves. In this time of air shipment, limited fuels, rising costs, depleted resources, and desire for convenient food, it's important to investigate the impact we have politically and environmentally when we make decisions regarding where we obtain our food. Learning, producing and sharing our food within a community is an important step towards returning to sustainable food-sourcing methods.

This event in Urbana will serve as the prototype for expanded versions. Ideally this project will turn into a long-range project that takes place over the duration of one year, in one or several different locations. In that length of time, the ingredients (edible plants and farm animals), and menu can be planned in advance according to the seasonal demands of the location. Because of the short duration of the “Here and Now Grant” and because this is the first event of this kind that I am coordinating, I plan to use this event as a “test run” for future meals. I welcome this unique opportunity for participants to give feedback, critiques and suggestions while I am still in the planning stages for the larger, expanded version of this project.

More info. will be forthcoming...

keep your eyes out and post any suggestions and ideas you have.
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