The final harvesting is happening now in our part of Somerset. Long eared barley, Hordeum distichon, is the last of the crops to be taken in and we can see the combines out working across the fields during lunchtime walks. The open wheatfields are part of the mosaic of woodland, pasture or grass leys at the estate where we work, a landscape which has been farmed in much the same way for generations. What we take for granted here though can be a surprising intervention, even an otherworldly experience, in an urban situation.
Over a period of 35 years Hungarian born, American artist Agnes Denes has cultivated unlikely, highly prominent urban sites transforming them into wheatfields by importing soil and seed and creating a curious and memorable juxtaposition of urban skyscrapers and rural crop. The first project “Wheatfield – a Confrontation” carried out in New York in 1982 which the curator Jeffrey Weiss called ‘perpetually astonishing ….one of Land Art’s great transgressive masterpieces’ was a means of reflecting on issues of ecology, climate change and the future of the planet – all subjects which remain at the forefront of environmental discussion today.
Dene’s latest wheatfield in the urban core of Milan was created in 2015 and proposed a reference to the simplicity of the land, the source of all life and prosperity. In creating the work she enlisted the help of the public and local residents. In Italy where the agrarian economy is still a strong and current part of society, the artwork’s involvement in building community and social engagement was clearly understood. It culminated in an event on 9 July 2015 when tourists and locals were asked to participate in a great harvest celebration in which the corn was cut and everyone took home a bundle of straw and a bag of seeds. Dene asked that we ‘plant seeds for future generations to harvest’ and reflect on the need to take responsibility for our own future and pass on fundamental values like sharing stewardship and solidarity.
Much of our housing design work is concerned with underpinning the health and wellbeing of new communities and the way that people can be brought together through strong landscape and green infrastructure. The sharing and growing of local food can be an important focus for shared endeavour which builds relationships. Taking this further at Didcot we proposed the ‘Grow, Cook, Eat’ – a bespoke facility for local people to unite in the shared production of fruit and vegetables. The proposal includes a building with cookery facilities making the potential for cookery demonstrations and celebrations of the harvest to be at the core of the new housing for the garden town.