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There are five steps in the life of a blueberry, writes Rowan professor Megan Bucknum Ferrigno, outlining not just the often-adulated steps of farm and table, but the processing, distribution and sales in between.
This information is in a pamphlet that is a companion to the newest exhibit at the Rowan University Art Gallery, a group exhibit by artists exploring different facets of the economics behind the food we eat.
“There’s been enough exhibits and writing and documentaries that have dealt with sustainable agriculture or food culture in general,” said Daniel Tucker, the guest curator of the exhibit. “I feel like the subject that needs the most attention is to talk more about the economics of the food system.”
The idea started with a similar show Tucker did called “Moving Units” at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft. Tucker brought some of the same artists to Rowan, along with local artists, who also designed projects about food economics. Each artist created work representing a different part of the food chain.
Follow the global paths of oranges on an abstracted glass globe, marvel at the sheer scale of mechanical harvesters and see agricultural funding through the growth of green plants.
“Artists that work in this social practices way isn’t a new thing, but it’s becoming more commonplace in response to a lot of concerns we have about the world,” said Mary Salvante, gallery and exhibitions program director at Rowan.
The gallery teamed up with Rowan’s School of Geography and Environment to make the pamphlet, something gallery visitors could take with them to learn more about the issue.
Ferrigno traced the journey of the New Jersey blueberry from growth, to harvesting, processing, distribution and sales, ending in consumption.
It was a way to compile the information for visitors and keep what was in the gallery looking like art, not research.
“Art can be a great point of entry but it’s not always necessarily going to be the best for someone who just wants practical information,” Tucker said. “That would allow a viewer to kind of have that next step, kind of supplementary reading.”
Having a variety of media also gives viewers different points of entry depending on the kind of work that interests them, he said.
Photographs by Claire Pentecost document an agricultural trade show in Argentina and showcase massive farm machinery, expensive equipment small farmers wouldn’t be able to afford. “The implication is the cost behind food production has become so astronomical,” Salvante said.
Nearby, clusters of oranges sit on a glass table bearing stickers with a QR code that can be scanned to deliver – via smartphone – a webpage dedicated to information and culture on oranges, including a link to Nina Simone singing “Suzanne,” the song that inspired artist Kristen Neville Taylor.
A glass globe nearby is etched with the import and export paths of oranges. At the right angle, the globe also acts as a lens, reflecting and inverting the table of oranges.
The oranges are also there as souvenirs.
“She’s gone a step further so you can take the orange with you,” Salvante said. “All that culture is in one package.”
Tucker knew he wanted to include in the exhibit the Amber Art and Design Collective, which explored the availability of food in certain neighborhoods through a project involving portable corner stores; the carts are on display in the gallery and captured on film that is played in the exhibition space.
In some neighborhoods, Salvante said, those corner stores are the only place people can get food, and those available food products are likely to be expensive and unhealthy.
A three-part documentary, “Between the Bottomlands and the World,” by Ryan Griffis and Sarah Ross, explores the production of food, including the impact on the landscape and the workers who migrate for jobs.
Near the handmade barrels by Cynthia Main, one answer to packaging that isn’t plastic, is a more complex piece of engineering.
Stephanie Rothenberg’s garden is watered by a machine that zips along above the tubes of soil dispersing drops that represent the global flow of dollars from philanthropic crowdfunding, or microfinance. A tank on one side represents the amount of total funds, while a tank at the opposite side collects the fees.
The garden is also a rough map of the continents; splashes of flora among brown soil indicate where all that financing goes.
Across the gallery are more maps, made by middle school students at Freedom Prep Charter School in Camden.
“Camden is one of the most local food deserts,” Salvante said, “which is extraordinary when you realize they are surrounded by agriculture.”
Teacher Candice Smith, who worked with the students in the after-school program Freedom Arts to make the maps, asked the kids about the garden they grew at school, free lunch and what they knew about food deserts. They didn’t have a concept of what a food desert meant, Smith said.
The students took pictures of the garden and of their school lunches. Then the group collaged the photos onto maps of Camden, writing in their names and details about the food they eat.
“In theory it was more the maps we made are a documentation of this longer learning process,” Smith said.
The kids went to the gallery opening and a couple of them spoke about the pieces.
“It was awesome,” Smith said, and it was great for the kids to see their work in a professional setting. “They were so excited coming back in the car, and proud of their work.”
Shannon Eblen: (856) 486-2475; SEblen@gannettnj.com
IF YOU GO
"How Food Moves: Edible Logistics" is on view at Rowan University Art Gallery, located at 301 High St. West in Glassboro, through Saturday, May 27. For more information, call (856) 256-4520 or visit rowan.edu/artgallery.