DEKALB FARMLAND PROJECT: Installation
AND YOU MUST
ALWAYS BEGIN FROM THE GROUND...(a line
from Gunnar Ekelof's poem Ex Ponto), the installation, was paired
with the video projection, CONVERSATIONS ABOUT
DEKALB under the
umbrella of THE DEKALB FARMLAND PROJECT,
2002, an unused 2000 sq' storefront (formerly a Woolworth's Store),
rows of earth furrows 65' L and rammed earth solids ranging in
size from 1' to 2' cubes, walls stained with local subsoil and
topsoil colors, wall texts derived from sources that varied from
local farmers to writers such as Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Janine
Benyrus and Angus Wright,. The "research wall" was made
in collaboration with Northern Illinois University Soil Scientist,
Mike Konen. It
included resource books, soil core samples, soil color samples,
comparative soils from prairie and agricultural sites, a photograph
of the 6' deep soil pit from which the wall pigments were dug and
an open copy of the Munsel Soil Color Charts text. In the back
of the space the two video projectors were placed on wheelbarrows
of earth with the double projection of CONVERSATIONS
ABOUT DEKALB, 1 hour loop.
The project took place in DeKalb County, Illinois, home to some
of the richest farmland in the world. DeKalb was viewed as a microcosm
for issues of national and international, relevance: food production
(agriculture) as it relates to culture. The project focused on
issues of the financial sustainability of farmers and farming communities;
environmental sustainability given currently prevailing farming
practices; and development (urban sprawl) due to population increase
which invades the agrarian countryside. As an artist working with
social issues I chose to focus on the earth itself, soil, as a
starting point. Soil is the matrix in which (most) food is produced
and the substance consumed by development.
The project was sponsored by the Northern Illinois University,
Art Museum, Museum Without Walls Project and received support from
The Illinois Arts Council, A State Agency.
Complete text for the writing on the walls:
"And you must always begin from the ground,
again and again you must begin from the ground..."
,from Gunnar Ekelof's poem Ex Ponto
We're up against a worldview that nature is to be subdued. Angus
The more we can imbue ourselves with amazement at the wonders of
this universe, the less disposed we will be to destroy it. Rachael
The landscape of any farm is the
owner's portrait of himself. Aldo Leopold
It is the individual farmer who
must weave the greater part of the rug upon which we all must stand. Aldo Leopold
From Biomimicry, Janine M. Benyus
Farmers are responsible for protecting their crops from things
they cannot control.
Each time we plow, we simplify the soil, taking away some of
its capacity to grow crops.
Does the soil smell dark and fecund
as it should, like death and life commingled?
Over a mere century of tilling the prairie soils
of North America, we have lost one third of their topsoil, and up
to 50% of our original fertility. Jon Piper, Farming in Nature's
Since 1945, pesticide use has risen 3,300 percent, but overall
crop loss to pests has not gone down...with 2.2 billion pounds
of pesticides annually, crop losses have increased 20%.
[Imagine], an agriculture that will save soil from being lost
or poisoned while promoting a community life at once prosperous
How do you spring the mind free from its fears?
Farming in Nature's
Image, Jon Piper,
“Over a mere century of tilling the prairie soils of North America,
we have lost one third of their topsoil, and up to 50% of our original
[Imagine an agriculture] that no one can immediately
cash in on. When seed companies or chemical companies see
a cropping system that needs no seeds or chemicals, they're more
likely to fight it than join it." Jon Piper
Are there any
Can a perennial produce as much seed as an annual crop?
Can polyculture yields stay even with or actually overyield those
Can the polyculture defend itself against insects, pests and weeds?
Can polyculture sponsor its own nitrogen fertility?
[Imagine] a domestic plant community that behaves like a prairie,
but is predictable enough in terms of seed yield, to be feasible
Jon Piper, speaking at The Land Institute, Salina,
Where are our values? Now that atrazine has
turned up in the wells of some farm families, 2, 4-D has been linked
with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in farmers, and Alachlor, the most heavily
used herbicide on corn, is suspected to be a carcinogen, why
are land-grant universities doing research to find crops that
can be grown in the presence of stronger doses of it?
philosopher, Iowa State University
From Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial
Doug Tompkins, Andrew Kimbell, Editors
A modern supermarket produce aisle presents the perfect illusion
of food safety...According to the FDA, at least 53 pesticides
classified as carcinogenic are presently applied in massive amounts
to our major food crops.
Since 1989, overall pesticide use has risen by about
8% or 60 million pounds. The use of pesticides that leaves residues
on food has increased even more.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that
more than one million Americans drink water laced with pesticide
runoff from industrial farms.
...in 1998, the FDA found pesticide residues in
over 35% of the food tested.
...current standards for pesticides in food do
not yet include specific protections for fetuses, infants or young
children, despite major changes to pesticide laws in 1996 requiring
A National Cancer Institute study found that farmers
who used industrial herbicides were six times more likely than non-farmers
to develop non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of cancer. Tompkins and
It turns out that food production that is safe for
the environment, humane to animals, and based in community and independence
is also a food supply that is safe and nutritious for humans.
To be sustainable, agriculture must be organized economically
and financially so that those who use the land will benefit from
using it well and so that society will hold them accountable for
their failure to do so. Marty Strange, Center for Rural Affairs.
...we have been too timid and too anxious for quick
success, to tell the farmer the true magnitude of his obligations.
Every minute America is loosing 2 acres of farmland.
DeKalb County is within one of three areas in America most endangered
by urban sprawl.
Between 1990-2000 DeKalb county lost 4,794 acres of prime farmland,
an average of 1.3 acres of farmland lost everyday in the past decade.
98% of DeKalb County farmland is rated as prime-a unique combination
of exemplary soils, topography, and climate.
59% of the growth and development on the planet is taking place
on prime soils.
Why save farmland?
Absorption of rainwater-replenishment of groundwater and flood reduction.
Biomass for renewable energy
Enhances quality and biological integrity of natural areas
Provides open space
Improves quality of life