5. THINGS YOU LEARN WHEN YOU FORAGE

Rebecca Beinart


My interest in the act of foraging began with a playful project – a bicycle with an adapted table-top attached to the pannier rack – which I used to make a series of journeys that tested the 'tea potential' of different places. On each journey I was looking for four ingredients to create a tea party: water, fuel for the kettle, plants to brew, and company. It was an exercise in making something from nothing, but it was also an education in botany, and an introduction to traversing the city in a different way. Learning about plants that would make good infusions, and finding places where they grew, made me develop a greater fascination for wild food and medicinal plants. And although the experiment was deliberately comical, it resulted in intimate and sometimes serious interactions with places and people. Each of the common plants I found pointed to the human stories around them: cultural meaning, folklore, historical uses and sometimes their potent use to heal or harm.

Field Kitchen began its life in 2009, as a commission for the Nottingham-based arts festival Hinterland, led by independent curator Jennie Syson. Hinterland ran for over three years and invited artists to create public work around the river Trent. Building on my previous project, I wanted to construct a mobile experiment that I could use to take groups of people out on more immersive foraging trips. Field Kitchen was designed as a bespoke bicycle trailer carrying everything necessary to cook edible plants found on expeditions in urban wilds. Attempting self-sufficiency, the mobile kitchen used a rocket stove powered by found waste and wood to cook foraged food. During the festival, I took groups out for bicycle rides along the banks of the Trent, gradually leaving the urban centre to look for enough wild food to make a meal, and then finding a spot to cook up a foraged feast.

    

Throughout the development of the project, and subsequent work, I've been interested in examining human relationships with plants, and how this shapes our relationships with the places in which we live. This seems to be so culturally and historically specific – and something as apparently innocuous as making some tea from freshly picked flowers can be seen as risky or eccentric in certain contexts. I have also been increasingly interested in a loss of what used to be 'common knowledge' about plants, and the contemporary paradigms and power dynamics that reinforce this loss.
   

Wanting the project to do more than just introduce people to the free food growing in their own back yard, in June 2009, I took Field Kitchen to London’s square mile, as part of another arts festival (Artsadmin's 'Two Degrees') to search for wild food growing in the country’s financial powerhouse. Starting each day at the Bank of England, I travelled in a different direction, asking, how far from the heart of Capital do you have to go to find life? This intervention set out to investigate the possible botanical poverty in the richest part of the country, and looking for a different kind of wealth. Riding a mobile kitchen around the heart of London was full of surprises. Each day I moved slowly through the city streets, looking for pockets of green nestled between banks and office blocks. Foraging breeds slowness, and it was a remarkable experience to move around this area – where everybody is in a hurry – at a speed governed by plants. Following spots of green on the map, and my nose, I stumbled upon unexpected abundance - delicious june berries dripping off a row of decorative trees, wild rocket sprouting out of London Wall, a defiant field of chickweed occupying a flowerbed next to the Barbican.

   

In the past five years, Field Kitchen has continued to have a life, and I have continued taking people from various parts of Nottingham out to explore wild food and foraging – always leading to unexpected flavours and conversations that range from the best place to find a particular plant and preferred fritter recipes to health, memory, science and folklore. New projects have evolved that explore marginal sites and probe more deeply my questions about our historic and contemporary relationship to plants – as food, medicine, vital forces in economic development, markers of place and memory, subjects of powe struggles, and powerful agents in their own right.



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Rebecca Beinart is an artist and educator based in Nottingham, UK. Her works are available at http://www.axisweb.org/p/rebeccabeinarthttp://www.fieldkitchen.net/,

http://bureauofurbanwilds.wordpress.com and http://wasteland-twinning.net/



  1. EDITOR'S NOTE
  2. IN FOOD AND HOLY MATRIMONY Ranjani Krishnakumar
  3. MEAT AND DRINK IN THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA Maja Ciric
  4. CURRY GERMAN STYLE Dr K N Ganeshaiah & Dr V R Ramakrishna Parama
  5. THINGS YOU LEARN WHEN YOU FORAGE Rebecca Beinart
  6. BOILING COFFEE, BURNING BEIRUT Deepa Bhasthi
  7. THE WORLD IN A SUPERMARKET AISLE Tanja Lazetic & Sunoj D
  8. THE BUDDHA'S LAST SUPPER Dr Taltaje Vasanthakumara