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June 12, 2020

Meet the Green Phoenix Farm, Eli Kauffman, BFA Painting ’21

by elikauffman
A photo taken of The Green Phoenix Farm on my first day on-site.

Nearing the end of my 2nd week at the urban farm, I am reflecting on my initial proposal for this summer project, and evaluating the exciting progress that is happening, as well as noting the challenges I will face with certain aspects of the fellowship that are complicated by the current health crisis. Wasatch Community Gardens is still committed to providing the tools for residents of the Salt Lake Valley to access and grow their own fresh food, though there are certain challenges to many of their usual in-person resources. Thankfully Utah has not been hit as hard by COVID-19 as many other areas have, so though caution and safety measures are being prioritized, I am able to work on site in the gardens. We are all wearing masks at all times and social distancing as much as possible, though some harvests require closer quarters.

I am finding that though it s my job to facilitate a connection to the arts for this community, they are also facilitating my connection to nature and agriculture. I have been given many of the responsibilities that are central to the job training program, including an assigned plot that I am in charge of caring for. This experience of being a part of the gardens is becoming very influential in my ideas for how to represent it through public art.

Mulberry tree harvest! Staff and volunteers (including myself) stretched out the tarp, while James, our farm lead climbed into the tree to shake the ripe fruit off. Afterwards we processed and packaged the harvest to be distributed to the community as a part of the weekly shares that are sent out.

The majority of my attention is focused on integrating public art into the Green Phoenix Farm, and building a relationship with the staff and volunteers there in order to inspire the content of the mural make-over. My time volunteering in the gardens with the women in the job training program, gives me insight into how they want to be represented, and how they are interested in collaborating. Through casual conversation as we garden I have been able to collect exciting suggestions that will fuel the content of the murals. Many of these women though new to the world of agriculture, have taken a keen interest in plant identification, and understanding the personalities of each species. We have decided to pull this thread into the decorative elements of the design plan, painting dandelions on the first shipping container. Cher and Mona Lisa explained to me that though many underestimate them to be a weed with little value, dandelions are resilient, edible, and can make for great companion crops. These women rebuilding their lives from homelessness through the job training program feel that their experience is reflected in a plant that is so useful and beautiful, yet is underestimated and undervalued. I plan to continue to incorporate their plant knowledge into future designs for the other shipping containers, as a way to represent this community indirectly.

A progress photo of the two finished sides of the dandelion themed building.

One of the challenges that I did not initially anticipate, is that for me to provide an artistic outlet for the community at the farm, I will have to work with the social distancing safety protocols, which excludes many of my initial ideas. However conversations with the staff, and with James the farm lead, have resulted in a plan to reintroduce a tradition that has already existed on the farm previously. The reason it is called The Green Phoenix Farm, is because it was renamed after a devastating fire that destroyed much of the plot a few seasons ago. One of the buildings that was destroyed had a mural where community members could leave their hand prints as a way to be remembered, and to build an art piece together, over time. Now that the farm is rebuilt, there is an opportunity for me to facilitate a new version of this tradition. Themes of growing over time, and giving an opportunity for everyone to participate feel central to both myself and the community at the farm.

In such a short time I have already been inspired by, and learned so much from the community at this urban farm. I am looking forward to the ways that this project will effect my personal painting and drawing practice, but for now I am spending most of my sketching time working on ideas for some of the larger shipping containers that have space for a more complicated design. Excuse the crude photoshop, but here is one of the potential ideas for one of the larger surfaces. The border may become a place for volunteers and staff to sign their names, or add their own embellishments.

Rough sketchbook drawing of a design centered on themes of mutual aid and community.
Quick photoshop projection of the composition on the shipping container it will potentially be painted on.
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