A wave of traffic rushes to a standstill in front of The High Museum on Peachtree Street. A guy walks dangerously close to the road, balancing himself on the curb. Barefoot and bare-chested, he reaches down to the small strip of grass in between the sidewalk and street. He plucks a stray dandelion, examines it through his wire-rimmed glasses, then nonchalantly pops the flower into his mouth and chews.
This is Matti Dwyer, a student-artist at Savannah College of Art and Design Atlanta and advocate of local plant growth. According to Dwyer, a dandelion is a more accessible source of Vitamin C than oranges.
“Our nutrition is right here,” he says. “Why should we have to get oranges and other produce shipped from other places when it’s right here?”
Dwyer is redefining the negative term “weed” by demonstrating that local plants like dandelions and acorns can be made into edible and delicious foods. People are simply misinformed.
“Our tongues have been stupefied by the foods we are accustomed to eating,” he says. “But our bodies will naturally crave what is around us because it is good for us.”
Along the pavement, Dwyer collects a handful of acorns and reveals them in his palm. He says most people don’t know how to prepare foods with common and local ingredients, but stresses it can be simple, fun, and efficient. “Most anything you make with white flour can be replaced with acorn flour,” he says.
As a senior sculpture major originally from Cincinnati, Dwyer focuses his work on sustainability and educating people on the importance of urban ecosystems and permacultures – a strategic farming practice and lifestyle that mimics natural systems.
“Permaculture, to me, is man utilizing the most perfect system on earth, the natural web of life, where he takes his place as a component in that system rather than a tyrant over it,” he says.
Through close observation of plant and animal interaction, weather patterns, gravitational flow, water properties and local wind tendencies, a permaculture designer can set up a system in only a few weeks of work that will soon begin to self-regulate for years, decades, even centuries to come.
Contemporary farming practices illustrate a departure from a relationship with the natural order. It takes 400 gallons of oil to feed a single person every year through contemporary practices. Rather than growing one crop for miles and dousing it with petroleum-based pesticides and herbicides, permaculture raises multiple plants and animals in close proximity. Nature shows us that the more diverse elements we have in a system, the healthier and more fruitful it is.
Dwyer has created and designed what he calls Guerrilla Garden Survival Packs, backpacks equipped with everything a child needs to start their own local garden in the city. This installation and another piece called Windowgarden were featured in the SCAD and a Sustainable Planet exhibition.
To Dwyer, a seed is a library of information and by educating youth on the importance of developing natural systems, Dwyer hopes to change the future of contemporary farming to more sustainable agricultural practices. “The greatest factory on earth wasn’t created by man,” he says. “It is a tree.”
The Guerrilla Garden Survival Pack contains a kit with the essentials for creating a garden. The materials used to make the pack are recycled, readily available, and stapled together so that anyone (even a child who doesn’t know how to sew) can make the pack.
Shovels, stakes and tills, string, water bottles and seeds are tucked and strapped into pockets. The most important part of the pack is the Guerrilla Garden Manual that illustrates how to start a garden with the pack. It’s simple.
Jumpstart a garden with the pack and the plants naturally do the rest of the work. A pack rolls up into a convenient sling for on-the-go gardeners.
I knew about dandelions but there are a lot of other common plants that can be eaten I know nothing of. I will have to find information on the subject and start looking more closely at my own environment.
That’s all well and good, but no one should be eating anything that grows by the side of the road. The pollutants emitted by cars go right into those plants. Eat the dandelions in your backyard all you want but don’t eat the ones that grow on the sidewalk!
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