Amid The Re:Nuisánce

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St. Patrick’s Day in Chicagoland was the warmest in 141 years. This is the first time that I’ve ever seen spring come early and we saw record breaking highs for a stretch of 8 consecutive days. While the rest of the city was feverishly binge-drinking, killing little girls and chanting USA at guy-on-guy action in Arlington Heights, we found a peaceful place to be. We were at the front lines of the Slow Food movement, among the sensible people that gathered to share information at The Good Food Chicago Conference. We aren’t chefs or farmers but there are parallels between our struggle as creative individuals and this food rebel cause.

Paul Virant, chef of Vie Restaurant, took a poll of the farmers and foodies present during a panel on Canning and Preserving. “How many of you are excited about the weather?” About 20% threw their hands in the air. “How many are scared?” The other 80% looked at one another as they slowly raised their hands. “How many think the Mayans were right?” One lady blushed when she realized that she was the only one with her hand up.Paul Virant (Vie Restaurant) and Tracey Vowell (3 Sisters Gardens) One thing that everyone agreed on was that they still wouldn’t plant their crops yet.

Paul was joined by half of the workforce at 3 Sisters Gardens. Tracey Vowell worked for Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill before starting the indoor farm near Kankakee, IL with her partner, Kathe Roybal. She was part of the workshop to emphasize the close-knit relationship between some restaurants and farmers in Chicago. Their collaborative spirit was demonstrated when Paul mentioned writing her products into a recipe that would be published in a magazine. “They called me for an order last week, thank you.” Tracey responded.

Tracey and Kathe specialize in growing Corn, Beans and Squash because of the Native American tradition of growing the 3 veggies in a single mound. Her advice to those interested in agribusiness could easily apply to the arts or filmmaking. “Don’t grow what everyone else is growing. Find your own market.” She said that consistently growing corn, beans and squash, along with microgreens, means that farmers from all around Midwest count on her to supplement their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) This allows her to collaborate and bridge markets with fellow farmers instead of competing against them.

Michael O’Gorman, who now helps veterans start food businesses, spoke as part of a panel called So You Wanna Be a Farmer. He started farming during The Back to the Land Movement in the 1970s and explains that everyone was growing their own food in the wake of the Vietnam War.Michael O'Gorman (Farmer Veteran Coalition) Many even made a living in farming until droughts in the late 1980s put 1 out of every 100 farmers out of business. He told this story to make sure that anyone considering a life on the farm knows that “if you don’t have PTSD before becoming a farmer, give it a few years.”

O’Gorman’s longview of the food movement is reassuring.  He encourages prospective farmers to think about their farm like a work of art or a movie. “What kind of movie do you want to make?” The leaders of the food movement are looking to us, the artsy fartsies, as inspiration for their work. My short documentaries stand as an alternative to John Carter, just like 3 Sisters Gardens stands as an alternative to Monsanto and other titans of industrialized farming.

“It’s not about markets, it’s not about your land. It’s about the knowledge.” – Michael O’Gorman

This cross-pollination or Re:Mix of ideas from farmers to chefs to filmmakers to artists all shares a single spirit. We’re all fighting our own Goliaths. Whether it’s Monsanto, McDonald’s, TMZ or Ads and Billboards, we’re all fighting against a flood of mass-produced distractions that keep people from taking time to appreciate real food, independent film and contemporary art. A shift has been in the mix for some time. Real, substantial change seems to be at our fingertips and on the tips of our tongues.

I propose that we are already in the throws of a Second-Hand Renaissance made up of shared ideas about our surroundings; corrupt, big-brother, tabloid journalism; Bloated-Budget, Bombing Blockbusters; RT, TL;DR, HD-TV News and Slick, Sugar-Coated Marketing that keeps us running to the store in fear. In this overbearing environment, filled with feedback and LCD screens, those of us that can re-appropriate the mess that engulfs us are amid a new Artistic Revolution. A Re:Nuisánce.

On the other side of the country, around the same time as the So You Wanna Be a Farmer panel, Bruce Springsteen delivered the keynote address at the SXSW Festival in Austin, TX that echoed the sentiment of the Good Food Movement. He spoke of revolution, rebellion and bringing a working-class mentality to our creativity. Not back to the land, but back to the soul. Back to the root of the problem. He talks about the pride and humility required to succeed in music, or any other field and reminds us that “if it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong.”

Like O’Gorman, The Boss puts our current struggle in the context of his experience with the evolution of rock and roll. They both make it clear that, while we’re on the ground floor of a brand new way of living, working and collaborating, we stand on the shoulders of people that have been there before and made it work. The torch has been passed. Maybe the Mayans were right.

9 thoughts on “Amid The Re:Nuisánce

    […] – How Bruce Springsteen can sing about the Good Food Festival by Amid […]

    […] No snow means no thaw. No thaw means no floods. No floods mean no rain. This is probably what farmers at the Good Food Conference were afraid of in […]

    What’s a Jubilee? | thecontrerasgabrielproject said:
    September 4, 2012 at 11:26 am

    […] the more I believe there could be some cosmic alarm clock ticking away. I’ve mentioned the Mayans before in this blog. The concept behind the calendar that people fear is much more about rejuvenation or turning over a […]

    […] The people and information floating around the conference made us very aware that things are changin… Many of us are learning about our bodies and how to take better care of ourselves. We’re finding correlations between our physical state and what we put in our bodies. We’re asking questions about where our food comes from and even growing it ourselves. […]

    Good Food Fest 1013 | thecontrerasgabrielproject said:
    March 30, 2013 at 12:01 am

    […] There was some worry last year that the drought would discourage farmers, gardeners and other Good F… but that wasn’t the case. Caring about food and nutrition is now mainstream. Rahm Emmanuel is even using food initiatives to cover up the fact that he’s gutting public schools. The idea is taking root. A new economy is emerging from the rumble of our last financial collapse. Solutions are all around us and they’re taking hold. I’ll leave you with this video about the future that is at our fingertips. […]

    […] second panelist was Seneca Kern, whom we heard at the Good Food Conference last year, his goal is to get more people interesting in gardening by sharing knowledge and fostering […]

    Always Revolting | thecontrerasgabrielproject said:
    July 23, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    […] in between. I fall closer to the believers than the nay sayers on this one. Using terms like Re:Nuisance and Art Permaculture to describe what we’re witnessing in Chicago suggests that I’ve […]

    […] We had a great conversation about art, education and puppies, which touched on my idea of the Re:Nuisánce and Marissa’s use of phoenix as a verb. Both ideas come from the same need for renewal that […]

    […] also exemplifies the nurturing spirit of this city and reminds me that those of us fostering Chicago’s Cultural Re:Nuisánce today are simply harvesting fruit from seeds planted decades […]

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