Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Urban Sukkot

I learned from my friend Michelle, who is not Jewish, that today marks the beginning of the holiday Sukkot.

I remember this holiday as being one of my favorites when I had to suffer through Saturday mornings at what was ironically referred to as "Sunday School. "

I think what I loved was that for one day we got to go outside and crawl inside a damp, green, earthy smelling structure full of harvest fruits and vegetables. To me we were celebrating the change of seasons.

As I sat cross-legged inside the sukkah with my classmates we would share a snack of apples, sing and tell stories.

What I learned as an adult was that Sukkot was the temporary shelters that the jews lived in durning their exodus from Egypt 3000 years ago.  Each fall this is memorialized as a week long harvest festival.  This year it begins today.

 With so much emphasis on how we live today it is no surprise that an international design competition in has been created around Sukkot.  Aptly named: Sukkah City.

The competition re-imagines the ancient temporary dwelling in an urban setting.  The rules are a contemplative read creating some interesting constraints for the designers.  One stating :The roof cannot be made of food, but can be made of almost anything that grows. While another states A whale may be used to make a sukkah.   (This last one taken from ancient historical texts.)

 Twelve finalists were chosen by a jury of architects,designers and critics.  They will get  to construct their designs in an imaginary village in Union Square.   One of which was chosen to stand as the Peoples' Choice Sukkah of NewYork City.  Next year the festival will expand to cities around the world.

Check out some of the entries and winners

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Seed For Thought

Being an avid gardener I often think of biodiversity and how plants which grow in cold climates have adapted to grow here in Southern California.  When I am planting I try my best to plant a variety of different crops,companion planting where it is beneficial.  

Recently I began to hear stories of a place outside of St. Petersburg Russia,The Pavlovsk Research Station.  The imminent destruction of an institution established in 1926 in order to safeguard crop security is being reported.  It is one of only two botanical repositories on the planet.   Here exists a collection of plants and seeds  which includes more than 5000 samples of European fruit including cherries, apples, plums and it is said over 1000 varieties of strawberries.  

According to the Global Crop Diversity Trust,who has been leading an effort to save the site, the fields are living repositories where about 90 percent of the varieties growing there do not exist anywhere else in the world.  
Scientists have spent their lifetimes protecting and nurturing these plants and seeds, most of which would not survive transplanting due to the specfics of the soil and climate.  During World War II twelve heroic scientists starved to death rather than consume the seeds safe housed in the facility.  

The repository is in it's final days because the Russian government has allowed property developers to buy off chunks of the land to build high rises.  Unless Russian President Medvedev decides to save the land.  Stay tuned for developments... 

This brings to mind a more local story about The South Central Farm  that used to exist on on 41st and Alameda.  Considered one of the largest urban farms in the country, and about the size of a football field, it was an oasis plopped down in the midst of industrial downtown Los Angeles.  

Families depended upon the land for a generation, farming food, herbal medicine and plants for spiritual use.  Some of the plants have been identified by anthropologists as an important tie to where the plants were originally domesticated in the U.S after being brought from Mexico.

I was only able to visit the site once, under very sad circumstances.  In a complicated dispute with a landowner the land was leased for locals to farm in 1985.  And in  a more complicated dispute in 2006, the locals were evicted   They did not go silently. I attended a peaceful vigil while Daryl Hannah and Julia Butterfly Hill held out in a tree.   

Violet was chosen by one of the elders of the farm to help lead a walking vigil.  We silently walked the perimeter of the farm, returning for singing and dancing performed by some of the community members.  

Although the land was bulldozed the farm continues today.  What can you do?
You can purchase vegetables and fruit from them at the Hollywood Farmer's Market on Sundays on Ivar.  
Buy locally, and if you grow vegetables try to save and  share seeds.