In 2017 I commenced a professional development mentorship under artist Åsa Sonjasdotter with a research project to create an edible weed garden on Die Laube (The Arbor) at Prinzessinnengärten (The Princess Garden) – a self-sustainable urban farm located in Berlin’s Kreuzberg area. Die Laube is a base for The Neighbourhood Academy (TNA), co-founded by Sonjasdotter and historian plus co-founder of the garden Marco Clausen, as a knowledge-sharing program for experimental and creative community projects. TNA’s engaged format was a fitting platform for my research and under Sonjasdotter’s guidance ran a series of experimental performances and workshops. My research was informed by sustainable urban farm practices and foraging as an alternative food system. German culture and its rich history of foraging (Clausen posits) is more aligned with folklore or the rural idyll than the emerging global trend for forage cuisine exemplified by Noma restaurant in Denmark. For the last 6 years I have undertaken projects in diverse countries where people forage for food and medicine plants that contribute to cultural identity while subsidising household expenses. I found it is common for Germans to forage for traditional fare such as berries, wild nuts and mushrooms and I was keen to push some boundaries on what is considered edible or appropriate in this context. As a result, the hanging garden consisted of 6 species of common edible weeds (un-kraut in German) naturalised throughout the world, cultivated from seed foraged in urban environs the year before for a project at The Centre for Art and Urbanistics (ZKU), Berlin.
My outcome included workshops with community gardeners and local residents to create the hanging garden in self-irrigating planter pots from repurposed food-grade plastic waste, plus audience-activated cooking performances from the harvested edible weeds. The mentorship further enabled me to significantly develop an archive concept The Conceptual Cookbook. I learnt from Sonjasdotter’s archival practice on relationships between agriculture and cultural memory and documenting crop culture with agrarian communities, to present the ‘cookbook’ as a document of such processes and outcomes, with recipes for engagement on relationships with wild edible plants and ecological systems.