Artists For Local Agriculture: Grow It Yourself

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AFLA volunteers (L–R) Jordan Bateman, Jim Rose and Rick Berry hard at work building the Rail Yard Art Garden. Photo: Martín Rivero

Since November of 2011, Artists for Local Agriculture have been encouraging artists in the Salt Lake City area to reach out by inspiring and educating those in their communities through urban gardening. AFLA are local artists commited to teaching those who may not have the time, knowledge or means to grow food organically and with a minimal environmental impact. Founder Mike Cundick shared his inspiration, ideas and hopes for this flourishing non-profit organization.

SLUG: What prompted you to start AFLA?
Cundick: Specifically, it was the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I was on tour with my band Loom and at that time, I was scraping by on food stamps, so it hit me pretty hard. We’d stop at gas station after gas station, and end up eating these horrible, processed, preservative- and pesticidefilled, genetically modified bullshit sandwiches and burritos. But at the same time, I was learning about a unified approach to agriculture that would improve the environment, while at the same time producing healthy, high-quality food … It became a black-and-white issue almost immediately.

SLUG: How large of a community is involved with AFLA?
Cundick: We’ve been able to count on a large community, and without them, we wouldn’t be half of who we are today. It’s not always the same faces at our weekly volunteer days, but we always have people willing to come out when we need it. I’d say we’ve had over 75 people volunteer with us at one point or another. It would take too long to give credit to everyone that helped, but special thanks go out to Josh, Teena, Cassie, Larry, Rick, Jim, Alex, Shaun, Kiva, Danika, Adam and many more.

SLUG: How do you incorporate artists into your organization’s ideals?
Cundick: Artists and musicians are what drive our organization. The donation of their prints and originals allow us to be able to offset our costs. Every fundraiser, farm benefit or production we’re involved with features talented local artists and musicians. AFLA respects and promotes creative expression in our culture, and we encourage these artists to view themselves as role models and community leaders. Artists can inspire so many to do their part, whether through volunteering, or even by starting their own urban gardens through our programs or others throughout the valley. There is also the “No More Starving Artists” program, which we hope to finish developing soon. This program will help artists learn to grow their own food by taking part in community garden activities, and will also provide them with a public space for art shows.

SLUG: How did you get involved with the Utah Arts Alliance?
Cundick: The UAA had an interest in having a portion of their property transformed into a community garden and actually approached us with the idea at the 2012 Urban Arts Festival. After we figured out how we wanted to tackle the project, we decided to move forward, and we called it the Rail Yard Community Art Garden. We are getting closer to finishing it every day, and it is going to a beautiful place for the community to enjoy.

SLUG: How has this partnership benefited AFLA?
Cundick: We have been able to reach out to other organizations––that would have been difficult without the support of our friends at the UAA. We recently were able to work on a grant that helped fund some of the more exciting ideas we have for the RYCAG space.

SLUG: Where do you hope to see AFLA in the next five years?
Cundick: I think that we’re on to something here. There are a lot of people that believe in our basic principles, but can’t seem to find the bridge between agriculture and counter culture, but we are so close. I think, for most people, gardening is still viewed as a hobby, when in actuality, it carries a potential for fixing most issues we face in our community. We are connecting with those who are helpless and apathetic when up against the powers that be. The DIY shock value of the early counter culture is starting to fade, and we want to provide a means to empower people who may have not had the chance to make a statement and at the same time be self-sufficient. In five years, I see a lot more people gardening due to our efforts, and our thriving network growing into chapters across the country. We have the passion, the plan and the people—now we just have to follow through.

The Rail Yard Community Art Garden will officially open Oct. 19, and AFLA will be co-hosting an event with the UAA to honor the occasion. The garden will feature statues and murals, along with demonstrations on various DIY gardening ideas. The day will feature the installation of a six-foot sculpted bumblebee, an outdoor art exhibition, a variety of local bands, drum circles and a few AFLA representatives who will be available to teach workshops on the agricultural displays to the community. Find AFLA at facebook.com/artistsforlocalagriculture.

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