A Blade of Grass Films

S1 E13 | FULL EPISODE

Alternative Futures: Frances Whitehead

Frances Whitehead is a civic practice artist bringing the methods, mindsets, and strategies of contemporary art practice to the process of shaping future cities. Her Fruit Futures Initiative Gary (FFIG), an experimental orchard project with the Emerson neighborhood of Gary, Indiana, is designed and planted as a grassroots investment in the community for years to come.

AIRED: October 19, 2020 | 0:06:05
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TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

Lewers: One of the things about Gary is that in its decrepitude,

a lot of people, family, friends,

it's like, "Wow, isn't that depressing, man?"

Part is, but it's not the whole.

We're still here.

I'm 61 years old. I used to work in the mill.

I've been in Gary all my life,

and I've seen a lot of things.

I think maybe in the course of years, I'm still living.

I'll see it come back to a way it was.

♪ Comfort to you

♪ Comfort to you

♪ We ain't got nothing to do

♪ With where you are

♪ Or where you've been

♪ Or where you're going

Whitehead: Gary was founded in 1909 by U.S. Steel.

The cultural identity of Gary is so tied to U.S. Steel

that people have a kind of blinders on

to other possibilities.

This is a region that needs new paradigms.

Our question is, why aren't we growing fruit

in Gary?

♪♪

Fruit Futures Initiative Gary

is a multi-prong, multi-layer,

short-, medium-, and long-term initiative

to ask the questions how fruit species can contribute

to the revitalization, repurposing,

or perhaps the rewilding of the Gary, Indiana,

and northwest Indiana region.

I'm like a parade.

[ Laughs ]

So FFIG has three parts.

It has the remediation arboretum

where we look to see how fruits can contribute to soil health

in urban conditions.

It has the climate quarter.

And then the third part is the community lab orchard,

the initiative to put orchards throughout Gary

for all of the available land.

And then we'll see what everybody else is going to do.

When we got that far,

we'll run a string and we'll line them up

so that they're lined up together.

We've got this bigger one. Should it go at the far end

or is it better to have a big at the end?

♪♪

Gary has lost a lot of population,

industrialization, post-industrial, climate change,

microclimate, social and racial justice,

and environmental and food justice issues

are much more extreme in Gary than other places.

Gary was 200,000 people and is now 68,000 people.

So we have a huge amount of vacant land

just south of the steel mill

perfect for fruit growing.

If you drive around the neighborhood,

you'll see so much stuff

that there's absolutely nothing happening. Nothing.

Mulligan: We're dealing with the reality

that the city is a food desert.

You have to put forth effort to get to a place

to get the fresh produce that you want.

This was where my Little League Baseball team practiced.

Here? Oh, yeah.

Wow. Oh, yeah.

My brother graduated from this.

Whitehead: So when we pick the species,

we were thinking about time.

The design concept is the seven-year lot.

It turns out that smaller fruiting plants

fruit sooner than larger trees.

If we planted them according to size on the lot,

the wedge that would be formed

would be an illustration of time.

This is an experiment in whether or not floral beauty

can create engagement

and can fruit to be a beautiful, delicious curiosity

that pulls attention towards the future.

Too much.

No, no. You're good.

Alright.

Jones: I would love to be 20 and have had the vision,

along with the opportunity to start something like this.

At 60, I can give it, I know, another good 10 years.

This orchard won't be a baby,

but it'll just be a teenager, then, you know?

So it'll impact generations behind it.

That's what it's about.

Grimes: Gary will change,

but the thing that attracted me to this particular project

was I saw it as an expansion of what Gary will become.

♪ Comfort to you

♪ Comfort to you

♪ Makes no difference with or without it, you know ♪

Whitehead: There is no separation

between the immediate goal

of the economic development of a new fruit economy

or the necessity of growing climate awareness.

So we may be participating in rewilding

and we may be participating in revitalization of an urban area.

No matter which way it goes, it's a good thing.

So it's kind of a collection of greening for different purposes.

Whitehead: 100 years from now,

I hope we have grown some growers.

If we can grow growers who can grow fruit,

then we can think about time outside short-term cycles.

If you can think in fruit time,

then maybe you can think in tree time

and then you can think climate change.

And then I also like to say,

"And if you can imagine climate change, you can imagine.

And if you can imagine, you can dream."

♪♪

♪♪

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