“This is instant cuisine,” says Michael Stadtlander, waving his arm around a large oval of black earth surrounded by pasture. “We’ll pick the vegetables here, wash them, and eat them here.” We’re at Eigensinn Farm on a breezy spring day, imagining the garden that in a few months will offer up this cuisine. The celebrated chef and farmer, with a relaxed manner and a feather-tipped black fedora on his head, is describing one of the edible installations of The Singhampton Project, a culinary event presented by Earth Day Canada that may be the first of its kind. From August 10th to 26th, seven gardens spaced around Stadtlander’s 100-acre farm near Singhampton, Ontario, will offer seven distinct outdoor dining experiences – many of the menu elements harvested and prepared while patrons watch. The Project is a collaboration between Stadtlander and French landscape artist Jean Paul Ganem, who designed the gardens.
Each garden is a meditation on food and the landscape and how humans negotiate each. The above-mentioned Baroque Fish Plate garden will produce beets, fennel, basil, Jerusalem artichokes and other vegetables to complement locally raised fish, all of which will be eaten at a large fish-shaped table in the middle of the garden. The Tipi Field will feature the Native North American “Three Sisters” (beans, corn and squash) growing on and around several tipi structures.
For The Circle, Jean Paul Ganem designed concentric plantings of grain over a stretch of pasture for livestock to graze on, while in a middle circle patrons graze on beef or lamb from a spit. Such tableaux have the feel of a Happening, a kind of performance cuisine.
The Singhampton Project evolves the local food idea to an art form with the help of Ganem’s eye for spatial design and unifying elements in a landscape. An artist specializing in large-scale plant and crop installations around the world, his connection to Canada began in Quebec, where he created vertical gardens at Montreal’s restored Darling Foundry. His Jardin des Capteurs, also in Montreal, transformed a large section of a landfill site into gardens of interlocking wheel shapes planted with petunia, aster, buckwheat, canola and other plants to create a startling palette in the midst of an urban wasteland.
Earth Day Canada President Jed Goldberg introduced Ganem and Stadtlander in 2010. “At first I wasn’t sure how a chef and an artist would collaborate,” says Ganem via Skype from his Paris home. “Then when I visited Eigensinn Farm, I understood the connection, because I work with crops.” His work for The Project is his first edible garden project. “Each garden is also a recipe,” says Ganem. “This is something unique.”
Hovering in the background of The Singhampton Project, perhaps, is the spectre of a proposed mega-quarry on prime agricultural land in nearby Melancthon Township, in opposition to which Michael Stadtlander spearheaded the Foodstock festival last year. The current Project is not explicitly a protest; its messages are subtle, showing how food and creativity can enhance a landscape.
In his past projects working with farmers in France to create design motifs in crops (many best viewed from the air) Ganem has attempted to complement landscape forms both natural and geometrical. “I try to take the feeling of a space and work with what is already there. Each landscape has an energy and a history from the people living in or around it. At Eigensinn Farm, there is so much of Michael here already and I could work with that.”