marshall and me
A public art project reviving a very special berry from extinction, along with three or four other food rarities of your choosing.
The Marshall Strawberry, once heralded by James Beard, the Father of American Gastronomy as the most delicious strawberry ever grown is on Slow Food's top 10 most endangered foods list.
The Marshall was discovered in Boston in 1883, then migrated to the West Coast where it was grown abundantly in Washington, Oregon and California until the 1960's when large scale industrial farming came into fashion. It was then the Marshall was quickly phased out due to its modest production, delicacy, and therefore incompatibility with modern industrialized agricultural practices. Transportability over long distances being more important than taste.
In 2007, while I was in graduate school in Boston, I tracked down what was then the last three remaining plants at the USDA's Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon. Generously and enthusiastically, since my aim is to grow them again for food, scientists there sent me a runner via Fedex. It was love at first sight with those tiny little plants. Along with at tremendous sense of responsibility caring for something that is the very last of it's kind.
From the original runner, three plants took root, and they thrived happily in my kitchen window with loving care under grow lights. Eventually all of them fruited, producing juicy, flavorful, beautiful red berries--all I dreamed they would be.
The following season three multiplied to 17 plants and I ran out of space! Luckily, that summer of 2008, after my teaching fellowship in Boston ended, I moved to Bloomington, Indiana with 22 plants and two cats (all of us sharing hotel rooms along the way because of the heat) into a rental house with a slightly larger kitchen space and more grow lights. The following summer, 2009 I moved to New York City for a summer-long art project with 37 Marshall's two cats and 300 seedlings. While I planted the seedlings all over the city, the Marshalls and cats hung out in our cool sublet in Willilamsburg Brooklyn. I returned to Bloomington that fall with two cats and 42 plants.
Last summer here in Bloomington,I finally planted the Marshall's outdoors in the backyard of my rental house and there are now 67 plants, the same two cats and now a baby daughter! Yet again I'm out of space! Had I a dedicated spot for all of these years there would be hundreds of Marshalls by now!
So my plan is to buy a 1-3 acre piece of land so the Marshall can have a permanent home and so we can revive this beautiful strawberry from near extinction to the point where it is no longer endangered. To keep the Marshall company, through this art piece entitled "Rising Fields", I will also work to revive several other nearly extinct food plants of your choosing. Everyone who contributes $1 or more to this project will get to choose which fruits, grains or vegetables we'll work to save.
The kickstarter funds will go directly into purchasing land. Our land, whether urban or rural will need to have lots of sun, workable soil, a good water source and public accessibility. We want lots of visitors!!! My hope is that once plant numbers are sufficient, we will be able to give away plants and seeds so folks can grow at home and on their farms to increase numbers even further. Since 2007 a few other individual and groups of Marshall enthusiasts have contacted me to join forces, and I'd love to start a network. Rising Fields will be the largest and most extensive effort to save the Marshall to date.
Any additional monies raised above and beyond the funding goal will be used to clear the land, remove debris and organically amend the soil in preparation for planting. Also once this project has a permanent location, we will be eligible for lots of other art and agricultural grants and funding opportunities. Which is why I want to buy land and not rent it. I also want this to be a destination art piece, where folks can come to learn about organic farming, have a picnic, and enjoy fresh, rare, beautiful foods of their agricultural heritage.
Why should we care about reviving a strawberry plant? Diversity ensures a healthy food supply. The Irish potato famine happened because everyone grew the same exact variety of potato. When disease hit, the whole crop was wiped out and millions starved. This would not have happened if many different varieties were cultivated simultaneously. Today because huge industrial farms plant a single variety over millions of acres the same danger exists, and on a much larger scale. Also because of our dependence on only a handful of plants, others varieties that are ignored die out. In the 20th century alone, we lose 70% of our agricultural heritage. The recent wave of small scale organic farms are a helpful sign things are changing. But these farmers also have to make money, and lower producing plants like the Marshall will most likely not stand a chance anytime soon. And that's why this project is so important.
I've done some scouting around and this is the average price for suitable properties. there are many more developed and pricier and some less so in price and condition. At every range work will need to be done to clear land and amend the soil for planting, which is a costly endeavor. But this funding amount will guarantee ownership of land. Once I have property, I will be eligible for additional grants to cover the expense of clean up and conditioning the soil. And of course it would be amazing to over fund here, so work can begin immediately.
Each donor of even $1 can cast one vote for which other endangered fruits and vegetable we will save at Rising Fields. I will send around a survey after funding has completed with a list of some amazing and beautiful plants with wonderful stories for you to choose from. In addition, each donor $1 or more will receive a personal invitation to our first ever harvest picnic!
For $20 you will have the chance to sponsor a live Marshall plant, name it and receive a polaroid of your plant. You will also be a named sponsor on the project website.
For $50 you get all of the above PLUS a packet of rare vegetable seeds from my garden in a handmade, signed and numbered seed packet.
At the $100 level, all of the above will be yours PLUS a one quarter pint of Marshall strawberry jam, handmade by me, signed and numbered (once we have enough of a harvest to put up). Remember, this is an almost extinct berry! Jam from the Marshall does not exist anywhere else in the whole world.
Contributing $500 entitles you to all of the above, plus a limited edition lino cut print of a Marshal Strawberry, signed and numbered, again made by me, and a half-pint of jam.
A contribution of $1000 you will receive all of the above PLUS your very own Marshall Strawberry plant, in a handmade container.
I will be regularly posting updates to the Rising Fields website:
Please contact me with any questions you may have about the project. I welcome your ideas and feedback too.
Thank you so very much for your time and consideration.
Leah and Marshall
- (30 days)