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Philly’s Painted Bride, with food and art, plants seeds of community with Resistance Garden project

The arts organization has partnered with artists, farmers, gardeners and foragers for a new six-month program

Painted Bride's Resistance Gardens project, a program exploring food politics and our relationship with nature in partnership with local artists, gardens, farms and foragers. Philly Forests director Jasmine Thompson, right, plays guitars with Leone Green-Love, 2, at their potluck dinner at Awbury Arboretum.
Painted Bride's Resistance Gardens project, a program exploring food politics and our relationship with nature in partnership with local artists, gardens, farms and foragers. Philly Forests director Jasmine Thompson, right, plays guitars with Leone Green-Love, 2, at their potluck dinner at Awbury Arboretum.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

The Farm at Awbury — the 16-acre span of Awbury Arboretum northwest of Washington Lane — has always been more than just an agricultural oasis in Northwest Philadelphia. Hidden away along the SEPTA Chestnut Hill East line, it’s as much a community space as an urban farm, a place where volunteers can walk goats on leashes and local co-ops and organizations can maintain small patches of farmland.

Winding through the paths on a cool but sunny night in June, that blend of missions was evident as the sound of a drum lured curious passersby to the picnic grove, surrounded by a Weaver’s Way Co-Op veggie garden, a dye garden maintained by the Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers, and a small garden supplying Philly Forests’ CSA program.

A small clutch of people sat in a circle around Philly percussionist Karen Smith, leading an informal jam session on her djembe. A group of young children took over a hay cart. Visitors sampled food from a nearby folding table: vegan pasta salad, grilled chicken, cookies and cupcakes, and a dish labeled a “fruit-o-potamus salad.”

Though the vibe felt more like a relaxed potluck picnic, this was the kickoff event for the Painted Bride Art Center’s new Resistance Garden program, a six-month series of artist residencies, events, and zine releases exploring farming and food politics through the arts. The first of five community dinners planned for the coming months, the evening at Awbury culminated the first of the residencies, local musician and visual artist Emily Birdie Busch’s monthlong partnership with Philly Forests.

For those who have attended events at the Painted Bride over the decades, this felt very different. The organization controversially sold its building in 2022, reinventing itself as a nomadic presenter planning to collaborate with partners across a variety of disciplines.

“This is our future,” said the Bride’s executive director, Laurel Raczka, between bites of salad from a paper plate. “We want to partner with organizations that are doing good work, bring artistic programs to them and activate their spaces.”

Resistance Garden project manager Amalia Colón-Nava has long worked at the juncture of the arts and urban farming. A dancer and movement artist, Colón-Nava is also a co-owner and community coordinator at Dirtbaby Farm, a small farm in Roxborough. .

“The arts are essential to urban farms and gardens,” she said. “The arts help open up opportunities for people to understand what we’re doing and see how important it is. And the arts help the farm be the best version of itself. They don’t always need to be in the same sentence, but they’re definitely parallel and they lift each other up.”

Between now and November, the Painted Bride will facilitate the five artist residencies with nine partners across Philadelphia, host four more community dinners and release three more volumes of their zine. The program involves farms, gardens, and foragers, including Urban Creators, Norris Square Neighborhood Project, Truelove Seed, and Girls Justice League; artists-in-residence include poet and community ethnographer Sabriaya Shipley, theater artist and physical storyteller Mia Donata Rocchio, musician and movement artist Jonathan Delgado-Melendez, and sculptor César Viveros.

“Resistance Garden is an uplifting coming together,” Colón-Nava said. “We’re starting to build a network of farms in the city. We need these green spaces. Regardless of whether they can supply all of the food needed for the entire population of Philadelphia, which obviously they can’t, it educates people and connects them to their foodways.”

Philly Forests grows fruits and vegetables and maintains a small tree nursery on 2.5 acres scattered across the Farm at Awbury. The organization, founded and directed by Jasmine Thompson, runs a small 35-member CSA and operates the Germantown Farmers Market. Proceeds from sales go toward an urban ecology program that provides free trees to residents in the 13 city zip codes with the lowest tree canopy.

“Art can be very therapeutic,” said Thompson. “I hope that this program will highlight the importance of local food systems and supporting your local growers.”

A neighbor of Thompson’s in Germantown, Birdie Busch drew inspiration for her residency from pictures that Thompson had shared on social media of her work, close-ups of her and others’ hands working the soil. She recreated some of the more striking images in collage form against watercolor backdrops, then printed them at large scale to create banners that hung from a newly-mended fence around Philly Forests’ CSA garden.

”I’m somebody who likes to kind of treat my immediate neighborhood as my universe,” says Busch. “For me, the importance of the project was seeing how much work Jasmine has done over the past few years in tandem with the reforestation and regreening of a lot of areas of the city. So I wanted to make art that wasn’t necessarily fixed here, that could be mobile and travel to the Farmers Market or to the satellite projects she works on across the city.”

Alicia Rink, a “creative intuitive, spirit channeler, and healer” who will partner with Lady Danni Morinich for a Resistance Garden project involving wild food foraging, contributed a poem entitled “Fertile Darkness” to the zine. She arrived at the potluck with a foraged garlic and mustard pesto lasagna.

“I’m very much into the spiritual aspect of connecting with the energy of the Earth,” Rink explained. “When I forage, I ask permission before I take something. When I cook, it feels very much like an art to me.”

The next Resistance Garden events are a community potluck and summer showcase at Norris Square Neighborhood Project on Aug. 9, followed by a celebration of Ubuntu Kids’ residency at Urban Creators on the weekend of Aug. 13.

“Farming is so humbling,” Colón-Nava concluded. “ It’s important for me to reach people through the arts because of my work making food, making something really tangible that literally goes in people’s bellies. They’re both nourishing, and they nourish each other, too.”