We are so happy to announce that Melinda Kiefer will be Eco Practicum’s 2016 Artist in Residence during our Summer Catskills practicum. Alongside the intellectual and practice-based sides of world-changing which we delve into during the summer practicum, it is important to remember that changing culture is the key to making significant improvements to the way we live on this planet. Art can help us take a close look at ourselves and our values, and consider alternate ways of engaging. We are excited to explore these ideas this summer with Melinda… and as a certified yoga instructor, we are also super excited to take yoga classes with her!
What's your background? When did you decide to become an artist?
I am from working class Catholic suburbs of New York City. I have a Bachelors of Science in Studio Art from Skidmore College and a Yoga Teacher Certification from Kripalu Center. I am currently attending SUNY Purchase College for my Masters in Studio Art. I have always made art and considered myself an artist, but taking the step to pursue professional studies in the arts was more of a formal decision. For me, this meant taking my passion for making, and my ideologies for social and ecological change, and applying them to the workings of society. In this realm, art becomes an integrated dialogue with others and the intimate act of making becomes a political way of speaking.
We seem to be facing major environmental crises. What do you think art can do to address them?
I think art is the beginning and essential step for reshifting our relationship to the environment both on ideological and practical levels. Making art is similar to making food; it is a process that allows us to experience agency and satisfaction in creating. In doing so, we, as individuals, feel our ability to affect others and the world, even if it is at first just on a small scale. This refreshed perspective clears the way for imagining new environmental possibilities that can begin as seeds in an innovative space.
Seeing artworks open a conversation with others so that similar minds can unite and work together. Art can carry metaphoric messages that inspire us to action or art can function as design, such as a permaculture garden.
What kind of art are you hoping to make at Eco Practicum?
I am excited to have the chance to make art outdoors amongst a community of people driven to make ecological change. I was hoping to make a walking labyrinth that is essentially a small garden spiral for walking meditation. Walking labyrinths are winding paths created by either small shrubs or stones that lead to a center point, usually a sacred spot, a place of offering and reflection, rather than wild disorienting mazes. The intention is to orient ourselves with our step and with nature.
How do you expect the participants of Eco Practicum Catskills will contribute to the artwork you're making this summer?
Participants of Eco Practicum would directly contribute to the artwork by leaving any object they wish to the shrine, microcosm center of the labyrinth. These objects can be personal, they can be recycled objects or they can be pieces of nature. When participants of Eco Practicum revisit the camp, they rediscover pieces of themselves in the labyrinth coexisting with sentimental parts of others who have been involved at various points in the community. If they wish, participants of Eco Practicum can also help work on the maze. Participants of Eco Practicum would also inspire me for further interactive art projects.
What's one thing you think everyone should know how to do?
Meditate. Taking 5 minutes out of ones day, to either sit in silence, stretch, or go on a walk outside is physically and mentally empowering.
Five Questions for Our Name is Farm
Liz Vaknin and Shelley Golan founded Our Name is Farm as a blog in 2013, and are now a digital media and event production company for those working in sustainable food. This year, we're teaming up with them to run Eco Practicum NYC where they'll be serving up delicious food and leading participants in an investigation of the role of storytelling in the food advocacy movement. Here, Liz and Shelley answer five questions on the work that they're doing.
Tell us about the work that you do.
Our Name is Farm is a digital media and event production company that works exclusively with sustainable food growers, producers and supporters. At the forefront of our priorities is a solid social mission that focuses on education and accessibility. As such, we approach our business with the same mentality, hoping that every project we pick up - whether for profit or not - helps further those causes. Our specialty in digital media is video production, and our event concept curation always begins with focusing on community building and engagement.
We have worked with some of the best organizations in the farming, food media, and hospitality industries to try and achieve our goal of enabling more access to sustainably produced and transparently sourced food and drink products (check our website for a list of our partners).
A crucial component of our business is helping smaller and larger companies with their sourcing operations, ensuring that the products they provide for their clients fit the standards that they require. We prefer to work with local producers whenever possible but are big fans of supporting regional producers across the US if not.
What are the most fulfilling and most challenging parts of what you do?
The most fulfilling part of what we do is knowing that we are really making changes, even if just on a small level, and are hopeful to do so on a mass level sometime in the near future. We sincerely rely on the cooperation of our community, and this process is even more gratifying, knowing that we are all in this together.
The most challenging part of what we do is getting people to realize how important this mission truly is. Unfortunately, the local food movement has only recently begun to open its doors to a more generalized community, but up until then it was truly only accessed by a small group of people who were educated and had a lot of time and money to support such causes. As such, there are negative stigmas associated with the movement, and the general opinion is that it remains inaccessible to most. New measures have been put into place by the US government over the last few years (such as adding EBT stations to farmers markets across the country) that have really allowed this movement to grow and expand to include people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
The second major challenge we face is purely infrastructural, in that it is truly difficult for small farmers, producers, and supporters to find reliable, efficient, and cheap delivery options for their products and/or purchases. The farming and hospitality industries could really benefit from larger companies, with existing ample infrastructure, stepping up to the plate and helping to find solutions for this broken system. It is much more preferable to bring another truck in from the Hudson Valley than from California to NYC, for example.
However, at the same time, you have resistance from smaller companies and organizations that are shunning the larger corporations for their involvement in the current system. It's quite unfortunate, because it will take both sides realizing how they truly need each other to make this work. It's just a whole new, sustainable way to approach this broken food system we have, and not everyone is seeing eye to eye yet.
Describe a moment or situation that helped you realize your passion.
There are three very crucial moments in ONIF's history that are defining moments in how the business grew from concept to actuality.
The first would be the time we received our first official invitation to a farm. It was a lavender farm, and the farmer met us at his Union Square Greenmarket booth, and we visited his farm on Long Island and fell in love with what we had discovered. We kept going ever since.
The second moment would be the first time we were offered a paid gig. We quickly realized this hobby of ours could become a full time job, and it motivated the hell out of us. We thought out of the box and pushed harder until we had the confidence (read: blind ambition) of two young ladies, determined to quit their jobs in pursuit of something greater.
The third moment would be when we fully incorporated in 2015. It gave us a sense of legitimacy and pride that were certainly missing from the equation previously.
What advice do you have for people looking for meaningful work?
Meaningful work is hard work. It may not feel like work because you're passionate about it, but it's very easy to get lost in the hustle of doing what you love. Remember to care for yourself, care about the people around you that support and love you, and lead by example. Do what you love, but let it consume you in moderation.
What’s one thing you think everyone should know how to do?
Everyone should know how to cook. Cooking for yourself is an expression of freedom and independence. Cooking for others is an expression of love and compassion. Cooking, in general, offers sustenance, abundance, and an opportunity to engage with others and/or yourself in a meaningful way. It benefits the individual, the group, and the community.
We ask our network of alumni, experts, and educators to consider the state of the world and their role in it ... here's what they have to say.