Artist Louis Haugh opens the gate of the hidden garden at St Thomas Abbey allotments, in the Liberties.

Inside, he plans to plant handfuls of space seeds with the children from Central Model Senior School on Marlborough Street, he says.

The kids were stoked at the idea when he told them about it, says Haugh. “They were super excited! I showed them pictures of those seeds being grown in space.”

“The sounds they were making: ‘Wow! Oh my God!,’” says Haugh. “They asked me, ‘Are they in space right now?’”

Haugh, and others across the city, picked up these Outredgeous Lettuce seeds, a variety grown by NASA astronauts on the International Space Station, at a seed-sharing event at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD).

Haugh hopes, he says, that the children will learn about growing food sustainably.

Zack Denfeld, an academic and activist with artist collective the Center for Genomic Gastronomy, who put on the event, says the point of distributing the seeds is to tap into some of the awareness of the need to care for our planet that is often awakened in astronauts who get to gaze upon it from afar.

“We don’t all get to be astronauts,” says Denfeld. But his collective hopes that growing these seeds, and actively reflecting on their provenance or journey, can harness some of these profound feelings, emotions and experiences here on Earth, he says.

From Space

Among the varieties that had been in orbit and were swapped at the satellite seed sharing event was a crinkly leaved red lettuce called Outredgeous, which had been chosen for space for its low microbial load.

There was also the Hangjiao 3 or solar-flare space chili, which was sent into space by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who found that this increased their size and yield.

Haugh’s work with the children at Central Model Senior School is part of a mini-residency with Dublin City Council and the Lab Gallery.

“This is relatively new for me, in terms of, actively using food as part of my artistic practice,” he said.

The residency is a way to explore ideas around ecology, growing food sustainably, food-supply chains, food sovereignty, and food security, he says.

He had planned to plant potatoes with the children in the St Thomas Abbey allotment patch, he says. But then the space seeds landed, and he says the kids were enchanted.

Through the arch of climbers at the entrance to the plot, past the tall seed heads, are low L-shaped benches, perfect for conversations around satellites and seeds and sowing and space travel.

There is a patch with an orchid house, locked up to protect the precious plants. Large brassicas fill another plot. Lettuces flower, a couple of feet high. Rhubarb leaves are everywhere.

The children took the space-seed propagators full of mizuna, solar flare peppers, and Outredgeous Lettuce home over the Easter break and they plan to plant those in the patch instead of the potatoes now, he says.

Southwards in the city in Turvey Park, along the south bank of the Camac River in Inchicore, Mary Moriarty shows the seed bed she has prepared for the space seeds that she got at the NCAD event. The compost is full of worms.

“The space babies will be happy here!” she says, crumbling the dark rich soil through her fingers.

She has also been germinating the seeds at home in a tiny propagator, says Moriarty.

She pulls her scarf closer around her against the spiteful April wind. She is keen to highlight the network of people involved in setting up the allotments at Turvey Park.

She is conscious of the soil and how it’s managed, and says the space seeds are an exciting way to get people enthusiastic about growing, composting, and looking after the public spaces that we have right in front of us.

Passing It On

Mary Hoy has other plans for her space seeds, she says. The fine-art student plans to use them as rewards.

Her degree-show project is a compost system for NCAD on Thomas Street, taking paper and food waste from the campus to turn it into nutrient-rich mulch.

She wants to draw people in to help by using the satellite seeds as a prize for turning the compost. She might use upcycled bottles or jars to sow the little space seeds in, she says.

She describes turning the compost, and the smell of the coffee grounds. She mimes digging and pulling and pushing and turning the compost and the conversation turns to compost’s therapeutic properties.

Hoy spent ages designing the compost bays from reclaimed materials, she said. People seem relieved someone is taking the initiative on campus, she says.

But person-driven activism does have its pitfalls, says Hoy. It is a lot of work to set up a composting system that actually works, she says.

A sustainability officer in NCAD has taken an interest, she says. Hoy hopes the project will continue after she finishes her degree show in June.

Drawing people’s attention to compost and its circularity through art is the focus of her show, she says.

“That’s what I’ve discovered art can be. It can be changing systems, it can be changing communities. I think I never realized until I started at art college,” says Hoy.

Denfield says that the Center for Genomic Gastronomy collective wanted to ask questions about the human desire to explore, invent and persist, as well as our current ecological challenges here on Earth.

Their Satellite Seed Savers project is the start of a multi-year initiative called Space Permaculture, which will wind its way through a process of growing, reading, eating and making, he says.

Jennifer Lyons is a café owner, haphazard gardener and is studying for an MA in Food Studies & Gastronomy at TU Dublin. She is interested in grassroots and communities.

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1 Comment

  1. Great journalism, excellent to read a writer with a good grasp of the subject, more of that please

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