Bob Bingham, Carnegie Mellon professor of art and a fellow at the university's STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, has teamed up with Pittsburgh artists Ally Reeves (MFA'08) and Robin Hewlett (A'04) to create One Mile Garden. The community initiative in York, Ala., provides residents with opportunities for education and better health through urban gardening.
Working through the Coleman Center for the Arts in downtown York, the artists bicycled around town to engage residents in conversation about their relationship to the land and food. Through a series of visits and community meetings, they worked with locals to establish garden sites and to develop a program for growing healthy food.
"York is a small town in one of the poorest counties in the country and people still die of starvation and/or do not have access to fresh healthy food, thus obesity is a problem," Bingham explained.
For Bingham, the impact is huge. After just two years, there are five garden sites implemented, and one 54-fruit tree orchard in a public park planted in collaboration with the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation — with the help of 40 volunteers from the Truevine Fellowship Church.
Bingham visits occasionally to eat the 'fruits of their labor' and to continue the community process of expanding the number and variety of sites. As the harvest increases, they are also planning a distribution system via a large cart pulled by a bicycle and a series of farmers' stands to help with distribution — and the potential to make a living off the food sales.
"What an impact that would be," said Bingham, "putting people back to work tending the earth, growing and selling healthy organic food."
For 20 years Bingham's professional art practice has addressed ecological issues.
"As more and more of the population lives in the urban context, it becomes ever more important to re-establish the natural environment," he said, "from growing buildings, green roofs to creating greenways to connect natural areas like the Nine Mile Run Greenway Project."
Bingham has grown a small garden of food crops since living in Montana years ago, although becoming a father was the catalyst for seriously growing food and nurturing the land with his children.
"It is a precious experience spending time in the front yard with my children planting then eating the results of our labor. It's a rewarding experience," he said.
Through CMU's former Vice Provost for Education Indira Nair's Greening of Early Undergraduate Education Initiative, Bingham has been teaching Ecoart regularly since 2004. Most recently, his Ecoart students worked with landscape architects through on the temporary CMU student Artpark just across the Forbes Avenue bridge.
Last spring, the Ecoart students designed and implemented a rain-garden on four contiguous empty lots in Wilkinsburg, a community in Pittsburgh. Learn more about Carnegie Mellon's environmental education initiatives.