In the spring of 2018 the project Harvesting Identity was initiated at the Leonard Middle School in Old Town, Maine. Working in conjunction with middle school art teacher Adele Drake, as well as college students and community members involved in the middle school garden project, we grew gourds in molds made from casts of the students’ faces. Participants constrained growing gourds in the molds: creating three-dimensional self-portraits. In the fall of that same year the gourds were harvested from the garden and the students were able to see their likeness created collaboratively with the plant.
Large-scale food producers shape crops, such as watermelons, in order to make packing and shipping more efficient. Our project subverts this practice, shaping gourds to create portraits that are individual and reflect both the character of the subject and the growing fruit. This unique process of production underscores the importance of local food independence and control and encourages reflection about our complex relationships with other species. Integrating this project into the educational curriculum at the middle school also served as the basis for investigation of food issues that relate to contemporary agricultural practices, food insecurity, history and cultural traditions. Our collaboration with students, educators, community members, and the plants themselves celebrates the communal nature of eating and growing our own food. This project was supported with grants from The McGillicuddy Humanities Foundation and the Maine Arts Commission.