‘Around the Table: Stories of the Foods We Love’ New York Botanical Garden’s Major Exhibition Through September 11, 2022

Latino Farmworkers in the U.S.-Portraits Series 2018, by Lina Puerta (photo Carole Di Tosti)

When we think back to our grandparents’ and parents’ cuisine, what comes to mind? Whatever generation we are, the foods we were served as children on holidays or perhaps daily indicate the family heritage. And once we discuss heritage foods, inevitably there are similarities and differences among cultures, though they might be as wide-ranging as Europe to India.

Nightshades originating from the Americas: Tomatoes, peppers, potatoes found in the cuisine of a multitude of cultures. Lemon grass at the bottom holding the sign is from East Asian countries like India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The New York Botanical Garden’s latest exhibition Around the Table” Stories of the Foods We Love, is all about our culture heritage and the heritage of others by examining the cuisine. And no matter how one views the cuisine, at its most basic foundation we find plants.

Jennifer Bernstein, Chief Executive Officer and The William C. Steere Sr. President of NYBG, gave the opening remarks introducing the exhibit Around the Table: Stories of the Foods We Love (Carole Di Tosti)
The centerpiece showcase table surrounded by edible plants, some surprising, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

For those unfamiliar with farms and growing seasons, seeds and techniques to produce the most healthful, successful gardens of fresh fruits and vegetables, this exhibition is for you. Also, for those who come from a background whose cultural heritage was steeped in orchards and vegetable gardens as mine was, the exhibit is a chance to reconnect with and add to knowledge already in one’s mental and emotional bank account.

One of my favorite plants in the world, Coffea arabica, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The plantings found throughout the 250 acres reveal the art and science of food traditions, many dating back to millennia and the beginning of the growth of civilizations throughout the world. Though the plants have been developed through experience by people culturally and historically, many of the plants from ancient cultures have also been modified scientifically to what they are today. Much of the history of cuisine relates to migration and travel. As people moved throughout the world, they brought their cultural understanding of plants with them to retain and perfect their food traditions.

What is an Italian holiday without artichokes? See the one growing at the top of the stalk? NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Importantly, the NYBG exhibit acknowledges the cultural heritages of food cuisine and highlights the aspect of travel and migration that brought plant species to the Americas and species that were in the Americas to European in cross cultural migration.

Buckwheat used in cultures around the world (Southeast Asia, China, Russia, Southern US and US) NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Found in various plantings in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory which separate into three installations, we note the diverse and wide variety of living edible plants that are used in cuisines from Asia to South America, from Africa to Europe.

A baby pineapple is from the Bromeliaceae family (Bromeliads). It originated from South America and a favorite has been cultivated around the world, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

When one looks carefully, one finds the plants that are the basis of staples we cannot do without, like coffee, chocolate, sugar, flour and plants that nourish the animals that provide the meat we eat, for example the plants that produce the grains and corn fed to cattle, pigs, chickens and sheep.

The pomegranate is flowering, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Citrus tree along the walkway, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Balanced citrus trees along the walkway, NYBG (Crole Di Tosti)

The displays of edible plants include hundreds of varieties including peppers, squash, cabbage, beans, grains, corn, banana, sugarcane, taro, breadfruit, fruit (tomatoes) and more.

A variety of squash including zuccini and other gourds, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Banana tree surrounded by taro eaten for their corms and leaves which must be cooked or you will die of the poisons, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
The pink flower of the banana tree blossoms then drops off when the fruit begins to grow, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Rice can be grown out of water. Grown in water, the weeds are eliminated, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

In the Conservatory’s Seasonal Exhibition Galleries is the assortment of edible herbaceous plants and fruit-bearing trees growing in containers, entwined in overhead trellises and creating green walls for compact urban spaces.

Along the NYBG conservatory walkway, an edible wall of lettuces and kale to grow in tight urban spaces, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The Conservatory Courtyards present fig, citrus, olive and apple trees and reveal plants suited to tropical regions like rice, taro, mango, banana, manioc and breadfruit.

Pearl Millet in the conservatory, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Magnolia tree and amaranth: the magnolia flowers are edible, the amaranth produces seeds/gluten free grains and has edible leaves, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Look for the pearl millet, the nightshade section (tomatoes, peppers, and the herbs associated with them like basil). There is also a spirit garden indicating many of the plants used to create beer, wine, rum, liquors and the cork associated with the preservation of spirits and wines.

The spirit plants. From which plants are wine, vodka, rum and beer processed ? NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

One of the more interesting installations is on The Conservatory Lawn. It has been transformed into a field of dwarf sorghum and barley. These traditional grains align with our climate and allow us to view the sowing, nurturing, harvesting and replanting over mini seasons. If you visit in early June and stop back at the end, you will be amazed at the growth of the height of the plants.

Barley seeds sprouting, apple trees in planters in the distance, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti

Interspersed among these plantings you will find picnic tables beautifully decorated by local artists that add a colorful effect amidst the field of green.

Table painted by artist Gayle Asch, Seven Species, Acrylic paint & vinyl on wood 2022, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The Garden selected 30 artists living or working in the Bronx and they designed the tables that highlighted food themes from “Around the Table.”

Tossed Salad by Ruth Marshall, Paracords & zip ties on wood, 2022, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti

These artistic works can be found outside and inside the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building as well as throughout the grounds.

Table in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Nicky Enright, Oro Verde (Green Gold) mixed media on wood, 2022, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

If you examine the table tops you will note edible plants that embody their own cultural heritage and significance and inspire the sharing of personal stories of foods traditionally served at holidays and celebrations.

Artist table in the courtyard of the Leon Levy Visitor’s Center, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

It is through foods, most especially we are more open to understanding cultures different from our own.

The African American Garden Installation at NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

In another section of the extensive exhibition, make sure to visit the African American Garden at the Edible Academy. The installation is entitled African American Garden: Remembrance & Resilience. It is curated by Dr. Jessica B. Harris, America’s leading scholar on the foods of the African Diaspora.

When you move along the walkways to look at the beds planted, you will be fascinated to connect with the plants that highlight African American culture and foods, gardening histories and tidbits about early Americana. The African American Garden features the contribution of essential plants to our collective history.

Flax used for its edible seeds and to create oil. The plant is used to make linen, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti
Indigo used to create blue dies, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Immature cotton plant, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Dr. Harris worked with historians, heritage seed collectors, and NYBG’s Edible Academy staff to lay out a sequence of eight garden beds arranged in a semi-circle. These represent a celebration of African American food, plantings, and ongoing contributions to our country’s plant and food culture.

The African American Garden of Resilience and Remembrance arranged in a semi-circle, note the trellised apples in the foreground, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
The greens from the garden, kale, lettuces, collards, note the apple trees to the left, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Detail: staples of the South, tobacco on the right foreground, indigo on the left foreground, sugar cane top left, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Pearl Millet in the foreground, corn in the background, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The experience includes an orientation center, shaded seating and a Hibiscus Drink Station. Stop by the drink station to cool yourself off with a taste of Roselle, sweetened or unsweetened.

Folks having a drink of Roselle at the Hibiscus Drink Station, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

With it saunter along the Poetry Walk curated by Cave Canem Foundation.

A poem by renowned Lucille Clifton if you are a poetry aficionado, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The Cave Canem Foundation is the premier home for Black poetry that is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.

LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building and Art Gallery, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Finally, visit the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building Art Gallery to see the works of contemporary Colombian-American artist Lina Puerta in her exhibit on the first floor. It is entitled Lina Puerta: Accumulated Wisdom.

Lina Puerta standing in front of her work, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The artist highlights and gives voice to the invisible farm workers who labor in the fields for low pay and long hours. Throughout the country they are the voiceless abused by corporate owners who have exploited their labor. Without their labor where would populations be? Read Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook, an expose of agribusiness in Florida and how slave labor keeps the tasteless tomatoes coming to market.

Mother by Lina Puerta (2020) NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
synopsis of Lina Puerta’s Mother, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Puerta’s mixed-media sculptures, installations, collages, handmade paper paintings, and wall hangings are strikingly beautiful. They speak of farm workers and reveal the relationship between nature, the human-made and ancestral knowledge related to plants.

Detail of Lina Puerta’s ‘Mother,’ NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The materials she uses range from textiles and handmade paper to found, personal, and recycled objects.

Detail of Lina Puerta’s ‘Mother,’ NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

This exhibit has an abundance of activities for adults, family and children alike. There are artist-designed table tours, food demonstrations, themed weekend celebrations to name a few.

Look out for A Seat at the Table on Saturday, June 18, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Two thrilling sessions will explore how Black farming informs American history and culture in New York City and across the country. Natalie Baszile, author of We Are Each Other’s Harvest, joins Dr. Jessica B. Harris, food historian and scholar, for the discussion at Ross Hall, “Celebrating the African American Farmer.” In “Stories from the Farm,” moderated by NYBG Trustee Karen Washington (farmer, urban gardener, food advocate, activist) will lead a multigenerational panel discussion devoted to stories of Black farmers from many perspectives urban and rural, North and South.

For complete programming on this incredible exhibition, Around the Table: Stories of the Foods We Love, to to the NYBG website by clicking HERE.

About caroleditosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is an Entertainment Journalist, novelist, poet and playwright. Writing is my life. When I don't write I am desolate. Carole Di Tosti has over 1800 articles, reviews, sonnets and other online writings. Carole Di Tosti writes for Blogcritics.com, Theater Pizzazz and other New York theater websites. Carole Di Tost free-lanced for VERVE and wrote for Technorati for 2 years. Some of the articles are archived. Carole Di Tosti covers premiere film festivals in the NY area:: Tribeca FF, NYFF, DOC NYC, Hamptons IFF, NYJewish FF, Athena FF. She also covers SXSW film. Carole Di Tosti's novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Power,' is being released in November-December. Her two-act plays 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics' in the process of being submitted for representation and production.

Posted on June 8, 2022, in New York Botanical Garden, NYBG EXHIBITS and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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