Emerging Terrain’s Stored Potential project is food for thought by Sarah Baker Hansen and Lainey Seyler On an autumnal Oct. 3 Sunday afternoon, 500 people converged under the shadow of empty grain elevators to break bread in a sort of celebration of past, present and future. The grain elevators on 40th and Vinton (near I-80) are among several monolithic eyesores that line the Interstate system in east Omaha. The enterprising duo of Rick Brock and Ron Safarik bought the silos and are transforming the dilapidated structures into a rock-climbing/adventure area called SILO Extreme Outdoor Adventure. They were approached earlier this year by landscape architect Anne Trumble, who founded the organization Emerging Terrain, to put an art installation on the side of the silos to start a conversation about land use. From more than 150 submissions, a jury chose the final 13 murals that are now draped across the grain elevator in an installation called Stored Potential. The jury looked for content and visual composition; the final series of images tackle a number of timely topics: food consumption and production, the environment, seasonal eating, energy and the legacy of the Nebraska family farm. Trumble and her team assembled a group of talented area chefs and farmers to put on a harvest dinner to kick off the installation, and to draw a connection between the past and the present, and the field and the table. “The grain elevator is a canvas and what this structure represents is feeding people,” says Trumble. Everything served at the meal was locally sourced, except the olive oil, salt and pepper. Elle Lien of Daily Grub served a first course of roasted squash and beets with sweet potato gravy on polenta. Clayton Chapman of the forthcoming Grey Plume and Tim Shew of La Buvette teamed to serve chicken roulade with a butternut squash puree. Kevin Shinn of Lincoln’s bread & cup partnered with The Boiler Room’s Paul Kulik to break down and serve two entire pigs seven ways with roasted apples and braised kale. Chefs Matthew Taylor of Nebraska City’s Arbor Day Lied Lodge and Brian O’Malley of the Metropolitan Community College Institute for Culinary Arts served bison as a pot roast and sausage as a bacon with a Champagne and cider glaze. Jacqui Caniglia of La Charlotte-Caniglia Pastries and Brigitte McQueen served a dessert of apple crisp with cool honey ice cream and carrot cake with honey-flavored icing. The chefs were asked to participate in the project because of their commitment to serving locally sourced food in their restaurants. These chefs have relationships with many of the farmers who brought food to the event, though many acknowledged they had no idea how much food they could get locally. “From a chef’s eye, this is spot-on food. The depth is incredible,” chef Taylor says of the food provided by the growers. Chef Kulik agrees, “It’s awesome to invest the passion, the quality, the effort. Everybody delivered.” The two banners closest to the Interstate — Matt Rezac’s “Cultivator” and Matthew Farley’s “Oglala” — feel both gritty and urban though in both cases the subject matter is decidedly rural. The color schemes play off one another; hues of grey and violet in “Cultivator” meld with “Oglala’s” bluish-green, repeating pattern of center-pivot irrigation circles. Farley’s piece is a visual reference to the Ogallala Aquifer, which he calls “the ultimate stored potential.” The blue color palette makes reference to water; and the high-resolution satellite images of center pivots do it blatantly. Nebraska faces much controversy when it comes to water, and though the images on the banner aren’t real — Farley juxtaposed many images to create this one — they seem so. Rezac’s piece recalls his childhood home, Bennington, and the hand-pushed cultivator. He returned to his family home to take photographs for the work, which is a simple drawing of the cultivator he remembers. “My art is an attempt to pass forward the best of my rural inheritance,” he says. “If I don’t know where I came from I couldn’t know where I am.” That knowing and reverence for a place was the unifying factor for the event. Attendee David Shreffler, who works on Black Sheep Farm, says, “[The silos] are part of our hidden horizon. That’s kind of what we’re celebrating, this thing we see every day, it’s ever-present.” He was speaking of the Omaha horizon and its industrial landscape of grain silos, passed so often on a morning commute they are forgotten. But his analogy extends beyond, to the entire state with a horizon of sky and fields. Many people talked about the importance of knowing where food comes from for as many reasons as there were attendees. Chef O’Malley of the Culinary Institute says, “From an instructor’s perspective, the reverence for food that a student can get meeting the lady who brings in the produce is so important. I would say there’s a truthfulness to eating local food that lets vegans eat bison (in this case, Chef Lien, a vegan, was raving about the bison). She (Lien) knows where it came from, she knows its heart, she knows what it’s here for.” The next four banners: 10-year-old Tinca Joyner’s “Tomatoes,” Mary Day’s “Corn Cob,” the sea of green hexagons that make up Adelina Castro and Bill Watson’s “Speak up for Small Farms,” and Jeremy Reding’s “Corn as Commodity,” a rendering of corn as a bar code, succinctly represent farm-to-table. Food, dirt and commerce are key here, and the hues of green and red against black and white literally bump into the lush blue of the sky and the crumbly dirt below. Day says when she started to work on her banner, “Corn Cob,” a simple line drawing of corn that she created after scanning an actual cob of the vegetable. She wanted to take something simple and familiar and give it new dimension. “Corn Cob” is a huge rendering of the kernels Nebraskans are so familiar with. Day calls the piece a “cliché.” It harkens to the original purpose of the grain elevator, but also elevates it to iconic stature. The lines that make up each kernel represent the rows of corn in the field and the greater Nebraska landscape. “To be in Nebraska is to be surrounded by corn, literally and figuratively,” she says. Graffiti dots the bases of the silos below the banners, and while you can’t see it from the Interstate, it reminds the viewer that though these are silos — a decidedly rural structure at its strongest — they’re set in what’s undeniably an urban setting: Semis whine by, car tires roll on hot pavement and the sound of leaves rustling through the torn-up trees create a constant background noise. A faintly sweet smell from a nearby rendering plant (where discarded animals from farms or slaughterhouses are processed into commercial products) is a reminder that not everything is as good as this moment. Strangers came together to dine on the best food the area has to offer manipulated by the area’s masters of the culinary trade. The chefs let the food do the persuading. Vegetables were simple pairings of subtly sweet butternut squash with sweet pink beets, or roasted and salted leeks that almost melted upon contact alongside sweet apples and sour pickled radishes all served with pork sausage. The chicken was beyond tender with a crisp skin served on a blanket of butternut squash puree. Sweet cabbage choucroute came with the savory bison. The dessert was gone once it hit the table. Apple crisp spoke of the season while honey ice cream brought back summer. “I don’t think people think of food as art,” says Chef Lien. “But everyone of us invested in this project is an artist. They approach food as a craft not just as a job. None of us would be here or would have done this if it wasn’t.” The next two banners — Geoff DeOld and Emily Andersen’s “Aerial Production and Brian Kelly’s “Concre(A)te Synergies” — show us what’s become of the first six. Urban ideas and construction have taken over what were once pristine Nebraska cornfields. Kelly used a photo montage to turn his silo into what looks like the fire escapes that dot the side of an old apartment building. Architects DeOld and Anderson juxtaposed three images for “Aerial Production,” productive farmland, former farmland being re-formed into suburban tract development and a completed residential development. The image is abstracted and literal at once; and seeing it on the side of a grain elevator heightens the metaphor. The final set of five silos play with color and scale. Shaun Smakal’s “Battery of Energy” eye-catchingly delves into the matter of energy use and is the only banner that explores the issue. It’s so singular in its concept; the rainbow colors and the arrangement of the shapes make it hard to forget. During his research, he learned that the grain silo is the exact proportion of an AA battery. He began to think about the stored energy in the grain elevator and that of a traditional battery, and his piece was born. Bob Trempe’s “Hourglass Figure” is memorable, but mostly because of its simplicity and clever optical illusion: his silo appears to be shaped like an hourglass thanks to a pattern of repeating black dots. M. Brady Clark’s banner, “Bacon,” is aptly titled: it’s a pop art inspired-rendering of the piggy meat with the word “Amen” at the base. It’s almost cartoon-like when juxtaposed with the other banners, all of which seem rather serious; and the tongue-in-cheek nature of the work handles what may otherwise be a touchy subject. The piece is much more a comment on culture than it is on actual production. Trumble says she chose the grain elevator as a canvas because it’s a Midwest icon. She hopes even people driving past the piece on the Interstate get something from it. She also plans future free events on the site so the city and community can get involved. The banners will eventually travel to other communities; Trumble says the exact locations are still being determined. She also said future activities on the site are yet to be arranged but that conversations and planning have started. “Omaha really wants to keep these banners,” Trumble says. “But even after they’re gone, this space will be transformed.” Indeed, by now the food has been long gone, the murals will stay for a few more months, the grain elevator, perhaps centuries more. But the ideas could be the thing that lasts. For more information on Stored Potential, visit emergingterrain.org/storedpotential.

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