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Normal Heights artist David Krimmel is ready to make a big impression on his community. And maybe bake one too.
On Saturday, his self-funded whEAThARvesT event in North Park will combine an art exhibit, “flash mob” dancing (in which “undercover” passersby join in), grain processing and perhaps even some bread making. Participants will meet at a wheat field that Krimmel created next to an elementary school and dance their way to an art gallery where they’ll thresh, winnow and mill.
The event is billed as “an interactive integration of art and urban agriculture.”
We sat down with Krimmel, who works as a museum exhibit designer, at the Art Produce Gallery. It’s a storefront art space on University Avenue where artists — like Krimmel — show their work.
A couple years ago when everybody became aware — or at least myself — of the slow food movement and growing local, I wondered if I wanted to grow wheat to make bread, what would that mean?
I went to the People’s natural food store in Ocean Beach, bought some organic wheat berries and just cast them out in my backyard. This was in October, and it came up: Six months later, I went out to harvest the wheat.
You have to pick it by hand, break it all apart and get all the chaff away. I spent about three hours, and I fed the family this awful meal of bulgur, just cooked wheat berries. It wasn’t very good. But just doing that made me realize how much work is involved in grains.
The following year I did it again and had a neighborhood party at my house. People got into the winnowing and milling the wheat berries. I saw how much it brought the neighborhood together, and I wanted to make it a bigger venture.
I view myself as a community artist who brings people together. This project will bring together the farmer types, foodie types, artist types, city political and development people and the businesspeople on the avenue.
So you were able to make crackers and bread with your homegrown wheat?
The crackers are pretty good and the bread is OK.
Can wheat grow here?
There used to actually be a wheat mill in downtown San Diego in the 1880s, and they grew wheat in El Cajon up until the 1920s.
You’ll make much more money growing fruit trees than wheat in San Diego, so thank God for Kansas.
What did you learn from visiting Kansas, where grain is stored for years in giant silos?
We’ve lost some grain awareness, a connection to good and bad grain years — that connection to the ups and downs of the crop harvest and feast-or-famine.
Ten thousand years ago, we were walking through fields gathering grains. Now, people don’t realize where grain comes from. I hope people take away some grain awareness from the project.
What happens on Saturday?
It starts at 4:30 p.m. at 28th Avenue and Gunn Street, behind Jefferson Elementary School, where we’ve planted wheat. We have dancers who will harvest the wheat and flash-mob dance it up to this gallery space.
At that event, we’ll process all the grain — we’ll thresh it, which is breaking it apart; we’ll winnow it, which is letting the chaff blow away from the grain; and we’ll mill it, which is making it into flour. We may or may not bake with it.
Definitely people will be able to take home flour that’s been grown locally in San Diego. It will be whole wheat flour, all organically grown.
What have you learned from this project?
It made me appreciate the big business of growing grains, but also scares me a little bit about our lack of being connected to that.
Are you doing art or agriculture?
I’m doing art: Being an artist, that enabled me to look at things in a different way from a farmer or agriculturalist.
Where is the art part of this?
I’m trying to make something visually interesting and communicate a story. It’s just questioning where the future is: If people leave this space knowing what a head of wheat berries looks like, what thresh, winnow and mill mean, I’ve succeeded.