WBEZ | museum opening http://www.wbez.org/tags/museum-opening Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Eat it: The Nature Museum serves up food for thought http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/eat-it-nature-museum-serves-food-thought-106246 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG_0759.jpeg" style="height: 407px; width: 610px;" title="Food truck? (Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum)" /></p><p>The first thing you see upon entering the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum&rsquo;s new exhibit on food is a 19<sup>th</sup> century hand plow, its modesty a bit disarming as the climax of a walk-up whose walls are splashed with projections of grain nodding majestically in the wind. But that simple tool, which seems downright primitive in a time of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/gmo">genetically modified organisms</a> and <a href="http://www.epa.gov/region07/water/cafo/">concentrated animal feedlots</a>, was revolutionary.</p><p>Steve Sullivan, the Nature Museum&rsquo;s senior curator of urban ecology, said the diverse suite of native species that scientists now see as a hallmark of ecological resilience looked more like a mess to the area&rsquo;s white settlers.</p><p>&ldquo;Illinois was bulletproof,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It was an intact ecosystem.&rdquo; Settlers didn&rsquo;t know how rich the soil was, in other words, because they couldn&rsquo;t access it. Once John Deere helped them turn the soil, they changed the landscape rapidly. Less than one one-hundredth of one percent of Illinois&rsquo; prairie remains today.</p><p>But the bucolic family farm phase that most people picture when they think of homesteaders on the prairie didn&rsquo;t last long, said exhibit curator Alvaro Ramos. For industrial capitalists, efficiency is the mother of invention &mdash; concentrated, mechanized farms quickly took root.</p><p>&ldquo;Now we&rsquo;ve got a lot of food,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;but how good is it?&rdquo; Ramos said the point of the exhibit is not to sow nostalgia, but to push visitors to reexamine their own relationship with food &mdash; and by extension the Earth &mdash; that sustains them.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG_0848.jpeg" style="width: 610px;" title="The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's President and CEO Deborah Lahey pushes a 19th-century plow replica with an exhibit guest. (Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum)" /></p><p>Placed throughout the exhibit are &ldquo;human stories&rdquo; placards holding up local examples of agricultural stewardship from past and present: The Murphy Family <a href="https://www.facebook.com/65thandwoodlawn">maintains a community garden at 65<sup>th</sup> and Woodlawn</a> in Chicago; <a href="http://chicagodefender.com/index.php/news/city/14900-fresh-moves-mobile-produce-market">the Fresh Moves truck</a> nourishes food deserts with local produce; <a href="http://www.chiappettimeats.com/">the Chiappetti family</a> lost their savings during the Great Depression, received farmland as repayment from their belly-up bank, and turned a subsistence enterprise in lamb-raising into an inter-generational industry.</p><p>&ldquo;We want to empower people,&rdquo; Sullivan said. &ldquo;By using your neighbor&rsquo;s example, you can see how you can have an impact.&rdquo;</p><p>(Sullivan&rsquo;s impact on the exhibit goes beyond his intellectual input. The taxidermy chicken and rabbit on display? &ldquo;Leftovers from my dinner,&rdquo; he said.)</p><p>Buying local produce isn&rsquo;t going to resurrect the vast swaths of prairie that once blanketed the Midwest &mdash; the deep-reaching root systems of its native grasses holding fast to black soil, nourishing bison and prairie chickens &mdash;but that&rsquo;s not the point. Ramos, the exhibit&rsquo;s curator, said <em>Food</em> is not a history exhibit. All he wants is for visitors to leave knowing that every time they lift a fork or shop for groceries, they&rsquo;re stepping into nature.</p><p><em>&ldquo;Food: The Nature of Eating&rdquo; is open March 23 through Sept. 8 at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.</em></p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at </em><a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley"><em>@Cementley</em></a><em>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Sat, 23 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/eat-it-nature-museum-serves-food-thought-106246