Sunday afternoon it was 90 degrees and there was no shade in the parking lot of Napa Auto Parts on SE 8th Ave. But there a group of us were, standing in a circle on the gritty asphalt and rapidly sweating to death. At our feet was an empty bag of potato chips, a line of broken glass, and growing from a crack in the pavement, an ancient cure for depression. "Does anyone recognize this plant?" asked a young woman in a bright baseball cap. "It's St. John's Wort!" someone called out.
This was all part of an art show, sort of. The collaborative art show at Work/Sound gallery right now is a collection of social sculptures. Each piece is built on the premise of interacting with the neighborhood around Work/Sound... which I'd never thought of as much of a "neighborhood" at all. Work/Sound is on SE Alder and 8th Ave., right in the middle of a shitty zone of old warehouses. But on Sunday, some guides from Portland food-finding website Urban Edibles gave all willing individuals a tour of the edible flora sprouting right from the pavement of Portland's least scenic streets.
Here's a recent herbalism school graduate identifying wild carrots growing in the sidewalk:
And underneath the wheels of this sports car on 7th Ave, a plant people use to make baskets or bracelets:
Urban Edibles raises some ethicist's eyebrows - their website is an open-source page where anyone can list the location of found food, like the famous fig trees in the vacant lot on 20th and Alberta. The thing about herbs in the city, though, is that they're usually on someone's property, even if it's just the City's. The owner of the vacant fig lot, for example, recently built a chain-link fence around their lot. So is it wrong to pilfer herbs from city streets? On the record: I think it's fine, even if that technically makes me a thief.
1) It's a positive use for unappealing places. That something found in an oil-stained auto parts store parking lot can help treat depression is awesome. The tour made me pay attention to those industrial blocks in a good way for the first time.
2) If the owners aren't using the plants, why shouldn't you? I think you should put weeds to good use, if you've got the know-how.