How an Optimistic Artist Collective Wound up Leading a Movement to Revolutionize the Commodity Tomato Industry
Not too many urban artist collectives start regenerative farming and build food companies with a natural solution to climate change. For us, it all makes sense.
Yes, Tomato Bliss grew out of a radical belief that people are generous and a public offering of heirloom tomato seedlings.
Here's how it happened:
It’s 2010 in downtown Chicago, after years of working together as the group Cream Co., we began a new interactive art experiment called General Economy, Exquisite Exchange (G.E.E.E.).
We’d transform public art spaces, with heirloom tomato seedlings, plants and signs, into sites for creative exchange. Then, we’d invite passers-by to take the seedlings in exchange for something they’d like to share, based on neighborly values.
Each G.E.E.E. site would evolve organically depending on the surplus and contributions from the local community.
One site became a museum gift shop as seedlings become cookbooks, cookbooks became trowels, trowels-artworks, artworks-bicycles, bicycles-shrubs, and so on and so on.
Another site became an abundance perennial garden as seedlings became surplus plants.
Another - a rooftop tomato garden.
Another - a collection of poems and performances.
By 2014, we were sharing over 5,000 heirloom tomato seedlings with the public.
Generosity exploded with G.E.E.E., and so did the heirloom tomatoes. Red tomatoes, of course, and purples, and yellow and orange tomatoes, blush tomatoes and pink tomatoes. Itty-bitty currant tomatoes and striped tomatoes. Plum tomatoes and beefsteaks. Apricot tomatoes and cherry tomatoes.
Surely, we imagined, if we could grow more we could share more. A farm would make it easy our founder, Marie, thought.
Holy smokes, what was she thinking. She was an avid urban gardener who loved heirloom tomatoes, but she was no farmer. Little did we know that she was leading our artist collective to break the industrial grip on our food system . . .