By Joshua Korenblat
Assistant Professor, Graphic Design
State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz
Recently, my wife asked me what birthday cake I wanted. “Haiku cake,” I said. My wife imagined, sketched, designed, and baked a vegan carrot cake of Basho’s classic haiku, “old pond / frog jumps in— / splash.” She made the cake with fresh carrots pulled from our garden.
During COVID-19, my wife and I began gardening at a community garden plot in a park near our home in Albany, New York. At first, we saw this as an opportunity to get fresh air and sunshine. We could learn how to cultivate and harvest food as a team. COVID-19 highlighted the importance of attending to our physical and mental health in a time of unprecedented isolation. Gardening provided us with those health benefits, and at the same time, we’d reduce our reliance on plastic bags and crowded grocery stores during the lockdown. It began with sketching out and planning our plot and grew into eating healthier foods, learning how to preserve the bounty, and sharing garden goods with friends and family. At home, my wife documented the weekly harvests. Over time, my awareness grew for the care my wife puts into relationships.
Yet beyond these immediate benefits, I realized that we were practicing a vital, newly minted field of design that I had read about but had yet to understand firsthand. In his 2015 book, Design When Everybody Designs, Ezio Manzini defines ‘social innovation design’ as a grassroots collaboration between everyday people and those with more design expertise, working with constraints and in service of cultivating improved relationships in our communities. Community gardens exemplify social innovation design: “Alone, citizens who would like to live in a greener neighborhood can only grow some flowers on their window or in their small home garden…Together with others, they can create a beautiful garden.” (99)
Photographs by Sweta Pendyala