Fritz Haeg on the Edible Estates Project

Question: What is suburbia?

Fritz Haeg: The Edible Estates project grew out of I guess a residency that I was doing in Australia for a month and half, after I have finished up these big projects in 2004. Went away with this idea that I would kind of think about where I wanted to go with my work, and this was immediately after the 2004 presidential elections red state, blue state. So of course I had coming out of that election, I had really strong feelings about the way it turned out, but even stronger feelings in general about this suppose at division within our country. I did feel and I continue to feel that the contemporary world of architecture design and art that I am part of is incredibly insular and it is focused in and itself obsess with this internal hermetic dialogue that really doesn’t welcome people into it. A lot of times you tend to feel like you are making work, for yourself or for other people withinyour own discipline that really excludes a larger discourse with the world that we are living in today and I just felt like after that election, like I cannot do that anymore, I am not interested in continuing that insular dialogue, like I wanted to make work. Well, after that election I really felt that I want to make work for everyone that address the way we are living today, so broad, mainstream, popular practice and I don’t know, I really had no idea to where to begin with something. I think my work with maybe already headed slightly in that direction, but that made be feel more strong about it, but the only thought I had when I came back from that trip was the desire to do something in the geographic centre of the country as a symbolic act. So that was it, that’s all I knew. It wasn’t about gardens or lawns or food anything like that, though I had been quite of obsessed with gardening previous to that and I had spent a lot of time since moving to LA working in gardens and specifically thinking a lot about predictive food gardens. So, edible estate grew out of that impulse to do something in middle of the country, which then I had been doing I think lecture in Kansas and accurate there they knew about this desire I had to do with thing in the centre and she was quiescently Q-rating a group show about food in Salina Kansas, which is pretty much the geographies centre of the country, which is also where this wonderful institution called the Land Institute happens be located, which is doing a lot of research on how to grow food in a way that’s more thoughtful to location where is being grown. So, for example in the prior you would grow a mixture of annuals and perennials. Anyway so, for some reasons showing up in Salina Kansas, I thought immediately about the front lawn and what wasted potential that’s space seem to be and I don’t know, I just had this immediate thought of what would happen if you grew food in your front lawn instead of grass and that lot to this idea of starting a serial project, a sequence of projects of prototype gardens around the country each one a models for its particular climate its geography. Understanding that, if you are going to grow a lawn its the same anywhere in the planet, but if growing to grow food, suddenly it is hyper local, its different from city-to-city and home-to-home. So, I felt like the only way you can really do the project just is was to do a whole series of them not only with each garden represent its particular region, but also that type of family, that type of house, now I am doing apartment buildings and hopefully as much diversity as possible within the series.

Question: What are the challenges of building these gardens?

Fritz Haeg: The challenges on the gardens have been different for each one, which is funny. I mean the whole plan of the project is to have as much diversity within the gardens as possible and no challenge did it has been the same an each garden as every time that a totally different one. So, in some cases its funding, because typically the gardens are commission by art institutions, but sometimes I will go ahead without that in couple together some of support. Yeah, it’s funny, because the parts of the project that are really smooth and easy in the parts within that are challenging really are totally different in each one. Sometimes its hard to get enough help, where as sometimes you have too much help, like in the garden coming up next we can ask them, we have over 100 volunteers that people that have just randomly emailed saying I want to help out in the garden. So, it’s going to be a challenge dealing with the volunteers over a weekend to make a garden. Sometimes it’s the neighbors in New Jersey that garden there was one neighbor on one side who hated it, and the neighbor on the other side who really loved it. Sometimes it’s the family, if there a little nervous going into it and become really stressed out the whole process. Even though once I have started the garden authority hopefully met with about 20 different families and selected a family who is most eager for the project and open to how much work it’s going to be...

Question: What is the desired outcome?

Fritz Haeg: I make the gardens and then whatever happens is part of the story. I don’t have, its not a particularly goal oriented project beyond the making of the garden, beyond that I am interested in what happens as a way of revealing in someway how we are living today. So, I think if you are to evaluate the project as it purely political environmental act, you could evaluate a pretty easily, the more people that would do it and the more successful those gardens are, you could evaluate the project has a success, but how do you evaluate as an art project, as project that’s commissioned by museums that’s shown in museums. How do you evaluate that and I think its an interesting thing that comes up with a lot of the work that I am doing how do you talk about it, how do you decide whether expense successful or not. I think my ultimate goal with the projects is to in someway reveal the world that we are living in, the world that we have created for ourselves and tell stories about that and reveal things that may not have been evident before. So, when you remove this lawn that was previously empty and polluting and taken for granted really and not really seen for what it is. You remove that and you plant food there, what happens in some cases it creates an entire community where there previously was none. For example, as a project in London that was the case I think. In some cases it response this of dialogue or debate that its surprisingly heated, or it surprising to me how much attention there has been on the gardens just from the press that there is an interest in talking about in and I think that conversation in and of itself is its the goal.


Recorded On: 3/10/08

With his gardens, Haeg hopes to reveal the world we're living in.

Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
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The surprise reason sleep-deprivation kills lies in the gut

New research establishes an unexpected connection.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
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  • A study provides further confirmation that a prolonged lack of sleep can result in early mortality.
  • Surprisingly, the direct cause seems to be a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species in the gut produced by sleeplessness.
  • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

An unexpected culprit

The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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