Industrial Harvest was an artistic gesture of Herculean proportions about nourishment, food systems, and the City of Chicago.

In the summer of 2010 I temporarily relocated to Chicago, inserting myself into the commodity system in a learn-by-doing experiment to discover how an abstract “wheat futures” contract connects to real wheat, real food and real people.

This intervention began with the purchase of a futures contract for 1000 bushels of wheat on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT). 1000 bushels is the smallest futures contract available on the CBOT but that’s 30 tons of wheat – more than a semi-load.

I then bought 1000 bushels of real wheat at a grain elevator in Indiana

I had the wheat milled into flour at a family-owned mill in Indiana.

The 30 tons of wheat made about 20 tons of flour.

I brought the whole truckload back to Chicago and gave it away in order to decommodify it and nourish people.

The largest donation of flour (about 9 tons) went to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the “mothership” for many of the food banks in the area. The flour supported the GCFD’s culinary and healthy eating programs for youth and adults.

Fred, a volunteer at Care for Real food bank in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, maneuvers my flour donation into their tightly packed pantry. Rapidly increasing food prices coupled with the recession has caused large increases in hunger, even in the US where food prices are relatively low.

St. Columbanus, in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, was serving 500 people a week when I witnessed their operation in 2010 – a 10-fold increase since their 2005 inception. Increases and extreme spikes in food prices have been repeatedly traced back to the “financializing” of commodities markets, with firms like Goldman Sachs leading the way.

I gave away flour at every opportunity, and used these events as a way to talk to people about how the Board of Trade and the commodity system were connected to what we eat and how much it costs.

Making Bhutanese flatbreads with Industrial Harvest flour during a trip to Angelic Organics’ rural Learning Center with folks from the Kovler Center. Kovler works with refugees and victims of torture.  Many of the refugees come from rural or agricultural backgrounds, and many of them rarely get to leave the city (for some of the folks, this was their first trip outside Chicago since their arrival in the US). Photo by Robert Zverina,

Making – and documenting – Industrial Harvest pizza in a wood fired oven with Kendall College culinary school students.