The Highbanks section of Letchworth State Park—including the Hogsback pictured below—is one of the Genesee Valley’s natural beauties. Looking out across the river, it’s not just the breadth of landscape that amazes but what you might call the depth of time. Trying to think about our area’s past and its ecology together is the goal of OpenValley; it uses archival materials to create historical exhibits with a contemporary focus upon sustainability.
Photo of the flour mill on Conesus Creek, Littleville, NY run by Light Brothers. (Edited to eliminate moire pattern from lithographed source.)
Welcome to OpenValley
A lot of things happen to foods on their way from farm to table: they are harvested, packed, shipped, processed, distributed, purchased, cooked, and consumed—which is why Wendell Berry writes that “eating is an agricultural act.” Many eaters either don’t know, or don’t want to know, about that provenance. By contrast, the growing popularity of farm-to-table restaurants and farm markets arises from a belief that local, seasonal, organic foods are healthier and more environmentally sustainable. Yet for those eaters who value a recovered connection to what is on their plate, the imaginary dimensions of farm-to-table remain mostly unconscious—for example, a type of organic food narrative that Michael Pollan has called “supermarket pastoral.” This exhibit, while recognizing the agricultural issues involved, focuses upon a cultural imagination of food that has filled the void as Americans gradually lost touch with the everyday experience of farming during the 19th and 20th centuries. Harvey Levenstein writes that by 1900 food processing accounted for a quarter of the nation’s manufacturing, and the Genesee Valley—a predominantly agricultural region throughout the 1800s—was transformed by the industrial logic of raw foods becoming consumer brands for the global market. The essays begin with a consideration of how (and why) non-native foods gained a foothold at the Wadsworth family table, then utilizes archival material to show the changing relation between farmers and eaters.