Feast! exhibit at Matthaei Botanical Gardens
Kim Bayer | AnnArbor.com Contributor
Black pepper, pineapple, rice, grapefruit, chocolate, tequila, figs, and cinnamon are a few of the food plants currently on display in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens' conservatory exhibit called Feast! The conservatory is especially lovely right now, with a poinsettia tree, blooming orchids, fairy villages, and a koi pond. If you're looking for a family-oriented activity (that includes a free trip to the tropics) over the holidays, you can visit the Feast! "cross-cultural culinary tour of plants around the world" until Jan. 6 and walk the outdoor trails from sunrise to sunset any time.
On display since Nov. 24, the Feast! exhibit offers educational tidbits about the origins of some of our favorite foods. It's a rare chance to put foods like chocolate or cinnamon in the context of a growing organism, and see the root, stem, leaf, flower, fruit or seed from which they originate.
Feast! events also included an open house, a visit from Father Christmas and a "world dinner party" with chef's demonstrations and special tours. And although the formal exhibit will soon end, most of the food plants on display are permanently installed — you just have to look a little harder at the descriptive tags.
The Feast! exhibit is really only one aspect of the food-related activities happening at Matthaei Botanical Gardens at the site off Dixboro Road. Matthaei is also the host site for the new UM Student Farm, part of the student run initiative to create a UM Sustainable Food Program.
Matthaei is also the home of Cultivating Community , a program for undergraduates "that offers hands-on experiences in sustainable food systems through small-scale organic gardening, field trips to local food-related projects, and workshops on various aspects of sustainable food production and consumption."
And, Matthaei offers classes and workshops to the public, including a series called "So you want to be a beekeeper" and seed cleaning and gardening workshops, along with special sessions for kids — like called "Chocolate" and "Can you eat that?"
NOTE: Matthaei is closed Dec. 25 and 31, 2012, but will be open Jan. 1, 2013.
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.