This is my friend Mei-ling. She is a very accomplished artist who splits her time between Philadelphia and Andover, New York. She and her partner David live simply and close to the earth; they have a beautiful organic garden in Andover and they are expert salvagers. Mei-ling is first-generation Chinese American, and she grew up helping in her parents' grocery/import store in New Haven, Connecticut. She's soft-spoken and gentle, and she makes a mean spicy tomato jam.
Mei-ling is currently working in New Orleans in her second artist’s residency at the Joan Mitchell Center. In her first residency Mei-ling worked with the Grow Dat Youth Farm, where they created straw sculptures inoculated with mushroom spawn to provide a harvest of edible, salable mushrooms for a community garden. Once the sculpture disintegrates, it leaves a nutrient-rich soil to benefit the next crop of plants. This garden—and the conversations that Mei-ling's work inspire—are particularly important in the low-income, post-Katrina, food-desert neighborhood.
This spring, Mei-ling and David are combining art and farming within the Vietnamese farming community in New Orleans East. Their Tea Square project introduces tea cultivation to the VEGGI Farmers Cooperative, which was created to provide sustainable economic opportunities in urban agriculture after so many Vietnamese community members lost their jobs because of the BP oil spill. Besides providing a shaded tea shelter for the farmers, the project will demonstrate the viability of growing and producing local, organic tea for New Orleans. Thoughtful, beautiful and purposeful art that makes a difference.