Joan Baron: Environmental Artist and Urban Landscaper

BY MIKI JENNINGS

Not all artists have a strong connection with nature, but Joan Baron’s closeness with the earth helps her make art that brings people together.

Scottsdale artist Baron makes an effort to observe the earth and develop a deeper relationship with it. Passionate about land and bringing people together, Baron uses urban landscaping and gardening projects to reunite communities and add a bit more flavor to her surroundings.

Baron has extensive experience creating art using repurposed materials and adding innovative use to spaces—from reclaimed wooden timber benches and mosaic stepping stones to repurposed steel gates and doors, her creative expressions come in many forms.

Her garden is one of her favorite pieces of work. “Gardening is an art form,” says Baron, who also takes the initiative to make gardening a social event to build a sense of community. She sees community involvement in art and gardening as a way to improve the environment as people work toward a common goal.

“This merging of art and gardening completes a cycle,” she continues. “I love that gardens can bring people together,” Baron said. “We naturally learn about each other’s cultures through the food we eat. We gain a deeper understanding of the science behind the plants as we become more sensitive to the growing seasons and what it means to eat locally and maintain better health in the process.”

In Scottsdale, Baron is developing the Food in the Alley initiative, which will convert undesired areas, like alleys, into food-growing spaces.

“Growing food in the alley is serving several purposes. It provides a catalyst for neighbors to meet while stimulating social interaction. It demonstrates and encourages self-reliance while beautifying the neighborhood. This, in turn, contributes to reinventing the alleys into safe, crime-free zones while introducing the concept of green spaces. My long-term vision for my alley is to continue planting and inviting neighbors to participate.”

But her work with Food in the Alley is just beginning. Baron has many plans for her hometown.

“We must continue to reinvent our city—make it more walkable and bike-friendly. When we do, we all benefit, because we are burning less petroleum, gaining less toxicity, leaving a smaller carbon footprint, and gaining a renewed sense of purpose to protect the earth.”

With improvement on the community level, Baron says, the benefits carry over into other areas, such as our children’s education.

“One could say that gardening is an instrument of social change,” she said. “Many school curriculums now include community gardens in their campus programs.”

Establishing these values, especially in schools, helps to tackle long-standing health concerns, such as children’s dietary needs.

“Across the U.S., we are redesigning school meals to provide ‘from farm to schools’ programs,” Baron said. “Because of the obesity epidemic, we are taking our local food scene more seriously. We are developing a heightened awareness of pesticide-free vegetables and herbs, and grass-fed beef and free-range chicken as real choices.”

Baron is also a big proponent of sharing the fruits of her labor, as many have done for her.

“There are so many varieties of vegetables we can grow in Arizona, and through seed saving, the possibilities are endless,” she said. “A dear friend shared her arugula and dill seeds from Kuwait that produced magically large leaves. Another gifted me with rose geranium starters and hollyhock seeds. I, in turn, bag their seeds when the flower has dried out, and share with others.”

Her community’s climate affords her many gardening opportunities, and she appreciates the ability to plant such a wide range of produce and keep her pantry interesting. Some of her classic favorites are Swiss chard, broccoli, dandelion greens and carrots. She also plants cucumbers, tomatoes, artichokes, watermelon and several varieties of lettuce. Her fruit trees include plum, peach, apple, fig and citrus.

“In terms of what I look forward to planting, it’s truly endless,” Baron said.

Like her art, her gardening is dynamic, with a unique outcome each year. “Each growing season brings different results, constantly evolving and reinventing itself,” she said.

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