Messenger bags filled with vegetable seedlings will be worn during the Plant Parade. Photo courtesy of Mattress Factory

On May 17,  expect to see hundreds of children and adults  with ‘plant packs’, fabric messenger bags filled with vegetable seedlings, marching the streets of North Side.

Alongside Pittsburgh’s May Day Marching Band, a ‘Germination Corps’ of students, families, teachers and community members will carry these mobile gardens during the Mattress Factory’s Plant Parade from the contemporary art museum at 500 Sampsonia Way to the Allegheny YMCA Garden  at 600 North Avenue.

The parade is the culmination event of weeks of preparations and artist-led workshops intended to create a dialogue with young people about planting, food and sustainability within the community. The program is called Germination Corps, sponsored by The Sprout Fund.

“The plant backpacks provide a vehicle for the user to form a greater attachment with the food-producing plant he or she is nurturing, ”  says Germination Corps Creator and Artist Jessica Frelinghuysen. And it calls attention to the mutual need that plants and humans have for each other, she adds. “They are like tiny billboards of greenness. I think in an era of GMOs and big box stores that remove our food supply so much from us; we need to think of ways to remake that connection with life, with where food comes from–with growing.”

Germination Corps programming is a way for people to participate in an art performance piece seeking to teach, inspire and empower people to grow their own healthy foods, while also activating ideas and creating discussion about sustainable food production and food security for participants.

Marchers will transplant their seedlings at the YMCA Garden or they can choose to plant them in another community or home garden.

About 135 students from King Elementary, Pittsburgh Manchester Elementary and Propel North Side are taking part in the Germination Corps programming through a partnership with the Mattress Factory’s Education Department.

“It’s a different way to get the museum and the students out in the community through the parade, but in a thoughtful way that they are coming away with this plant that they have became attached to for days,” says Mattress Factory Director of Education Felice Cleveland.

Students will prepare and germinate their seeds for weeks before Frelinghuysen begins her residence at the schools between May 12 and May 16. She will then lead workshops preparing for the parade and build excitement around the idea of gardening and community.

“It’s the idea of keeping an egg safe in home ec. class or carrying a big bag of flour around with you as if it were a baby,” says  Frelinghuysen. “But here we have these plants that maybe, in a modern city environment where people are becoming more and more mobile, plants also need to become mobile and depend upon people more for survival.”

Each school will host their own plant parade the week before the big Plant Parade.

“We are getting students to think about engaging in the community and to get them involved in community art,” says Cleveland.

The Mattress Factory’s Plant Parade will be the first of its kind in the city, but “Plant Pack” workshops have been held in Philadelphia and North Carolina communities. Teachers from the North Side community will keep the “Plant Packs” to continue the project in the future too.

“It’s nice to be an outsider looking into that community and seeing how bringing a new idea to it can change the way that community grows,” says the Detroit artist.

Pre-parade preparations kick off at the Mattress Factory from 1:00-3:00 p.m. and the march begins at 3:00 p.m. The parade is open to the public with plant packs provided. It’s part of the museum’s ARTLab program, which is held the first and third Saturday of each month and includes hands-on, interactive activities for children of all ages. ARTLab programs are free with museum admission.

Frelinghuysen’s works titled “My City is Your City” and “Sound Collecting Suit and Backpack” are on view through July 2014 as part of the Mattress Factory’s Detroit: Artists in Residence exhibition. 

Amanda King

Amanda King is a freelance multimedia journalist whose work can be seen on MSNBC.COM and a number of local publications, from the Post-Gazette to the Beaver County Times. A former journalist for the Bucks County Courier Times, she reported on NJ Gov. Chris Christie. She received her BA in Broadcast Journalism from Point Park University and is working on her first short film about 'The Modern Day Nanny', which examines how technology and education affect this traditional career. She loves telling stories with a social & educational impact.