On Wednesday evening, a dozen-odd volunteers gathered in the garden behind Watt Hall to turn over the soil in a 15-foot square. That square will be a cornfield by the end of this summer. The soil-turning event marked the sweaty beginning of The Crop Project, a senior thesis by Roski School of Fine Arts student Crystal Liu, whose goal is to bring the USC community together through agriculture.
Liu’s project is something between a public art piece and an urban farm. She selected the plot of land and the crop herself, but volunteers will be involved at every stage in its cultivation, beginning with Wednesday’s event. Liu’s project brings the agricultural process back to its roots, inviting visitors to return to the site throughout the summer to tend to the cornfield and watch the plants grow. Liu plants to host regular educational workshops about growing and cooking corn. The next step is a corn planting event next week, where a guest speaker will give gardening tips for aspiring vegetable cultivators.
The artist’s inspiration for The Crop Project came when she visited Taiwan last summer. While working at the National Museum of Prehistory in Taiwan, Liu learned about the island’s local millet culture.
“Their music, food, dance, everything is embedded in their millet culture,” Liu said. “The group harvest is the most important festival they have. It’s like Christmas here.” Liu is planning a similar group harvest event for USC’s cornfield when the corn is mature.Liu believes that urbanites can learn from the agricultural way of life.
“Because I’m a city girl, that [visit] was a huge moment for me, and I want to bring that to the city,” Liu said.
Education is at the heart of The Crop Project. Liu wants to bring the gardening specialists who provided the corn seed to speak on campus and connect The Crop Project with local urban farms. Liu notes that though corn is the most widely-grown crop in the United States, most people know very little about the agricultural process. A majority of the corn that is grown in the U.S. is processed into products like corn syrup and cereals, so Liu hopes that The Crop Project will remind participants that corn is a plant that requires care and investment.
Liu adds that corn is an important part of America’s cultural heritage and has been grown on the continent for more than a thousand years.
“We eat food every day, but we don’t know how it’s grown,” Liu said. She says that learning to maintain a cornfield has led her to embrace a more proactive lifestyle. “I wake up at eight every morning to look at the field.”
In the future, Liu hopes to expand The Crop Project to other locations and cities. She graduates next week, but will stay around campus to tend her cornfield and seek funding for future projects.
Anyone interested in participating in USC’s new cornfield is invited to next week’s planting event. The Crop Project will culminate in a group harvest in late July, where volunteers and community members will cook and eat the corn together.
Correction: This article previously Liu worked at the Taiwan National History Museum. He worked at the National Museum of Prehistory in Taiwan. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.