A ‘Booth of Abundance’ from students in the spring course ‘American Agrarians’

Written by
Sarah Malone, Effron Center for the Study of America
May 5, 2022

Alongside stands of organic fruits and vegetables and nut butters at the Princeton University Farmers’ Market this week, a new booth offered familiar tangible treats (brownie trays forefront), and other items uncommon at farmers’ markets and in much of daily life: a chance to plant a seed, to learn a circus trick or how to do a cartwheel or make origami; to have a moment of silence or a listening ear; and to reflect on an economics of abundance.

In the Booth of Abundance, a collaborative piece of performance art created as a final project for the spring course “American Agrarians,” students brought together two main concepts from the course: Robin Kimmerer’s idea of a gift economy based on a recognition of natural abundance (as opposed to assumptions of scarcity that underlie modern economics), and Ross Gay’s way, in Book of Delights, of “landing on wonder at every turn,” in Tracey K. Smith’s phrase.

The course, taught by Tessa Lowinske Desmond, associate research scholar and lecturer in the Effron Center for the Study of America, brings students to local farms and into texts exploring the history and philosophies of relations to land, food, and social justice.

The students reflected on what they had in abundance — baking skills, wit — to create a “menu” of items that visitors to the booth could ask for and receive at no cost.

“I love their emphasis on what they have rather than what they lack,” Desmond said.

Signs mark where Zipser Pepper seeds have been planted. Alison Carruth and a student

Left: An origami crane nests next to seed cups where visitors have planted Zipser peppers. Photo by Sarah Malone. Right: After learning a circus trick, Professor of American Studies and the High Meadows Environmental Institute Allison Carruth stops by the board of shared delights. Photo by Tessa Lowinske Desmond

Quotes from Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass that had inspired the concept and offerings of the booth ran along the tops of its signs — “the more something is shared, the greater its value becomes”; “Can we be goldenrod and asters for each other? When I am in their presence, their beauty asks me for reciprocity.”

Opposite the “Menu of Delights,” another board was by noon arrayed with pink and green notes where visitors had shared their “delights” at the students’ invitation; asked for and given at — you guessed it — no cost.

The Princeton University Farmers’ Market this year is open Wednesdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. from April 11 through May 11 on the Firestone Library / Chapel Plaza.