Artist collective Amber Art + Design created a pop-up restaurant in Meditation Park to inspire volunteering and community-building.

The Village Table performed its magic by asking participants to re-perceive the neighborhood as a resource-rich local ecosystem. Where some might see weeds and litter, The Village Table saw dandelion greens for salad and promising sculptural materials. The project was the brainchild of Amber Art + Design, a Philadelphia-based collective of five artists, educators, and activists that have worked in the public art sphere for 10 years.

The artists in residence worked with neighborhood artists, including accomplished chefs Taion Carter and Maurice Williams, to collect tasty recipes from local cooks. Alongside nutritionists from the Food Trust, the team remixed them using local produce (grown in part at The Village’s on-site farm) with health in mind.

The crew served the recipes at The Village Table, a monthly communal meal in Meditation Park. Neighborhood residents could obtain a ticket to the meal by sharing a recipe or volunteering with the team.

The tables and chairs for the meals were all made by Village residents, using discarded objects from around the neighborhood as materials for both functionality and decoration.

During the summer, the team created four Village Tables, held seven tasting dinners and six community barbeques, and served home-cooked food to over 460 community members.

Their events featured two jazz quartets, an emcee and a Brazilian drumming group, performing for the first time in the neighborhood. Their artists’ residence, 2512 North Alder Street, is now outfitted as a full community kitchen facility, currently being used by our youth program to teach culinary arts.

Recipes + Time = Alternative Currency

The currency for the Village Table was people’s favorite recipes OR volunteer hours.

The team went out into the neighborhood to collect recipes. Anybody who shared a recipe got a ticket to The Village Table.

Community members also earned tickets to the meal by volunteering to build tables and other furniture to outfit the open space.

Once you earned your ticket, you could bring a plus-1 to the meal.

Cooking with Love (and nutrition)

Once the team collected the recipes, they chose a few and invited the people who had contributed them to come cook with them for the big Village Table dinner. They set up a series of tasting dinners where they first tried out the recipe with nutritionists from the Food Trust. Together they collaborated to healthily “remix” their recipes, and use ingredients for the meal from The Village’s PhillyEarth Demonstration Farm. The small tasting dinners invited everyone from the neighborhood to gather on Alder Street and sneak a bite.

The Village Table event itself was a chance for iteration: each month the team learned something new. Young people served the meals at the events while the kitchen frantically prepared food for up to 100 people. The group worked with kitchen consultant Kristin Schwab, formerly of the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, to help coordinate the kitchen.

The Main Event

The beauty of the meals speaks for itself. As dusk fell over the neighborhood, good smells wafted down Alder Street. Lights and candles glittered. The band began to play, and families gathered around the Village Table.