Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

October 2008

My roommate had been preparing for a community review of her urban planning proposal.  The class had been assigned an impoverished neighborhood of Pittsburgh as their site for design study.  The professors had invited community members, to teach their students, through real life perspectives and feedback, whether or not their proposals would meet the neighborhood needs.

To be gracious hosts to the community members who volunteered to attend, the class planned on serving refreshments.  I volunteered to send a cake conceptually aligned with the neighborhood.  How to represent an economically challenged Pittsburgh neighborhood through food?


My response was a sunflower butter cake because of a company called GTECH Strategies, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit social enterprise dedicated to fostering community and growing the green economy by eliminating blight.  By farming Pittsburgh’s largest remaining brownfield by hand, GTECH piloted the concept of growing biofuel crops to remediate land and produce biofuel feedstock. The success of that original brownfield pilot enabled GTECH to expand their reach and work throughout the region in various communities, sites, and organizations.  One of the GTECH sites was in Larimer.

At the time, I was reading The World of Van Gogh 1853-1890 by Robert Wallace and the Editors of Time-Life Books, and van Gogh’s sunflowers inspired me anew.

Dried pineapples and flax seeds became my culinary version of the masterpiece.  I sent the cake with my roommate before her review, and much like the famous artist, I was not there to here the praises or criticisms of my work.

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