The Cabbage Patch

“Jens Jensen’s engagement in the Chicago West Side Park had a strong aesthetic and social dimension. By placing a cabbage field and a kitchen in a botanical garden, we want to create a sensuous experience and evoke a transformation where the cabbage grows and is harvested, studied, cooked and served...”  - Karen Gamborg Knudsen and Kasper Magnussen.

The Cabbage Patch was conceived by Danish artists and designers Karen Gamborg Knudsen and Kasper Magnussen of Gamborg/Magnussen. The duo were commissioned by the Danish Arts Foundation in partnership with Garfield Park Conservatory and the Chicago Park District to create a living, growing homage to Jens Jensen, the Danish-American landscape architect and designer of the iconic glass dome and landscaped interior of the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Paying tribute to their countryman, architects Karen Gamborg Knudsen and Kasper Magnussen gravitated towards the humble cabbage. The installation featured a field of 10,000 cabbages and a functional garden kitchen in the middle of the park, with cabbage harvest days creating a gathering spot for local community, school programs, and visitors alike.

"For centuries, cabbages have been a staple crop grown by many cultures, including the Danes," said Ellen Braae, landscape architect and chairperson of the Danish Arts Foundation’s Committee for Architecture, which selected the project as the first official Danish contribution to the Biennial. Braae talks about how the Cabbage Patch catalyses conversations on culture, social equity and climate change: 

"Cabbages are inexpensive to grow and thrive in Denmark’s climate, given that the plants can still develop when temperatures drop below freezing, Braae said. For many years, cabbage has not been seen as exotic or interesting compared to other foods, but cabbages are experiencing a sort of rebirth with the new Nordic cuisine movement, which has incorporated local, natural and seasonal foods into dishes in Denmark and other Nordic countries."

With the cabbage patch in Garfield Park, Braae evokes Danish hopes to spur Chicagoans to think about how community spaces are used and who has access to them. “It touches into discussions about food production and how we do that in those open places that we share,” she said. “And then it has all these sort of social dimensions. How it can engage children? How can it be a platform for how we prepare our food, for how we grow our food? So in that sense it has a huge resonance.”

"The Cabbage Patch invites us to reflect on how we use the land that we have in common, on who uses the land and for what purposes — and it invites us to practice and explore the possibilities that the project offers in those regards. Cabbages used to be a ‘poor man’s food.’ Yet, in contemporary Nordic cuisine it occupies a special position as a healthy and local food with a long history. Moreover, cabbages are also grown in Chicago, and Chicago has its story about their ‘cabbage war’ with lower social classes raising their voice over their lack of public space. In that sense, cabbages also hold a message about right to space. As anyone can go a pick up a cabbage [at the Cabbage Patch], the Danish contribution is also delivering a message about social empowerment and the right to healthy food."

Read more at WTTW, Garfield Park ConservatoryMedium, and Block Club Chicago.

Intended as “the largest publicly owned conservatory under one roof in the world”, the GPC was designed in 1905, constructed between 1906 and 1907, and opened in 1908. Jensen worked with Prairie School architects Schmidt, Garden and Martin and New York engineering firm Hitchings and Company to complete the design, and it represents a unique collaboration of a prominent landscape architect with architects and engineers.⁣