food meets art: my interview with heidi keyes

There’s a major art component to food, especially when you cook it yourself; even more-so when you grow it and cook it yourself. Cooking is cathartic. It’s so rewarding to create something new and different (especially when it turns out!).

I’ve been doing  a lot of reading about food: where it comes from, how it’s grown, raised, processed, shipped, marketed, etc… I haven’t taken the plunge yet, but I am very anxious to do some gardening. To create a meal from the ground up. Or at least partially. I’m not talking about raising chickens and cows in the backyard. I was thinking maybe a little herb garden for starters. But who has time for that…?

Meet Heidi Keyes: artist, foodie, world traveler, small business owner, and all-around awesome individual. Heidi and her singer/songwriter boyfriend, John Statz, are pretty much a prime example of “if they can do it, I can do it.” Busy schedules, city/apartment living… they are doing some pretty exciting things when it comes to cooking, gardening, and creating. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to sit down with Heidi (I’m assuming we were both sitting. She is in Denver, and I am in Milwaukee) and ask her about what she’s been up to…

“Man & dog beneath Byer’s Peak”; Winter Park, CO – Heidi Keyes

For the readers… Describe yourself (background, career, hobbies) in a few sentences (no pressure!).

Heidi Keyes: I grew up in rural Wisconsin on a farm, but I’ve always been a bit of a gypsy soul. I have a BFA in 2D Design-Drawing and Painting, but my first job out of college was working as a flight attendant for a charter airline (which allowed me to experience over 30 different countries around the world, from Japan to Kuwait to Italy to Kyrgyzstan).  I did this for two years before I relocated from Milwaukee to Denver. I definitely have the travel bug, which is a HUGE influence in the basis of my artwork, and I love seeing how different cultures and cities live and work and play and function in society.

What does a typical day/week look like for you? 

Heidi: Although I do create art full-time, I work a couple of days a week doing apartment leasing and administrative work, which takes the pressure off of paying the bills just by making art. I paint and create as much as possible, but I also volunteer with a lot of different art projects and functions around the city and try to be as involved as possible in the creative community here. A huge part of my lifestyle is making sure that I have time to enjoy the things that makes life worth living—friends, reading a good book, being outdoors, hiking, drinking a glass of wine, camping, traveling, rolling around in the park in the grass, etc.

“Crossing the Szabadsag Bridge”; Budapest, Hungary – Heidi Keyes

You’ve been doing some urban gardening and homesteading. What’s your background with gardening? What other elements have you incorporated into creating a healthy and sustainable lifestyle?

Because I grew up on a farm, a huge part of our lifestyle was growing much of our own produce and having our own chickens and collecting eggs, so I was helping my mom in the garden, picking rocks, sprinkling seeds into a row, and pulling weeds, since before I can remember. When I moved away for college when I was 18, I somehow misplaced my “green thumb”, and at this point I’m just beginning to find it again. It’s nearly impossible to be self-sustainable in a high-rise apartment in the middle of the city, but my boyfriend John (this is his brainchild) and I are trying to use our balcony to its full potential to grow as much of our own produce and herbs as possible. We also have our own compost bin (which is actually a big plastic storage container—with a tightly-sealed lid, of course—it’s a small space), so all of our eligible food scraps get turned into our own fertilizer. You’ve just gotta start somewhere.

“Ljubljana market”; Ljubljana, Slovenia – Heidi Keyes

What’s been the biggest challenge about the gardening? The biggest reward?

Heidi: Finding a space in the city to have a garden would definitely be the biggest challenge. We’re lucky because we have a west-facing balcony that gets quite a bit of afternoon sun, but because the walls are solid plaster, we’ve had to devise a few different systems to raise the plants up so they get enough light. The biggest reward? Not having to put pants on to go outside and pick your own home-grown tomato… just kidding, mostly. We’re not even close to be sustainable as far as being able to grow all of the produce we eat, but it’s definitely a start, and being able to put a little bit of our own garden into each meal we make feels really, really great.

As an artist, I think it’s safe to say that you love to create. How does this translate to food? Gardening, cooking, eating, etc.

Heidi: I think a huge part of the person I am is dictated by the art I create—or perhaps it is vice versa—in that I love bold and bright and colorful. Our apartment is filled with color, and so is our garden—red tomatoes, yellow squash, red raspberries, bright flowers, everything green green green and big and juicy and beautiful. It’s funny, but I get excited to check our plants every morning like a proud momma, just to see what they’re doing and how much they’ve grown. I forget and am reminded daily, in my art, our garden, and in the small amount of cooking I attempt (my boyfriend, John Statz, is the chef—I’m still learning!) that to create something with your own hands and watch it flourish is the ultimate satisfaction.  There is nothing better, for me.

“View from the Rialto Bridge”; Venice, Italy – Heidi Keyes

Advice for the non-gardener, or those who think they can’t do what you’re doing? “I don’t have a yard” // “I’m too busy” // “I don’t know anything about gardening”

Heidi: I have no idea what I’m doing either. Buy a gardening book (we have loads), read articles online about which plants would flourish best in whatever space you have available, use trial and error. Our tomato plants, sack potatoes, and lettuce are so crazy happy we can barely keep up with them, but our raspberry bush and peppers aren’t so thrilled about the setup—so we’ll continue to experiment and see what is the most successful in the future for the space we have available. Keep trying different things to see which works best for you. And honestly, you don’t need a ton of space—we’re growing four different kinds of tomatoes, black Hungarian peppers, wild leeks, spinach, mustard greens, cilantro, Italian parsley, several different kinds of lettuce, chives, basil, yellow lemon cucumbers, rosemary, oregano, mixed greens, bok choy, beets, potatoes in a grow bag, and a raspberry bush in an 8’ x 12’ space—but all you need is a teeny tiny bit of space for a container garden. Check out the Facebook page for “Grow Food, Not Lawns”… they post a lot of extremely innovative ideas for urban gardens, even for people who don’t have any outdoor space at all. You just need to get creative!

“The wide weird world beneath my balcony II”; Denver, CO – Heidi Keyes

Favorite food/meal eating out?

Heidi: Oh man.. I love all food. I can’t pick. Something with good cheese; I’m a Wisconsin girl.

Favorite food/meal you’ve grown/made?

Heidi: My desert island food (it also happens to be insanely easy to make, which is great for me because I’m still a disaster in the kitchen) would have to be caprese salad—tomatoes topped with mozzarella, fresh basil and olive oil and vinegar. And when you can step outside and pick tomatoes and basil off of your own plants, IT’S JUST THAT MUCH BETTER! I live off of this in the summer, especially on hot days.

For more info about Heidi, her beautiful artwork, and what she is up to, please check out her website, and visit her blog!

“Distance”; I-70 Freeway in Colorado – Heidi Keyes


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