Ice Cream Olympics at Wild Rivers

ice cream olympicsHave you got what it takes to make an Olympian Ice Cream Flavor ?

During National Public Lands Day (yes, that’s a thing) on September 28, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument’s artist-in-residence (yes, also a thing) Anita McKeown is throwing the first-ever Taos Ice Cream Olympics.

Anita, a visiting artist from Ireland whose three-month residency at the Monument is sponsored by LEAP (Land, Experience and Art of Place), has been staging workshops and activities at the Monument since July. Everything has been leading up to Saturday’s Ice Cream Olympics — if this all sounds a little familiar, you probably saw her presentation at the most recent Pecha Kucha at Taos Mesa Brewing.

The Ice Cream Olympics is the 5th Annual NeoRio event. NeoRio (a project of LEAP, which is a project of Localogy — yes, it’s many-layered!) is “an annual outdoor, public symposium, celebration and rendezvous of artists, scholars and youth celebrating natural world themes.” The event will strive to showcase small, local, sustainable food practices in a playful manner — it’s designed like a school field day, with games and events all afternoon for all ages.

Teams will be using ice cream balls provided by Yaylabs to make their delicious sweet treats, so all of the games will facilitate the churning of the ice cream inside the balls. Anita will provide milk, sugar, soy milk, chocolate soy milk, and a vanilla and mixed berry yogurt courtesy of Organic Valley. Just bring your favorite local ingredients (here’s a super-easy starter recipe to help you get your head in the game).

Since the project is focused on lifting up local food resources, I asked Anita about what kinds of ingredients she hopes to see. “Ideally, folks can bring some special ingredients that are local. If they grow plums, then make a puree and add it to the simple base recipe; or if they want a really heavy intense cream-egg custard-lavender ice cream, then make the base materials and come put it in a ball,” says Anita. “Or if they just want to try something here, we have back-ups — three types of local mint, cinnamon, peppermint or lemon oil (all safe, ingestible oils made locally). We have red chile and agave, chokecherry syrup, red chile, and a chokecherry jelly.”

You can register as a team through Friday evening — find all the details here. Then head out to the Wild Rivers Recreation Area on Saturday afternoon (it’s the perfect time of year to go out there, anyway, so this is a real win-win) with friends and family — or, come alone and you can join a team when you get there.

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Here’s a brief Q&A with the artist, Anita McKeown:


How did the idea get started?

The idea began three years ago when my friend Robin and I went to the Taos Archaelogical Potluck armed with an ice cream ball and the ingredients to make Green Chile and Pinon ice cream. The idea evolved from the Surrealist game Exquisite Corpse (using collaborative remix to create new things — a sort of early-analog open source, if you like). I returned to London and re-imagined that into a participatory art event that we would develop, and it’s been in the wings ever since.

What’s the purpose of the event?

The purpose of the event is to engage people — playfully and through interaction with the potential of accessible food and what we ourselves can do. This is through the various outreach events, workshops, edible hikes and the education program that sits alongside the project.

During my time back and forth to New Mexico I have become increasingly aware of the food issues here, recently confirmed with New Mexico’s ranking 50th out of 50 — the bottom of the nation for food security and food sovereignty. 30% of New Mexico’s children are food insecure, for many reasons. There are also 50 edible crops produced commercially in-state — some of them the second-biggest in the nation — but they are exported. There seems to be a disconnect there.

However looking at local traditions, cuisine, and the multiple cultures there is an abundance in New Mexico of edible and medicinal plants. Many are like super foods — available for free, but we are losing the knowledge of how to identify them safely and what we can do with them. This is so exciting — the knowledge to address some of that food insecurity is here, and free, but we just need to get it out there.

What do you hope to accomplish?

First of all, I want people to have fun and learn something or even just think about things differently, maybe even experiment — there’s no right or wrong. We’ve even provided a simple instruction sheet for quick experiments — Wonderwoman’s easy peasy Olympic tryout.

Ongoing from the project will be a database / radio program that we aim to have young people produce that gathers this knowledge (food, edible, medicinal plants etc) from residents so we don’t lose it.

On some of the outreach sessions we (with participants) have made chokecherry ice cream, green chile and pinon, red chile and agave, pinto bean and vanilla — these are in some ways stereotypes of the area, but it’s also about thinking how else they can be used. We have made them with soy milk, coconut milk, and goat milk.

I am encouraging playful experimentation — once we have an awareness of ingredients or think about them differently, then the only limit really is our imagination.

Why ice cream?

It’s fun, playful, and I talk about the Olympics being for Children of All Ages — encouraging us to be more like when we are very young and exploring the world, learning by doing and by trial and error.

Also the ridiculousness of combining the grandiosity of the Olympics idea with the playful, youthful, and maybe indulgent idea of ice cream — why not? Instantly it’s amusing, and opens up an opportunity to explore these bigger, more serious issues differently, and takes us to a place perhaps where our imagination begins to open up again. I have also through the outreach been getting people to consider what ice cream can be. It doesn’t have to be dairy, or have cream, or be vanilla or even sweet.

What about medicinal ice cream, e.g. Sage and Honey Ice Cream, anyone? Sage is antimicrobial and astringent, disabling pathogens on contact and has a long history of use for mouth ulcerations and sore throats. Honey is also microbial and soothing. The coldness of the ice cream can help soothe, and maybe just make us feel better being a treat.

A few other things:

We are also looking to develop it in collaboration with the BLM Taos Field office for Earth Day 2014 — so as soon as this one is done we’ll get cracking on the next one, improving it from what we have learnt, getting more people involved and increasing the education so it encourages more play and experimentation.

The project itself is also open source so once we’ve done it, we plan to develop a pack/how to — that means anyone could do it anywhere, and it will never be the same. All we ask is they contribute what they learn including recipes etc to the website/database that we are developing so that the knowledge is freely available.


The Ice Cream Olympics
Sat 28th Sept 2pm
Rio Grande Del Norte Wild Rivers Area
Cerro, NM