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Dignifying farm work

Installation to be built at the OC Fair & Event Center aims to get visitors to think more about the origin of their food.

February 27, 2014|By Michael Miller

Growing up in Southern California as the son of an aerospace worker, Ricardo Mendoza never had to live the life of a migrant laborer.

But he had a document framed on the wall at home that connected him to that part of the world.

That was a letter from Cesar Chavez to Mendoza's grandfather, who served with the Mexican Consul and worked with the legendary activist to address human rights issues.

"I did not have the opportunity to meet him," Mendoza said. "I think the letter is dated 1964 or '5, and I was just a kid."

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Across the continent, in New York, another future artist, Josh Sarantitis, found himself inspired as a child when he read Chavez's biography. Years later, he provided artwork for campaigns by the United Farm Workers, the group Chavez co-founded — although, like Mendoza, he never met the leader in person.

Two artists, two backgrounds, two coasts of the continental United States. But through their shared passion for honoring some of the country's hardest-working and least-rewarded people, Mendoza and Sarantitis will come together this year to build a new installation at the OC Fair & Event Center.

The project, "Table of Dignity," is set to be worked on during this summer's OC Fair and completed in time for the Centennial Farm's 25th anniversary in October. Over the coming months, Mendoza and Sarantitis will put together a display by the Millennium Barn containing a sculptural table surrounded by raked sand, a timber bench around the perimeter and entry portals made of rammed earth — a technique for building walls made of raw materials.

For that last part, the artists will get a bit of help from the community — Mendoza and Sarantitis plan to hold workshops to teach participants how to make rammed earth. And the communal aspect of the display won't end there, since the creators plan to embed containers of living crops in the walls and possibly use the produce for special meals.

Will "Table of Dignity" inspire visitors to ponder the lives of those who stock their local supermarket? Maybe, but Sarantitis suspects that the interpretations won't end there.

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