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    Maps are often fascinating documents, but it's rare they tell a story all of their own - although collaborative movement Guerrilla Cartography is determined to change that, in perpetuity. The group's founder has told Sputnik how they intend to do it, and why.

    Did you know a tomato grown in Spain can be shuttled during its typical "farm to market" route all around Europe, only to end up back in Spain many weeks later to be consumed? Or that 80 percent of the world's almonds are grown in California?

    These startling food facts are just some of those included in Food: An Atlas, a groundbreaking work published by Guerrilla Cartography.

    The brainchild of Darin Jensen, the group is a loose band of cartographers, researchers, and designers, intent on promoting cartographic art, and facilitating an expansion of the art, methods, and thematic scope of cartography, via collaborative projects and disruptive publishing.

    As the cartographer at the University of California, Berkeley's Geography faculty for fifteen years, Mr. Jensen taught cartography as a "graphic, narrative art," in the belief all maps tell a story, and their design should be informed by journalism and graphic communication concepts.

    One year, he hit upon the idea that students' projects could collectively be an atlas, if a common geography or theme was chosen. In the end, he and his class chose to map the surprising and little known aspects of San Francisco's famous Mission District — Mission Possible: A Neighborhood Atlas was the result.

    "That's when I knew collective, collaborative work was a new way to build an atlas. From there, Guerrilla Cartography was formed in 2012 to create Food: An Atlas. Food was chosen as a theme for its universalism — and my passion for urban agriculture and cooking. We put out an open call for maps to crowdsource content, and crowdfunded the publication. With a successful kickstarter campaign, we printed 1500 volumes and have sold all but about 30, which are in reserve as rewards for our current kickstarter for Water: An Atlas," Mr. Jensen told Sputnik.

    Some of the maps included in Food: An Atlas are fun, but informative, with one charting US beer production, mapping malt, hop, and yeast production points in the country, and another tracking global pasta consumption, replete with data on Google searches for the word spaghetti — curiously, residents of Singapore rarely eat the delicacy, but are nonetheless fascinated by it.

    Other maps touch on ethical and political issues in food production and consumption. One illustrates areas of US cities with a high density of fast food outlets, another "food swamps" — the opposite of a "food desert."

    North American Water Tensions in the Year 2028
    © Photo : Guerrilla Cartography
    North American Water Tensions in the Year 2028

    "Instead of a lack of food sources in a neighborhood or region, a food swamp is a glut of unhealthy food like you'd find in urban corner liquor stores. Although, as a geographer, I want to be on the record that I think these terms — food desert and food swamp — are unfortunate as they villainize landscapes that are rich, beautiful and healthy by nature," Mr. Jensen said.

    Work began on the water atlas in 2015 — it was an "obvious" theme to follow food, as in tandem they are the two fundamental requirements for human survival.

    Water as a Weapon of War in the ISIS Conflict in Iraq and Sryia
    © Photo : Guerrilla Cartography
    Water as a Weapon of War in the ISIS Conflict in Iraq and Sryia

    The team used the same methodologies to create the new atlas, crowdsourcing content and crowdfunding publication and printing — its content is likewise rife with fascinating morsels. Readers can learn about Irish water pricing protests, theft of water on an international scale, water control used as a form of human control, and how water scarcity inevitably leads to food scarcity.

    Jensen says the biggest challenge has been reaching people outside the US when seeking submissions. Even much time spent collecting email addresses of water researchers and cartographers on all continents did not yield the scale of global collaboration the team desired — although equally he feels global collaboration and community building has also been one of their great successes.

    "The food atlas had contributors from fifteen countries and we facilitated collaborative relationships across borders-teaming researchers with cartographers from different countries and continents. We're very proud of this aspect of our cooperative mission," he explained.

    Moreover, he considers the team's open knowledge-sharing philosophy, which disrupts traditional publishing structures, a triumph.

    By making their freely contributed work also freely available to anyone who wants it, they are living their mission, and changing — "if only by a small measure" — the way atlases and other creative works can be created and shared.

    Moving forward, Guerrilla Cartography will "definitely" be making another atlas — shelter seems like an "obvious" follow-up to food and water, and energy is also a topic they're interested in, but Guerrilla Cartography's vision doesn't begin and end with maps.

    "We want to do more than make atlases. Collaborative projects, theme-based community workshops and symposiums, and public exhibitions are all part of our mission. I think the Guerrilla Cartography board will take some time to focus on the parts of this mission that aren't directly making an atlas, but we're growing, and will probably manage doing it all," Mr. Jensen concluded.

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    Tags:
    maps, cartography, geography, water, food, resources, University of California at Berkeley, United States, California
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