The prospective grantees are assembled on the small stage: The woman who makes old-timey tintypes to document the unraveling of the US economy; two artists who create treasure out of discarded bags and wrappers; a guy with a portable pipe organ; a team proposing a “petting zoo” of rare instruments; a community cooking club; a fellow who hacks old iTrip Nanos to produce an instrument artists can use.

There are two projects related to the Gowanus Canal, a Brooklyn Superfund site the government plans to dredge sometime before 2020 to remove a century’s-worth of industrial pollutants and the random grisly skeleton sunk to its kneecaps in cement. For now, one group will plant broomcorn, a kind of sorghum, on the banks, while the other will continue a beautification project it began five years ago.

And there is a woman who makes human cheese.

Welcome to FEAST in Brooklyn (, a community meal held every couple months in the basement of the Lutheran Church of the Messiah in Greenpoint, a piece of Williamsburg where landlords are mostly Polish, and renters young professionals, hipsters and artists. The dinner is open to the public; a suggested $20 donation gets you a meal–in this case, a vegetarian sub, salad, and free beer donated by Brooklyn Brewery–and a vote.

The vote actually counts–rare, in a country where candidates are owned by corporate donors and presidents are chosen by an “electoral college” that nobody understands. You vote for the project that most grabs your fancy. At the end of the night, the winners split the gate.

The recycling artists have created a lighting fixture in found plastic wrappers–nacho chips, peanut-butter cups, cookies; pinks and earth tones predominate. The structure is a bit phallic. They plan to work with kids whose school art programs have been cut to the bone.

FEAST stands for Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics. According to Matt Cassity, a member of the collaborative that organizes the dinners, the first Brooklyn FEAST was held in 2008. It was modeled on a Chicago event called Sunday Soup. Since then donor dinners have sprung up as nearby as Jersey City (Art Eat Up), and as far away as Ukraine (Sunday Borscht). Cassity’s group is very bullish on “creating a community where attendees and artists get a chance to discuss their work in a meaningful way.”

The broomcorn guy informs me that Brooklyn once actually manufactured brooms. His group will hold a broom-making workshop with their harvested crop. A two-fer: beautification, and living history.

The first FEAST raked in $756 for artist Dan Funderburgh, who used the money for community beautification, employing his custom-made wallpaper. The picture on the website shows something that might be a utility cart, covered in wallpaper, parked in front of an ugly industrial building.

A young man taps a computer key: air flows through a hose and a piece of an organ pipe, and a more-or-less musical tone puffs out. He will craft more pipes and hoses into a contraption he’ll cart into neighborhoods, parks and festivals, introducing the public to an instrument heretofore imprisoned in churches and concert halls.

Since the wallpaper grant, the dinners have increased in number–from that single 2008 event, to four per year–and have granted a total of $15,756.

Not only will the Gowanus Canal Conservancy (GCC) continue its current efforts to clean and prettify the canal’s banks, a young woman tells me, but they plan to collect garbage from area merchants. They’ll compost it, to fertilize their plantings. She hastens to add that none of those plants are edible. “Have you talked with the broomcorn people?” I ask. She has not. Hmmm.

Grantee projects are a motley lot. In April of 2009, $1000 went to a cooperative effort between the Kindness and Imagination Development Society (K.I.D.S.: “a group of people committed to developing [or redeveloping] our childhood selves”) and Secret School (”A platform for interdisciplinary exchange” focused on “learning, doing and collaboration”), to “map a network of secret gardens.” Another $200 went to artist Joey Zvejnieks, to fund a day giving away free hotdogs–or a drawing of a hotdog–in a Bushwick park. Also, $200 went to The Greenpoint Bird Migration Project, which seems to have involved a flock of paper birds hung on Greenpoint trees. Finally, $200 went to the Urban Homesteading Project, who recycled plastic bottles into plant-holders and hung the potted greens on fences in one of Greenpoint’s starker industrial areas.

I wander past tin photo plates that echo the Great Depression, a hammered dulcimer, two women discussing cooking classes. The guy with the hacked Nanos expounds on his invention’s electronic applications for its potential users, and my eyes glaze over…

FEAST has helped fund high school girl bands, build a rooftop farm, and support a team that’s “following in the footsteps of a Marco Polo-esque spice trade” by canoeing through New Jersey wetlands in search of the state’s numerous artificial flavoring factories.

“The milk’s from a Manhattan businesswoman, an Asian woman,” says an intense woman in a curve-clinging dress. “She eats a lot of sweets, and this is a sort of ricotta–” she shows me little crackers surmounted by tiny scoops of cheese. “I’m trying to get people talking about the ethics of food, about sustainability…”

The church rents its hall for a low cost to community and arts organizations, and that’s where FEAST has held its events since it began. However, the next meal, on May 7, will move to Manhattan, to the New Museum, a contemporary art museum established in 1977 and now housed in the Bowery. There, it will be part of the Festival of Ideas for a New City.

Dinner is over–it was delicious, by the way–and the votes have been collected. The crowd mills. A toddler reels from table to table. A hipster slips another beer from the ice tub. Somebody pets a dulcimer. The Human Cheese lady slips out for a bathroom break.

The air buzzes with anticipation.

A coordinator takes the stage, microphone in hand. He announces the results of our votes: Three grants have been awarded: $1000 to the ongoing Gowanus beautification project for its new composting program, plus $500 to the broomcorn folks–maybe they’ll get together?–and $500 to the Anywhere Organ.

And so passes FEAST #10.

And the world becomes just a little bit more interesting.