individuals are conceiving new ways to improve their environment and surroundings and promote a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. While some of these programs are well-organized and publicly or privately funded and promoted, it is important to take note of some of the more grass-roots and home-grown initiatives. One such initiative is the Guerrilla Gardening phenomena.
Guerrilla Gardening is the act of planting and maintaining plants and crops on abandoned or unkempt property that does not belong to the individual or group. In the same way that a squatter takes residence in an abandoned building, a guerrilla gardener grows plants on an abandoned plot of land. While the concept of growing something on another’s property is certainly not new, only in the past few decades has it been defined as a movement. One could make a good case that the American legend Johnny Appleseed Chapman, who introduced apple seeds to large parts of Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, was a recent Guerrilla Gardener.
The term Guerilla Gardening was first coined in 1973 when the Green Guerilla Group, led by Liz Christy, turned an abandoned lot into a garden in the Bowery Houston area of New York. Since then, the term has been used to describe all sorts of radical gardening in which individuals or organized groups plant gardens or plants on abandoned or neglected land.
What About Rights?
Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, declares that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” The right to life entails several facets, but only a few key components will be mentioned here: the right to life signifies the right to breath clean air, the right to harmless, drinkable water and the right to eat nourishing food. These three rights are irrefutably fundamental to our existence; however, the right to eat wholesome food is a challenge in our modern centralized, industrialized and profit-driven economy.
While government was the initiating, advocacy entity for freedom to life and liberty, it is now allowing money-driven corporations to dictate the below-par standards of marketable foods. Despite the nutrient-deprived foods circulating in supermarkets, people can always resort to their natural right: the right to life. From this right, one can infer the ability to self-sustain oneself. A form of self-sustainability can be actualized by creating personal gardens. Having personal gardens allows individuals to control the quality of their diet by abstaining from toxic substances such as pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers.
Is all Guerrilla Gardening Politically Motivated?
While some Guerrilla Gardeners use their gardening as a form of political action, many take part in it for other reasons: to beautify their surroundings and enhance their communities; to grow healthy food for themselves and others; or simply for personal satisfaction. There is no official agenda to the Guerrilla Gardening movement. In the example of Mr. Stamen, a guerrilla gardener from Los Angeles California, “…it was supposed to be a one time thing for a birthday. Everyone got excited about the project and so we continued it. Now we have some sort of event about once every three weeks.” It was this same sort of serendipitous happenstance that led to the writing of this article.
How I Became a Guerilla Gardener
In the early spring of 2009, a co-worker and I casually conversed about our frustrations over our inability to have our own vegetable gardens since we lived in apartment buildings. These limitations led us to the idea of planting seeds in a meridian strip with a lonely palm tree behind our workplace. Everyday we took a 5 or 10 minute break and cared for the plot. In less than 10 minutes, we removed the weeds and watered the seeds.
At the onset, our other co-workers thought we were ludi-crous; not only were we planting on someone else’s land, but we were also gardening during office hours. Nonetheless, we rationally thought it through: could it be that we were doing something harmful? We decided against that idea, since we were assisting plants’ growth in an area that was vacant and we were doing it at no cost. Moreover, smokers typically take several 5-10 minute breaks throughout the day.Â Since neither of us smoked, we were deprived of the added breaks. We figured that in the same time allotted for smoking breaks, we could adequately attend our garden. And so that’s just what we did. We cared for our garden everyday. During meals, we were mindful of what we ate and saved the seeds. We planted several kinds, mostly cucumbers and pumpkins.
It became an extraordinary experience. As soon as the plants flourished other coworkers showed their interest. They asked whether the plants were taken care of and reminded us to water them if they seemed wilted. Similarly, the neighbors came to visit when they saw us outside caring for the plants. They befriended us and even offered tools and gloves. After 3 years working there, I did not know a single neighbor, yet the simple act of planting brought forth a positive interaction with those around us. It’s also highly therapeutic. When having a stressful day, simply ripping out the weeds settles my agitated mind. And the warm sun and light exercise not only helps circulate the blood, but also allows me to absorb vitamin D. Helping nature by promoting plant growth and maintaining the garden is beneficial on both mental and physical levels.
At the time I considered the concept of bringing life to an empty plot as something ordinary, which by default, did not need to be addressed. However, the term Guerrilla Gardening was brought to my attention, and after some research, I learned that guerilla gardeners are individuals who have decided to initiate plant life in vacant lands everywhere. It is exciting to see a large number of people promoting plant life all over the world and creating beneficial areas for the public, while simultaneously building community relationships. This type of revolution improves the environment and encourages those near the garden to care for it and maybe even start their own garden.
Gardening is Reviving in the Unlikeliest Places
Getting involved in Guerrilla Gardening can be as easy finding a neglected patch of land in your neighborhood and planting some flowers. Abandoned lots, unkempt traffic medians, anywhere the sun will shine and the grass can grow could make an appropriate guerrilla garden.
Visit GuerrillaGardening.org, LAGuerrillaGardening.org and SoCalGuerillaGardening.org for more information.
Vol 29 Issue 4 Page 16