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Guerilla Gardeners Take Action in Languishing Spaces


Around the country, environmental activists are taking public spaces and turning them into guerrilla gardens. Above, a sign marking a guerilla garden.

CREDIT: Flickr / ubrayj02

When we hear the word “guerrilla,” we typically envision a militant extremist deep in the jungles of some far-away place, or maybe an anti-war activist in the unsuspecting public streets performing a gory act of guerrilla theater.

Rarely do we think of gardening as a “guerrilla” action.

But around the country, environmental activists are doing just that, taking back public spaces and turning them into fertile, productive pieces of land. And they call it guerrilla gardening.

“The marvel of the movement is a mix of eco-responsibility and non-hierarchical actions,” says Ava, speaking to a reporter for San Diego City Beat. “Anybody can take a handful of seeds, a bunch of mud, smoosh it together and toss it somewhere. They don’t need instructions much, direction, pay dues or be part of an organization.”

The basis of the movement isn’t as rough or dangerous as the name might make it seem. To be a guerrilla gardener, you merely have to find a previously forgotten piece of land or a public space that is underutilized and then “bomb” the plot with balls of seeds to make it fertile and enjoyable for the community at large.

Some guerrilla gardeners bomb with fruit and vegetable seeds. Others use non-edible, native plants, creating a greener, more appealing environment.

“People are starving in the world, and we talk about the food crisis all the time,” says Jeff Zern, 26, a Gainesville, Fla. resident. “There’s all this space in cities and suburban areas that could be used for food production, and it’s just being wasted. These guerrilla garden folks are actually using it, and it really benefits everyone.”

Or almost everyone.

Some people, like Nick Zeibko, 32, another Gainesville, Fla. resident and professional beekeeper, say they don’t want people throwing random seeds onto their private property. “Maybe I don’t want tomato plants growing on the road-side edge of my yard,” he says. “Maybe I just want a lawn. Not everyone’s a farmer.”

But guerrilla gardeners would disagree, arguing that you don’t have to be a farmer to be self-sustainable, which is really what the movement is all about — sustainability.

The purpose of guerrilla gardening is multi-faceted and closely ties into the urban farming movement, which is gaining steam in the U.S. in places like Cleveland, Detroit, and other major metropolitan areas.

First, guerrilla gardening can provide organic, local food to the immediate community, closing the gap between the farmer and the table. Second, by sowing native plants into the soil, the microorganisms and plant cells will naturally break down the toxins and pollutants in the ground through bioremediation.

And while some, like Zeibko, may not appreciate unknown plants sprouting in their gardens, in unutilized spaces, guerilla gardening may be the best way to foster a sense of pride in one’s neighborhood by beautifying the landscape.

Jessica Newman is a staff writer for Campus Progress.

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