Guerilla Gardening

Elana Joffe delves into the practice of reclaiming political power through plants.

Guerrilla Gardening, or at least its latest evolution, presents itself as a potentially invaluable solution to localized food insecurity. Based around the concept that abandoned or unoccupied space can be utilized for local food production without government permission, guerrilla gardening is an immediate way to redistribute power.

Even the language which originated with the first wave of guerrilla gardeners in the 1970s is reflective of the struggles surrounding contemporary consumption. For instance, seed bombs, a small balls of seeds and clay, are both a powerful tool for beautifying neglected spaces and a very strong metaphor. Citizens can improve their access to nutritional foods and help their communities while beautifying public space. One scholar, Richard Rynolds, even labeled them graffiti gardeners- combining the perceived vandalism with their beautifying actions. This was also in reference to a graffiti artist in Leeds who used stencils to create a pattern by rubbing the design clean, rather than using paint. The city responded, rather ironically, by ordering him to clean the wall. This aptly points to the efforts of guerrilla gardeners to revitalize their communities.

Ron Finley, a South Central food desert resident and self-proclaimed guerrilla gardener became famous after a very publicized dispute with the city of Los Angeles. He had begun planting fruits and vegetables on the small strip of land in front of his home, owned by the city, but the homeowner’s responsibility to maintain. He encouraged neighbors and passers-by to take whatever food they wanted, hoping to inspire healthier eating habits and reduce obesity related diseases. Essentially, he created an urban commons. While one garden cannot feed an entire city, his efforts were focused on inspiring others. “Gardens of uncertain lineage open up questions and considerations and speculation about how and why and what things grow where (Johnson, 2010).” They take charge of neglected spaces to open a dialogue. “Even though others might view this as an aggressive (or slightly impolite) erasure of the boundary between public and private […guerrilla gardeners]  see [it] as a kind of conversation-a communicative act sent out with hope for, but no assurance of, response (Jonshon, 2010).” It is an act that directs attention to neglect and thus, allows for a public discourse, potentially changing power dynamics.

Watch the talk here!

Ron Finley TED Talk

Guerilla gardening
Guerilla gardening: one way to restructure power dynamics.

Sadly, these types of gardens are often local and “ephemeral” in nature (Johnson, 2010), and cannot always provide a long-term solution. The inspiration they provide, however, has the potential to jumpstart new projects. While the NYU Urban Farm may not be itself a guerrilla garden, hopefully its unusual location and crop selection will inspire others to utilize unusual spaces and redistribute power through the act of gardening.

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