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How Guerrilla Gardeners are Changing the World

By Kimbriel Dean

Photo from
Photo by Holly Wallace Photography

I remember the day my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Burkett, told my class about Johnny Appleseed. I couldn’t relate to him, at all. I tried to imagine actually meeting a real person who wore a cooking pot on his head like a hat and scattered apple tree seeds everywhere he went. I remember thinking, “If I’d actually met him, I would’ve thought he was nuts. But it’s super cool that he left a trail of abundance in his wake.”

Much of what I learned about Johnny Appleseed was fiction. Even so, there are plenty of amazing people who are carrying out his seed-scattering legacy today.

In this age, we call them guerrilla gardeners. Ron Finley, one of the leaders of this movement, gave an excellent TED talk explaining what he does and why he does it.

Of course, there’s a big difference between Johnny Appleseed and today’s guerrilla gardeners. Johnny Appleseed was a nurseryman, and guerrilla gardeners are shovel-toting revolutionaries. As a group, they’re not out to topple governments, but they don’t mind breaking a city ordinance or neighborhood HOA rule when there’s land that needs tending.

Why do they do it?

Mr. Finley, who lives in South Central Los Angeles, became a guerrilla gardener because he wanted to turn that area – a food desert – into an oasis. So many in his neighborhood were sick because they were subsisting on fast food and soda; fresh, healthy produce was a rarity in that area. Finley noted a common sense solution to the problem: all around him, there was neglected, public land on which to grow the fruits and veggies missing from their diets.

Some choose guerrilla gardening because they want to beautify their cities, while others do it as an act of civil disobedience.

In some situations, guerrilla gardeners carry out clandestine operations under the cover of darkness. In others, secrecy may not be necessary because property owners or city officials support operations. In Finley’s case, he encountered trouble when he first started gardening. Eventually, he gained the backing of his Congressman, and the rules blocking his public gardens were overturned.

Is Guerrilla Gardening a Good Idea? 
I love that there are people out there who want to step up and make trash land productive. I like that there are people who are willing to take risks in order to do what they believe to be right, people who see problems and enact solutions, even at the threat of punishment. World-changers are generally built of such stock.

Lemuel K. Washburn quote about virtue

As with everything, though, effective guerrilla gardeners must consider the unique variables of each situation. There’s still room for ethics even when rules are broken.

A few questions to consider when deciding if, when and where to guerilla garden:

  • What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to make an anti-authoritarian statement, even if it means your plants will simply be torn up or trampled down? Or, do you want to fundamentally change the rules for public land usage in your area? If you have a shot of changing the way things are done in your city, take some time to carefully consider your garden location, presentation and the way it will be perceived by locals and officials. Rally the support of neighbors. Draft petitions to present to municipal leaders.

  • Are you benefitting your neighbors? In some cases, the vacant land you have your eye on belongs to your neighbors, not the city. Will the mind if you use it? Can you ask permission?

  • Do you know what seeds to grow in your area? Whether you’re throwing seed bombs or planting a garden, it’s important to stay away from invasives or noxious plants that will hurt your local ecosystem.

The best way to support the health of the guerrilla gardening movement is to approach decisions with respect for neighbors, local wildlife and, as much as possible, local authorities. With that said, viva la garden revolution!

What do you think about guerrilla gardening? Please let me know in the comments section below!

Warning: Check local ordinances to see whether your garden is legal. In some municipalities, your plan may be against the law, while in others, it may not. We do not advocate breaking the law.

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Tags: Changing, Gardeners, Guerrilla, How, World, farm, food, fruit, grow, trees, More…vegetables


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