Guerilla Gardening: Eating The Suburbs  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The Age recently had an article on the emerging practice of "guerilla gardening", taking a look at the "Gardening guerillas in our midst". This concept seems to have steadily increased in popularity in recent years (admittedly from a very low base) as the permaculture movement's ideas have been propagated through the community.

Unlike the usual approach taken when trying to grow food in the suburbs - converting spare land on your own property (as discussed by aeldric previously and, more recently, in Jeff Vail's series on A Resilient Suburbia) - guerilla gardening involves cultivating any spare patch of urban land that isn't being used for another purpose, which could provide a substantial addition to the food growing potential of suburbia.

Genesis Of The Guerilla Gardeners

The idea of planting on vacant land has been around since at least 1973 when New Yorker Liz Christy and her "Green Guerilla" group transformed a derelict private lot into a garden in the Bowery Houston area of New York.

Since then the practice has spread to the US west coast, the UK and there have been reports of rogue gardeners in action in Brisbane, Sydney (with the Sydney Morning Herald calling the practitioners "bewilderers") and Melbourne.

What Does It Involve ?

In his book "On Guerrilla Gardening", Richard Reynolds, a 30-year-old former advertising employee who now runs, defines the activity as "the illicit cultivation of someone else's land".

"Our main enemies are neglect and scarcity of land," says Reynolds, "Land is a finite resource and yet areas like this are not being used. That seems crazy to me. And if the authorities want to get in the way of that logic, then we will fight them - but peacefully - through showing them what we can achieve with plants."

Guerilla gardening is a crime in Britain (digging up land you do not own is classed as committing criminal damage) but Reynolds insists it is a victimless crime and is clearly unfazed by encounters with police.

Practitioners plant herbs, vegetables and fruit trees in roadside nature strips, along railway lines and in other unused pieces of urban land. They then encourage the local community to tend the plots and reap the harvest.

Choosing the right sites is important for guerilla gardeners to avoid running foul of councils and other landowners. As one gardener noted in The Age", "It's got to be somewhere that no one wants to use. The whole idea is to turn something that was totally useless into something beautiful and useful. If you can find solutions like that, no one's going to hassle you."

Energy Bulletin co-founder Adam Grubb (sometimes known as Adam Fenderson) runs another web site called "Eat The Suburbs" and has achieved a measure of fame in his home town of Melbourne encouraging people to engage in "urban foraging".

Another person encouraging urban gardening, much to my surprise, is new London mayor Boris Johnson, who has launched a project called "Capital growth" that aims to convert 2012 London rooftops and patches of vacant land into vegetable gardens, with a target date of 2012.

In a way this seems to be a revival of the English tradition of "allotments" - a more organised form of urban gardening from a previous age.

How much food could be grown this way ?

I haven't got the foggiest how much additional agricultural production could be achieved if the world's urban areas were swarmed by bands of guerilla gardeners, but walking around my own suburb and imagining every tree along the roads being a fruit or nut tree, and every little scrap of land that has been abandoned to weeds or scrub turned into a wild herb and vegetable patch, makes me think that everyone could have a much healthier diet and save a lot on their food bills if this was the case.

And we'd avoid a huge amount of 'food miles" (and the oil consumption this involves) while doing so.


carbonsink   says 6:09 PM

Well, you'll have to lock me up twice today, because I'm guilty of both guerrilla gardening *and* financial doomerism :)

The intersection of the set of subversive economists and the set of subversive gardeners is a small one indeed - you are a rare (and doomed) individual :-)

This activity should be take up by town and cities, and it is important to plant apple trees by the hundreds of millions, different hearty varieties, and wild black walnuts that don't need any care, and the nuts dry in the fall and store for the winter.

Independent studies conclude that global crude oil production will now decline from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time, demand will increase. Oil supplies will be even tighter for the U.S. As oil producing nations consume more and more oil domestically they will export less and less. Because demand is high in China, India, the Middle East, and other oil producing nations, once global oil production begins to decline, demand will always be higher than supply. And since the U.S. represents one fourth of global oil demand, whatever oil we conserve will be consumed elsewhere. Thus, conservation in the U.S. will not slow oil depletion rates significantly.

Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment. The independent scientists of the Energy Watch Group conclude in a 2007 report titled: “Peak Oil Could Trigger Meltdown of Society:”

"By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame."

With increasing costs for gasoline and diesel, along with declining taxes and declining gasoline tax revenues, states and local governments will eventually have to cut staff and curtail highway maintenance. Eventually, gasoline stations will close, and state and local highway workers won’t be able to get to work. We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel and gasoline powered trucks for bridge maintenance, culvert cleaning to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, and roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, large transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables from great distances. With the highways out, there will be no food coming from far away, and without the power grid virtually nothing modern works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated building systems.

This is documented in a free 48 page report that can be downloaded, website posted, distributed, and emailed:

I used to live in NH-USA, but moved to a sustainable place. Anyone interested in relocating to a nice, pretty, sustainable area with a good climate and good soil? Email: clifford dot wirth at yahoo dot com or give me a phone call which operates here as my old USA-NH number 603-668-4207.

Thanks for the post mate you have written it very well.

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