Guerilla Grafters  

Posted by Big Gav in

The LA Times has an article on a new variety of guerilla gardener - In San Francisco, a secret project bears fruit.

All Tara Hui wanted to do was plant some pears and plums and cherries for the residents of her sunny, working-class neighborhood, a place with no grocery stores and limited access to fresh produce.

But officials in this arboreally challenged city, which rose from beneath a blanket of sand dunes, don't allow fruit trees along San Francisco's sidewalks, fearing the mess, the rodents and the lawsuits that might follow.

So when a nonprofit planted a purple-leaf plum in front of Hui's Visitacion Valley bungalow 31/2 years ago — all flowers and no fruit, so it was on San Francisco's list of sanctioned species — the soft-spoken 41-year-old got out her grafting knife.

"I tried to advocate for planting productive trees, making my neighborhood useful, so people could have free access to at least fruit," she said. "I just wasn't getting anywhere."

Today, Hui is the force behind Guerrilla Grafters, a renegade band of idealistic produce lovers who attach fruit-growing branches to public trees in Bay Area cities (they are loath to specify exactly where for fear of reprisal).

Their handiwork currently is getting recognition in the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy, as part of the U.S. exhibit called "Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good." Closer to home, however, municipal officials have denounced the group's efforts.

Even the urban agriculture movement is torn when it comes to the secretive splicers, outliers in a nascent push to bring orchards to America's inner cities. While many applaud their civil disobedience, others fear a backlash against community farming efforts. And few believe their work will ever fill a fruit bowl.

Not that that really matters.

"It's like the gardener's version of graffiti," said Claire Napawan, assistant professor of landscape architecture at UC Davis and a grafters sympathizer. "Even if there's some question about its ability to produce enough food to make a difference … as an awareness piece, it's a good idea."

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