Almost all of the gardening that I do would be considered guerilla gardening/farming. Wikipedia defines guerrilla gardening as gardening on another persons land without permission. When it comes to removing blight from a neighborhood, I see this as one of the more viable options, whether you are just an enthusiatic gardener who spills over their legal boundaries, or a highly political gardener who seeks to create change through direct action. Guerrilla gardening is usually done on abandoned or vacant land that has been neglected by its legal owners. Guerrilla gardening is usually considered a form of squatting and does have legal implications in some cases including tresspassing, vandalism and possibly burglary if you removed anything durring the clean-up. Guerrilla gardening to me is a form of proactive activism or pro-activism.
In my neighborhood in Wilkinsburg most of the vacant property is owned by banks or corporations that don't seem to exist anymore. Tracking down the owners of the property we garden would be next to impossible. Our only option was to guerrilla garden even though there is risk involved. Even though this could be considered illegal activity to some, I still believe that there needs to be rules, guidelines and ethics associated with this form of gardening. Basically my intentions are to write a guide of ethics and principles topractice while creating guerrilla gardens.
I think the first thing that I should mention is when you take over a lot that you plan on gardening, you are basically taking on the responsibility of maintaining the lot as long as you are using it, this includes every square inch of the lot. If there's grass on the lot then it should be regularly mowed and edged. Guerrilla gardenin is not just about personal gain from fruits and vegetables that you may be growing but also about turning a vacant un-kept lot into something of beauty that a neighborhood can be proud of. Anyone can come along and clear a vacant lot out one time, but the people who can clear, garden and most importantly maintain a lot are the truly special gardeners. Clearing out a lot takes a ton of time and once it has been cleared out then mowing and maintenance is a breeze but once you let it go for even a short amount of time the work required snowballs and soon it is a full days project again. Rule number one is maintain your guerrilla garden space and do not stop at the garden but take care of the surrounding area.
The types of plants that you plant can also play a part in the sustainability of the lot. Beware of invasive species and hardy self seeding plants. Morning glories are a perfect example of plants that may be beautiful now but in a few years could turn the lot into a tangled mess that would require a team of gardeners to remove. I am an advocate of planting perenials in vacant lots due to the fact that they will provide beauty for years to come and in most cases will survive drought conditions and general abuse. The key point here is that you want these lots to look good long after you are gone. Proper plant and ornamental decisions are key here, sustainable gardening is the key element.
I would like to mention that although some guerrilla gardeners may want help with their garden not all of them do. In the case of carly and myself, we feed ourselves and our neighbors with our gardens. We already have 4 neighborhood kids who help out on a regular basis and, to be completely honest, this system works for us. We do not need any outside help and surely do not want to have to ask anybody else if we can do something on our farm. People regularly come onto our street for a tour and almost always end up asking if we need any help. My answer is always no and the reason being is the amount of vacant lots available in my area. The purpose of what I am doing is to spread awareness of what can be done on these vacant lots and would like to see it done in all of the vacant lots in the neighborhood. If everyone just wants to help me out, then that does nothing in the way of achieving my goal. In short unless you are invited to help, plan on finding your own lot and make it beautiful!
If you are growing vegetables on a vacant lot then you should share them. Vacant land is public land in my eyes, if you have a guerrilla vegetable garden, then by all means share them with your neighbors. We put a basket on our front porch and everyone in our neighborhood knows that the vegetables in the basket are free for anyone to take. When you share your bounty the neighbors are more likely to look out for the garden and notify you if they see any funny business. I tell all of my neighbors that the farm located on the street is all of ours and even though we do all of the work I want the neighbors to be proud of our neighborhood and take ownership in the work that is done. Even if they don't support the farm work-wise they still help just by showing verbal support.
There's always one or two people in a neighborhood that will have some sort of a problem with what you are doing. And given the fact that guerrilla gardening is not exactly legal, you have to tread lightly when dealing with these folks. Just because you want to lose your mind and freak out, this is never the best answer to the situation. I would recomend giving them flowers or vegetables on a regular basis. I also think the best option is probably to say nothing more then "hello" and "goodbye" and refrain from anything that requires an answer. The hardest part of this is to stay positive and never under any circumstance put the controls in the other individuals hands. It is so tough for me to turn the other cheek but it is the only option. I know everyone who is reading this is saying how could someone have a problem with gardening of any kind. Let me be the first to tell you that although I think it is ridiculous, there is always one person that will have a problem. Usually it is because of selfish reasons but someone always tries to bust up the party.
When guerrilla gardening, remember to look at the whole picture. If you are going to put a garden in a neighborhood to beautify the lot then clean up the litter on the ENTIRE STREET! This is a pet peave of mine, why would you clean up one vacant lot and put a garden on it but leave the rest of the street trashed. I don't care how big the street is or how much garbage is on the street, pick it up. I rarely end up stopping at the end of my street when picking up trash, I can't help it... if I had the time I would pick up all of the litter in all of Wilkinsburg. All I am saying is "Don't be half assed about it". Guerrilla gardening is part of a grander scheme and should not stop at gardening.
Dealing with theft and vandalism in a guerrilla garden is tricky business. I try to take the "If someone is hungry enough to steal then let them eat" approach. You obviously can not call the police because you do not own the land. This is why complete cooperation with most of the neighbors on the street is a requirement. The one thing about my neighborhood is whether they tell you or not, someone knows something about every incident in the area. Whether or not they tell you is usually based on how good of a friend they consider you. In the hood friends are everything and if you lack friends then you lack safety. I look out for my neighbors (even the ones I don't really care for) and they look out for me. I have said it before and I will say it again, without the complete support of my neighbors what has been done on Whitney Avenue would not be possible. I love my neighbors and when talking about the street I always try and say "WE" because this project is a collage of neighborhood love put on display in the form of gardening and artwork.
I am not trying to create a list of rules, I would like these to be thought of as ethics involved in guerrilla gardening and will add new ones as they become apparent. I would also like to hear your thoughts and ideas on the subject. I am not the only person guerrilla gardening and am not claiming that I am the best or the smartest. I want to hear from people who also have experience.
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Peace - Chris Condello
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