That strange little patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street, usually a place for dog droppings, garbage cans, and recycling bins, is now the potential site for a garden. A product of the Occupy Wall Street movement, ‘Occupy Gardens’ and ‘Guerrilla Gardening’ is empowering people to take the power back from the hands of corporate interests by planting anywhere possible.
People are fed up with “the system”, particularly the industrial food system. According to Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International, “People have lost confidence in the food system. It is too big. Too complex. We need to redefine what good food is while redefining our living spaces. A yard can become a full service green grocer where the production of safe, healthy, gorgeous, and delicious food is grown, benefitting children, families, and the pocketbook.”
This idea is not new, and it returns at a time of resource scarcity, like before. The Victory Garden movement of the last century was the answer to food production during resource problems associated with World War II. At its peak, Victory Gardens supplied 40% of America’s produce. Today, home gardens only supply 2%.
But as people take the step towards becoming self-sustainable, they are finding themselves punished. In the summer of 2011, Julie Bass, Michigan resident and mother of four, faced a 93-day jail sentence for her front yard garden. Julie thought neighbors and kids would appreciate a front yard vegetable garden which she saw as a suitable solution after a broken sewage pipe ruined her lawn. According to city officials, however, the garden is against zoning laws and, since she refused to move it, a misdemeanor is in order.
Even as groups come together to improve communities by creating gardens, local authorities see the problems, not the solutions. The City of Toronto Parks Forestry and Recreation removed the vibrant Peoples Peas Garden in Queen’s Park just two days before its harvest festival. The city waited five months and failed to inform the gardeners that they were not permitted to construct a garden before they removed valuable vegetables, fruits, herbs, and replaced it with sod.
But still, there are people like Ron Finley of Los Angeles, who became sick of looking down the streets and seeing “brown grass everywhere.” In a place considered a ‘food desert,’ he planted a food forest. On a long strip of grass in between the sidewalk and the street, Finley planted all kinds of vegetables, fruits and flowers. According to Finley, “Gardens build community, period," so he welcomes everyone to enjoy his plants.
It finally seems this movement is catching on. In Maine, local food sovereignty laws allow residents to grow and sell food where they want, how they want. This is a promising option in a time of economic uncertainty, and should be adopted by more local governments.
As people take a stand over their diet, health and pocket books, they are also taking a stand against a system of greed, waste, and corruption. By cultivating soil, they are creating a community that is engaged, educated, and enlightened of the world around them: a world that is desperately in need of more guerrilla gardeners.