Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why I am Opposed to the Concept of Guerrilla Gardening

There is a socio-political philosophy among some gardeners and food activists called guerilla gardening. It is, essentially, planting in some clandestine manner food and/or ornamental plants and seeds in public, non- or underutilized private land without obtaining either title, ownership, permission or waiver from the owner or responsible management organization before doing so. I have to admit that at first blush, I was an admirer of the concept. However, the more I have thought about it, and the more I have seen its effects, I have come to change my mind. I do not believe that guerrilla gardening and Stealth Farming are compatible systems.

First and foremost, Stealth Farmers accept responsibility for their actions, intentions and behavior. There is never a reason to resort to any form of subterfuge in order to grow useful and beneficial plants and foods. There are always honest and above-board ways to do it.

A Stealth Farmer must be accountable. They are accountable to themselves and to those in their sphere of influence and to the community at large. Guerrilla gardening does not accept that and in fact much of its appeal is derived from the pleasure some take in doing things in an underhanded manner.

A Stealth Farmer maintains his or her holdings and working areas and is diligent in keeping them looking good. This requires spending time in the field taking care of what is grown, including weeds. It includes removing the plants at the end of their lifecycle or pruning and trimming perennials. We don’t just let it go wild. For the most part, guerrilla gardeners do not. Once the area has been planted or “seed bombed” there is little, if any, attention or maintenance to the area. It is left to itself, even after the plants have completed their life cycles.

For those areas where maintenance actually does occur, guerrilla gardening violates the next principle, that of property rights.

Private property is just that, private. Owners of land, lots, fields, structures and buildings have the right to do with them as they please, even if that means they do nothing. Now I like flowers as much as the next person. I like the idea of lush growth providing its myriad benefits to everyone with whom it comes in contact. But I still have to respect the owners of private property and their rights. Uninvited gardening or planting on someone else’s land constitutes an unlawful taking (theft) of that land or its resources from the lawful owner. Regardless of the social impact, it is still dishonest.

Private use of public lands is also theft only in this case it is theft from all of us. There are laws and ordinances and civic and municipal groups whose responsibility it is to take care of our public lands, urban or otherwise. It is counter-productive to go against these simply because we don’t like what is being done with them.

If you want to change public policy, if you want to have a public discussion and make improvements in the stewardship practices of your city or county, there are ways to address it. While they are often involved and complicated, they do work and many locations are changing the way they look at public land with a sympathetic eye to making positive changes. Get involved with these activities in your community. Write letters, make phone calls, have a plan and act on that plan. Regardless of the level of bureaucracy in your area, there are legal, open, honest, ethical methods that can overcome any roadblock. Persistence and hard work have been know to literally change City Hall.

Vigilantism is not appropriate in any case.

Stealth Farming is always honest, open and above reproach. Stealth Farmers believe that their reputation is their most important quality and the most valuable marketing asset. They want to protect that at all costs and would never do anything to jeopardize that simply for money. Stealth Farmers expect accountability from themselves, endorse accountability in their community leaders and preach accountability to their community and to their customers. Guerrilla gardeners hold themselves to no such high ideal and because of this, actually become part of the problem, rather than the solution they wish to be.

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