Saturday, September 17, 2011

Guerrilla Gardening

It's Johnny Appleseed Festival time! This weekend, my family will make its yearly trek over to the rolling hills tucked in by the Coliseum, where we will battle crowds, bees...and our own overwhelming urge to buy food from every single booth that we walk by.

Caramel corn, funnel cakes, corn on the cob dripping with butter, giant turkey legs, chili, pickles, roasted almonds, root beer, ham and beans, sausage on a stick...and of course EVERYTHING apple: cider, crisp, butter, sliced with carmel, fritters, pie, juice, sauce.

If you are in Fort Wayne and you are also coming out to fight the crowds, don't forget to check out the farmer's markets, along the back end of the festival nearest the Coliseum parking lot. According to this brochure/map, there are 11 different markets with plants and fresh produce (and I'm assuming, lots of APPLES).

Okay, so. What does the festival have to do with the title of this post? Guerrilla Gardening?

John Chapman, the man behind the festival, is almost larger than life. His story has continued to capture our imaginations over 150 years after his death. We all picture him as a drifter, barefoot, wearing tattered clothes, with a tin pot on his head--details fit for great folklore. After a life of wandering the frontier that would later become Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, planting apple trees everywhere he went, he landed in our own city, Fort Wayne, planted a whole lot more trees, and died in 1845. His grave is in Archer Park.

What I find fascinating is Johnny's methods. His goal was simple--to spread the joy of the apples that he loved to eat. He took apple seeds from cider presses in Pennsylvania and travelled, planting apple orchards on lands that were not his, and that he may not ever see again, all for the sake of leaving trees behind. He became a known figure in his time, and stories spread among frontier peoples about his kind and gentle spirit. Some stories claim that he returned to his orchards to collect profits, but there seems more evidence that his motives were not profit.

John Chapman, forever known as Johnny Appleseed, is the very definition of a guerrilla gardener! Guerrilla gardening is a quiet revolution that is gaining popularity. I think Wikipedia has a great definition for it:

Guerrilla gardening is gardening on another person's land without permission. It encompasses a very diverse range of people and motivations, from the enthusiastic gardener who spills over their legal boundaries to the highly political gardener who seeks to provoke change through direct action. It has implications for land rights, land reform. The land that is guerrilla gardened is usually abandoned or neglected by its legal owner and the guerrilla gardeners take it over ("squat") to grow plants. Guerrilla gardeners believe in re-considering land ownership in order to reclaim land from perceived neglect or misuse and assign a new purpose to it.

Some guerrilla gardeners carry out their actions at night, in relative secrecy, to sow and tend a new vegetable patch or flower garden. Some garden at more visible hours to be seen by their community. It has grown into a form of proactive activism or pro-activism.

I remember a few years ago, a woman in Fort Wayne was mentioned in the news because of her dedication to a small patch of beautiful flowers that she tended--in all places--on a bit of dirt in the median of State Blvd. I didn't take much interest in it at the time, except when I drove past the spot (the intersection of State and Spy Run) and thought the woman must be crazy. The intersection is busy and scary, and the patch of flowers seemed drowned in a sea of ugly concrete. Years later, I get it. A small patch of dirt, transformed into a tiny garden. In this case, to add a splash of beauty and solace to drivers who may be sitting in the rush hour traffic, cursing the wait, needing a little distraction. Or for those crossing the intersection on foot/bike, a little oasis in passing that might bring a smile to their faces. I totally, completely get it.

I can't find the article now of that particular story, but these images from google remind me of that little spot:

Guerrilla gardening as a movement is catching on, and I can't think of a more peaceful way to make use of otherwise misused/underused land. It's illegal, but as far as I know, no one has ever been arrested or prosecuted for their rogue garden tactics. Some guerrilla gardeners simply scatter the seeds (seed 'bombs' are one way to throw seeds into an empty lot or over a fence) and never return, while some guerrilla gardeners return to the plot they created time and again to tend it.

I can't help it...I LOVE the idea. I admit I can already think of a lot of uncared-for spaces around me that could use a little guerrilla gardening.

And I'll be thinking about the idea today as I enjoy my Johnny Appleseed Festival staple--funnel cake--in honor of a man who used guerrilla gardening (though it didn't have a name back then) to help bring apples to us all.

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