Smile Politely

Guerrillas in our midst

The strategic advantage to Guerrilla Warfare is that through individual anonymity and highly-visible acts of defiance, a small number of motivated people can multiply their reach, amplify their message, and counter a far more powerful force. This is Guerrilla Gardening, and its rebellion has already arrived in Champaign-Urbana.

I have made personal contact with a small group of highly-motivated horticultural hooligans whose idea of a good time is sneaking around, doing dirty deeds in the dead of night. They slink in the inky blackness surreptitiously depositing seeds and young plants on abandoned, empty, and otherwise unproductive land. They don’t ask permission. They don’t apologize. They wear masks and go by pseudonyms.

The symbolism of guerrilla gardening is powerful: A man-made wasteland, selfishly emptied of life by economic forces, poor judgment, misplaced values, or simple neglect is returned to nature for the benefit of all. However, while symbolic acts (including Internet posts) in and of themselves are mere sound and fury, when this group’s plans come to literal fruition, it will signify far more than nothing; we shall have our symbolism and eat it too.

While there are many empty lots in Champaign-Urbana, the location they’ve scouted is the perfect (first) ground zero for Guerrilla Gardening in C-U.  Remember way way back in the early ’00s when the gangly, insolent, pus-faced, mallcore-listening housing bust we know all too well these days was then just a cute bouncing baby housing boom? In those gay monocle-wearing fat times, a developer had a vision: to plow under hundreds of acres of corn and build a shitload of cookie-cutter houses. The land got sold, the corn bulldozed, the roads went in, and houses went up. Around 2007, despite the declarations of an elder statesman, the fundamentals of the economy were not strong, and people stopped buying houses. The sacrifice of the land to the maw of sprawl was in vain. The houses never went up; the lot is bare, save a little scrub and a lot of potential.

In addition to turning an eyesore into a productive, verdant oasis in South Central Sprawlsburg, the group hopes to transform the way that folks in C-U see the land around them. Every square inch of dirt in our micro metro was at one time a diverse and vibrant prairie ecosystem. Our predecessors overtook every square inch of that for the production of food. Eating is important and agriculture is a pretty darn good thing to do with land, so long as we produce and consume it in a responsible manner. But that isn’t really where we are today, is it? We live in a town where the old new Wal-Mart was abandoned and another couple dozen acres of farm land were bulldozed to build a new Wal-Mart, while at the same time, and not even 10 miles away, two other brand-new Wal-Marts shat themselves down upon acres more of our “prime farmland”.[1]

The group hopes that seeing zinnias blooming in an alley or a tomato vine growing up a stop sign pole will jar the rest of us from our collective slumber. They want us to reevaluate our insatiable demand for more, bigger, and newer developments reaching far into the countryside. The group wants to remind us of the ease, simplicity, beauty, and thrift of growing your own food, of making something from nothing.

Sow what are their plans? First, they want to plant a bounty of crops, flowers, and native flora at the location above. You can expect to see (if you can find it) corn and cucumbers, zucchini, beans and peas, sunflowers, herbs, squash, peppers, tons ‘o tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, berries, and my personal favorite: big, bad Imperator Carrots. They will of course harvest these crops when the time comes, eating some, donating the rest of the food to one or several of the local food banks/shelters and the friendly Food not Bombs folks for their delicious free Saturday vegan cookouts. The group is adamant, however, that the crops belong to everybody, so if you see a pie pumpkin growing at the plot and you want a pie pumpkin for your pot, a pumpkin you’ve now got.

The crew is getting ready for their big dig. Want in? The crew is always looking for the hook-up with free seeds, tools, bags, compost and the like, so if you’ve got an in, spill it. The author can put you in contact with these folks if you ask nicely. You take it from there.

[1] There is a reason I put the words ‘prime farmland’ in quotes. see, If you are still in doubt, plant something, water it, and find out yourself.

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