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Green Guerillas: Community Garden Movement Spreads Across the USA

>From Grist Magazine <>

All About Steve
Steve Frillmann, community-garden guru, answers readers' questions

17 Feb 2006
Questions from Grist editors | Questions from readers

Steve Frillmann, executive director of Green Guerillas.

I'd love to hear a juicy story of how community gardening is a tool for
community development. Would you share one? -- Lisa Gelczis, Flagstaff,

Just this past summer, Green Guerillas cut the lock off the fence of a
once-vibrant community garden that had fallen into disrepair. We put up
fliers, knocked on doors, and went to community meetings to drum up
interest. Community members, a teacher in the school across the street, and
a social service center for formerly homeless people answered the call. In
one growing season, they transformed the site into a garden together. This
year, they are hatching plans to green an entire part of the neighborhood
and train youth from the local housing project along the way. All that
energy was there, looking for a concrete project to harness it. We just took
some organizing, a little guidance, a few hundred dollars in materials,
added water, and watched the project grow.

I have an idea for growing organic veggies for a local homeless-assistance
meal program by creating a network of gardens on the property of local
churches. Many churches in my area hardly utilize their property except for
mowing. Got any advice? -- Joel Tippens, Daytona Beach, Fla.

We helped get a project like this off the ground -- the Greens for Queens
Urban Farm. You should reach out to them for advice and support. Our advice?
To make a church-based garden work, the congregation needs to be involved in
every aspect and involved all week long -- not just after church on Sunday.

You say tomato, I say community gardening is fun for all ages.

Where do you think environmentalists and social-justice advocates can find
common cause? -- Grist editors

Many of the community gardeners we work with cleaned out vacant lots full of
materials and activities that nobody wanted on their street. They weren't
necessarily acting as environmentalists or garden advocates. Community
gardening was the tool they had to bring their neighbors together to make
their neighborhoods a little safer, a bit more humane. So we encourage them
to tell their stories to everyone who will listen -- the common cause is
right there to be found, in those stories.

What are some of the best ways to expand community garden programs
throughout the states? -- Jim Prues, Cincinnati, Ohio

The American Community Gardening Association
<> can help you get started, expand, or
develop strategies to fight City Hall. ACGA has publications, workshops, and
an incredibly skilled group of people who serve as board and staff. They
also have a listing of community gardens by state.

It all starts locally. Get widespread community support and educate the
powers-that-be about the contributions you and your fellow gardeners make to
strengthen neighborhoods.

Harvesting fresh veggies -- and a good time -- at Pleasant Park Garden in
East Harlem.

Are most of the plants and seeds from the Guerillas organic? If so, can you
explain a bit about how plants can be organic in a city with air
pollution? -- Liz Falk, Washington, D.C.

We distribute organic seeds to gardeners, but we do not require gardeners to
use organic practices in order to receive help from us. And you raise an
interesting point: Could a truly urban farm be certified organic? There are
some people out there whose focus on food and organics is deeper than ours
-- in New York City, it's Just Food.

What are your recommendations for governance of community gardens? --
Albert Johnson, Southfield, Mich.

There is definitely no "cookie-cutter" solution to the issue of garden
governance. We work with community garden groups who have formal bylaws,
regular meetings, and membership dues. Other groups have functioned for
years with much looser arrangements. What seems to work best is when the
structure fits the gardening group and has not been imposed on the group by
an outside force or by one person.

What do you do to settle the big personality squabbles that occur over small
things -- turf battles over plots or produce, or time with the hose? --
Kelly Clark, Carson City, Nev.

Garden groups that hold to a few important core beliefs (that transcend
squabbles and the rules designed to suppress them) tend to stick together in
the long run and buy themselves the time they need to develop an
appreciation for alternative points of view.

What is truly the potential of growing substantial food on the roof of a
building that was not designed to hold such heavy loads of soil? Do you
think roof gardens can be taken to their fullest extent only on new
buildings that are constructed with these gardens in mind? -- Liz Falk,
Washington, D.C.

Obviously, urban centers with old buildings will present challenges for
rooftop gardening. Currently, our energies are focused on ground-level
gardens, so we definitely are not experts on rooftop food growing. In New
York City, there are a few groups people can turn to such as Sustainable
South Bronx and Earth Pledge Foundation. The City of Chicago also has a
green roofs initiative.

I know the Green Guerillas were founded in 1973 by Liz Christy. What is
happening with the garden on Bowery & Houston named in her honor? --
Donald Loggins, Brooklyn, N.Y.

The gardeners who cultivate the Liz Christy garden have had their fair share
of challenges lately. Their beautiful garden is in the middle of a large
urban redevelopment plan that includes new housing, retail space, and a
community center. They fought hard to get their garden preserved,
negotiating with the city and the developer to put a protection plan in
place and obtaining a capital fund that will be used to revitalize the
garden once construction is completed. For now, they are just working to
keep their garden alive next to an enormous construction site.

Did you attend the 2005 American Community Gardening Association conference
in the Twin Cities? If so, was there anything that really stuck with you
upon returning to New York City that transformed the way your organization
operates? -- Jackie McGraw, St. Paul, Minn.

I didn't get a chance to attend, but other Green Guerillas did. They were
especially struck by how open and available to the community the gardens are
in Minneapolis. And they talked about how other groups in other cities do a
great job of getting good feedback from people about why they value
community gardens, even if they are not involved. We can always do a better
job of that in NYC.