Vegetable garden guerrilla

GAS, CSA and Guerrilla Gardeners: new ways of shared cultivation and food distribution

04-09-2014

An entire edible city: it’s not a dream that could never come true but Pam Warhurst’s ambitious project called Incredible Edible. In Todmorden, in England, she managed to get local authorities and citizens involved in the creation of many spaces for shared cultivation

For many people, shared cultivation, of which I already wrote in this article, is a hobby, for others it is a rediscovery of activities that used to be the norm until some fifty years or more ago, for others again they represent a way of lowering the cost of their grocery shopping. Whatever one’s interpretation, they contribute to design a much more human and accessible idea of food, they influence the way in which we approach food and cooking, conviviality and sharing.

Guerrilla Gardeners also belong to this category (the link leads to the British GG website, but there are also groups in New Zealand), they are groups of activists who have begun a symbolic war against the “abandonment and carelessness and the scarcity of public spaces as places where to grow something, something that could be beautiful or good or both”.

One of the many flowerbeds created by local guerrilla gardeners in Auckland

One of the many flowerbeds created by local guerrilla gardeners in Auckland

Their activities are sometimes considered borderline legal but are always peaceful and include incursions in public spaces in order to sow, cultivate, prune, plant and graft. They grow flowers but also vegetables and even fruit trees, whose products are then available for everyone. It’s an idea of beauty that translates itself into more welcoming places and in free raw materials. The same idea, though totally legal, is that of Pam Warhurst, of Incredible Edible, who in Todmorden has managed to get the citizens and the local authorities involved in order to make this town a truly edible city (there’s a beautiful video presentation here).

A different relationship between food and agricultural practices is that of GASs, Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale or CSAs, Community Supported Agriculture; they were born with the objective of helping all the producers who choose different distribution channels, reducing the risk of having products unsold because they agree on the production with clients who organise groups and pick up the products regularly. CSAs and GASs are often used as synonyms though a GAS differs from a CSA because the participants pay a fee in advance to the producers, who in this way are sure of their harvest much earlier than when they would market it.

Alice Waters, of the famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley, was among the first to use aromatic herbs and vegetables cultivated in her kitchen garden

Alice Waters, of the famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley, was among the first to use aromatic herbs and vegetables cultivated in her kitchen garden

Moreover, in many cases, CSAs in the U.S. require that the food is paid by offering one’s work: be it pulling out weeds, feeding the animals or participating in the harvest, some producers go beyond the simple food supply relationship but want the work to be understood and thus later acknowledged for what it is, with all that it implies in terms of sweat, sharing, understanding of the earth and pride for one’s work.

One of the most famous restaurateurs connected with these practices is Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California. In fact Alice Waters is famous for having been a pioneer in growing her own herbs but she’s also the symbol of a restaurant industry that acknowledges the value of a quality product and that therefore requires an alliance between those who cultivate and chefs and foodies who acknowledge that the social fabric in which restaurants are placed is the real humus channelling energy, vitality and creativity.


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