Allotments and Guerilla Gardening

Along with learning to build for ourselves, heal ourselves and create energy for ourselves, learning to produce our own food is both essential if we are ever to truly take control of our own lives, and is implicitly a threat to Capitalism as it makes a start towards breaking free of the cycle of supply and demand, liberating us from the role of passive consumers alienated from a real understanding of the nature of the world around us and the most important aspects of our day to day survival.

Of course the first prerequisite for growing food is land, the acquisition of which is financially beyond the means of most of us, something the Ruling class have had sewn up for centuries, even long before the Enclosure Acts of the 1600′s. But there are always holes- spaces in which we can move- call it the black economy, call it the green economy.

Allotments are more easily available than you might think, there are huge discrepancies between lengthy council waiting lists and the wildernesses of disused plots overgrown with couch-grass and dock. Applying to the Town Hall for an allotment is probably a waste of time, your letter will pass into the convoluted pipeline of bureaucracy, ignored by councillors too busy exchanging masonic handshakes with their property speculator friends. A more positive step would be to get in touch directly with the local Allotment Society, or, better still, take yourself on a tour round the allotment site. Get chatting to the plot-holders and find out which are vacant. On some sites this can be up to three-quarters or more of the total. If you are young and have a green mohican, the ‘old boys’ will no doubt treat you with suspicion, but politeness and enthusiasm will win them over, and after all, it’s in their interests that as many plots as possible are kept cultivated. Take over the plot and get to work straight away, and pay the annual rent when it becomes due (usually about £10.00 for I/l6th of an acre (NB, this is a late 1980′s figure, it’s more like £30 a year now- ed.)). There are plenty of books about how to grow food successfully (I would particularly recommend the books of the late Lawrence D Hills, including ‘Organic Gardening’ and ‘Grow Your Own Fruit And Vegetables’ and Kathleen Jannaway’s pamphlet ‘Growing Our Own’, available from Movement for Compassionate Living One golden rule to remember however is don’t try and do too much at once- you’ll exhaust yourself and your enthusiasm.

‘Guerrilla‘ farming is another option, especially if you resent renting land or vacant allotments are hard to come by in your area. Apply a little vision to the land around you, railway embankments, back gardens, golf courses, car parks, overgrown bits of land at your work-place and so on. Then give a little thought to clandestine cultivations- the only limits are those of your imagination; herbs that thrive on poor soils could be grown amongst the thistles, rose-bay willow herb and buddlea on ‘desolate’ bomb-sites; a little known hole in a fence remembered from childhood explorations could give access to your local rich bastard’s grounds-sew your seeds here amongst the undergrowth or venture further and indulge in some scrumping from his orchard. Even if squatting empty property in your area is not an option (hello Neighbourhood Watch…) maybe the back gardens can still be put to use with a bit of cunning and stealth, or maybe seldom Visited corners of local parks and gardens-or even church yards? How about the flower beds that adorn your town centre if they’re not too well looked after-you could be growing your crops right in the heart of the consumerist landscape of the burger bars, chain-stores and supermarkets-imagine the irony!

Such secret gardens could be maintained with the minimum of effort- small amounts of compost could be carried in bags and weeds could be largely left alone except where they threaten to engulf your crop-they provide camouflage for your activities. Nor would you have to bother with orderly, tidy rows. A morning’s cycle tour of a few favourite spots could provide you with a week’s supplies, especially if you take advantage of all the free food that grows wild- nettles, ramsons, dandelions, chickweed, nuts berries and some mushrooms and fungi (make sure you know exactly what you can and can’t safely eat, however!)

A couple that used to live in Southend grew food on local railway sidings for years and were never discovered or interfered with. Clandestine farmers are out there now- why not join them in digging for revolution?

Graham Burnett, 1989. This article originally appeared in ‘Green Anarchist’ magazine