While I was in Durban last summer I spent some time talking with folks involved in guerrilla gardening there. The idea of guerrilla gardening is to reclaim public spaces and use vacant lots and unused public spaces to grow food. The movement bridges social justice, environmental justice, and food sovereignty.
Some 26.5 million Americans who live in food deserts, areas without grocery stores which offer affordable food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. The US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service now offers a Food Access Research Atlas which maps the food deserts in the United States.
The irony is that such regions often have expansive access to fast food restaurants and convenience stores marketing junk food. But they do not have access to quality produce and groceries.
Perhaps not surprisingly, food deserts are disproportionately located in neighborhoods home to minorities and those living in poverty. Indeed, the racialization of food deserts have led some to term it “food apartheid,” in reference to South Africa’s system of racial segregation.
South Central Los Angeles is a perfect example of a food desert, with many fast food restaurants and liquor stores but few grocery stores. As a result, many residents of South Central suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The short video Deserted provides a video tour of food apartheid in South Central Los Angeles on YouTube.
Ron Finley, a guerrilla gardener, provides an alternative vision. In a recent TED Talk, he explains how he became a guerrilla gardener in South Central. Finley was ticketed and threatened with arrest for planting food gardens in easement spaces in South Central. In his outstanding TED Talk, Finley argues that, “Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city…plus, you get strawberries.” Today, he helps run L.A. Green Grounds, a group that hosts “dig-ins” to convert public spaces and private yards into informal food gardens. His work is truly inspirational.