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Organic Products vs Guerilla Gardening

category north america / mexico | miscellaneous | opinion / analysis author Saturday January 13, 2007 05:44author by Jae Muzzin - Windsor Guerilla Gardening Collectiveauthor email roadwindsor at riseup dot net Report this post to the editors

A number of well-meaning individuals have made the choice of growing and consuming organic food. While organic food is obviously a better choice than more artificial methods of food production, the present incarnation of the organic food movement does not address the root issues of industrial food production. Those issues being flaws of capitalist economics and personal alienation from food production. This article demonstrates that self-sustenance horticulture (guerilla gardening in particular) addresses both these issues, and exposes organic products for what they really are: a co-option by capitalism of people's desires to return to a more natural way of life.

A number of well-meaning individuals have made the choice of growing and consuming organic food. While organic food is obviously a better choice than more artificial methods of food production, the present incarnation of the organic food movement does not address the root issues of industrial food production. Those issues being flaws of capitalist economics and personal alienation from food production. This article demonstrates that self-sustenance horticulture (guerilla gardening in particular) addresses both these issues, and exposes organic products for what they really are: a co-option by capitalism of people's desires to return to a more natural way of life.

Flaws Of Capitalist Economics

Capitalism is a system of economics where ownership of wealth is used to accumulate more wealth for the owning class. When producing and selling commodities, there are two methods used to increase profit from these commodities: increasing volume of sales, and decreasing the expense of producing each unit. These two strategies of production are what lead agribusiness to adopt GMOs, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, monoculture and transcontinental food transport. Given that these economic practices of market economy are what created harmful agribusiness techniques, and given that these practices are unavoidable in any kind of commodity market, how can one conclude that harmful agribusiness techniques would cease to exist while a market economy still exists? Further, how can one conclude that an organic food niche market will bring an end to these harmful techniques, when this niche market is a mere extension of the system that the organic food movement claims to oppose?

This niche market that does exist, dutifully follows the laws of supply and demand. Any sensible person would choose organic food if the fair choice was there, so this "demand" makes organic food typically higher priced. Due to the inherent inequality of capitalist wealth distribution, and the pressure put on the lower income segment of society to stretch their dollars further, economically disadvantaged peoples (the vast majority of us) will make the choice of buying the cheaper food over the organic. In this situation, organic food becomes a privilege for the upper crust of society. Now, not only is wealth reserved to the upper class, but natural and safe food is as well. Organic food is nothing more than a new commodity, not a revolutionary idea. As long as it is a commodity it perpetuates capitalism. By perpetuating capitalism, it does more to help agribusiness than it does to stop it.

Guerilla gardening on the other hand, is entirely removed from capitalist economy. It is impossible for capitalism to commodify garden food because there is no market between the producer and the consumer.

Alienation From Food Sources

Organic certification is a guarantee to the consumer that certain methods were employed in producing the food. This comforts the consumer by making him more aware of where his food comes from. People appreciate organic methods because it is closer to how plants exist in nature. They see it as more sustainable and safer for humans as well as the ecosystem. What organic food products can never deliver is the close relationship historically enjoyed by humans and the life systems (wilderness, family farms) that provided them with food.

Economy removes food production from people's lives and they are expected to focus on other tasks, tasks that are highly specialized and usually have no direct benefit to the person performing the task. Even most farmers produce cash crops and buy the rest of their diet. The connectedness once felt with eco-systems is now gone, and people now pick fruit from produce aisles instead of trees. This detachment must affect our psyche in profound ways.

Guerilla gardening reacquaints us with what sustains us. We employ first-hand the methods that we would like to be seen in how our food is produced. No longer is one reliant on organic standards organizations and food retailers. No longer is food a commodity but an integral part of our daily lives. Organic food may be a better consumer choice, but it has no profound effect on daily life.

Conclusion

Guerilla gardening is an effort to become independent from market economy, combined with the willingness to militantly expropriate land from capitalists who benefit from this exploitative market economy. By using expropriated land, gardening becomes an option for all people, not just those who can afford a house with a backyard. Guerilla gardening is an intersection of self-sufficiency and class war. It is an attempt at escaping capitalism without forgetting that once cannot escape capitalism without fighting it. One cannot escape a prison that encloses the entire planet. The only option is to work to destroy that prison. Guerilla gardening has the potential to help destroy this prison. Organic products however, are more comparable to a reward system for well behaved prisoners.

Related Link: http://wggc.riseup.net
author by David T.publication date Mon Jun 11, 2007 05:27author address author phone Report this post to the editors

For more on guerrilla gardening, here's a link to the book I've written on the topic called "Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto"

http://www.newsociety.com/bookid/3945

author by Jaime - Roots of Resistancepublication date Sun Apr 08, 2007 22:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi everyone!

Interesting and insightful comments. I'd like to share my experiences.

There is this ever present debate within anti-establishment communities about the perceived radicalness of lifestyle choices. We've all probably heard people argue that the far reaching effects of dumpster diving, squatting, shoplifting, traveling etc etc aren't broad enough to enact real change within the system. And I suppose it's not suprising that Guerrilla gardening would come under the same fire. But, for me, it's obvious that these things aren't going to enact broad scale change in themselves, in my practice, they're not meant to. What they are meant to do is act as alternatives to the capitalist strangehold. And by doing so, I find , they in fact often allow me more time and resources to dedicate to more organized forms of resistance.

Growing my own food and greening my city have always increased my sense of community in both concrete and generalized manners. GG has never been a solo project, especially when I'm growing food. People hear about your plot, and plot their own next to you. They support you by weeding with you when you're visiting, or giving you some of their kickass home compost. If I hadn't had the help of strangers who knew a hell of a lot more about growing food than me, my first garden would have failed miserably and immediately. And of course strong communities can serve as important networks in organized resistance!

My sense of community has grown in clandestine projects as well. Putting up plants in abandoned planters and sidewalk liners has always given me a sense of contribution. In shitty gray cities these acts of resistance never go unnoticed! People love it and appreciate it, and I don't think it's too far reaching to argue that the possibility for broader change lies in these small actions.

In addition having my own food source means I can work less! Easy peasy! It cuts out the middle man. I don't have to sell as much of my time in exchange for money so I can buy the foods I need to live. I just have the foods! Even having onions and garlic for the year helps me. And whats great is gardens can produce so much more than you can consume yourself- so you get to share your spoils with your new garden community or those who struggle to survive under capitalism. And less time working, for both you and them, means more time dedicated to other projects.

And I'd like to comment at this point that food gardening isn't terribly time intensive. The first few weeks, when you're turning the soil, adding compost, removing the broken glass and drug paraphenalia and what not does take a lot of time and labor. But once the plants are rooted, all you have to do is water when it's dry and control obtrusive weeds. I'd often sit near my garden planning expansions because I found I don't have enough to do!

So yes, I concur that GGing is not the same thing as organized workers strikes and petition actions. That's why I like it! But, if you do like to focus on organized resistance GGing and other lifestyle choices can benefit you greatly by integrating you with new communities and by freeing up your time from the capitalist work schedule.

And like someone else commented gardening is a pleasure in and of itself. I can attest to that!

author by Randy Lowens - CTC supporter (personal capacity)publication date Sat Jan 20, 2007 19:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

mk: "Can an extra-legal, but individualistic activity really bring change?"

In certain rural, mostly artsy areas, I know folks who think so, even regarding legal (but unconventional) activities. They eschew, or at least neglect, organized political activity in favor of such "revolutionary" lifestyles as organic gardening, shopping from local (petty b) vendors, etc. When I point out that such choices are not simply not options for most, for those without resources to purchase any but the cheapest products and without land to garden, the reply is often along the lines of, "Each of us must become the change we wish to see, beginning where we are." Heavy. I vacillate between trying to spur such types to coordinated action, or writing them off (on the assumption that they are only justifying their lack of political interest or action, and have no real desire to do more).

For myself, I garden, hunt and fish, eating wild game but refusing dairy or boughten meat. But I don't consider these choices at all revolutionary (though I would not go so far as to say these actions aren't "political" in some sense. Certainly a critique of industrial capitalism figures into my lifestyle choices.)

Kim: "A meaningful way for me to reduce my "dependency on capitalism", or rather enlarge my spare time, would be shorter hours and weeks, and at the same time receive better wages."

True enough. But the gardener eats better.

Anyway, it's interesting to see these matters discussed in an urban context.

author by mkpublication date Sat Jan 20, 2007 12:11author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Jae makes some good critiques of buying organic as a means of social change, but is guerrilla gardening really the way forward? One good example is guerrilla gardening projects (South Central farm etc.) which have served as a rallying point for the community. But how about individualistic guerrilla gardening which serves one person or one family, but doesn't build relationships of struggle? Can an extra-legal, but individualistic activity really bring change? I also know of legal gardening projects (non-guerrilla) which not only help those involved with organic produce, but also build working class youth leadership and political education around issues of land, the environment and inequity. Guerrilla gardening is but one way that food production can contribute to social change. There are many other ways too. And you're right, buying organic is not one of them.

author by Kim Keyser - Anarkismopublication date Wed Jan 17, 2007 05:45author address Oslo, Norwayauthor phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks Jae. It did answer my questions.

And yeah, I guess there are areas appropriate for GGing in my immediate surroundings (don't know if it would've been left alone though, but it might be).

Of course, I also think growing ones own food can be rewarding in itself, but still I'd have to sacrifice time I use on other political work to GG - something that's not an option for me personally. I can understand though, that lots of people would be better off if they GGed.

And sure, if food is one of ones main expenses GGing can be thought of as a more pleasant form of work. However, for most people the crib (including electricity, internet, tv, etc) is the main expense. Personally I don't want to live in a squat either (it's often lots of conflicts with the authorities, and even if it¨'s successful, you'll run the risk of beeing viewed as an outsider, a "freak" by friend and colleagues). Also, I think both the military and our workplaces are the most important arenas for social struggle (there's much power in a strike!).

A meaningful way for me to reduce my "dependency on capitalism", or rather enlarge my spare time, would be shorter hours and weeks, and at the same time receive better wages.

I'm skecptical of theories that states that we'll all be doomed when the oil crash starts. There will always be some kinds of solutions around (I don't say a crisis won't occur. I just don't think it's either GGing or dying.)

author by Jae - WGGCpublication date Mon Jan 15, 2007 22:14author email roadwindsor at riseup dot netauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hey,

Thanks for your comments.

"So, is "guerilla gardening" a better option for me? In one word: No. As most other people on this planet I live in a city (and the people living in cities compared to rural areas just continue to rise), and I need to have as much as time possible to read, write, organize and other political activity. If I had to sacrifice time to grow my own food, I had to learn lots of new stuff, go into the woods, and generally sacrifice quite a lot of time."

GG in my opinion is actually suited for people in cities. I live in a very industrialized city, and thats where I do all my GGing. Typically, I find it easier to find unused land in the city than in the country. For instance backyards of abandoned houses, empty lots, and long forgotten fields are abundant in cities. If you keep your eyes open, there's great spaces to garden right near where you live. And it really does not take alot of time. Sure there will be many sunny afternoons you will be working in the garden, but I dont see why this has to be looked at as a waste of time. This activity is rewarding in itself. As for getting in the way of other political activities, well I guess thats just a question of how you manage your time. But consider this: you will waste more time earning income to buy food than you will just growing it yourself. And you will be much more miserable in the process!

"If these people would have had a social perspective they might actually be able to contribute to change the world - and not only their own immediate surroundings."

I wont disagree with you there, but I will point out that social change is not possible unless people change how they live as individuals. I'll also point out that political activism is very limited to the time and resources we have outside of work. GG seeks to free one from her dependence on her paycheque, and reduces her dependency on the agribusiness/globalisation machine where she would otherwise get her food. If people are not as dependent on capitalism, it will be much easier to organize against and destroy capitalism.

"So, what I wonder is: How do you think guerilla gardening fits in with a revolutionary strategy? And also: How much time do you use at guerilla gardening which could've been invested in other (and in my opinion more fruitful) political activity?"

Urban, self sustanence gardening is the only possibility for food production in a post-oil world (anarchist or not). There will come a time when our transport trucks, oil fertilizers and farm machines will no longer be what makes food production possible. How does GG fit in with a revolutionary strategy? The same way that expropriating the means of production does. Its reclaiming what we need to survive from capitalism. Its growing food in a decentralized, non-alienated, and (extremely) enviro-friendly way. Of course at the present, GG is done on a small scale, which may give the illusion of it being "individualistic". But this by no means is the limit to what GG can do. With more people collaborating and organizing, GG has the potential to make a quantitative difference in the way society produces food. So in short, GG is comparable to other forms of expropriation, the only difference is its possible on a small scale right now.

Hope this answered your questions.

author by Kim Keyser - Anarkismopublication date Sun Jan 14, 2007 01:04author address Oslo, Norwayauthor phone Report this post to the editors

You raise some interesting questions Jae.

Like you I'm a libertarian revolutionary who'd also like to live as healthily as possible. I'm 23 years old now, and have only been living alone for a short year (being in the military last year and saving money living at my moms the years prior to that ). It has given me the opportunity to transform my diet freely. Well, not entirely freely..

I'd like to eat healthy, cheap food which can be prepared fast. A week ago or so, I went to one of those "organic food stores". It was ridiculous. There was not ONE item I could afford! Even food which is sold in ordinary stores (lets say peanuts) was MORE than doubly priced. I won't even bother to go into one of those stores again. As you say it's an option reserved for rich people (as well as for those people who have living healthy as their main hobby).

So, I've settled for a rather vegetarian diet (not too fanatic about it though). It mainly consists of bread, tortillas, pasta, rice, legumes, potatoes and fruit. It's rather healthy, and it's cheap and quick to prepare. I say rather healthy because the fruit has been sprayed with pesticides dozen of times, and one of the most important foodstuffs in my diet - soybeans - is mostly gene manipulated.

So, is "guerilla gardening" a better option for me? In one word: No. As most other people on this planet I live in a city (and the people living in cities compared to rural areas just continue to rise), and I need to have as much as time possible to read, write, organize and other political activity. If I had to sacrifice time to grow my own food, I had to learn lots of new stuff, go into the woods, and generally sacrifice quite a lot of time. The time reserved for political activity would be minimized, and thus my chance to contribute my part to a new movement for a new society would be minimized as well. It's just not an option.

I do understand the need for people in poorer places - especially in rural areas - to occupy land and grow their own food. But for us people living in the cities in OECD countries? I just can't see this as contributing to a new society. I only see it as a lifestyle choice to better ones own life, I can't see the social aspect.

Here in Oslo, I know several people who think the same as me (they try to live as healthy as possible within the unhealthy confines of capitalism, but they nevertheless prioritize social change, rather than their own - kind of egotistic - need to live healthily here and now.

However, most of those I know who're interested in healthy and sustainable ways of living (including energy, consumption, etc. as well as food) seems to think they live in a microcosmos. They build their own ecological houses out in the woods, grow their own foods, etc., and preach to others about this great way of living. But their social perspective is minimal and is reduced to mere moralism (consume less, live healthier, etc.). They talk loud about the rights of animals and such, but tend to downplay the rights of humans - which of course is the primary source of animal cruelty. If these people would have had a social perspective they might actually be able to contribute to change the world - and not only their own immediate surroundings.

So, what I wonder is: How do you think guerilla gardening fits in with a revolutionary strategy? And also: How much time do you use at guerilla gardening which could've been invested in other (and in my opinion more fruitful) political activity?

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