Guerilla Gardening: Growing Vegetables in Downtown Kansas City

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Last Wednesday after leaving the courthouse in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, I found the next site for a guerrilla garden. Camouflaged in the concrete jungle stood four large planters in a crooked row–two small, two large. In the largest sat two petunias, one blooming purple trumpets heralding the arrival of a liberating army. 

A garden can grow in the most unusual places. Photo By loosends/Courtesy Flickr

I reached into the largest planter and crumbled a heaping handful. It crumbled effortlessly into a nice loam, a mix of vermiculite, small grains of sand, compost and . . . potting soil! The gears in my brainpan spin…tomatoes, basil, marigolds, nasturtium, parsley, PERFECT! 

I am locked in a meditative trance, pinching dirt, lifting chest high, then crumbling as I drift off to some distant paradise. One day our rain waterways will be managed by wildflowers and mycology. We will have aqueducts over our highways of electric cars and maglev commuter and bullet trains made from salvaged and recycled aluminum, and the green stretches beside our roads will be lush with public gardens organized through philanthropy and small grants to each 5-acre swath divided by community. There would even be allotments for the destitute worked through volunteer effort and outreach to the homeless. I long to see Eden.

“Hey, man,” breaking me from the future, a guy in a dirty dishwater T-shirt and jeans accosts me with his palm outstretched.

“Sorry, man, I’m strapped for cash myself,” I say, returning to my thoughts and crumbling dirt, the man watching until he begins to mimic me and crumble the soil.

“Hey, maaaan!  This is some good soil!” 

“That’s what I was thinking.  I’m thinking I wanna put some tomatoes here.”

He smiles a gaping toothy cavern of randomly pointing stalactites and stalagmites. He is an alley cat, his whiskers sparse and coat dirty. “Hey, maan!  I can help you; I’ll just go git a shovel!”

“That won’t be necessary, but thank you,” I introduce myself and outstretch my right hand, and he flails his uncontrollably until settling on shaking mine vigorously. 

“I’m Marco, maan!  So you’re gonna plant tomatoes here?”

I then explain to Marco guerrilla gardening–the hijacking of public green or blighted spaces to install gardens in order to beautify a community. My own take on guerrilla gardening is to install companion plants of fruiting vegetables and herbs and donate the yield to the homeless community in Kansas City. When Marco heard the destination of the harvest, he became quite excited.

“Hey, that’s me, man!  Hey, let me help you!” I wondered how resourceful he might be. Could he procure a shovel within an hour or so? Would it be a proper shovel, or would it be an improvised multipurpose tool? How organized is the city’s homeless population, and what is their concept of community property amongst themselves?

“Maybe another time,” I tell him. In the future all the homeless in this and other cities will grow their own food on swaths of land off the highway. I truly believe it can, should and will one day happen.

“Hey you’re a good man, maaan.” 

“I’m just doing something that needs to be done; there are others who would say that what I do is illegal, but I say it is scrupulous. I admit to being a bit of an idealist, but at least I’m actually doing the work, and not just throwing money at a problem through charities. That is just impersonal and sterile. Besides, I like getting my hands dirty,” I hold out my mitts to gesticulate the point and the splint on my left index finger–there because of a 10-pound can of artichokes, gravity, haste and the oily soles of my shoes–hammers it home. “I aim to make this world better. I do not know if I am a ‘good’ man, just a stubborn one.”

“Naw, man, you’re a good man, but, hey, buddy I gotta go back to work,” he holds out his palm and change, and I decide to move along as well. We both turn to walk down the street without exchanging another word. I drift off into the future, planning the garden in planters . . . the basil would have to be bought, because it is too late to plant from seed…and again I am broken from my thoughts when I receive a phone call from my mother telling me that a chain hardware store in the area is having a sale on all vegetables and herbs for 50 cents apiece. Kismet is my guide. By daybreak, there would be a guerilla garden on that corner.

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