VHJtB0uI remember the day my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Burkett, told my class about Johnny Appleseed. I couldn’t relate to him, at all. I tried to imagine actually meeting a real person who wore a cooking pot on his head like a hat and scattered apple tree seeds everywhere he went. I remember thinking, “If I’d actually met him, I would’ve thought he was nuts. But it’s super cool that he left a trail of abundance in his wake.”

Much of what I learned about Johnny Appleseed was fiction. Even so, there are plenty of amazing people who are carrying out his seed-scattering legacy today.

In this age, we call them guerrilla gardeners. Ron Finley, one of the leaders of this movement, gave an excellent TED talk explaining what he does and why he does it.

 Of course, there’s a big difference between Johnny Appleseed and today’s guerrilla gardeners. Johnny Appleseed was a nurseryman, and guerrilla gardeners are shovel-toting revolutionaries. As a group, they’re not out to topple governments, but they don’t mind breaking a city ordinance or neighborhood HOA rule when there’s land that needs tending.

Maja, the guerrilla gardener
Photo from, Photo by Mr. Babdellahn
Maja, the guerrilla gardener

Why do they do it?
Mr. Finley, who lives in South Central Los Angeles, became a guerrilla gardener because he wanted to turn that area – a food desert – into an oasis. So many in his neighborhood were sick because they were subsisting on fast food and soda; fresh, healthy produce was a rarity in that area. Finley noted a common sense solution to the problem: all around him, there was neglected, public land on which to grow the fruits and veggies missing from their diets.

Some choose guerrilla gardening because they want to beautify their cities, while others do it as an act of civil disobedience.

Flowers in a newspaper stand
Photo from, Photographer unknown. Please contact us if you know the artist.
Flower garden in a newspaper stand

In some situations, guerrilla gardeners carry out clandestine operations under the cover of darkness. In others, secrecy may not be necessary because property owners or city officials support operations. In Finley’s case, he encountered trouble when he first started gardening. Eventually, he gained the backing of his Congressman, and the rules blocking his public gardens were overturned.

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