When I interviewed Tara, one of the early members of the Guerrilla Grafters, the band of grafters that are turning San Francisco’s city streets into fruit orchards, she explained what’s behind their efforts to crowd-source caring for fruiting trees in public spaces. (Note: this post has been updated with information and clarifications provided by Tara.)
No Law Preventing City Fruit Trees
The Guerrilla Grafters have been active as a group only since last year; there are no leaders, just active members, some more active than others. Tara (last name withheld to protect her privacy) became involved with grafting “guerrilla style” after she was unable to get permission to plant productive fruit trees in front of her own house. The city administrators cited concerns about maintenance and liability. She was willing to assume responsibility for these but the city still refused. She found this unreasonable. Tara further discovered that it is simply city policy to not allow fruit producing trees, but apparently no formal law exists.
Social Change Through Fruit Trees
The Guerrilla Grafters hope to demonstrate that with proper care, fruit trees are not a nuisance, and in fact add to the quality of life in the urban environment. In her view, fruit trees on private property are more likely to suffer from neglect when the owners no longer want to care for the tree or harvest the fruit, or when new tenants arrive and are not interested. Their grafted city trees are always assigned a willing caretaker. The Guerrilla Grafters won’t graft a tree that doesn’t have a committed caretaker. Trees that are in public spaces are accessible to a number of people that can takeover as caretakers, and the public is encouraged to harvest the fruit.
For the Greater Good
Tara expressed concerned that the public at large is disconnected from public spaces. This disconnect arises in part because citizens don’t have any responsibility in the public space. She explained that it is the Guerrilla Grafters hope that through the act of “editing” their neighborhood space by grafting, this would instill “a sense of responsibility to care for what is in the public realm.” But she clarified that they are “not necessarily for (citizen) responsibility without participation in the decision-making.”
Beyond grafting for fruit production, caretakers and grafters make the effort to see that the trees are pruned and watered as needed, to stay healthy. They are invested in an activity that is ultimately for a public good.
Data Gathering in San Francisco’s Microclimates
Another interesting piece to the Guerrilla Grafters mission is that they are beginning to collect data about the trees that have been grafted. They want to monitor how well the trees produce certain varieties of fruit, including the quality. The results of this research should be helpful for urban gardeners in San Francisco, which is well known for its varied microclimates. She is seeking help with their web site to enable this data gathering project.
The Grinch Who Hacked Tree
Sadly, they recently discovered that the trees they grafted in the Hayes Valley area of San Francisco were severely pruned, including all of the grafted branches which was unnecessary solely for “pruning” purposes. The grafted Asian pears that were ripening were lost.
Apparently the now popular YouTube video about the grafters inadvertently gave away the location of these grafted trees. The video was never meant to circulate widely and advertise their activities. It was made for a demonstration the Guerrilla Grafters were giving at a conference, but it was never used.
They’ll be more careful next time.
Photo of Tara at Green Festival last Nov by Judith Henning
Photos of grafted fruit by Tara