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5,000 Miles for Soil: Guerilla Gardening Across Europe

Dec. 30, 2013

By Tom Boyden, Slow Food UW (University of Wisconsin - Madison)

Guerrilla GardeningAn Irishman named Peter, cycled around Europe working at seed banks and farms. He was telling me this story and after, all I was able to think about was hopping on a bike and pedaling somewhere, plants in hand.

The plan: for the next 3 months, I’d cycle around Europe, working with farmers, planting food in precarious places, and swapping seeds along the way. Cycling 60 odd miles (100 km) a day isn’t too bad, right?

I’d leave on May 6th and return around August 14th.

A week before my departure, I got a used bike, a couple bags and threw in a few days worth of clothes, bike tools, and my camera. Probably should have brought a tent, the first night in the Belgian woods was a bit chilly.

Strawberries and a castle in LondonFerrying across the English Channel, the realization that this trip was actually happening began to sink in. My adventure began…

  • London brought on permaculture castles, grocery stores with rooftop gardens, and guerilla gardening grandmas. Buckingham Palace welcomed its very own strawberry plant.
  • In France, a kale renaissance was occurring amid farmers rallying together to save seeds. The Tour de France riders found a drafting vehicle in the hills of Corsica.
  • The Slow Food University in Italy brought a wicked sustainable hangover.
  • Viennese loungingThe Viennese lounged around edible plots on would-be parking spots.
  • Prague showed off bustling gardens sprung up on elephant manure, compliments of the Prague Zoo.
  • Southern Germany brought along a family living on a U.N. Sustainability Site, building hula hoops and hosting juggling conventions.
  • A trampoline welcomed myself and a Great Dane in Denmark.
  • I planted all over Amsterdam.

Along the way, my tent worked pretty well. The family with the Great Dane even surprised me with breakfast when they encouraged me to sleep on their lawn.

Danish breakfastIn cities, I relied upon the generosity of strangers for a place to sleep. These interactions empowered my faith in humanity.

Those fun days when a French couple attempted to ‘test’ how many courses the American can eat. They’re lucky I’m from Wisconsin, otherwise that 3rd cheese course may have been denied.

Most everything I did was quite new to me: long distance cycling; planting in front of monuments; interviewing farmers; sleeping on couches in foreign countries. It was challenging, but the unfamiliarity in all the experiences was exhilarating and rather addicting.

We need to bring light to the untold stories of champions for sustainable agriculture and soil conservation. There are many people, stewards, fighting to keep our soil healthy and tillable for the next generation. Plant something, explain why it’s important and how grand it is to eat, smell, or drink what you’ve grown. People will listen, especially if you’ve supplied a bit of good food.

So, now it’s your turn: get a bike, cycle somewhere, and plant good food along the way.

See the video.

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