Don Loggins provided this 1974 photograph of members of the Green Guerrillas at a community garden in New York. EFE/Don Loggins

New York’s Green Guerrillas: 50 Years of fighting for green spaces

By Jorge Fuentelsaz

Don Loggins provided this 1974 photograph of Green Guerrillas founder Liz Christy (1945-1985) at the community garden in New York that now bears her name. EFE/Don Loggins

New York, Apr 29 (EFE).- Fifty years ago, Lower Manhattan’s Bowery neighborhood was a bleak landscape of buildings in disrepair and vacant lots treated as garbage dumps.

Don Loggins, a founding member of the Green Guerillas, poses during an interview with EFE at the Liz Christy Garden in New York on 5 April 2023. EFE/Jorge Fuentelsaz

That state of affairs spurred the late Liz Christy and her friends to found the Green Guerrillas, a group of activist gardeners who took it on themselves to plant window boxes and scatter seeds on empty lots.

“And we started in 1973. This whole area was full of garbage and junk, car parts, old TVs,” Green Guerrilla Don Loggins told EFE sitting on a bench in the Liz Christy Garden, which sits at the corner of Bowery and Houston Streets.

“Liz Christy lived in the area, two blocks away on Mott Street. And one day she was walking by and she saw this kid playing in a refrigerator pretending it was a boat, and she told the mother ‘why don’t you clean it up so your kids have a nice place to play?,’ and the mother said ‘I have five kids, I don’t have the time, why don’t you and your friends do it?’ and Liz said ‘OK’ and that’s how we started, she called me and a bunch of our other friends and said ‘let’s clean it out,'” Loggins, 72, said.

Out of concern for the neighborhood kids, the Green Guerrillas asked drug dealers to go away.

“But they came back, and one time four or five of us picked up our pitchforks and chased them to the subway and they never came back again,” Loggins recalled with satisfaction.

In 1974, the New York City government agreed to rent the space to the Green Guerrillas for $1 a month and what was originally called the Bowery Houston Community Farm and Garden and the group soon began to get calls from people in all five Big Apple boroughs asking how to go about creating their own community gardens.

The garden was renamed for Christy in 1986, a year after she died of cancer.

Today, the municipal government provides support to more than 550 community gardens and open spaces across the city, but the Green Guerillas continue their work, encouraging people to use “seed bombs” to plant sunflowers on vacant lots.

“Now the movement is more professionalized,” the group’s current executive director, Sarah McCollum, told EFE.

Citywide, the Green Guerrillas maintain 300 community gardens and lend their expertise and effort to rehabilitating derelict gardens, making composting bins, and repairing fences.

The organization also runs programs aimed at making adolescents and young adults aware of the importance of green spaces.

Though he no longer considers himself an activist, Loggins continues to tend the garden he created with Christy.

EFE jfu/dr