Guerrilla Grafters: Splicing Fruit-Bearing Branches Onto City Trees

In San Francisco, a new form of covert agriculture is taking root: making fruit trees out of trees that normally don’t bear fruit, and turning an entire city into an orchard.

Money, as we all know, doesn’t grow on trees. Food, on the other hand, does. So with the economy dragging, why not turn public trees into a source of free fruit?

In San Francisco, a group of renegade agriculturalists called Guerrilla Grafters are doing just that, grafting fruit-bearing branches onto public trees that otherwise don’t bear fruit. The group has created a web app to help locals find trees that might be good candidates for a new, fruit-bearing branches and provides tips on how to pull off a successful grafting. They also have a Facebook page where they report on upcoming events and track the progress of their cherry and pear grafts.

What makes them guerrillas is the fact that this grafting is illegal. As the group’s Tara Hui explains, "people think of fruit trees as kind of a nuisance." That’s both because of the mess they might create in the form of rotten fruit and the vermin they might attract in the form of rats. Depending on the species you’re using, grafting might also run afoul of patent law. The Guerrilla Grafters address the first two problems by making sure each grafted tree has a "steward" who can monitor and take care of it.

Guerrilla grafting might be seen as another branch (ahem) of a diverse and burgeoning movement to bring nature—and its bounty—into the urban environment. The practice of guerrilla gardening (first popularized, perhaps, by a certain John "Appleseed" Chapman in Ohio in the late 18th and early 19th centuries) has attracted a lot of media attention in the last five years, and local organizations have proliferated. The related ideas of urban gleaning, urban agriculture, urban aquaculture, and vertical farming also seem to be gaining momentum.

One especially nice thing about guerrilla grafting, however, is that it splices together the low overhead of guerrilla gardening with the productive promise of farming in the city.

Whether guerrilla grafting will take off—and, indeed, whether it will grow to any meaningful scale in San Francisco—remains to be seen. But given the media attention, there is certainly interest. And given the fact that there are thousands of trees in most American cities, it would seem to have some potential as well.

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  • sydbarrett74

    @Lulu Rocka: Maybe if people were educated and informed about making use of nature's bounty instead of plunking coins into a vending-machine and loading up on sugary and salty rubbish, your objection would be obviated. Plus, you're ignoring a growing uptake of canning and preserving food  amongst Generations X and Y -- something our (great)grandparents did but that Baby Boomers abandoned. No generation has done more collectively to promote an unsustainable lifestyle than the Baby Boomers -- thankfully we as their descendants are starting to do something to reverse the phenomenon.

  • Ellen O'Shea

    I beg to differ. I am a baby boomer and many of my friends Worked VERY HARD AND LONG to start food co-ops, and cooperative food processing kitchens so we could share knowledge of canning and food preservation. The media has done a very good job of alienating the generations so we that people will believe that most baby boomers are selfish, stupid, greedy and destructive. You have no how idea how hard we worked to protect the environment, families, support for children and women, cooperative organizations etc....just saying...get a grip!

  • Lulu Rocka

    Some people really do not consider consequences of their anarchistic acts, in this case disguised as part of the green movement.
    Unfortunately, this will only result in food wastage. The average American does not pick fruit from trees wether on the street or in their backyards...

    Sigh. I wish people would just THINK beore acting. It would be more beneficial to open up local orchards, fams and garden coops.

  • Trent Berry

    Agreeing with Mr. Rollings...all civilization is in some sense intruding upon and shape shifting nature.  This is part of the social contract and can be a good thing.  

    I much prefer this method to agribusiness which is feeding us crap food and destroying our environment.  

    Although the average American does not pick fruit from trees whether on the street or in their backyards, the people of Sam Francisco DO engage in this activity and like many other onetime "new" activities they are popularized here by our pliable, adaptive society before (no pun intended) taking root elsewhere in the US and the world.  


  • Daniel Rollings

    "Unfortunately, this will only result in food wastage. The average
    American does not pick fruit from trees wether on the street or in their

    If you continue to depend exclusively on store shelves for your supply, that's making you dependent on oil prices and industrial agriculture.  It's causing our society to produce less and less nutritious food and clear land that ought to be left natural.  No, we need to think before putting our footprint on the world through a long and wasteful chain.  To be sustainable we need to take every opportunity to have food production at hand.

  • Joel Goyette

    This is a marvelous idea, and such an easy way to grow additional fresh fruit for our community!

  • CitizenWhy

    When I lived in Tacoma, WA in the early 70s we picked cherries and plums from the trees in the park and along the Puget Sound Shore (at the bottom of some cliffs). Delicious.

    Great work!