In 2011, Gil Lopez, an idealist in Long Island City, NY, USA, along with a few friends, started a “guerrilla garden” on a set of abandoned train tracks. They did it without permission, and local authorities soon stepped in.
"When we got caught, we worked with the MTA to secure a lease and become a real-live non-profit," Gil says. That non-profit is the Smiling Hogshead Ranch, a volunteer-run community garden. Volunteers farm and maintain the grounds, and also run workshops to train others in composting, beekeeping, gardening, and more. These workshops, along with donations and tiered memberships, allow Smiling Hogshead Ranch to thrive.
"It has turned into an urban farm collective," Gil says, "all volunteer-run." Through the ranch and its associated projects, Gil hopes to connect the community to the earth. "I’ve identified a need in this city for people to be more grounded and connected to all the things that sustain us," he says, "the earth, the water, the sun, the soil, all the elements."
All of The Smiling Hogshead Ranch's activities go towards their goal of building a sustainable infrastructure and collaborative community, and for Gil it's been a meaningful endeavor from the beginning. “It has grown and morphed, and it’s also shaped me a lot in the time that I’ve been involved with it,” Gil says. “It’s a very giving project. There’s a lot of things that I receive from participating in that project. I’m very thankful.”