MANCHESTER, NH — In the words of author George Eliot, “It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.”
That’s exactly what All Hands In founders Michael Garcia and longtime friend, Zach Ziemba, are doing, one bag of trash at a time. The two are quickly becoming known around their neighborhood for their initiative to beautify local public spaces by picking up trash – and with community support and enough momentum, they hope to accomplish much more than that.
Ziemba, who came up with the idea, says he was inspired by guerrilla gardener Ron Finley’s “gangster gardening” TEDTalk. Finley is a South Central LA native who created an initiative of his own called LA Green Grounds to clean up his neighborhood. He describes it as a “pay-it-forward kind of group” composed of gardeners from all over who garden for free.
This guerrilla gardening group is the muse that inspired Ziemba and Garcia to start their own organization, with which they hope to follow in the footsteps of Finley. As he states in his TEDTalk, Finley just decided one day to “manufacture” his own reality – different from the one that he claims was manufactured for him with landscapes made up of fast food restaurants and processed food-wrapper trash mounds.
In a similar vein, Garcia says he and his right-hand man, Ziemba, had been talking about starting a community-based initiative for a couple of months before it became a reality. They knew they wanted to find a niche that would allow them to integrate social service and volunteer work along with the sustainable aspect of gardening into a community-oriented project.
According to its founders, the name of the organization comes from the idea that it takes one hand picking up one piece of trash at a time to make a difference; but a community of people working together can constitute a movement.
“Even the little things count,” says Garcia. “As cliché as it sounds, the smallest initiative of picking up one piece of trash at a time can lead to a bigger goal. Doing this has also made me more conscious of my own waste and consumption.”
When asked how they plan to spread the word, according to Ziemba, the simple yet radical act of picking up trash alone is a form of advertising:
“When I think of publicity, it’s almost a defiant act to walk around with a trash bag – it takes a lot of initiative to pick up trash. Me and Mike just walk around, and seeing us with trash bags, picking up multiple garbage bags full of trash per hour, asking us who we are – even people who don’t know us – gets people thinking: ‘These are people just cleaning up Manchester.’”
For now, their focus is solely on cleaning up public spaces before expanding the gardening aspect of the project.
With two hands working, an hour of time, and believing in #1pieceatatime this was collected and thrown away. I focused on sewer grates and only managed to hit three different streets, and only small portions of those streets. Gardening next spring will be here before we know it and it’s our job to make sure our streets are clean first so we can have healthy and delicious fruits, vegetables, and herbs!! #AllHandsIn #1pieceatatime #nosoundneeded
Or as Garcia puts it: “It gives us exposure, and the initiative we need for the city. Right now we are gathering the community together to clean up,” before attempting phase 2, which they hope will include sustainable citywide gardens.
The friendship between the two 2013 West High School grads began on the football field, and has continued through college at Plymouth State. Their fateful friendship-turned-community organizing partnership has them gathering groups around the city to clean up a number of public spaces – so far they’ve bagged up trash at Pine Island Park, 7-Eleven park, Second Street, Bass Island Park, a dog park on Second Street, and they will hit the Splash Pad at Rock Rimmon Park on Aug. 10.
Ultimately, Ziemba says, his dream is to bring their initiative into public schools.
“We need a shift as far as our education approach. Things like health and sustainability are crucial right now. Being able to show kids they can grow their own food, and that they can get joy from doing their own acts,” Ziemba says.
Garcia chimes in saying, “Why can’t we integrate a program into our school systems where we’re also learning to grow our own crops or vegetables, things of that nature? It not only teaches you to fend for yourself, but to learn other types of things as well.”
Ziemba responds saying, “There are schools that have gardening programs but I rarely see them in an inner-city setting. I think that’s the most crucial place to hit.”
Garcia says cleaning up and gardening could be another way to address the needs of those battling opioid addiction.
“We can even connect those people battling something like that into gardening and getting integrated back into society – that’s my thought, that even people who are still recovering, they can feel good about themselves,” Garcia says.
Garcia and Ziemba juggle their day jobs with the newly formed All Hands In project. Garcia works at PC Connection and Ziemba works at Empire Sheet Metal, while also doing odd jobs for his grandmother. He also coaches junior varsity and varsity football at Londonderry High School and Boys Lacrosse at Londonderry Middle School.
Despite being busy, they have both found that even an hour here or there picking up trash is not only good for the environment, but also good for the soul.
To anyone interested in helping out with the clean-up effort, Garcia says all are welcome — they will be at the West Side Dupont Splash Pad for their next clean-up on Aug. 10 at 6:30 p.m.
“Come on down, come help and lend a hand! We’re all hands in, here!” Garcia says, followed by a self-mocking chuckle and a shameless plug for their organization. “Even an hour a day. Come get your steps in! It doesn’t matter what social class you’re in, just get together and do it. Especially if you work in an office and don’t get out too much, it can be good for your health AND the community!”
In regards to what he’s learned so far, Ziemba says, “What I’m learning and always going back to and repeating in cycles is that everything takes time. You have to be patient, and take time. I’ve been picking up trash and not really trying to build off of this idea for a long time, but then things like this [interview] fall into place, and you just keep doing it.”
Ziemba says another trend that inspires him to pick up trash on a daily basis (including being on a conference call interview while simultaneously walking his dog) is “plogging,” which comes from the Swedish phrase “plocka upp” meaning to pick up. According to Zach, “it’s basically if they walk or jog past trash, they pick it up and they bring it with them along the way. And even as we’re talking my dog picked up some trash, which is another reason to clean up. Animals get into trash and get sick.”
As Garcia and Ziemba demonstrate, it’s easy to lend a hand for the benefit of your community, the environment, and the natural world we co-inhabit.
If you are interested in getting involved with All Hands In in any way feel free to send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also keep up with the project on their Instagram: @all.hands.in