Standing in the Los Sures Southside Community Garden in Williamsburg, actress and activist Diane Guerrero says she’s reminded of her childhood neighborhood.
“I grew up in a neighborhood much like Los Sures with little services,” says Guerrero, of “Orange is the New Black” fame. The actress was raised in Roxbury, Massachusetts, an area she describes as “underserved” and “constantly changing,” not unlike the Los Sures (or southside) of Williamsburg.
“There are still little pockets that are in much need,” she says. “Especially those pockets where the Latin community reside.”
Guerrero is spending her Thursday afternoon at a community garden on Hewes Street that primarily serves nearby affordable housing residents, helping to provide access to locally sourced produce. She joins community rehabilitation organization Southside United HDFC-Los Sures and representatives from the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation and sponsor vitafusion to plant 40 new fruit trees in the sustainable green space.
“A lot of people think of Williamsburg as a community that is very hip and has lots going on and while that’s true … there is a still low-income community, predominantly Latino, that is in great need,” explains Robin Sirota Bassin, director of social services for Southside United HDFC-Los Sures.
Approaching summer, the garden was in need of some love. A dozen garden beds were not yet primped for the season. The new trees — a variety of apple, pear, plum and cherry — will help provide thousands of free pieces of fruit for the area’s residents in the next six to 10 years, according to the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation’s program manager Lizzy Rayney.
The Brooklyn garden is one of five selected across the country as a part of the group’s initiative to plant 200,000 fruit trees in underserved areas by 2020. Trees have previously been planted by the group in Staten Island and the Bronx.
“I care about my community and I know that my [Latino] community has been one of the most underserved in the United States,” Guerrero, 32, says. “We continue to be attacked by our administration, we continue to see just little interest from our government to support and sustain communities like ours. It’s up to us, to the people who live [here], to help each other out.”
In a floral orange sundress, Guerrero slips on gardening gloves and gathers with nearly two dozen others to depot Honeycrisp apple trees, break up the squished pot roots and cover the ground in fresh soil and mulch. She shakes her hands together to shed the excess dirt of a job well done.
“When we plant trees and care about the environment, we’re caring about ourselves, the air we breathe and the food that we eat,” she says.
Produce from the trees will be available for locals to pick. Excess fruit will be harvested by Los Sures employees overseeing garden care and donated to food banks. A pantry is currently located inside the garden’s neighboring affordable housing complex.
“Oh my gosh. This would have meant everything” to me as a child, Guerrero says after posing for photos with 11-year-old Los Sures resident Elaine Magee. “It would have taught me a lot about self-love and how to keep myself healthy. I really hope the kids in this community have that. It’s important for their development and self-esteem so they can go be successful.”
Admittedly, she’s not a gardener. She says she’s learning from the experience and plans to take some planting tips back with her to her Los Angeles home.
Guerrero, currently based in Californiawhile filming her new DC Comics series “Doom Patrol,” lived in New York City for six years between 2011 and 2017. Four of those years were spent filming “Orange is the New Black.”
“Living in the city was awesome. I thought I was John Travolta from ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ I’d just walk around in my white bell bottoms,” she says.
Guerrero hasn’t appeared in “OITNB” since the fifth season, which aired in 2017, and won’t confirm whether or not we’ll see her character Maritza again in the upcoming seventh and final season.
“I just have immense gratitude being a part of that show,” she says. “It was my start, you know. It was something that opened the door for me and it’s sad to see it go, but I’ve made lifelong friendships and that’s always going to stay.”