Last August, I had an afternoon commitment in Oakland, so I traveled early enough to make a stop at the Freedom Farmers Market, run by the nonprofit Farms to Grow. I came to know Farms to Grow, and co-founder Dr. Gail Meyers, through a food justice publication recognizing organizations with a commitment to equity. Farms to Grow supports the legacy of Black farmers. The Freedom Farmers Market brings “traditional legacy foods from Black farmers and other sustainable farmers into Oakland as [they] engage a community vibe of self-reliance, cooperative community development, and healthy sustainable environments for all” (Farms to Grow website).
I had a little extra time to spare, so I decided to check out a plant shop. A Google Map search yielded at least a dozen results (variety being one of the many benefits of the urban landscape). It came as no surprise to me that there were so many choices. According to the National Gardening Association’s annual survey, the houseplant industry grew by 50% in the last few years. You can imagine the impact the pandemic has had on the indoor (i.e., “stay at home”) gardening habit.
Though not typically an indoor plant kind of gal, I took to houseplants last year, not as a pandemic practice, but for the purpose of reengaging the Dirt Girls program(see Turning Over a New Leaf, January 2021). Though I did an extensive research to find local plant shipping services, I did not stumble upon Planterday until I wandered in on that August afternoon (in part, because they were still just a mobile plant shop until May 2021). Crossing the threshold of their brick-and-mortar location, all the known benefits of houseplants were palpable: the vibrant green color, the quality of the air, the industrial-hip vibe all signaled that this was a place I wanted to be. I picked out a few new purchases to add to my home office collection (a Monstera, a Caladium, and Peporomia) and made my way to the checkout.
Though I was masked and distracted by all the other plants I didn’t select, the shopkeeper looked me squarely in the eyes and exclaimed, “Carrie?” It was the most pleasant surprise to find one of my former students, Yumi Look, confidently managing the bustle of a plant shop on a Saturday afternoon. We did the three-minute catch up and I promised to follow up with her and her partner, Matt Day to hear more about their story. You can (and should) read about their roots here.
I didn’t need to look much further than Instagram to fall completely in love with this mission-driven business. Not only does Planterday offer a 10% discount for educators, health care workers, and mental health professionals, they are sponsors of Crisis Support Services of Alameda County. Given their heavy focus on mental health (and the rise in social-emotional learning in education), it was the perfect spot to host the last class of my fall cohort of science methods students. On December 7th, fifteen of us crammed into Planterday for a tour and talk. Matt and Yumi were so fantastic. They told their story earnestly, highlighting the stigma associated with mental health. They answered the students’ questions, about plants, teaching, and life in general, with vulnerability and grace. Most of all, they inspired me to keep growing–not just plants, but awareness of how our emotions influence how our brain learns.
Though I’ve always taught elementary preservice teachers with a focus on lowering their anxiety about science, I’ve doubled down since the pandemic and centered my teaching on the science of stress, self-care as a radical act of resistance, and trauma-informed practices. I firmly believe that science (especially horticulture) is the way through this mess we’re currently in (the pandemic mess, the climate mess–take your pick!). When I check on my plants, I cultivate a habit to check on myself. When I spend an afternoon repotting my Monstera, I become mindfully aware of slowing down. When I garden anywhere, anytime, I’m reminded of our human need to connect to the Earth.
As we near the end of another year’s journey around the sun, I’m grateful to be on the other side of the winter solstice, bound for light. Whatever 2022 brings, I will hold fast to that August afternoon when I was fulfilled by the purpose of two mission-driven businesses: Farms to Grow and Planterday.