The Impulse to Garden in Hard Times Has Deep Roots
By Jennifer Atkinson
The coronavirus pandemic has set off a global gardening boom.
In the early days of lockdown, seed suppliers were depleted of inventory and reported "unprecedented" demand. Within the U.S., the trend has been compared to World War II victory gardening, when Americans grew food at home to support the war effort and feed their families.
The analogy is surely convenient. But it reveals only one piece in a much bigger story about why people garden in hard times. Americans have long turned to the soil in moments of upheaval to manage anxieties and imagine alternatives. My research has even led me to see gardening as a hidden landscape of desire for belonging and connection; for contact with nature; and for creative expression and improved health.
These motives have varied across time as growers respond to different historical circumstances. Today, what drives people to garden may not be the fear of hunger so much as hunger for physical contact, hope for nature's resilience and a longing to engage in work that is real.
Why Americans Garden
Prior to industrialization, most Americans were farmers and would have considered it odd to grow food as a leisure activity. But as they moved into cities and suburbs to take factory and office jobs, coming home to putter around in one's potato beds took on a kind of novelty. Gardening also appealed to nostalgia for the passing of traditional farm life.
For black Americans denied the opportunity to abandon subsistence work, Jim Crow-era gardening reflected a different set of desires.
In her essay "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens," Alice Walker recalls her mother tending an extravagant flower garden late at night after finishing brutal days of field labor. As a child, she wondered why anyone would voluntarily add one more task to such a difficult life. Later, Walker understood that gardening wasn't just another form of labor; it was an act of artistic expression.
Particularly for black women relegated to society's least desirable jobs, gardening offered the chance to reshape a small piece of the world in, as Walker put it, one's "personal image of Beauty."
This isn't to say that food is always a secondary factor in gardening passions. Convenience cuisine in the 1950s spawned its own generation of home-growers and back-to-the-land movements rebelling against a mid-century diet now infamous for Jell-O mold salads, canned-food casseroles, TV dinner and Tang.
For millennial-era growers, gardens have responded to longings for community and inclusion, especially among marginalized groups. Immigrants and inner-city residents lacking access to green space and fresh produce have taken up "guerrilla gardening" in vacant lots to revitalize their communities.
Gardening in the Age of Screens
In 2011, Ron Finley – a resident of South Central L.A. and self-identified "gangsta gardener" – was even threatened with arrest for installing vegetable plots along sidewalks.
Such appropriations of public space for community use are often seen as threats to existing power structures. Moreover, many people can't wrap their heads around the idea that someone would spend time cultivating a garden but not reap all of the rewards.
When reporters asked Finley if he were concerned that people would steal the food, he replied, "Hell no I ain't afraid they're gonna steal it, that's why it's on the street!"
Since the lockdown began, I've watched my sister Amanda Fritzsche transform her neglected backyard in Cayucos, California, into a blooming sanctuary. She has also gotten into Zoom workouts, binged on Netflix and joined online happy hours. But as the weeks stretch into months, she seems to have less energy for those virtual encounters.
Gardening, on the other hand, has overtaken her life. Plantings that started out back have expanded around the side of the house, and gardening sessions have stretched later into the evening, when she sometimes works by headlamp.
When I asked about her new obsession, Amanda kept returning to her unease with screen time. She told me that virtual sessions gave a momentary boost, but "there's always something missing … an empty feeling when you log off."
Many can probably sense what's missing. It's the physical presence of others, and the opportunity to use our bodies in ways that matter. It's the same longing for community that fills coffee shops with fellow gig workers and yoga studios with the heat of other bodies. It's the electricity of the crowd at a concert, the students whispering behind you in class.
And so if the novel coronavirus underscores an age of distancing, gardening arises as an antidote, extending the promise of contact with something real. My sister talked about this, too: how gardening appealed to the whole body, naming sensory pleasures like "hearing song birds and insects, tasting herbs, the smell of dirt and flowers, the warm sun and satisfying ache." While the virtual world may have its own ability to absorb attention, it is not immersive in the way gardening can be.
But this season, gardening is about more than physical activity for the sake of activity. Robin Wallace, owner of a photo production business in Camarillo, California, noted how the lockdown made her professional identity "suddenly irrelevant" as a "non-essential" worker. She went on to point out a key benefit of her garden: "The gardener is never without a purpose, a schedule, a mission."
As automation and better algorithms make more forms of work obsolete, that longing for purpose gains special urgency. Gardens are a reminder that there are limits to what can be done without physical presence. As with handshakes and hugs, one cannot garden through a screen.
You might pick up skills from YouTube, but, as gardening icon Russell Page once wrote, real expertise comes from directly handling plants, "getting to know their likes and dislikes by smell and touch. 'Book learning' gave me information," he explained, "but only physical contact can give any real … understanding of a live organism."
Filling the Void
Page's observation suggests a final reason why the coronavirus pandemic has ignited such a flurry of gardening. Our era is one of profound loneliness, and the proliferation of digital devices is only one of the causes. That emptiness also proceeds from the staggering retreat of nature, a process underway well before screen addiction. The people coming of age during the COVID-19 pandemic have already witnessed oceans die and glaciers disappear, watched Australia and the Amazon burn and mourned the astonishing loss of global wildlife.
Perhaps this explains why stories of nature's "comeback" are continually popping up alongside those gardening headlines. We cheer at images of animals reclaiming abandoned spaces and birds filling skies cleared of pollution. Some of these accounts are credible, others dubious. What matters, I think, is that they offer a glimpse of the world as we wish it could be: In a time of immense suffering and climate breakdown, we are desperate for signs of life's resilience.
My final conversation with Wallace offered a clue as to how this desire is also fueling today's gardening craze. She marveled at how life in the garden continues to "spring forth in our absence, or even because of our absence." Then she closed with an insight at once "liberating" and "humiliating" that touches on hopes reaching far beyond the nation's backyards: "No matter what we do, or how the conference call goes, the garden will carry on, with or without us."
Jennifer Atkinson is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Studies at University of Washington.
Disclosure statement: Jennifer Atkinson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- How to Stay Healthy at Home During the Coronavirus Lockdown ... ›
- Urban Farming Booms During Coronavirus Lockdowns - EcoWatch ›
- How to Manage Plant Pests and Diseases in Your Home Garden - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Scientists have discovered and diagnosed the first instance of malignant cancer in a dinosaur, and they did so by using modern medical techniques. They published their results earlier this week in The Lancet Oncology.
- New Blood Test Can Detect Cancer 4 Years Before Symptoms ... ›
- Skull of Smallest Known Dinosaur Found in 99-Million-Year Old Amber ›
- Antarctica Was a Rainforest During the Times of Dinosaurs, New ... ›
- Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur ... ›
- Help Save the World's Last Dinosaur - EcoWatch ›
By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
- Growing Up Near Nature Is Good for Your Adult Mental Health, New ... ›
- Doctors Prescribe Spending Time In Parks - EcoWatch ›
- This Is the Best Type of Green Space for Your Mental Health ... ›
New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she will attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that years of corruption and mismanagement warrant the dissolution of the activist organization, as CNN reported.
<div id="7eb49" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="83819841e380a7072ec66d3186c160e8"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291705003984510977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨RESPONSE to #Mauritius #OILSpill 🚨 “Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the #ClimateCrisis, as well as… https://t.co/PBLioZat6X</div> — Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeace Africa)<a href="https://twitter.com/Greenpeaceafric/statuses/1291705003984510977">1596801446.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"There is no guaranteed safe way to extract, transport and store fossil fuel products. This oil leak is not a twist of fate, but the choice of our twisted addiction to fossil fuels. We must react by accelerating our withdrawal from fossil fuels," Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager Happy Khambule said in a <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/press/11864/greenpeace-africa-response-to-mauritius-oil-spill/?utm_campaign=oil&utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=post&utm_content=single-image&utm_term=mauritius-oil-spill-reactive" target="_blank">statement Friday</a>. "Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis" target="_self">climate crisis</a>, as well as devastating oceans and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/biodiversity" target="_self">biodiversity</a> and threatening local livelihoods around some of Africa's most precious lagoons."</p>
- Which Country Will Be First to Go Completely Underwater Due to ... ›
- Overfishing Starts Here - EcoWatch ›
By Gianna-Carina Grün
While the first countries are easing their lockdowns, others are reporting more and more new cases every day. Data for the global picture shows the pandemic is far from over. DW has the latest statistics.
What's the Current Global Trend?<p>The goal for all countries is to make it to the blue part of the chart and stay there. Countries and territories in this section reported zero new cases both this week (past seven days) and the week before.</p><p>Currently, that is the case for 14 out of 209 countries and territories. </p>
How Has the Covid-19 Trend Evolved Over the Past Weeks?<p>The situation has improved slightly: 87 countries report more cases this week than last week. </p>
- Coronavirus Has Infected More Than 60,000 Worldwide, New ... ›
- Apple Fire Forces 7,800 to Seek Shelter in Coronavirus-Ravaged ... ›
- CDC Expands List of Those With Higher COVID-19 Risks - EcoWatch ›
- The South Isn't Prepared for a COVID-19 Surge - EcoWatch ›
- Until Teachers Feel Safe, Widespread In-Person K-12 Schooling ... ›
- Teens and Tweens Are Fastest COVID-19 Spreaders, New Study ... ›
- How Other Countries Reopened Schools During the Pandemic ... ›
- Young Children May Have Higher Coronavirus Levels, Raising ... ›
- COVID-19: What Experts Think About Reopening Schools - EcoWatch ›
Hurricane forecasters predict the 2020 hurricane season will be the second-most active in nearly four decades.