Mutual Aid and Plant Sharing

Yep, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the Republicans are continuing to dismantle the USPS and steal the election, and we’re in the middle of one of the biggest national protest movements ever in the US (and Hong Kong, and Belarus, and…), and a massive reckoning with racism. Also climate change, which means I’m in Day 2 of what is predicted to be the longest and hottest heatwave ever in the Bay Area, and also that we’re dealing with possible state-mandated rolling blackouts to deal with the energy surge, plus fire season!

What I’m saying is, I needed to find ways to help. Something that maybe could move the needle in a small way. I wanted to do something aligned with my skills, my values, and the knowledge that we desperately need a prolaterian revolution.

So I started growing plants in cardboard toilet paper rolls. I did the first round for my own garden, and kept saving the rolls for future plantings. It seemed to work well, and I was satisfied with the results. I continued to tend my own garden, literally and metaphorically.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been reading more about mutual aid. The work of Cooperation Jackson has been particularly inspiring, not to mention the many people and organizations putting together teach-ins and talks and podcasts about revolutionary topics. I have been absorbing information about the ways it can strengthen a community and make us more resilient, and more able to mobilize in the event of, say, a General Strike, or even a disaster like COVID-19.

But being a white woman who was raised comfortably middle-class, I still have this need to be told when it’s okay to do something. I have an expectation that there will be an existing effort or organization I can hitch my wagon to, so to speak. Because if it was worth doing, wouldn’t someone already be doing it? And how would I even go about starting my own Thing anyway? Is there some secret manual to organizing that I don’t know about?

It sounds silly, but it’s true! I think a lot of us are just waiting for someone else to do something or start something so we can comfortably follow. But I’ve watched so many mutual aid efforts—by individuals and organizations old and new—crop up in the last few months to fill in the yawning gaps left by our broken system. Real, actual help being given to people, whether it’s making sure elderly neighbors have groceries or protesters have food and supplies. Why couldn’t I help with the resources I have?

With all this percolating in my brain, and after my parter Cael mentioned people were looking for plant starters on Nextdoor, I realized I might actually have something worth sharing: I could give away vegetable starters. It would be a small thing, but a way to get to know other local edible gardeners and potentially introduce newbies to gardening as well. And by giving people a few vegetable starters, I could move my neighborhood a little closer to food sovereignty.

I started with six pea plants. Peas are surprisingly productive and hardy, and I found a variety that grows well in my usually very foggy neighborhood. (Thank you, Kitazawa Seed Co.!) It took them a little bit to get to a decent size, but once they were ready, I made a post on Nextdoor. They got snapped up immediately, and I got to give them out to three different neighbors.

Once they were all claimed, I updated the post and let people know I would be planting another round of starters soon—this time some peas, arugula, and bok choy. A couple people messaged me and let me know they were interested, so I planted some starters for them, plus some extra. Those starters are sitting on my windowsill now, and I water them first thing every morning.

Today, one of the people I gave a pea starter to met up with me so we could exchange seeds. They gave me lettuce seeds and got arugula and carrot seeds in return.

I don’t expect this will ever be a big thing, and I don’t really need it to be. It’s enough for now to build more connections in my community and know that a few more people will be able to eat fresh arugula and peas in a couple months. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to find other ways to reach out and thinking about other skills and knowledge I can offer. And, of course, reminding myself that if I see a need and have the resources to satisfy it, I don’t need to wait for someone else to step in first. I am capable of solving problems on my own, as we all are.

What I’ve Been Reading/Watching/Listening To Lately

A graphic with a photo of pea plants and the text: “Mutual Aid and Plant Sharing”