New words have crept into our vocabulary since March: Self-isolation. Social distancing. Pandemic. No-touch transactions. 

Fear about the COVID-19 pandemic has captured our focus. We now obsess about hand-washing, mask-wearing and who touched something last. Even exceptionally healthy people like me are contemplating their wills. 

Sad and frightening as the times are, our changed lifestyles have also been an exercise in low-carbon living—traveling less, buying food in bulk, cooking and eating at home, sleeping more, learning to meditate and savoring this spring more than ever with daily (isolated) walks. 

For me, the convenience of takeout foods or eating at a restaurant has been replaced by the pleasure of cooking each meal at home and trying out new recipes.  

The virus has brought our globalized economy to its knees. This wake-up call has forced us all to rethink what is essential and what is a luxury—clothing and jewelry stores, wine-and-liquor stores, real estate activity, legal services, gambling, barbershops, nail salons and gyms, restaurants and bars. 

What’s essential is food and health. Our heroes today are healthcare professionals and grocery store workers, and behind them, the people who grow, process and bring food to our grocery shelves. 

Listening to the Earth during this time, the messages I hear are that we can no longer go on killing and forcing into extinction wild animals and plants without a violent response; that our own pollution of air, water and soil have brought us a plague; that global pandemics are symptoms of our own attacks on the Earth’s ecosystems. 

What can you and I do about this? While our other activities have slowed down, a reawakening of the importance of health and food could lead us into a space still accessible under a stay-at-home order: the garden. 

A garden offers us fresh air, fresher now due to fewer cars on the road. A garden offers us a reconnection with the Earth, which could reduce virus-related stress. A garden offers us time away from our screens and a way to step away from the constant discussions about this virus. A garden offers for a teaching and learning experience with our neighbors, allowing for the mandated six-foot distance, of course, plus produce to share. 

I recently made myself a jar of thyme-infused honey: great for soothing coughs, and also antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral. Both thyme and honey could come from a local garden. 

Don’t own land? You can grow medicinal herbs in a sunny windowsill; container plants on a balcony; raised beds on a patch of ground outside your front door; and, of course, herbs and vegetables on a community garden plot. You could also think longer term and grow fruit and nut trees at your place of worship, or on a vacant lot near you. 

Victory gardens galvanized our nation in the past during the World Wars. Now, people are organizing #CoopGardens across our nation.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc around the world, economies are tanking, supply chains are being disrupted, and shortages of critical supplies and food items are already commonplace,” the Cooperative Gardens Commission writes on its site, urging people to take this opportunity to grow as much food as they can in their homes.

“We hope people in cities will take over defunct community gardens and vacant lots and fill them with life once more. We hope people in towns and suburbs who normally work hard to keep their lawns green will instead rip up grass and plant vegetable gardens,” the Commission continues. “And we hope rural farmers who normally grow big fields of commodity crops—folks who know how to farm and have a great capacity to produce lots of food—will set aside at least a portion of their land and labor to grow fruits and vegetables for their neighbors and for those in need in nearby communities.”

In such an uncertain time, seeing seeds sprout and grow can bring a lot of hope. It’s time to return to the promised garden.

This was originally written for the May 2020 issue of GRID Magazine. See related post about Coop Gardens in the same issue — Gardeners and farmers share resources as the #CoopGardens movement gains steam.


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