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In Times of Uncertainty, the Greenhouse Offers Hope

By England Avis, Phase II Fellow

A greenhouse is a wonderful tool for farmers and gardeners alike. Greenhouses extend the growing season, protect plants from a variety of pests, and provide the space to increase yields. It was in the greenhouse that I first fell in love with growing food, just a few years ago. It’s where I first laid my eyes on a fascinatingly funky beet seed, and where I first grew to understand the meditative practice of tenderly watering tiny seedlings, row after row. The greenhouse is where I first felt the ping of excitement when I noticed the very seed sown by my own two hands popping up from the soil as a new sprout. While temperatures outside are still frosty, the greenhouse is often the first place where plants begin growing, and in the late winter months, these first sprouts of green do wonders to the human psyche. This is where my passion for growing was ignited.

Fascinatingly funky beet seeds.

Lately, the greenhouse has become a space of peace for me amongst the chaos and climate of uncertainty of COVID-19. The overwhelming updates of bleak news from around the globe seem to temporarily fall behind as I enter the doors of the growing space. The warmth invites me in, capturing bright rays of morning sun, and my senses are enchanted as I step further inside. The sweet scent of cultivated soil overtakes my sense of smell, new spurts of growth in the onion flats quickly draw my eye, and I can’t help but run my fingers gently over the fresh fuzzy first true leaves on the baby brassica plants. The sound of water dripping through the trays and hitting the mossy rocks below wakes me up and reminds me that life is growing from the seeds I have planted. These seedlings will grow into plants that will fruit into food to nourish the health of students in my community.

Fuzzy baby Brassica plants.

It is my first year as a School Garden Coordinator, and with high hopes and intentions for students to learn about growing plants and food, I was devastated to hear that they won’t be returning to the garden at Bessie Weller Elementary until the fall. Having an educational garden, minus students to teach, raises a lot of questions. Should I grow less food since students won’t be around to help? Or, should I grow more food, because our community needs it? How can I translate hands-on garden experiences to a virtual platform that will engage students? Will students still feel excitement in the garden come fall when they haven’t helped sow the seeds of the plant that they see in bloom? Although these questions pose challenges, I see them as opportunities to find creative solutions to develop virtual learning tools, and to create a safe, accessible space to get locally grown produce into the hands of the community. As plans develop for summer garden lessons and a weekly pop-up farm stand, the seedlings in the greenhouse continue to grow and remind me why I love this work.

3rd grade students sowing seeds in a germination experiment.

To plant a seed is to envision a world of possibilities. The seeds I plant now will grow into tasty garden treats for families to enjoy throughout the summer. The seeds I plant now will blossom into a beautiful garden to welcome students back to school in the fall. There may be a lot we don’t know about this pandemic as of now, but one thing we do know is that a seed will grow if it’s given the right conditions. In times of uncertainty, the greenhouse offers hope; and it is here that I am planting the seeds for a future I believe in.

As Audrey Hepburn famously said, “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

Tending to seedlings in the greenhouse.

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