July 9, 2020
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The silver lining among clouds Part V

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
May 22, 2020

This is part five in a multi-part article series The Community Voice is publishing, exploring some of the “silver linings” found in the dark cloud, that being the Covid-19 pandemic. In the last few weeks we explored the positive environmental impacts, how this pandemic has inspired people into giving back, how volunteerism has increased exponentially over the last several weeks, how many have been motivated to adopt or foster pets and the technological achievements and availability of teleconferencing and telemedicine. 

Another growing trend that has cropped up over the last couple months has been the planting of victory-style gardens. Nurseries, farm centers and seed companies throughout the county have reported struggling to keep vegetable starts and related gardening paraphernalia in stock as demand has soared. 

“There’s been a tremendous increase,” says Joe Imwalle, Owner of Imwalle Gardens in Santa Rosa.  “Probably 100 percent or more. They’re all planting vegetable gardens. We cannot even keep up with demand. Even the growers I buy from can’t keep up with demand. Usually this time of year we have nice tall plants but right now we can’t get them to grow as fast as people want them.”

There are likely several factors that have contributed to the rise in vegetable garden building, including saving money on food during a time of financial insecurity, being less dependent on what some believe to be a possibly volatile food system and the fact that having fresh vegetables at the ready can reduce the amount of times people need to go to the grocery store – especially important for the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. They can stock up on non-perishables, eat fresh from their garden and vastly minimize the amount of time they need to run to the store.

However, what has very likely been the dominant factor is simply the fact that with people laid-off, furloughed, or working from home, many have more time on their hands, and are perhaps finally getting to something they had considered doing but never had the time to – plant a vegetable garden. Some figure that, with less work, less activities, no outside entertainment available and even the parks closed, gardening is one activity they can do outdoors, in the sunshine and have it be productive to boot.

An added silver lining to this cloud has been that some plant sales, meant as fundraisers for worthy organizations, have been inundated with requests. One such organization is Harvest for the Hungry Garden, a Santa Rosa-based non-profit organization founded in 1987 to grow food for the hungry. Their annual end-of-April plant sale, which acts as their major fundraiser, had to be cancelled in its traditional form this year due to social distancing protocols. The sale usually earns approximately $15,000 and allows the organization to fulfill its mission of feeding low income residents of Sonoma County. So, the all-volunteer run charity quickly worked to sell their plants online, which were then handed to customers during specific time slots over the course of three days, versus their traditional one-day sale.

“We’ve had a phenomenal response to our sale,” says Elaine Walter, Sonoma County Master Gardener and volunteer and board member for the Harvest for the Hungry Garden. “There’s going to be 200 or 300 people that want to buy stuff from us that are not going to be able to. But people are so happy we’re doing this – the community response has been incredible.”

For people already purchasing plants for backyard vegetable gardens, buying from an organization such as Harvest for the Hungry or Petaluma Bounty, another local organization doing similar work, there is the added benefit of supporting the important effort of feeding the hungry – particularly during these trying times. 

“Everybody who works for Harvest for the Hungry is a volunteer and every penny we make goes to charity,” says Walter. “Part of it goes to us because we raise food and feed the hungry with it and part of it goes to other charities engaged in the same thing.”