Guest post by Jonna Huseman
What is your profession/involvement in the community?
I am the editor (and founder) of Washington Gardener magazine, all about local gardening in D.C. region. I also am the president of the Silver Spring Garden Club, which turns 80 this year and has a long history of community projects in Silver Spring. The latest club initiative is daffodil bulb and native shrub plantings at Jesup Blair Park, where the club met in its early days.
How has your life changed since the community has been impacted by Coronavirus?
I typically work from home writing, editing, gardening, etc., so many of my weekdays are in the same in that way. But the major change came abruptly in the cancellation of garden talks that I give two-three evenings a week in spring. That was a large part of my income. The other big change was that all my spring weekends are now free, because all the garden and flower festivals, plant sales, conferences, etc., are not happening. I never used to see my own garden on weekends until late June.
Then there are my magazine’s interns, who are both journalism majors at the University of Maryland. They went on spring break and we haven’t been able to see each other since. I am cobbling together assignments for them and we meet virtually by phone or online conferencing. They both had projects growing in our community garden plot (beets and radishes) and sadly, neither will be able to see them to their completion or enjoy their harvest.
Are you working more or less?
More. And differently. The cancellation of all the weekend garden events has me time to finally launch my GardenDC podcast that I had on the back burner for the last few years. I had intended it to be monthly or biweekly, but I have actually set a weekly pace of posting a new episode each Saturday, and I am now creating episode nine! That is one way to log and keep a sense of time passing during this odd pausing of our lives.
The next project I am about to complete is hosting a webinar series for local gardeners, which will launch shortly.
The other way I am working more is that I am fielding more interviews for mainstream media about food gardening. For the May issue of the Washingtonian magazine, I describe several ways beginner food gardeners can get growing this spring/summer and have produce on the table in a matter of weeks. I am also hearing from old friends and contacts that all of a sudden want to grow food. They are realizing now that we may be in it for the long haul and that gardening can be treated as a hobby, but really it is a survival skill.
I also put in place a seed giveaway program. Every winter, Washington Gardener Magazine hosts two big seed exchanges. The last Saturday of January was declared National Seed Swap Day (see SeedSwapDay.com) to promote seed swaps all across the country. At our seed exchanges this year, I had one very generous donation of thousands of seed packs from Landreth Seed Company. Even after the seed swap, I had many hundreds of seed packets left over. So, I decided to post a mail order request program and put out the word that anyone who wants the seeds should send me a SASE, and I sit on Sunday afternoons and fill those requests. Still, I have so many seeds that I thought how else can they get out to people who want to grow? I contacted the owners of Little Free Libraries in the neighborhood and, with their approval, started placing seeds in many of them.
I also am talking to both Prince George’s County and Montgomery County officials about getting seeds in the hands of those who pick up free school lunches and stop by food banks. We are working on the logistics of that now and how that may work.
What are you most afraid of?
That the annual events I so love, like the annual Historic Takoma House and Garden Tour and Garden Fair at the National Arboretum, will not come back due to future recurrences of virus cycles.
What are you most hopeful for?
That this “pause” that allowed so many the time to start gardening again or to garden for the first time—whether to beautify their yards or to grow foodsÆwill stick with them and they will make continue to make gardening a priority in their lives after we go back to “normal.”
What has been the most challenging part of this experience for you?
I am car-free, so I either walk to a destination or take transit. Since the stay-at-home order started, I have not taken a bus or Metro once. I have not been able to visit all the wonderful public gardens in our region and take photos and videos for our content. I am sourcing those as best I can from the public gardens’ staffs (those that are still open) and from what I can find within a few miles of my home.
Is there anything—even a tiny thing—you enjoy or like about sheltering in place?
I am cooking more. I am basically a microwave meal or grab fast food on-the-go person, especially in my typically busy spring. Now, I am calling my mom for her German comfort-food recipes like milk rice, dumplings, etc. My garden has never looked better and my two cats are loving all the extra attention. I also get to read more, which is the first thing that drops from my schedule when I am time-crunched.
What do you think society as a whole will learn from this experience?
That our priorities are screwed up. The people who grow our food, deliver it, stock it, prepare it, etc.—are all essential and are far underpaid and undervalued. That also goes for our postal workers, teachers, utility repairers, etc.—all those who create the support layer that makes the rest of our economy function. They have been taken for granted for so long, and now people are finally waking up to that.
How are you coping with stress/taking care of yourself?
I keep up my daily yoga practice and make sure to stick to a routine. I am a big believer in hand-written, daily to-do lists. The satisfaction of crossing off items and seeing what you’ve accomplished makes you feel like your efforts are real. It is too easy otherwise for the days to just bleed one into another. If I want to work out some anxiety, I go out and attack some weeds.
When future generations ask, what will you tell them about this time in your life?
That it impacted people disproportionately. Some immediately lost their jobs and suddenly found themselves with nothing to do. Others were busier than ever. That had this happened before social media and the internet, many more of us would have been jobless and floundering. That people are resilient and inventive. If you don’t have something, you can ask a neighbor or you can figure out how to do without it. That networks and connections matter greatly. Groups I am in, like the Silver Spring TimeBank, add a layer of support that I can fall back on, should I need it.
What would you like your friends and neighbors in Silver Spring/Montgomery County to know?
There is no such thing as a black thumb! A green thumb is just someone who pays attention to their plants. Even if you don’t grow anything yourself, go take a walk in the neighborhood and admire the work others put into their gardens.
Jonna Huseman is a family photographer who serves Silver Spring and beyond. During the COVID-19 crisis, she is using her free time to document the lives of friends and neighbors living through the pandemic.
Author’s note: Over the coming days and weeks I am documenting the lives of dozens of members of the Silver Spring and Takoma Park community. My goal is to talk to teachers and students, religious leaders, small business owners, frontline workers, parents, elected leaders, and private citizens. I want to learn about our collective hopes and dreams, our biggest challenges, and our greatest triumphs. Mostly, I want to build connection and create community at a time when we need it the most.