Planting the Seeds for a Fruitful Tomorrow: A Conversation with Reedy Brooks
With the uncertainty of COVID-19 looming before us, many New Orleanians are exploring healing and productive ways to spend their time during the quarantine. And as the cool winter months make their departure down south, many are setting aside their laptops and tablets and picking up their rakes and shovels, some for the first time in their lives.
For many, gardening is not only a way to blow off steam, but it’s also their lifeline. The beauty of gardening and self-sustainability is that it packs a 1-2 punch, providing nourishment for both the mind and body.
If COVID-19 has brought about any good, it’s teaching us the flexibility and patience necessary to navigate life’s major changes. Whether you’re looking for a way to put food on the table, support your local community or nourish your soul during this difficult time, the rising popularity of gardening is proving that the tools for a stronger, healthier future were right under our feet all along.
Which is why, as Thrive continues to help the community thrive in the midst of COVID-19, we were eager to learn about how gardening can provide the tools for a stronger future. So we turned to Reedy Brooks, an alum of Thrive’s Launch NOLA Green Academy, and one of
the best New Orleanians to speak on the topic of gardening. Brooks’ skillset is extensive, covering an eclectic variety of topics from garden education and therapy to teaching communities how to grow their own fresh food.
Brooks has worked closely with Thrive NOLA to support and educate New Orleans communities about how they can achieve self-sufficiency through community gardening.
“My mission is to honor nature and the systems that we see thriving every day,” says Brooks. “Gardening is so expressive, and it teaches us that life is both delicate and resilient”.
A Deeply Rooted History
The popularity of gardening is nothing new to New Orleans. The city’s history is rooted in producing food crops from soybeans to sweet potatoes. Families who settled into New Orleans in its early days can attest to the importance that gardening and farming played in putting food on the table, for families and communities. The remnants of this rich history are alive today if you look closely. All over the city chickens roam free-range and community members sell fresh Okra and corn from the backs of pick-up trucks.
“Gardening is a deep tradition in New Orleans,” says Brooks. “People have always been growing their food as a way to supplement their incomes.”
Brooks isn’t surprised by the resurgence in gardening in light of COVID-19. As the community faces the growing challenges of unemployment and food insecurity, the desire to cultivate food gardens is growing too. Brooks describes gardening food crops as an investment; one that benefits individual families as well as community members who lack the critical resources they need in challenging times.
Nourishment for the Soul
Equally important are the emotional and psychological impacts that gardening can have on one’s mind. The mental health community has long regarded gardening as one of the best ways to practice mindfulness, patience, and gratitude. Working with plants provides a much-needed connection to other living things and instills a sense of responsibility which can help people cope with the isolation of being quarantined.
“Right now, gardening can really allow us to take a step back and ask ourselves, ‘what do I really have control over?’” says Brooks.
Recently, Brooks has been learning a lot about “Care Farming”, a European method of gardening that provides nature-based therapeutic experiences for individuals struggling with mental illness, unemployment, incarceration, and more. Much of her work reflects an underlying mission to create a more holistic relationship with nature in order to be our most thriving selves.
Working with nature can also instill a sense of accomplishment in individuals struggling with self-worth and motivation in addition to teaching us the tools to better cultivate meaningful relationships with our loved ones.
Investing in Your Own Future
The appeal of gardening is growing every day, but one of the biggest challenges for beginners is knowing where to start. Fortunately, Brooks has a few handy tips for those looking to put their green thumbs to the test.
“1. Start slow. When you first start gardening you might have the urge to start hard and fast, but that’s what we call ‘binge gardening’ and it’s not sustainable”
“2. Have a plan. When you start growing plants you’re creating relationships in which you’re the caretaker. Make sure that you’re able to put the time into caring for each of your plants’ specific needs.”
“3. Don’t do it alone. Gardening is an investment in your community, and you can’t do it yourself. Even if you’re in quarantine, you can create a network with your neighbors and friends to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. Maybe you have the seeds and someone else brings the soil. That’s a true example of community gardening.”
Brooks also points out that you don’t necessarily need to own land in order to garden. Urban Gardening is having its moment in the spotlight as vertical gardens and container gardens surge in popularity. Perfect for gardeners who rent homes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a landlord who says no to making your space a little greener.
Now, more than ever, the New Orleans community is seeing the benefits of gardening, not only as a means for self-sufficiency but as a healing and therapeutic activity that can allow us to, “take inventory of what we need to learn to have a resilient society,” as Brooks says.
From joining a community garden to help grow fresh produce for your neighborhood, to taking the time to design your own botanical landscape, the benefits of working with nature are abundant. As we take the important steps in recovering from COVID-19, gardening can be an incredibly cathartic way to cope with some of the uncertainty of today’s society by planting the seeds for a thriving tomorrow.