SEEDS' Spring Plant Festival inspires renewal

Karimah Abdusamad, right, giving Malcolm Goff, left, some pointers on getting his garden started.

Malcolm Goff, left, self-proclaimed “novice gardener,” laughs with coworker Karimah Abdusamad, right, after realizing how intently he has been staring at the plants. (Staff photo by Jennifer Tietnguyen)

A tiny commentary about this little thing happening in this little city, where little lives matter in big ways to those little people.

I think there is a kind of energy in the world that is always ebbing, like a wave that washes onto a beach and clears the sand before drawing back, pausing, and then repeating.

The Spring Plant Festival, hosted by SEEDS on Saturday morning, was like one of these waves over my life. The day before, I found out my grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She is 85 years old and has been a chain-smoker since before I was born, so it was not a surprise, though that didn’t stop me from crying on my way to cover the festival.

I gave myself a pep talk in the car, telling myself to be normal. Engage. But I’ve always struggled with covering stories in an objective, reporting mindset. How do you dig your hands into the heart of something and then leave to write it down in a series of quotes, facts, etc.? It’s always been hard for me to follow the inverted pyramid model for writing a story.

So, instead, I tried to be human. I showed up at the Spring Plant Festival at 10 a.m. wearing my “Durm” shirt. Another person showed up five minutes later wearing the same shirt, and we laughed about it.

There was safety fencing all around the SEEDS headquarters, which is located at 706 Gilbert St. The place looked uprooted but established at the same time. In its 20 years of service, this year’s was the NGO’s first Spring Plant Festival.

I asked Hilary Nichols, the garden manager of three years, if the festival was a sign of things changing for SEEDS, but she said she wasn’t sure. She told me that, prior to the festival, SEEDS had been in the habit of selling their food plants on a more regular basis, which had been a lot of work to juggle with everything else that was going on. So last year, SEEDS began planning two bigger events: the Garden Hat Festival that happened last fall to “appreciate and recruit” volunteers and the Spring Plant Festival to welcome the season and sell food plants.

For a moment, I thought Hilary said “Garden Hap Festival,” as in, “what’s happening?” Hilary and Jody White, the development and outreach coordinator for SEEDS, laughed and said that would be a good idea. We talked about SEEDS “making food happen” and their intention behind the selection of plants for sale at the event.

There was a variety of food plants like cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, but also “beneficial insect-attractant plants” for the more seasoned gardeners like Karimah Abdusamad, a frequent SEEDS supporter who attended the event and said she was looking for plants that attract bees and butterflies. She was accompanied by her coworker, Malcolm Goff, who said he accidentally grew squash in compost last year and wanted to intentionally grow more food plants this year.

Hilary told me that some of the plants were grown from SEEDS’ garden, some came from nurseries and some were divided from plants in the community garden – “kinda like a pass along plant idea.”

Aisha Sanders, the president of the community garden, was there to show her support. She bought two plants for her own garden and led me around the grounds, pointing out spots of renovation and showing me the hothouse. She talked about the Durham Co-Op Market, which opened the same day.

I brought my grandmother for the last 20 minutes of the festival, hoping it would make her happy or that she would be impressed and buy a plant or two, but this wasn’t the case. My grandma, who grew up farming her whole life in Vietnam, didn’t find anything too extraordinary.

But maybe if I could have explained to her, in my broken Vietnamese, how much effort and care and volunteer work goes into SEEDS, or how much SEEDs does for the community in return, she would’ve felt the same wave of spring warmth I did.

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