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Growing food popular in uncertain times

The global pandemic and subsequent food insecurity has been the impetus for a resurgence of “Victory Gardens” made famous during WWII. As fears of barren grocery store aisles grip shoppers, people are again turning to their own backyards to bolster their food supply.

Tara McToldridge Weilbacher, admin for the Facebook group Petaluma Organic Home Gardeners, has seen a notable increase in people joining the group since the shelter in place orders. Petaluma’s Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has seen their sales more than double in the past month.

Petaluma resident Sarah Ferraro Cunningham and her husband have two young children. Her preschool-aged daughter helps with the gardening.

“This year, she is even more excited to plant our garden because our weekend plans have ground to a halt due to the COVID pandemic,” Cunningham said. “We have a CSA subscription to Coyote Family Farms, so I’m hoping that between our CSA box and our own garden we will be all set for summer produce.”

The Cunninghams are going to plant strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, bush and pole beans, squash, and peas.

“One of my favorite memories from last year is my daughter pulling beans, tomatoes, and peppers off of the plants and eating them right there,” Cunningham said. “It made me so happy to foster a love of fresh vegetables and growing our own food.”

Cunningham feels relaxed when she’s gardening.

“I’m always multitasking and thinking of a million things at once,” she said. “When I’m outside gardening, I can let go of all of that and be present.”

Experienced gardeners and newcomers alike are touting the calming effects of gardening in helping them face the challenges of the global pandemic.

“At the beginning of the lockdown I found I was having such anxiety that literally the only thing that helped distract me was going out in the garden and doing labor, digging up weeds and flattening the land,” said Lucy Fairweather.

This is her first garden in her new midtown Petaluma home.

“The plan was always to have a veggie garden here someday, but I think realistically it would not have been finished until next summer,” Fairweather said. “The area we wanted to put it in was lumpy, with lots of weeds, a huge old redwood stump, and another invasive tree. So it was a lot of work that was going to take time.”

Fairweather, who is self-employed and works from home doing online marketing, now has more time on her hands.

“It was very meditative, so I’d go out there probably every couple hours and do a bit of work here and there,” she said. “At first it was mostly just me out in the garden, but pretty soon my partner got involved, and now even our roommate has become a digger.”

They listen to music while they work and say hello to neighbors from a distance as they walk by, Fairweather said.

“I’m hoping to grow tomatoes, sugar snap peas, herbs, peppers, zucchini and pumpkins,” said Fairweather. “I think that for other people considering gardening, if you have any interest at all, definitely give it a try. You don’t even need a ton of space, as you can use a big pot, or you can even build raised beds on top of concrete.”

Food can also be grown indoors on your countertop in the form of sprouts.

“Sprouts are a great way to have fast growing nutrition,” said Erin Wrightsman of southwest Petaluma.

Wrightsman acknowledges that gardening year round is a privilege, noting a fondness for her winter garden, especially during the rain.

“We’ve enjoyed a great broccoli harvest, however we’re down to the last of the broccoli,” Wrightsman said. “Broccoli sprouts are one of the healthiest things for the body, period.”

Wrightsman is currently growing broccoli, a mix with radish, kale and broccoli, mung beans, and a salad mix that has broccoli, alfalfa and amaranth in it, she said.

“Anybody can grow plants,” Wrightsman said. “I used to kill plants. Sometimes I still do. It’s OK, keep trying.”

One potential benefit of the coronavirus shutdown is that more people are reconnecting with the natural world and are becoming self-reliant.

“Plants have so much to offer us and I hope that a silver lining in our current situation is more people connecting to the natural world, even in small ways,” Wrightsman said.

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