Last year, in the early days of the pandemic, I accidentally grew many more tomato seedlings than I could plant in my own garden. This zine tells the story of what I decided to do with those seedlings and what I learned in the process about my city, social media and the difficulties of concretely connecting, however minimally, with people you don’t know. I decided to publish it as a zine rather than in a more conventional venue because I wanted to do something that would honour the joy and the slowness of its creation.
If you want a copy, you can buy it from the Shop in the Garden at UBC Botanical Garden, or send me an email and I will be very pleased to mail it to you (for $7 or a trade), along with a small packet of seeds saved from the tomatoes in question.
Illustrations are provided by the talented and lovely Hannah Lou Myers. IG @hannahbread
The first stretch of the ride is off-road, a gravel trail through the woods, where the unseasonable heat that is forecast cannot yet be felt, the sun still hitting only the tops of the trees. I have not ridden on trails with this bike before now—a cargo bike with a long, low platform extending in front. I stop to rearrange the bag holding my water and snacks, which is wedged between the handlebars and the two bins of tomato seedlings strapped to the platform. Even on the bumpy trail, everything seems secure. I feel my shoulders and lungs loosen a little as I push off again. I had been nervous getting ready and left later than planned, but, here I am—in the forest, on a bike, my seedlings bobbling along in front of me, their leafy unlikeliness a kind of gift I have given myself, before the ride is even begun.
It all started with three packs of tomato seeds, dated 2017. When I planted them, it was early March, 2020. A global pandemic was on the horizon and I was worried about food security—what if only a few of the seeds were viable? I decided to plant them all; I’ll just give away what we can’t use, I thought. But when most of them germinated and I ended up with over sixty seedlings in mid-May, while things were still mostly locked down, giving them away turned out to be more complicated than I anticipated.
I made a post on the Facebook group for the building we live in, which is part of a new, energy-efficient development for staff and students on the Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia. Elsewhere, the pandemic was generating a substantially increased interest in food gardening—so much so that seed companies couldn’t keep up—but not among my neighbours.
Their Facebook posts were more commonly focused on noise complaints, becoming nasty as the weeks of self-isolation wore on, self-righteously quoting Dr. Bonnie Henry’s appeals to “be kind”, while admonishing people who let their doors bang, started laundry late or had children that cried early in the morning. I was disappointed that so few people were interested in my tomatoes; I also thought that being quiet was not the only way to be kind.
When I made a similar post to a Facebook group devoted to mutual aid during the pandemic, I thought I might get a better response, but I also worried that what I had to offer was not enough to be worth people’s time. I was wrong. I made a post offering twenty-five of my tomato seedlings, went to bed, and woke the next morning to twice that number of responses.
I have a south facing balcony in a high rise. I would love one please, thanks so much
I would love, love some please
(smiling woman with hand raised)
Would love some as well if you’ve got extra! (smiley face with hearts)
I’m so ready for this! Have been studying how to grow tomatoes for a month. I’d love some if still available (smiley face) Thanks (heart)
I would Love to have one please (hearts, praying hands, smiley face with gritted teeth)
Ooohhh! I would love a plant! I do have a sunny spot for it!
I would really love a few if you can spare them. I can share the crop with neighbours (heart). Two of each variety would be amazing…if possible ! I would be most happy to provide you with a homemade mask in return. (heart, praying hands)
As I started to type responses to the people at the top of the list, others continued to come in. Some were from single mothers, new immigrants. Some people wanted large quantities for community growing projects. Several referred to children. There was so much enthusiasm, so many expressions of future gratitude. On a second count, I discovered that there were actually only twenty seedlings ready to give away. Meanwhile, some people wanted to come and pick up plants that day. My excitement and anxiety rose in equal measure.
By the time I am riding through the forest a week later however, the anxiety is gone. My route is mapped out and there are no more decisions to make. I have some doubts about whether my legs can do it, but otherwise I am ready for this sunny day on the road—no homeschooling, no grouchy neighbours, no worrying about future employment. Completing these deliveries will require all my energy and attention and I am grateful for that….