Black Lives Matter
Have you seen photos or videos of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the Mission District of San Francisco? Maybe you were there, or perhaps you were present at any one of the other innumerable protests across America, and even across the world. We ARE in a moment of political and social change, all the more intense for being so long in coming. And Juanita Bruton has been in the thick of it in San Francisco. She’s “witchwithplants” on Instagram. “It feels strange to try to promote my business during a time like this,” She writes, “but I love growing things and we are growing the future.” Juanita has just started her own small company as a garden designer and plant consultant in San Francisco.
I got a chance to work with Juanita for a number of years when she was a produce manager at the BiRite stores. When she announced she would be leaving BiRite it made me sad because she was easy to work with, cheerful, and a good communicator. I saw her departure as just another example of a disturbing trend in the City that has seen ever higher rent pushing out the people who aren’t pulling down high tech salaries. But when I learned that she’d moved on from BiRite to start her own plant business in the city it made me happy. Plant people are my tribe, and I’d been wondering when the plants in Juanita’s life were going to grow to such a number that their cumulative gravitational pull would draw her away from retail into a more botanical orbit.
When I saw Juanita’s Instagram post I was immediately reminded of an old bromide that runs something like this:
What’s the best time to plant a tree?
Thirty Years ago.
What’s the second best time to plant a tree?
A good business is like a tree. It is rooted in the community. Its canopy provides shelter for the people who care for and about it, and its fruits sustain them. Juanita started a business to create gardens for people, and to help people learn to care for the plants around them. If she had started her business a while ago it might already have grown strong enough to withstand all the cross currents that are buffeting the business environment these days; pandemic, epic homelessness, economic collapse, insane rents, police violence…there’s lots going on right now. “Having my hands in the dirt again recently and tending to my plants and this garden has been soothing to my soul,” she said in her post. I’m sure it has, just as I know that gardens sooth the souls of all the people who visit them. Gardening and farming are by their very nature hopeful, nurturing enterprises.
With the streets full of protest, the hospitals full of suffering people, and the Congress and White House crowded with lobbyists for billionaires hustling politicians for hire it would seem poor timing to start a little gardening business. But businesses succeed when they solve problems, and our country and cities have so many problems that gardens can solve. And when a garden can’t make a food desert turn green, at least it can offer the peaceful refuge we as citizens need for proper calm and meditation so that we can more thoughtfully cultivate solutions.
And it’s not like Juanita should wait to plant until the war on the Black Americans resolves into peace; we’re already over 400 years into this mess. But maybe- hopefully- we’ve come to a real turning point in our nation’s trajectory. With 40 million people unemployed, many of them outraged at the indifference, complacency, and incompetence that our government and business leaders have displayed, we might have reached the critical mass to force political change to happen. What’s the best time to take a stand against police violence and against the institutionalized war on the Black Community? The answer can only ever be “thirty years ago.” And what’s the second best day to stand tall against oppression? Today. Black Lives Matter.
Planting gardens is a more gentle approach to changing the world than organizing mass demonstrations, but it’s a profound activity too. It takes faith in the future to plan and plant and care for a garden. Social activism and growing a business are at odds with each other. True, we only have 24 hours in a day to fulfill our various dreams and obligations, but growing plants and helping others to grow plants can be a very healing and healthy form of activism. What if a little kid finds joy in a garden Juanita has created? What if they see her at work and all of a sudden they can see themselves for the first time with the potential of growing flowers or crops? Not all of a garden’s harvests are tangible to the tongue or eye, nor does every garden bear fruit promptly. Some of them take thirty years to develop, so it’s best to start now.
Maybe you would plant a garden and don’t know where to start; check in with Juanita @witchwithplants. Maybe you have a garden and you need advice; reach out to Juanita. bruton.juanita8@
© 2020 Essay by Andy Griffin.
Photo of Juanita Bruton, photographer unknown.