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Lessons learned about gardening during the challenges of 2020

“I could tell you my adventures — beginning from this morning. But it’s no use to go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

— Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” 1865

In Chapter 10 of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale, Alice tells the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon that her escapades in Wonderland have changed her, but when she wakes up from her nap, she tells her sister it was all just a “wonderful dream” before running off to play.

It’s her older sister who stays behind on the grassy bank, contemplating what the dream might mean and the lessons that might be learned.

I have felt like Alice in Wonderland during much of 2020. Such strange events have taken place that it’s been hard to wrap my head around all of the changes. I’ve frequently found myself in a state of perplexity, if not unequivocal distress.

However, now that 2020 is ending (none too soon), I’m feeling more like Alice’s big sister, wondering what all of this might mean, and what I have learned from this year’s madness.

For one thing, I’ve learned that when the world gets crazy, people get gardening. I mean that in the sense people do more gardening, and in the sense they recognize how powerful gardening is to regain a sense of self-efficacy during uncertain times.

The warm, sunny weather this spring certainly made home quarantines more enjoyable, which prompted millions of Americans — many for the first time — to grow plants in their garden or on their patio to relieve some stress and to feel connected to nature while they socially distanced.

Many parents (and grandparents) with extra time at home with their children took the opportunity to grow gardens with them this year. I’m sure the experience planted seeds of inspiration for a new generation of gardeners who will remember how good it felt to spend time with their family growing their own food.

Pandemic-inspired plots are being called “victory gardens” after the home gardens that were grown during World War I and World War II to supplement the shortage of fresh produce. There certainly have been spot shortages of fresh fruits and vegetables in grocery stores this year as transport and distribution services have been disrupted. It’s reassuring to see fresh food growing in our garden when the selection dwindles at the store.

However, an unfortunate result of the call for growing vegetable “victory gardens” during the pandemic was that it usurped the name and redirected our focus away from “victory gardens” that are intended to address climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil. (I wrote about climate change victory gardens Jan. 12.) In 2020, the global health crisis overshadowed our attention to the global environmental crisis, although some people still cling to the belief that both crises are a hoax.

This year has reaffirmed for me the importance of community-supported agriculture programs and farmers markets. CSA participation ensures fresh, seasonal produce for consumers, reduces energy and transport costs, and supports local farmers. To learn more, see www.localharvest.org/.

Something else I learned from 2020 is that food insecurity can happen to anyone. According to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S., an estimated 17 million more Americans lost their food security this year due to the pandemic. This brings the total to more than 54 million people, including 18 million children, now facing food insecurity in our country.

Locally, thousands of people in Phoenix and Talent lost their homes in September’s Almeda fire, further increasing the number of residents struggling with food insecurity. Community food banks and hunger relief programs have worked diligently to keep up with the increasing needs, asking local gardeners for their assistance by planting a row of vegetables for the hungry. There’s never been a better time to reach out to people in need through our gardens. To participate in 2021, contact ACCESS Food Share at www.accesshelps.org.

Speaking of reaching out, another lesson I’ve learned this year is that gardeners want to stay in contact with each other, and they will find resourceful ways to do so. The local chapter of Soroptimists brought their annual garden tour online during 2020, and several gardening groups held virtual classes and workshops. Many plant sales were canceled this year, but others found a way for shoppers to order online and then pick up their orders without leaving their car.

I received more gardening questions from readers during 2020 than in the previous five years I’ve written the column, which indicates that more people are gardening and/or want to learn more about gardening. Next year, I think having a variety of learning and purchasing options will continue to be important for new and seasoned gardeners.

In light of the events of 2020, Alice was right when she said, “It’s no use to go back to yesterday.” Let’s use the lessons we learned this year to make our gardens, our lives and the lives of those in need better in 2021.

I will be off for the next three weeks, but I’ll be back Jan. 3, with a list of recommended garden-related books. Until then, happy holidays and happy gardening (even if the gardening is in your mind).

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, check out her podcasts at https://mailtribune.com/podcasts/the-literary-gardener and her website at www.literarygardener.com.