Garden Life in General

Disabled Gardening in the Time of Corona

My goodness, this past week has been difficult and confusing in my professional life. I made some mistakes, others made some mistakes, and things just did not work out in a satisfying way for me. Its no great harm done, but I found myself a bit anxiety-ridden, depressed and stressed out. Its probably time to take a social media/general media break.

I, like many people, have some stresses and challenges with the quarantine. I am a high risk person. I have extended family members who are even more at risk than me. I have had difficulties with grocery and supplies as a nondriver. But I am also very fortunate. We DO have enough supplies. People HAVE offered help. We ARE still working and earning money. This time has not been all that particularly hard for us. We are privileged.

But I think I got a little just a little burnt out of the disabled community this past week.I’m probably not being 100% fair here and this is more about me being in a grouchy mood more than anything. Its not that many of their complaints aren’t perfectly legit and they do need a voice. I have some of the same gripes. But JUST SO MUCH COMPLAINING about themselves. Just so much me, me, me and my problems and no perspective on other people’s or how we might work together to solve problems. No, it isn’t all disabled people, I just had an earful this week and it just drove me over the edge. And then I had media requests that is a whole ‘nother complicated component to that about what is a sad, sob story problem inherent to the poor Deafblindness and what is a systemic societal problem that really could mitigate a lot of those sob stories. But people want a human face with a pitiful problem. And not solutions. But I am digressing, like, a lot…

I am slightly envious of all the people who can just get in their cars and go off and hike somewhere pretty. My only refuge has been gardening lately. It is such a funny time to have started this project. I started it because I am interested in learning what a sustainable world looks like. I also get here that there are systemic issues around unsustainability that are largely (beyond voting and advocating) beyond my control. But what IS in my control. What can the average person do to be sustainable? And I found through a lot of research what it may possibly look like. It looks like growing and sourcing food locally and sustainably. It looks like lowering your carbon footprint by decreasing energy consumption and using alternative energy. I am just a neophyte at this, so I am still processing what it may look like for the average person and what the responsibilities are. I also learned that to do any of this, I needed a whole set of skills I don’t have and many, many others also don’t have.

This is not my first try at gardening. But this is my first try doing it alone, without direct help (although I am getting lots of help through books and articles and resources such as those.) Before, I think I fell into a common disability trap. I felt like I was so incapable that I needed someone else to supervise me and show me the way and preapprove everything I did. But I struggled to find willing help.

I once asked to sort of apprentice any gardener at a church community garden. I just wanted to be their slave and I would do whatever they said in their garden and I would ask questions and learn as I went. I lived close to the church, within walking distance, so I thought I might help by being available to water and check on things. But I got radio silence. I had been attending this church for years, volunteering, attending, participating as well as I could. And although no one was overtly mean to me, I was not included. I went there for ten years and with a few notable exceptions, no one said more than “hi” to me. They did not allow me to become a member (by just passively not following through with steps on multiple occasions till I gave up.) They got incredibly defensive when I asked for basic accommodations (i.e. the sermon emailed to me beforehand so I could follow along.) It wasn’t that they were any different than any other church in regards to people with disabilities. Churches are not covered by the ADA and most churches do not do a lot to provide accommodations to the disabled. They were just REALLY, REALLY defensive when I tried to build awareness and plan for more inclusiveness. I worked on a national project to make the churches of this denomination more inclusive, and I saw the same reaction everywhere. This church completely ruined me for thinking that education is what people need. I had thought, “they just don’t know better and if we can just kindly educate them, they will come around.” I started to see that education does help with some people, but for the majority, education and awareness campaigns aren’t enough. They need to be pushed and have actual consequences to coerce them to be inclusive. Otherwise, they just will not care enough to do it themselves, and will become resentful when asked.

So, asking to be a garden slave became just another one of those things. I thought I could be useful. I felt more like a pariah. After some gentle nudging on my part, I was finally offered “a row.” They gave me my own row. To do what with, I had no idea. It was maybe 4 feet long and stuck on the end of another person’s plot. It was impossible for me to really figure out where mine started and hers started. And since it was made so clear to me that I wasn’t to touch anyone else’s plot, thus I muck it up, I became very self conscious to do anything with it. I had wanted someone to explain to me, by me feeling the leaves and them instructing me, what was a weed, and what was a thing I just planted. How far apart to plant, what to plant when. I  got told to stay in my row and just stick some seeds in and see what happened. I felt like I was 5 years old and not ready to learn real gardening with the grownups. I even got told I could only plant flowers.

I shouldn’t have let that get to me. But I did. I think I visited the garden once or twice, then abandon “the row.” Which, I am sure, earned me a bunch of “I told you she couldn’t garden” from the church garden nazis. It was not the best way to handle it. But I was so exhausted with the whole church thing, I didn’t care anymore and just let it make me feel crappy. I was so glad that the city community garden plot application process was just about completely anonymous. They did not have to know I was disabled, just that I lived in the district. I only told them after they already offered me a plot. They did not have a chance to tell me I couldn’t do it. I should have started with the community plot and skipped the church one. Even though I was waitlisted for a couple of years, this was worth it.

Sometimes the internet is the great equalizer. Jess and Miah from Roots and Refuge tell me almost weekly on their vlog to just plant things. Just start. You will screw up. It’s ok. Just try different things. I get to see Ben and Meg from the Hollar Homestead put the insulation in their fixer upper wrong and come back and just fix it with only slight embarrassment and repercussions. They experiment and then they try again. No one is calling the authorities on them and telling them they can’t do it. No one at Lowes is saying they can’t buy stuff for their garden without a non disabled to help them. I forget how easy it is for ablebodied people to just try things without anyone’s (major) judgement and criticism. They encourage me to try things, too. They don’t know they are talking to a Deafblind gardening dummy who flunked church plot gardening slavery. They are talking to everyone. But, sometimes, disabled people just need to block out all that noise and think of themselves like they count as everyone, too. I deserve to try and fail just as much as anyone else. I deserve multiple tries. I deserve to look like an idiot and do it all wrong until I figure out how to do it right.

A lot of times, I see this thing that happens with disabled people. If we get a shot at all to learn something new, we get ousted at the first mistake when everyone else gets a learning curve. For example, one thing I see over and over is mom’s of blind teenage girls who won’t let them shave, wear make-up or do their hair when all the other girls are. Shaving and hair is entirely tactile and can easily be done by a blind person. Make up can, too, but it is more visual and takes a little more work and practice. Parents forget that blind people don’t start at the same place necessarily as sighted children. Sighted kids have probably seen their mom working a curling iron for years. Unless intentionally shown, blind people may have not. So, they aren’t going to start in the same place, but they can end up in the same place if given just a chance. They may start by not even knowing where to hold the curling iron or where the hot parts are. Or how to move it through their hair. But with 1-2 extra lessons, they can catch up. But I see moms who have a bad first experience with their child and a curling iron and say they will never do it again. So then you have a bunch of blind adults with “blind hair” (a short, plain haircut.) All teenage girls screw up their makeup. Blind kids will need more practice and time to get it right. But they aren’t given the opportunity to fail, so they never get the opportunity to succeed.

I know I am digressing a lot here.

So, how this relates to gardening is that we are often not given the same opportunities as others to try things. And it is sad in this time because getting groceries when you can’t drive is tough when all of our usual methods are being taken by sighted drivers who have never gotten delivery before. And although I cannot in the least claim success at gardening yet, I am seeing how useful of a skill this could be for many disabled people who are not being given these opportunities. Or maybe like I used to be, think that it is just not something disabled people can do at all. But I think lots of people could. And then instead of relying on people to get groceries or getting food boxes, we could contribute our own food and even share with others. I know that some people’s disabilities make the physical aspects of gardening difficult. But I have also seen many wheelchair gardeners and certainly deaf and blind gardeners and gardeners with developmental disabilities and many others. It may not totally replace needed food, but it could certainly add to the stores.

I also realize that this can’t necessarily help things like, NOW. But we need to not only take care of immediate needs, but look at long-term solutions. I am not a fan of what I have been experiencing the last several weeks, which is constantly trying to keep the stream of food running through my house without a car and without grocery clerk help and without many options. I have kind of an MO for just checking out and doing shit myself when it isn’t working out. That has both good and bad points, I am sure. I got sick of the problems with public schools so I started homeschooling. We got sick of employment discrimination so we started our own business. I guess now I am getting sick of my version of food insecurity so I am going to figure out how to take care of at least some of it myself. I know this isn’t everyone method of handling things, and I get that. But it is mine and what makes me feel better. And a lot of times has worked out quite well for me.


A radish start, finding its way through the bark mulch.


Of course, I will not check out of the food system this year or probably never,  so I have been learning new strategies for getting food as well. I feel like I have been learning every day how to handle the lack of delivery options and I keep adapting and keep adapting. By the end of this, I will have so many new methods of getting supplies. Plus, I feel like I will have learned a lot about gardening and will be set to produce even more food next year.

There is now stuff planted in the community plot. I am more confident that it will peek through the leafy mulch I used down there. I don’t feel ready for a larger ground plot this year, but maybe in the future?

I have already failed in gardening. But then I just start over. My tomatoes and peppers went nowhere, even when I had them in the house. I am learning about the special warm climate and humidity needs of these plants. I will try again. And maybe fail again. I replanted the lettuce because nothing happened there and Nik (who had sowed the seeds) informed me that he really could not feel if the seed went in the hole or not because they were so small and sticky. So when we replanted, we did use the planting square and the spoon and funnel. We’ll see if those take. If they don’t, well, I might resort to just throwing the whole envelop around in the dirt. And I am very, very confused about mulch. It will get sorted out. But I have little baby onions starting. And radishes. And I have planted down in the community garden, now. I am ridiculously happy about this.

Spinach leaves peeping through.

This post has many meanders because I have been in a bad, sad, confused mood. But my point is, I guess, if there is one….that we as disabled people need to try more things for ourselves and find more solutions for ourselves. Even if we fail several times. It doesn’t mean that we can’t still advocate for the systemic barriers in our way. I am not discounting these very real challenges. But also, I’m trying to focus on what I can do and learn and take care of myself. I am feeling sucked dry by all the complaining of how things are so awful for us and am trying to replenish with what I know is good and capably in our hands.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s