I have had a different attitude about trying, now my 4th or 5th time, to garden and become more sustainable. This time, its just “do it, mistakes will happen, learn from them and go on.” Before, I have asked a lot of people for help, and gotten not so great results as far as people thinking I couldn’t take on whatever it was I had in mind to do, and discouraging me from trying. Now, I am just like, I am going to try and take it as far as I can.
But I still know that I need help and advice. And that is why I hired a consultant to help plan a backyard garden for me that would do the following:
- Grow as much food as possible on my small lot
- Do it in the most environmentally sustainable way
- While taking into consideration my HOA constraints
- And accommodating my disabilities
- And fit into a reasonable budget, or that I could phase in over time
I live on a small lot, I have a nutty HOA, I have some disability needs, and I have limits on how much I can implement. It would not be an easy job, I get that. So, I don’t know. I probably did not vet enough the person I hired, but he seemed willing and I thought that was enough.
I had to “fire” him recently. And it has been a weird, confusing, keep-me-up-at-night experience.
Although I did not set out with the idea of hiring a person with disabilities for this, we often try to employ disabled people when we can. It became clear to me early on (although I can’t be 100% sure) that this guy had some type of disability. So, I was determined to do everything I could to be accommodating.
That probably turned what could have been a wasted hour and $0, into wasted weeks and months and several hundred dollars.
Sometimes, one can be too accommodating in an effort to be inclusive and promote disabled people’s employment. In the end, the goods have to be there, the product made, the service provided.
In the initial hour I met with him in a free consultation on zoom, I noticed all kinds of red flags. He seemed lost or kind of stoned. He thought I lived on an acre instead of a tenth of an acre (after me telling him and showing pictures of my yard), he got my name wrong, he got guinea pigs mixed up with guinea hens multiple times, he seemed awkward and confused. But he did seem to know permaculture and seemed to be excited about it.
I am not one who is big on etiquette. I don’t get hung up on eye contact or firm handshakes or the proper Emily Post way to do things. I try to give people breaks when they misspeak or forget small details. I also thought I saw the possibility of neurodivergence or at the very least, a guy who gets along better with goats than people. Ok, fine. As long as he can deliver the goods, I don’t care.
But more red flags kept showing up. He didn’t seem to have a method for me to pay him. I asked about a credit card system or wiring him money via PayPal or Apple Pay. He gave me a PayPal account, but when I tried to pay him, his account didn’t exist. He finally gave me an address to send a check to, but to this day has not cashed my check. When asking him direct questions about things, he is evasive with answers. I started trying to ask just more yes/no questions. And asked about preferred ways to communicate. He always came back with generalities that everything is fine.
But then I started just getting kind of a creep vibe from him. Not like I was in any kind of danger or anything, but just that something more than not being a people person or maybe having some spectrum-y quirks that was kind of off. Now, as a blind person who has been judged in the past because my blindness makes other people uncomfortable, a thing that is more about them than me, I am sensitive to this enough to reflect on my uncomfortable-ness. Is this more about me than him? But I have a billion disabled and autistic and non-people person friends who I feel fine around and value. I don’t feel like I have any serious issues with people who don’t communicate traditionally. But still, this process was getting weird and totally not fun. But I had paid the money, and it was still like, weird or whatever, if he can delivery the goods, I’m fine.
He did not explain his process or the steps of working on the project. He came for an hour and walked around my house a bit, took some pictures, and then was like, “I’ll see you with a plan in about 4-6 weeks.”
Huh? Don’t we have to measure? Don’t we have to maybe talk over specifics? So, I thought I would be proactive and gave him a list of specifics and a crude but possibly helpful “floorpan” of my backyard. He thanked me and said he usually just had a survey he had people fill out, but did not give me a link to the survey. Later, suddenly another guy is coming to take measurements. Great, but hmmm? I feel like I was beating him to the punch of how to do this job or…something??? It was really confusing.
He often would “thank me for my vulnerability” when I had just outlined or reiterated what my priorities were. This seemed like some level of the professional version of pick-up artist creepster level negging to me. Telling you I need tactile borders around spaces to plant things is not a vulnerability, its just what I want. I felt like I was constantly bringing up my disabilities, which I never saw as the hugest deal of this project, but it just felt like we weren’t understanding each other.
I could go on with a bunch of other little things that by themselves were not a big deal, but collectively were getting harder and harder to take. But I was still mostly about, if he delivers the goods, its fine. I can deal with some level of social uncomfortableness.
I was actually pretty excited to see his plans for my backyard. I was hoping his plan would be what I needed to figure out what I could grow, where I needed to put different plants to grow best, what kind of unique things could be done to maximize space, etc. This was a time to make changes as well, but I expected that to be more about tweaking at this point. I had been waiting and waiting for this for months to make a bunch of decisions for the fall and winter.
But when he came to show us his work, I was a little flabbergasted. He had done this elaborate plan on my front and side yards that was completely unrealistic, while pretty much ignoring my backyard. I had told him that the front and side yards were HOA controlled, and I could only do small, stealth things there. I could perhaps change a bush from a decorative one to a berry producing one. I could maybe plant some dwarf trees or bushes on the side yard. But the backyard could be whatever I wanted it to be. He had hardscape sidewalks that were unrealistic to the space and the grade of my terraced front yard. He had it packed with plantings. If it would have worked, it would have been very beautiful, but it would have costed thousands upon thousands of dollars I don’t have and would not have been approved by the HOA because it would look so different from the rest of the neighborhood. We talked extensively about this issue. I even showed him some other yards and the small changes they were able to make. But even when I would ask him about items in his rendering, like what is this square or what is that, he couldn’t always tell me. Once he crossed a rectangle out as if it were a mistake. A few minutes later, he told me it was rain catchment. I asked him what other rectangles or items were and he could not tell me. When we got to the backyard, he had done a few things, but left a lot of open space. He didn’t include the One tree I asked specifically to keep. One of the things I don’t like about my yard now is the open space is just dusty and grows weeds. I asked him his plan for that and he didn’t seem to understand my question. And then he said it could be covered in clover. Clover is fine, but I was thinking, I waiting weeks and paid you $$ so you could tell me to put clover in my yard? I had already googled that.
My husband Nik was at this meeting, and had met the consultant for the first time. I know that with my partial vision, it is hard to know what I can see. But Nik is obviously totally blind, and there was no effort to include him in the presentation. I know it is something people have to get used to, and so I was trying to model how to do that by describing what I was seeing, which was tough because I was struggling a bit to see, too. But he did not pick up on this or try to verbally describe anything. So I know Nik was often lost. I felt bad because he gave up an afternoon to do this with me. At one point, still thinking that something was done to the back yard, he asked about how many raised beds could fit back there. The consultant started furiously drawing random squares everywhere. No scale, no intention. Then counted them and said 25. These 25 beds would have been like 1-2sqft. It was just awful.
So, he didn’t bring the goods. When he left, Nik was like, “I know I haven’t been a part of this process up to now, but what the hell was that? Was that what you expected?” No, no it wasn’t. But I should have known before this that it wasn’t going to go well.
Still, I took a few days to think about what to do. I took some wee hours of the morning when I couldn’t sleep to think about this as well. I so wanted this to go well, but 1) hardly anything we talked about was in the plan. He called it a brainstorming session. Wasn’t brainstorming what we had been doing 2 months ago? What? and 2) He made me feel really stupid and uncomfortable in every interaction. I did not want to feel this way anymore.
I have always admitted that I am a newbie at this. I have no doubt that this guy knows more than I do about soil and permaculture and compost and all of that. But I began to realize that this just wasn’t about a guy who is neurodiverse or who is not a people person. This is a guy who is arrogant, disorganized, passive aggressive, and doesn’t listen. One can be both disabled and a jerk. Despite his soft-spoken hippie ways, he was just a little TOO into his permaculture supremacy to really work well with a neophyte like me. I am not perfect, but I am trying to learn and do the right thing. There are people who have helped me for the general joy of helping someone to share in what they love, not lord their superiority over me. So, I was done.
But I suppose I have to watch this next time. In the disabled community, we try to support each other and not talk badly about someone. There are blind people I am not particularly fond of that if they are getting screwed, I am there for them. And if someone started speaking negatively about them, I would defend them. We watch out for each other (to an obvious extent. I am not defending blind murderers or rapists or anything like that, of course.) But we try to stick up for each other and be supportive.
But in this case, I think I took it too far when…if I would have read him as non disabled, I would have been finished with him after the first consult. This is a guy who did not have his shit together as far as being a business person, and a guy who has a level of arrogance that is quite uncomfortable to deal with. And he is probably disabled. In our work, we talk constantly about having high expectations for people. And I failed to do that in this case. We all spend a lifetime trying to examine our own prejudices, and I am still working on it obviously.
Still, I can’t get myself to write a non-anonymous bad review. I feel like he has gotten enough problems. And I guess I still have a hard time putting down a disabled person. If someone came to me and asked for a point blank reference about him, though, I will refer them to this post. I have to re-examine the limits to my loyalty.
So, that was a bit of a downer. But I am actually getting excited about taking over the planning of the garden myself. I know I am apt to make some mistakes, but I have already made a bunch of mistakes already and have learned so much from them. I have asked so many people to help me by leading me down the correct path in this over the years, when no one can figure out what I can do or can’t do and they have often made their own judgements about this. It is time I just learn by doing it myself. I can still ask for help for parts of it, but I have to be the one who leads and decides and fails and succeeds.
Gardening is a lot of information, but it isn’t rocket science. I can have high expectations for myself as well. Onward!