Gardeners Reflect on Growing and Community During Covid-19 

Emma Hopkins, a recent Princeton University graduate in English and Urban Studies, has been conducting interviews and surveys this summer in a study on Pitney Meadows’ Community Garden during Covid-19. We will be posting the full text of her project on our website soon.

Over the course of this summer, I’ve heard from many of Pitney Meadows’ more than 100 community gardeners about the important role the garden has played in their lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Words like “retreat,” “release,” “escape,” and “safe space” came to mind when asked about their experiences. Getting into nature and out of the house in a socially distant way helped gardeners feel grounded, refreshed, and happy: “It was a little bit of paradise,” one first-time member told me. Another explained, “I don’t see people come in looking down who aren’t looking up when they leave [...] Nature has a stability in that its rhythm doesn’t change despite the storms that are going on in our lives or in our world.” These sentiments affirm what numerous academic studies have shown about how spending time outside, in nature, relieves stress (for example, Hunter et al, 2019).

I was struck by how consistently members mentioned the importance of local, healthy food sources in a time of intermittent food scarcity. One member confessed, “I came to value even more that the Pitney Meadows’ community is thinking about how they can contribute to a solution [to food scarcity], locally.” Others highlighted their gratitude for the ability to feed themselves and their families nutritiously from their gardens during this public health crisis.

Despite barriers to typical community events and gardener interactions, most members emphasized that they still felt a strong sense of community in the garden. While some struggled to connect, many felt a similar or greater connection to their fellow gardeners, compared with past years. “Between the isolation and the trauma and then a [food] scarcity emerging in a really tangible way, the shared values of the community became something that was so reassuring,” one seasoned gardener, a mother of three, expressed. “In the garden, the environment is one in which [...] you’re intimately aware that people are depending on you to take care of your place and you’re dependent on them to take care of their place,” another said, echoing a general sentiment of gratitude for this community’s commitment to each other—expressed in respect for protocols, kindnesses, and friendliness—and for the Pitney family’s vision to forever protect this farmland.

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