In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, mutual aid groups sprang up around the country to help desperate people meet their basic needs. At the same time, many people who were laid off or working from home discovered the joys of home gardening to the point that many garden centers ran out of seeds and seedlings long before planting time.
In New Haven, Connecticut, a group called Mutual Aid Growers, was born out of both of these local efforts. The group brings together people who are gardeners with people willing to do the hard work of preparing garden beds, with others who can offer land for gardening, seeds, seedlings and tools.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Giulia Gouge, a long-time community gardener who is one of the founding members of Mutual Aid Growers. Here she talks about how the group came together and the coronavirus-related work they’re now doing.
GIULIA GOUGE: The name of the project is the Mutual Aid Growers. It started very organically out of the fact I’m in two groups: One is the New Haven Mutual Aid group and also I’m in the New Haven Gardeners group and I think the conversation kind of converged among the two groups. And the question was asked, Do some of us gardeners want to get together and grow food for those who are food insecure, and specifically for those who may be immigrants or refugees and do not have the same access to food resources that many of us have, when in times like this food may be inaccessible?
There were 18 of us who had shown interest and a few weeks ago we all got together on a Zoom call to plan out how are we going to arrange this work that we want to do. So we talked what we had for resources and how best to utilize the resources, and we also asked the population what they would like to have and would need from the perspective of both harvest of food – so what types of food do they like to use and cook with – and also, many may not have access to land or some of the resources, but they want to grow their own food as well, like we all want to grow our own food in some way.
MELINDA TUHUS: So what came out of the Zoom meeting?
GIULIA GOUGE: We wanted to be sure that we were providing what was being asked for, and being helpful as opposed to start something new or different. So the things that are being asked for is food, the tools and the resources including land to be able to grow for those that are interested in growing food and then the distribution. The other thing that was decided is that we wanted to make sure that we aligned with groups that were doing the work, so to speak, and just be helpful.
MELINDA TUHUS: Giulia Gouge, I understand that you have gotten access to some existing gardens, like school gardens, and also to some land that hasn’t been turned into gardens yet, and it sounds like some gardeners will grow food for those who need it, but the food-insecure folks want to grow their own food as well, is that right?
GIULIA GOUGE: As we’re bringing more and more people on board we actually have just a simple Google form, and we have a Facebook group called Mutual Aid Growers, and when people enter that group we just ask them to introduce who they are, what they have available and what they need. So, for example, I have space in my yard, I’ve been engaging more and more of my land in order to grow more crops for food-insecure people. So I have both the land, I have the time, if anybody has seedlings that they started I’ll be happy to take them onto my property and grow them there. Other people have the land but they don’t have the time or the physical ability to really work the land in the way that it’s needed, so they’ll ask for somebody to help. Some people don’t have land, but they want to do the physical work so that’s where they’re engaged on other properties.
We’re doing matchmaking so to speak, that’s the term that we’ve been using. We are matching growers who don’t have land to people who do have land, you know, wherever there’s that gap, we’re trying to fill it. So everybody does what they’re able to do. We’ve gotten donations of seeds and seedlings – like a lot of seeds and seedlings – and we’ve repackaged them to redistribute to multiple people, and it’s based on what is being requested as well, so if people are requesting certain times of squash, certain types of tomatoes, certain kinds of herbs that are used in cooking, then that’s what we’re providing.
MELINDA TUHUS: Where do you get the donations?
GIULIA GOUGE: It’s from different organizations, it’s from gardening centers; from farms and seed companies and that sort of thing. So again, people are utilizing their individual resources in order to make asks.