Starting from Seed, Facing My Fears

We all have fears. Some are bigger than others, but they all pose some perceived threat to our safety, be it physical, emotional or even financial.  FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real, or so they say….

Spiders, heights, dancing in public, telling someone you love them, leaving a "for-sure" job for something that actually brings you joy.

I’ll tell you mine: starting seeds.

Whew.  That’s a weird one, I know. Like being afraid to wear corduroy or something else completely obscure and random.  This fear is extra strange for someone who has gardened for fun for over 30 years, done it professionally for over 15 and founded a non-profit based on....gardening.

Let me explain.  When you plant a garden, you have two options: go to the plant nursery and by what are called ‘starts’ or buy a pack of seeds and ‘start’ the plants in trays of soil yourself.  My entire life, I have gone to the nursery to purchase plants.  I could say that it’s for ease and that it’s because I am by nature an extremely impatient person (both are true).

But the fear is something much deeper (they usually are):  I’m afraid of failure.  I’m afraid that something I’ve put love and effort into might not work out.  Seeds can be very tricky.  You have to be patient (I hate that); they may or may not ever even pop up through the surface of the soil; once they do, they may not grow; and even if they do grow to the point of being able to transplant in the garden, they may die after you do.  I know it sounds like I’m way over analyzing this, but there’s a metaphor in here for me, so maybe there’s something in here for you, too.

When I buy ‘starts' at the nursery, I feel like I’m getting a ‘sure thing.’  It’s easy. It's predictable.  It’s extremely rare for me to kill a plant that I’ve purchased in a 6-pack from a nursery.  In fact, I’d say my success rate is at about 98%, which is pretty darn good.

But I’m missing out.  I’m missing out on rare, heirloom seeds that were grown 200+ years ago.  I’m missing out on trusting nature.  I’m missing out on practicing dealing with disappointment.  I’m missing out on the ‘win’ when it does work out.  And I’m missing out on this more subtle, ephemeral practice that dates back thousands of years and connects me to every person who ever has or ever will live on this planet: the simple act of putting a seed in the earth, watching new life take root and putting that life into your body to sustain your own.

My work as founder of The Edible Apartment “TEA” is completely unconventional.  Taking apartment lawns and turning them into community-style urban farms is, um, ‘different.’  Yet this is the most rewarding, ecstatic, playful, important, I’m-just-getting-started work I’ve ever done.  The mission of our non-profit, besides creating a community and creating a healthy food source, is, simply, to give the finger to traditional ways of doing things.  It’s about saying: “I know you do it that way, but there’s an alternative way to getting to the same destination, too.”

If I’m buying plants at a store whose seed has never touched my own hand, I feel I’m cheating, like I'm taking the easy way out.  Also, financially speaking, you can get 100 kale plants inside a $2 pack of seeds versus buying a six-pack of kale starters for $3.  So, since we’re also about frugality and DIY here at TEA, I want all of our practices to mirror our mission.

And even though all those reasons sound great, it’s also time, frankly, to get over my fear.  My fear of it not working out, my fear of putting effort and love into something that may or may not come to fruition, and my fear that, well, it might actually work out.  These fears sprout up in me both in and out of the garden, and when they do, I just keep putting one seed in the soil, on step under me at a time.

A few weeks ago I put out a call for seed donations to our non-profit and I am overwhelmed with what we've received so far.  A million thanks to each of you for your generosity, diversity of gifts and letters sharing your own stories and passion for starting and saving seeds. Please keep it coming!  I promise to keep starting the seeds, sharing the harvest and showing up fully for each step along the way, regardless of where the garden path leads me.

Happy Planting.

Jill Volat