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Planting A Sustainable Way Forward
The idea for The Giddings House—a collective operation recycling old and free materials into fruit, vegetable, flower, and herb planters in historic downtown Manassas, Virginia—began earlier this year with a convergence of factors. The first was the glut of wooden furniture on Craigslist Free. You literally had to pay someone to take away your old oak entertainment center. The second was the arrival of Amazon in the Northern Virginia region, signaling rows of new townhomes with postage-stamp yards unfit for growing gardens. And the third was Bill.
Bill showed up on our doorstep around mid-September, talkative but uncertain. He’d been laid off, he said, and his wife was both emotionally and physically abusive. He was a friend of one of our roommates and he was going through a rough spot. He’d just crash with her for a bit if that was okay. It turned out he was a former woodworker. When I wondered aloud whether old bookcases could be converted into indoor planters, Bill walked me through the logistics. He refinished a planter that he then sold to a city boutique for food and gas money. Within a month he was back on his feet and had a steady handyman job. But the idea had been set in motion: Why not provide part-time employment making upcycled planters so apartment-dwellers could grow their own healthy vegetables?
Currently The Giddings House is a completely bootstrapped, do-it-yourself operation. My bewildered cousins, roommates, and boyfriend are frequently roped into gardening or painting duties. We grow seeds from donated packets in a tiny five-foot-high greenhouse, heated by a rickety contraption attached to the mother of all extension cords. When a piece of free furniture is spotted on Craigslist, ring the alarms! We’re going after it! We do work with local organizations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to place candidates for low-cost rooms, but due to local zoning laws, we can only accept two persons at one time.
As for our aesthetic, we prefer somewhere between a vintage and a classic look. Broccoli grown in white lace bassinets; indoor cabinets painted charcoal and eggshell; ceramic pottery overflowing with creeping jenny; and rustic outdoor cedar planters sanded to a baby-smooth touch. The majority of winter “grow cabinets” are either hastily assembled black boxes meant for cannabis or $700 sleek hydroponic systems. We’d like to fall somewhere in the middle.
And our goals? I’d like The Giddings House to offer part-time employment to people like Bill who are temporarily down on their luck. As the saying goes, “a hand up, not a hand out.” I want to hire people in my community who have difficulty finding traditional employment due to physical or mental illness, criminal records, lack of fluency in English, homelessness, or a variety of other contributing factors. If you can keep a plant alive or load a bookcase in my battered SUV—or if you can learn to do the above—we’d be interested in considering you for a position.
An obscure punk-ska band called The Dead Pets had a song about 15 years ago called “Re-Program, Re-Train,” about changes in the UK workforce. It’s ever more relevant in the age of increasing automation and driverless cars, as thousands of jobs will be eliminated. But you know what a machine can’t do? Support local industry, reduce waste, and prevent homelessness while making you a nice indoor blueberry garden from a repurposed wardrobe.
Now isn’t that tasty?
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