Some people love caring for their children or their pets, but others love caring for something that doesn’t walk or talk — plants.
The Harrisonburg Plant Exchange, a Facebook group created in the summer of 2020, is dedicated to connecting people with plants. Kim Hall, the group administrator, said the group was modeled after the Buy Nothing Project — a gift community for people to give away items in their communities at no cost.
“I wanted to kind of keep that spirit going — that spirit of community interaction rather than business transaction going,” Hall said. [Creating the group] was for me to just avoid that stuff, and partly, it was so that other people could have a space where anyone could access plants … regardless of ability to pay.”
There are two hyperlocal chapters of the Buy Nothing Project for Harrisonburg — Buy Nothing East and Buy Nothing West. Hall said there’s no buying allowed, just “neighbors gifting neighbors.” This model carries through into the Harrisonburg Plant Exchange group with one exception — people are allowed to trade.
“Sometimes people have really rare plants that they would like to trade for plants of similar value depending on the size or worth the plant, [and] they may want to trade it for a plant that's not in their collection,” Hall said.
Members can post in the group and attach a photo of the plant they’re wishing to trade or gift. When another group member is interested, they can exchange contact information and agree on a place to meet to swap their plants.
“People have always been very lovely, communicative, want to pick up things,” Hall said. “People are just very happy and generous when it comes to plants, I found.”
Earlier this year, a group member organized a swap event at Oakdale Park in Bridgewater, Virginia. A park pavilion was reserved, and members brought their plants to exchange them. Ben Bear, a member who attended the event, said there was a large turnout.
“There was, like, 20 picnic tables under one of those pavilions,” Bear said. “It was just a large amount of plants, and it was awesome. Every table had plants just all over it; there were probably 100 people there.”
Bear said he’s been interested in the plants and trees around him from a young age and knew more about them than his peers.
“I worked at some summer camps and … it was always fun to find out what plants you could eat,” Bear said. “There's nothing better than picking up what looks like a weed that the kids don't know and just popping it in your mouth.”
Bear loves plants so much that he works at a garden for his church in Bridgewater. And he has more plants than he can count — both indoor and outdoor.
“It's sort of like Pokémon,” Bear said. “You got to collect them all.”
He said his favorite aspect of the group is seeking what plants people have an excess of. If someone has an excess of a particular plant, he said it’s “fun to provide that for people.”
When asked what her favorite plant in her collection is, Hall couldn’t fathom picking one. Instead, she offered a list of easy-to-care-for plants for a beginner green thumb.
“You're asking me to pick between all of my 80 children,” Hall said.
Hall said there are plenty of species that can thrive in smaller spaces that may not have a lot of light — many college apartments have these conditions.
“[An] easy and lovely [plant] to start with would be pothos,” Hall said. “They're almost indestructible — they can handle low light, [and] they can handle bright indirect light; they grow like crazy and they are just beautiful.”
In addition to gifting and swapping, group members often seek advice on how to care for particular plants by posting pictures of struggling plants and asking questions — one of senior health science major Michelle Solomon’s favorite aspects about the group.
“I invest a lot of time and, quite frankly, a lot of money into my plants, and so you want to keep the plant from dying,” Solomon said. “Obviously you need help with that sometimes, so everybody's always assisting others. I'm really appreciative of that.”
Solomon decided to join the group because she was browsing Facebook Marketplace looking to purchase plants, and she coincidentally stumbled across the group and requested to join.
“They added me into the group, and I thought it was just the coolest group ever because people will give you plants for free,” Solomon said.
During the pandemic, some people found themselves with extra time on their hands. Solomon, who already had an interest in her outdoor garden, delved further into her hobby of caring for plants in the midst of the pandemic.
“Over quarantine, like everybody else, I wanted to pick up a hobby,” Solomon said. “So, I bought a few plants from the local garden center where I live, and my three plants turned into, like, 35.”
For Hall, plants are a source of peace. She said she created the group because plants have had a beneficial impact on her mental health.
“[Plants] just seem to make people happy, and it makes me happy when I'm able to share them with people,” Hall said. “In a way, I can call it looking out for myself.”
Contact Audrey Nakagawa at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.