Finding the true meaning of Earth Day: I bought a plant

My new plants, American Cactus Jake Long and Linda Blade.
(By Nate Carsten)

April showers bring May flowers. I wanted to experience it fully, especially with Earth Day approaching. Any excuses for me to buy a plant.

April 22 is Earth Day. A day that’s more than earth-toned cake pops from Starbucks. Earth Day marks the beginning of the American environmental movement. Sorry, “Earthday.org tells us that in 1969 a Wisconsin senator sought educational awareness programs for the changing environment. He was inspired by student anti-war activism and sought to direct that energy towards concerns about the deteriorating environment in the United States. The day they chose is April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day. As Earth Day 2022 approaches, I thought do my part and buy a new life companion, a houseplant.

Prairie Gardens, being the closest to Parkland College, was my first choice. I had never been there before, and it is huge! To have such a quaint and unsuspecting, dare I say cute exterior, they overwhelm you with everything: patio furniture, antique candy, gnomes, trinkets, and in every color you could want. But I needed green, green for the Earth. Eventually I found the portal to my destination, Indoor Plants: Air Plants, Orchids and Succulents.

I had no idea what to look for, what was what, or how to take care of it. Naturally, I turned to a cool guy with an apron and a ponytail for help. Luckily he worked there and he referred me to the queen of nature, Linda. I broke down my setup: a smaller studio with three large east-facing windows, but with low overall light. With this information, she took me on a tour of different houseplants, with varying degrees of need. I settled on a cute fern, something fairly easy that I named after my new teacher.

When buying a new houseplant, it is important to consider the following: the amount of light available, the amount of water and other nutrients they need, and the time they you will need to rub shoulders with them; as my grandmother says, the more we talk to them, the more they grow. My teacher also referred me to education sources like “Crazy Plant Guy”, at crazyplantguy.com

As I left Prairie Gardens, I was excited, but I had to do more; I wanted another factory and discover the other sites of Champaign. While browsing through the university, I noticed a new storefront called “Gro-Up”, for indoor/outdoor gardening, aquaponics and organic products.

I parked across the street near the now decrepit Dallas and Co., RIP walked in and immediately understood the mission of growing cannabis. There was a friendly guy with the coolest tattoos named Nick at the front desk and he let me talk his stuff. He grew up in Decatur but moved to California 10 years ago. There he grew and sold cannabis to distributors for a mint. This all changed when the government taxed. He couldn’t sell to distributors anymore without paying a lot of money to get FDA approval, so he decided to go home.

I learned that it is quite easy to grow cannabis, but the main requirement is strong and constant light. Nick informed me that his lights start at great retail prices and he uses them with his seeds which he also sells. Naturally, the more lights there are, the more electricity there is, which translates to a higher bill. Nick says he usually spends around $600 a month on his electric bill, which is all my rent for my studio. But he reassured them it wasn’t much more than what he was previously paying for his house. Which also made me realize that I may never own it.

After being shocked but educated, I got one more stop, Plantify. Plantify is a store just off Neil St. at the start of downtown, near Sticky Rice and Bentley’s. As you step into your muscles, instantly relax from the aromatherapy and vibrations of Owner Long. Everything is so tidy that I didn’t want to disturb him. I had just had a sizable fern, so I was looking to downsize the ever-popular succulents. Long helped me with all the information I needed, but after looking at a specific cactus, I knew I had met my match: American Cactus, Jake Long, a reference to a Disney cartoon classic , if you didn’t know. Due to Jake’s size he didn’t need to be repotted which is free at Plantify but when I come back and upgrade I will have a field day choosing from several of their unique pots.

Two plants of mine, I would say I had a successful trip, and all in the name of Earth Day. Now you might be wondering if toying in a capitalist system by buying houseplants just for hobbies is being a responsible and sustainable citizen of the Earth. It’s the beginning of a journey of sorts. Buying plants alone won’t save the Earth anytime soon, but what we’re buying is an investment in education on how to be a vegetation steward. The next step is to learn how to care for and maintain the more difficult plants. After that, create an indoor garden. After that, contribute to a community garden. We must continue to evolve our education and our experience with mother nature, and that is the true nature of Earth Day.

When you can maintain a garden responsibly, you reduce carbon emissions more than you think. Drawdown.org is a website for Project Drawdown, one of the world’s leading resources for climate solutions, taken from their homepage. Two out of 100 solutions they announced are implementing a plant-based diet and eliminating food waste. When you begin your journey of growing plants, you are working towards these goals. When you garden responsibly, you create a plant-based diet for yourself and eliminate food waste since you grew it yourself.

To quote earthday.org, “In late 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other groundbreaking environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act Two years later, Congress passed the Clean Water Act A year later, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act and soon after the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Earth Day began only 52 years ago. It started as an educational journey, but there is still a long way to go.

We all start somewhere. At first we are novices, but we become masters in teaching others. This is the spirit of Earth Day. Special thanks to my Bio 104, Environmental Biology teacher, Michelle Dallmier, for being one of those Earth fighting educators, thank you.

About Betty Nelson

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