For Black History Month, we are highlighting the people and projects you should know about all year long.
The houseplant trend has seen a resurgence in the past few years and it's been spurred on, in part, by online communities. The hobby seemed to especially take off during the COVID stay-at-home orders in 2020, which is when Ashley Nussman-Berry founded the Facebook group Black Planters.
"In 2020, along with the outbreak of COVID, there was a lot of social, civil, and racial unrest, and a lot of Facebook planter groups didn't allow us to post anything related to what was happening in the world or about Black Lives Matter," the founder tells Hunker. "I just wanted to make a space where Black people could come and share their love of plants, and not feel we're being censored and silenced."
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Nussman-Berry has always grown up around plants. Her great-grandmother kept houseplants, her mom collected orchids and attended weekly orchid meetings, and her dad was a gardener as well. Though keeping houseplants came naturally to Nussman-Berry, the houseplant trend has found an audience with today's younger generation for a few possible reasons.
Today, planters are drawn to the hobby because virtual communities have cropped up, offering support and inspiration. Gardening also has several mental health benefits that younger people are embracing, though the activity has long been viewed as a way to relax, ease stress, and improve focus. And for people not ready to become parents or homeowners, gardening offers a way to express your nurturing side without the heavy lift or commitment.
"For me, planting is super calming," says Nussman-Berry, who grows her own fruits and vegetables, and has a home filled with cacti, anthuriums, philodendrons, and more. "For others, it gives them something living to look after and nurture without a huge commitment. It just feels good to watch something grow and flourish in your own space. You can come home after a long day and notice a bud opening or a new leaf sprouting and it can bring you a lot of joy."
However, though there's a renewed interest in planting among young Black people, Nussman-Berry explains that planting and gardening have long been a part of African American culture. "Gardening has played a huge part in the history of most Black families, especially those like mine who were enslaved," she says. "It's powerful to be able to reclaim that and turn it into something for ourselves and something positive."
"Gardening has played a huge part in the history of most Black families, especially those like mine who were enslaved. It's powerful to be able to reclaim that and turn it into something for ourselves and something positive." — Ashley Nussman-Berry
The Black Planters group currently has over 40,000 members and three volunteer moderators. While impressive, Nussman-Berry says that running a group this large comes with many challenges. "It's hard because we want to keep Black Planters a safe space where we can all joke and have fun, but we're constantly having to check comments to make sure that people are still being respectful while staying on top of disagreements. With this many people, there naturally tends to be a lot of disagreements," she says.
Nussman-Berry relies on intake questions and Facebook profile avatars to vet potential members, but has received pushback for keeping the group a "Black-only" space. "It's hard being a Black-only group because a lot of people don't see the need for Black people to have these spaces," she explains. "Going through the new members, I've been called racist and a whole bunch of other names because people aren't happy that they can't be in the group if they're not Black."
Though there are detractors, Nussman-Berry's original mission to create a safe space for Black planters is her top priority. While there are challenges, the group has also experienced its share of unique success both online and in real life.
"There have been a lot of friendships that have come from this group, which I love," she says with pride. "We've also had quite a few love stories. We had this couple who met after a woman posted about her dying plant. A bunch of people gave her advice, but apparently, one person stood out to her, and they ended up meeting up, falling in love, and getting engaged. They had a whole plant-themed engagement, and when they got married, they live-streamed the wedding to the Black Planters group. And in the fall of 2021, they welcomed a baby."
In October 2022, Nussman-Berry applied for and was awarded a spot in the Facebook Accelerator Program, which offers Facebook groups a grant and training to grow their online communities.
"The program connects you with other Facebook community leaders and knowledgeable coaches who encourage us to think bigger for our communities," she explained. "Of course, I always wanted Black Planters to grow, but Facebook is helping me take it to a whole new level. Part of my plans for the group is to do more live events. I'd love to do a big event maybe every two years where we meet and swap and sell plants or get plant experts as speakers. I'd also like to get some community gardens set up in predominantly Black areas and give more people access to land."
Though Nussman-Berry acknowledges that gardening isn't for everyone, she offers advice for those who want to give it a try:
"People can start gardening through trial and error. That's what I do. If a plant doesn't survive, you can always get another one, build on your prior plant knowledge, and learn from your mistakes," she advises. "Gardening and planting are an expression of love and appreciation for nature. It's beautiful, it can bring people together, and it's something we can all enjoy."