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from the archive – social/vegetable art

dear diary, may 26, 2009.

Today I started an experiment/art project/good deed/vegetable-gospel-spreading activity. I’ve potted a bunch of baby tomato seedlings and put them in front of my house with a “free” sign, and I’m watching how long it takes for people to take them. New Englanders are notorious sidewalk scavengers, and I’m wondering if I can get this habit to extend to plants, and try to get more people growing their own!

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dear diary, may 27, 2009.

So, after about 18 hours all of my plants (aside from two that didn’t survive the transplant) have been taken. And I couldn’t be happier! Except…that someone seems to have felt that anything was up for grabs that wasn’t in a real pot, and took my brand-new, incredible looking Cuban oregano that I had just purchased from Gilson’s Herb Lyceum. This was an unexpected twist in my social experiment…maybe a comment on trust and the tendency of human nature to take more than they are given when faced with generosity. I have to admit I felt very defeated. You know, try to do a good deed and have trust met with cynicism. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I think it made the experiement much more full and interesting, because who cares if you say “I put some free plants out and people took them”? It’s far more interesting to say, “I put some free plants out and for some reason one person decided to extrapolate and think that other plants–not labeled as such–were also fair game.” How does that thinking arc go?

Next time, and there will of course be a next time either with plants or with vegetables, I hope to have some kind of response card that people can mail back. In an ideal world, I’d like a webcam…not for security reasons, but to see who took the plants and what their decision making process might have looked at. Were people wary? Did it take longer for the first plant to go, and once people saw that other people had helped themselves they felt more comfortable to do so themselves (like at a buffet)? Also, I partially want to do this stuff to expose the kids who attend MLK Elementary across the street to my plants and their vegetable-growing potential, so it would be fun to see if kids feel more free to come investigate if there is a sign. I’ve thought about just putting explanatory signs with the plants out front (“this is going to be a tomato! these are tiny strawberries!”), but my bf pointed out that this might mean that people think they can take them. I sort of understood what he meant, and now I definitely do.

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dear diary, may 29, 2009.

Well, the sign is gone but people still think they can take things.  Now my Meyer Lemon tree is gone!  We’ll see if I ever experiment like this again…

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