A Teacher, Lost After 2016 Election, Finds A New Purpose In Gardening

Kathy Peterson runs a hydroponic garden for Cass Community Social Services. It’s her reprieve and answer to the turmoil happening in the world since the election of President Donald Trump.

Kathy Peterson says it might look like a night club or a rocket ship. “The lights, the fans, the metal,” she says. 

But it’s not. It’s a freight farm — a hydroponic vegetable garden — constructed out of a shipping container for Cass Community Social Services. And Peterson is its steward. 

Inside this strange container, Kathy plans and harvests basil, chard and arugula, sells a portion to a local restaurant and the rest goes to feed people served by the organization. 

“It’s been humbling, especially at my age, when you step outside of your area of expertise and do something entirely different.” — Kathy Peterson, Cass Community Social Services

“What we’re doing with our Freight Farm is that we’re growing leafy greens in the middle of the city of Detroit, even in the winter,” Peterson says. “My function here is to provide innovative ways of feeding our community. So in many ways I consider myself now to be a nurturer.”

It’s a zen activity. She says it’s hard to be anxious when you’re planting seeds and trimming plants. 

“And that’s been a very welcome respite from the rest of the world,” Peterson says. “I’ve been under duress for the last, almost three years now.”

Not so long ago, Peterson was a political science teacher. Then, the 2016 presidential election happened.

“I didn’t want to inculcate my students with my own views, but after the election I couldn’t help but take sides,” Peterson says. “I couldn’t help but talk about the moral imperative of what we needed to do to regain what I felt like we had lost.”

So she left. She found her way to Cass Community Social Services, where she was tasked with her present job. 

“It’s been humbling, especially at my age, when you step outside of your area of expertise and do something entirely different,” Peterson says. “This was not my strong suit. But what is — is courage and determination and persistence. Being an advocate is like being a warrior.”

Click on the player above to hear how Kathy Peterson found her motivation after the 2016 election.

This piece was produced as part of the Transom Traveling Workshop in Detroit, Mich.

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