Write Here, Write Now: What is Plant Blindness by Farmer Nick

In this episode of Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal Podcast, Farmer Nick sits down with host Erica Wagner to get personal about how a life filled with plants has taught him how to be the person he wants to be.

By Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal PodcastPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 18 min read

From Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal Podcast, What is Plant Blindness by Farmer Nick.

Farmer Nick is well known across the internet for his inspiring calls to lead a greener life, but this episode gives a window into Nick’s writing. After a reading of his essay, “What is Plant Blindness,” Farmer Nick sits down with host Erica Wagner to get personal about how a life filled with plants has taught him how to be the person he wants to be.

ERICA: Write Here, Write Now is sponsored by Scrivener. Used every day by best-selling novelists and aspiring writers alike, Scrivener unites everything needed to write, research and arrange your manuscript in a powerful package. Without Scrivener I could not have written my last two books. Scrivener is available for iOS, macOS and Windows, allowing you to take your manuscript with you, wherever you go. Sign up using the coupon code VOCAL at checkout and receive a 20% discount on the writing tool that seriously changed my life.

FARMER NICK: So if you are patient, and proactive and trust the process, and then you finally see that new leaf come out, that is just all the validation that you need.

ERICA: This is Write Here, Write Now, a podcast brought to you by Vocal, an online platform for creators of all kinds and all levels of experience. It’s a place to post, to read, to be inspired. I’m your host, Erica Wagner.

This season, we’ll hear eight essays, all posted to Vocal by independent creators. Afterwards, we get to hear from the creators themselves- about what inspired them, what they’re working on, and what keeps them going. If you have any questions that linger after the episode, head to vocal dot media to leave a comment for the authors, right on their essay. Who knows- you might be inspired to write something yourself.

Here’s Write Here, Write Now.

ERICA: Do you have any houseplants? How much do you think about them on any given day? What about trees outside, perhaps along the sidewalk, or next to a trail. Do you ever greet those by name? These are some of the questions constantly on the mind of our next author. I won’t give too much away- here’s “What is Plant Blindness” by Farmer Nick.

ERICA: That was “What is Plant Blindness” by Farmer Nick. I was lucky to get some time with Nick, and hear a bit more about his work outside the world of writing which, as you might imagine, is full of plants- he’s blind to none of them.

ERICA: Tell me a bit about yourself, Nick. Where did you grow up?

FARMER NICK: So I grew up just north of New York City in White Plains, New York. Lived a very conventional middle class, suburban life, going to little league games and having the block parties on the street. And I loved it. It was a very green filled experience, trees everywhere, backyard. And I noticed none of it.

ERICA: In your terrific piece about plant blindness, you mention your mom early on. Tell me a bit more about her.

FARMER NICK: I'm a big mama's boy. We did everything together. Our bonding came through sports and she didn't play sports. She would not qualify herself as an athlete by any means, but when she had a son that was very interested, she had always been a fan and kind of threw herself into coming to my baseball games in high school, and college, and going to basketball games together and all this stuff. Growing up, I spent the majority of time with my mom and sister. My dad was certainly in the picture, great dad, but he worked a lot. And I think she recognized from a young age that despite my kind of athletic tendencies, I was not this prototypical masculine guy who wants to sit down and watch a game with the boys and drink beer. Like that wasn't me. I was a little bit softer in that way, and had more of a nurturing spirit, and didn't know exactly how to channel it in a way that made sense. Not often are young boys and young men taught to nurture. In fact, it's almost discouraged in many ways, and that's a problem in and of itself. And I think my mom recognized that, and she's the one who suggested with no plant experience really for herself other than maybe a tomato or two here and there over the summer. She said, "Why don't you start a garden, especially if you're going to live here rent free? You've got to do something around the house." And she suggested that I start a garden and it came at this perfect inflection point of me looking for something new, something to kind of define who I was going to be as an adult. And I didn't know it would take me this far, but I guess mom, she's wise beyond her years and wiser than she gives herself credit for.

ERICA: What corporate job did you have in New York, the one that started after your summer of gardening.

FARMER NICK: I was working for IBM Watson, which was IBM's AI division, and was working in corporate partnerships and strategic partnerships there. And I mean, IBM is as corporate as you could think of to start your career. Big blue institutional company, just a pillar in American capitalism. On the weekends, and on my days off, I would just be in the garden growing every kind of vegetable I could imagine. And then I'd show up on Monday with a basket of zucchini, and cucumbers, and tomatoes, and eggplant, and just give them to my colleagues, who thought I was a crazy person, because most of them lived in the city and didn't have the access to the outdoor space. But they always appreciated the fresh produce.

ERICA: So yeah, Nick, this piece in particular for Vocal, what prompted you to write it?

FARMER NICK: So what prompted me to write this piece on plant blindness started with some of my friends who actually grew up in New York City because we would go out on different trips together and we'd go on hikes and do these different things. And they seemingly just did not notice the plants around them and I'm pointing things out and I'm showing them different things and they are like, "Oh, that's cool. It's just a tree." And when I saw that, I'm realizing like, oh, they're not connecting. There's something missing here. There's a missing link and they're seeing it, but they're not recognizing it. And that distinction was really important. So I started diving into more of what is this phenomenon of plant blindness, and what impact it can have on things like our environmentalism?

ERICA: I will share that I grew up in New York City in an apartment on a very high floor. And I think I probably still suffer from plant blindness as a result of that. I'd love to know how did you start learning to identify plants? Because that's something I know that I don't know when I look around in the natural world, I don't know what I'm looking at. How did that process start for you?

FARMER NICK: The process of learning to identify and just even look for and observe plants in my environment started actually with visits to the New York Botanical Garden. So once I got invested in growing my own plants, I was like, oh this is really cool. Maybe I should go visit some gardens to get more inspiration. And as you go through the garden, the benefit of the garden is that every plant has a plaque with the common name, the Latin name, and then the country of origin. And just seeing those plaques and putting a name to a living being that could not tell you its name. It's not going to say, "Hi, I am a Strelitzia Nicolai, nice to meet you."

So having that kind of connection point like, oh there are names to these things and I can go out and observe in my environment. Anyone with a smartphone has the ability to take a picture and whether it's Google Lens, or PictureThis, or whatever app you're using, you can then get a pretty good reading and understanding of what the plants are in your environment. So I'm now the worst person in the world to take on a walk because I don't get very far. I will immediately stop, take a picture of something, look it up. And meanwhile, the person I'm walking with is 20 steps ahead already. So I think using the technology to kind of reconnect with nature kind of seems backwards in a way. But it certainly helps educate and provide a name and names are so, so important to that empathy that you're creating.

ERICA: Why do you think names are important to that empathy? Because I think again, maybe people are a little, or could be a little scared of long Latin names. How do you overcome that obstacle?

FARMER NICK: I mean, I'm scared of long Latin names still, like my botanical Latin is certainly not where it should be. Not for someone in the field. But I think that from a naming perspective, just assigning a common name and being able to identify with that plant not only tells you what it is, but also can assign value to it, a story to it. Some of these plants are named very funny things. Like there's a plant called the Kangaroo Paw. And if you look at it, the flowers look like kangaroo paws and it's pretty cool. And I think that when you give it a specific name, it also detracts from this idea of like, what is a weed? Oh, that's a weed. Weeds are not valuable. Weed is not a name. Weed is a label for just a plant that is not wanted in the space that you're in.

ERICA: What advice would you give to someone, let's say like me, who really wanted to begin to cure their plant blindness?

FARMER NICK: For someone who wants to cure their plant blindness, I think the key is just having more plant specific experiences. Don't just go on a hike, go to see a certain type of plant, go to a botanical garden and see a specific exhibit because if you're observing it as the whole, you're not going to get down to some of the specific things and the amazing things you'll learn and discover as opposed to just going out there and going on a walk through the park. Those help. And especially in city environments where at times, I know people who their feet will probably not touch soil for months at a time, which is the unfortunate reality of living in cities. But if you are in a city environment or maybe don't have access to safe outdoor space, or can't get to a community garden, go to a plant shop, buy a plant, bring it home, talk to it, nurture it, get to know it, understand all the aspects of plant care as it relates to your role as the nurturer in this ecosystem. And the more we can identify with those specific plants, even if it's just one plant on your desk, the easier it's going to be for you to identify with the larger plant that we all live on, and we oftentimes forget.

ERICA: You clearly did a lot of research for this piece and I'd love to know about the process. You went into the fields of botany and psychology, both ape and human psychology. Where did you start?

FARMER NICK: So I'm a psych major actually. So I love the psychology side of science and too often, I think people think psychology is, oh, it's your therapist, you're sitting down, you're talking about your problems. And that's true. A big portion of that relates to that field. But psychology happens every single day. How we interact with others in our world, it affects our behavior, essentially it's behavior change. And to be able to take it from that approach and then combine it with more of the prototypical science and botany aspects was important to me. Because for me, I want to inspire people to make behavior change that is in line with my environmental values. So if I can present both sides, it's not just the science you might expect, but also, did you know that we view the world and our experiences this way from a psychological standpoint? I think that is what can get people to start to reframe their perspective and their mindsets. And then look to change their behavior. So for this piece in particular, it was important to have both of those perspectives included.

ERICA: So you're talking about the goal of connecting with plants, which is a kind of anthropomorphizing, making them like us. Do you have a specific memory of anthropomorphizing a plant? What type of plant was it? Where did it happen? What was it like?

FARMER NICK: I mean, I talk to my plants every day. I think that talking to them, it's fun, it's cute. But at the end of the day, for me, it's about building that empathy. And I remember back in New York, I was on a plant rescue mission. Someone on Craigslist said, "Hey, we're moving. We have a plant. We've got to get rid of it. Someone needs to come pick it up." And it was probably like 50, 45 degrees, which is below the temperature you want to be transporting plants outdoors. So I get to this apartment, I take the plant down and I look at them in the lobby. I'm like, "Listen, buddy, we're about to go on an adventure here. I need you to pull through for me because we've got 20 blocks to go and it's cold outside." And we made it. That became a signature plant in my collection as I was first getting started. And obviously I wish the plant knew that I was only with the most positive of intentions, even though may have struggled a little bit during the process. And maybe the plant did recognize that. I don't know. I'll never know. But I think just assuming that they are more cognizant than we give them credit for helps us want to take care of them, and will inevitably lead to us wanting to take care of the larger environment as a whole.

ERICA: What kind of plant was that?

FARMER NICK: It was a Monstera. Classic house plant, and it grew to probably be close to seven feet tall at its peak, and was kind of the staple of the Farmer Nick brand as it grew. It's the plant featured in my profile picture on social media. So it is a winner for me.

ERICA: And even if you don't know if it was listening to you, it did survive. So that's a good sign, it seems to me.

FARMER NICK: That is a good sign. That is goal number one. Just make sure they're surviving.

ERICA: You quote Catherine Williams, writing that. "Building those emotional connections with ecosystems, and species, and the plant as a whole is crucial for plant conservation." Tell me a little more about your own emotional connection to plants. What does it feel like? When is it strongest?

FARMER NICK: I think my emotional connection to plants is strongest when I see a plant that may have been struggling, may not have been growing all that well, but all of a sudden I turn around and boom, there's a new leaf starting to form. That is the most, just energizing, validating feeling that you can have because it shows you that your process and your patients were correct and suitable for this plant to thrive. And I talk about this a lot, this philosophy of mindful neglect, meaning that we are observing the plants in our ecosystem, we are being mindful of them, but we're not doing too much. Sometimes plants need less than more. And as helicopter plant parents, it's very easy to come in there and over water, and fertilize, and stress out about it. And I'm convinced that plants will feed off your energy. And they've been here a lot longer than we have, and they'll continue to be here longer than we have. So why don't we just let them tell us what they need? And you're just a steward, you are the gardener in your ecosystem. You are not forcing growth. You cannot force growth. Plants are inherently slow and they're not going to bark or cry when they need anything. So if you are patient, and proactive and trust the process, and then you finally see that new leaf come out, that is just all the validation that you need. And it's just the best feeling.

ERICA: I was going to, I was going to ask you how you cultivate that connection? But what you seem to be saying is that it's a really interesting balance between, I want to say attention and inattention, letting things be what they are while you are also attending to them.

FARMER NICK: I would certainly agree with that. That's a very eloquent way of putting it. And I think that philosophy could be applied to human relationships as well. We don't want necessarily a partner that's going to be hovering over you 24/7 and doing too much. You are your own person. And if you can learn to thrive and your partner's presence helps you do that, and empowers you to do that, but is not overbearing, I think that's a healthy relationship.

ERICA: And I want to ask you what you do when you're not writing pieces for us. I know you do lots of other things and you're very much engaged in your green life. So perhaps describe that for us a bit.

FARMER NICK: Yeah. I mean everything in my life, I try and revolve around something green. I mean, I'm basically trying to become a plant in everything that I do, whether it is visits to the farmer's market or vegan cooking, or things like that. But I run a garden and landscape design business on both coasts, back in New York and here in LA, and that is all about empowering others and giving them the knowledge and confidence that they need to create their own green spaces, but doing so in the pursuit of environmental action. And that has been the mission for so, so long. And it is so tied to the things that I do for fun, whether it's getting together and doing plant based potlucks with friends in the backyard, or going to climate events and conferences. It is sort of my form of activism using the plants as that stepping stone.

ERICA: Well, this is great to do this with you, Nick. Thank you so much. And we're really thrilled to have you be part of this podcast.

ERICA: Whether or not you’ve suffered from plant blindness, hearing from Farmer Nick is always eye-opening. It’s hard to imagine a more drastic pivot than corporate to garden, but Nick has managed it with grace, and helped countless aspiring gardeners in the process.

Next time on Write Here, Write Now, we’ll hear another essay with a pivotal change at its heart. That will be “I Swore I’d Never Get Married. Then I Had Ten Weddings” by Dane BH.

Whoever you are, whatever your story, Vocal belongs to you. If you liked the show, come be a part of where it all got started. Join me and the rest of our brilliant Creators on Vocal.media. We hope you'll join our community, where you can post, read and comment.

If you like what you hear, join us for season two of Write Here, Write Now, when we dive into stories from the Vocal plus Fiction Anthology. And of course- be sure to rate, review and subscribe to Write Here, Write Now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. I’m Erica Wagner- thanks for listening.


Write Here, Write Now is produced by Vocal in partnership with Pod People. Special thanks to our production team: Jacob Frommer and Andrew Herwitz and the team at Pod People: Rachael King, Matt Sav, Aimee Machado, Ashton Carter, Rebecca Chaisson, Carter Wogahn, and Morgane Fousse.

Copyright © 2022 Pod People. All rights reserved.

Pod People transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a Pod People contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of Pod People’s programming is the audio record.


About the Creator

Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal Podcast

Sex, death, relationships, nature, families... If you like to stop, think and consider things a little differently, join host Erica Wagner as she introduces a new Vocal creator’s story each week.

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Comments (5)

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  • Arcadius Thompsonabout a year ago

    I've never heard of it.

  • Jessabout a year ago

    Slowly learning to heal my plant blindness, great story!

  • Aaron Hubermanabout a year ago

    Farmer Nick is awesome! Love his insight and suggestions on how to live a greener life. Been a follower of his for about a year now.

  • Gina B.about a year ago

    I love this series. Another wonderful installment!

  • Tracy Willisabout a year ago

    I’ve been following Nick for over a year both on Vocal and his socials and absolutely love his insights and expertise. Awesome to see him interviewed here!

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