Perennial Plants and a Punk Ethos Guide a North Smithfield Nursery’s Mission

Nuts & Bolts Co-op’s vision of a more equitable food system begins with edible plants


A group of gardeners in North Smithfield propose a radical solution to building a more sustainable world: grow perennial plants – and have fun sinking your hands in the dirt while doing it. Of course, there’s a few more steps to fixing climate change than that, but Nuts & Bolts Nursery Co-op begins with the roots of our built ecosystems by
empowering even the most horticulturally timid citizens to fill their yards with fruit and nut trees and food-bearing plants.

“We want people to feel that there is magic in the soil beneath their feet, wonders coursing through the old gnarled bark of an oak tree. We want people to experience the myth that is in an unforgettable apple pie, baked from apples in their own backyard,” says worker-owner Connor Burbridge of their deceptively simple mission. In their second growing season this spring, the cooperatively owned queer-led nursery envisions a more democratic and decentralized food system beginning with edible perennial plants grown in backyards.

This month, Nuts & Bolts is taking the nursery on the road with an Earth Day Plant Tour. “We were always inspired by the DIY ethos of punk bands and how, with little resources, they travel all over, sharing their music and their creations with people. And in a funny way, farms can be very punk,” explains Burbridge of farmers traveling the market circuit to sell their goods. Instead of deep cuts, the nursery is sharing the magic of perennials.

Defined as plants (like trees) that continue growing year after year, Burbridge explains, “A little secret is that perennials are the

easiest types of plants to grow. Perennials are actually the best plant for lazy gardeners, or just for folks with not a lot of time on their hands.” Once they’re in the ground, maintenance is minimal. “Young trees require a little more care and a closer eye, but after a few seasons, they are well established and will take off on their own.”

Along with being easy, incorporating perennials in landscaping creates opportunities to rethink our ecosystem – whether suburban yard or urban greenspace – to move away from a fossil fuel-driven world.

“Edible trees and perennials develop really deep root systems, where they take carbon from the air and store it in the soil. So in a small way, everyone that has space to garden can help slow down climate change and actually pull carbon from the air through perennial plants,” says Burbridge. “Of course, solar panels and windmills and new technology will be important, but edible trees and plants give people the direct tools and practices to reshape the ecology of where they live for the better.”

If the prospect of growing trees, or even smaller perennials like sea kale and beach plum, is intimidating, Burbridge offers this advice: “don’t be afraid of failure.” Even if new plants don’t survive the season, “the important thing is to try, to learn from your mistakes, to have fun experimenting, and, most importantly, to build an intimate connection to the earth.”

“We see helping people grow plants as a way to re-enchant the world, empowering people to grow, get their hands in the dirt, start tinkering with the nuts and bolts of building a more sustainable and just world – right in their own backyards,” Burbridge continues. “We can, once again, find the power to decide collectively what our fate on this earth will be.”



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