BY MAT CLOUSER
BRANDON — A group of Brandon-area gardeners, fueled by a program at the Brandon Free Library, are pitching in their lot with a statewide movement supporting Ukraine’s battle for independence in its fight against Russia.
The library is supplying free sunflower seed packets to anyone looking to stand in fellowship with the people of the Ukraine by helping to raise awareness around the state and make their gardens even more dazzling at the same time.
Library Director Molly Kennedy had a wry excitement in her voice when talking about Brandon’s participation, mentioning “a small, covert group of guerilla gardeners that folks will want to keep an eye out for” as they go about planting seeds in some unusual and special places.
The library currently has about 100 packets of seeds available with more on the way if needed.
The effort is part of a Vermont-based community action group called Vermont Plants Sunflowers for Ukraine (VPSU) that was started earlier this spring by Dale Newton of Marshfield, VT. VPSU’s mission “is to inspire countless acts of solidarity with the people of Ukraine by planting thousands upon thousands of sunflowers in every corner of Vermont. Come late summer and fall, our message of yellow sunflowers splashed against our blue Vermont sky will give us all hope.”
Newton says the act of solidarity is also meant to assuage Vermonters’ collective feelings of helplessness that may be emanating from the barrage of war stories and devastation facing Ukrainians daily at the hands of the Russian military and its incessant shelling of Ukrainian cities, its hospitals and its civilian population.
Newton, a former long-time English teacher and current farmer at Fruitlands in Marshfield, says that early response from the community has been outstanding and that it’s even given him cause to reconnect with some of his former students who have relocated all across the country.
Sunflowers are the national flower of the Ukraine and a growing symbol of resistance and, so far, Newton says he’s given away over half-a-million sunflower seeds and counting. In addition to the Brandon Free Public Library, businesses, individuals, town and state entities (a comprehensive list can be found at vtsunflowers4ukraine.org) have already pledged to participate in the planting of flowers and distribution of seeds.
Newton says he has often been asked “what good does this actually do for the people of the Ukraine?”
His response is a nuanced one, replete with deep personal emotions that tie back to the Vietnam war, as well as in his experiences with WWII veterans he has known. He points specifically to how, in his eyes, “it has become too easy to find ourselves in a place where we reactively say ‘never again,’ but feel too helpless to do anything about it.”
Feeling the desire to do more and to be proactive, he said that by doing a resplendent thing like planting sunflowers he hoped to be able “to do something positive and keep people’s attention long enough that they’re likely to get involved in larger efforts and further acts of solidarity.”
Newton, who had been doing the seed delivery himself until demand required him to switch to shipping more of them directly, said that he will hit the road again in late summer once the sunflowers are in bloom, in an attempt to get pictures of as many solidarity gardens as he can find.
But he also realizes he could use the help of any Vermonter willing to document their efforts and send that to him, and that eventually all such documentation might be shared through VPSU’s website, Facebook page and beyond. As the VPSU website says, “In ways big and small we will show the world that we stand with the people of Ukraine.”
As for the supply of sunflower seeds for the Brandon Library, Newton says he is “ready and able to send as many seed packets as are required to whomever would like to grow them” and that he is only too happy to replenish the library’s allotment. He added that residents can also contact VPSU and have seeds shipped directly to their homes.