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The underground plant exchange where white people send Black people plants

Tending to plants is proven to boost moods and soothe anxieties – DJ Freedem’s new initiative offers some of that solace to Black people

It all started with a tweet: “If you’re white, give a Black person a plant this instant,” it read. Amid the distressing images of Black people being beaten and murdered circulating online, videos of American police officers shooting rubber bullets at peaceful protestors, and all the trauma unearthed in the last few weeks, DJ Freedem’s idea was simple: “With everything going on in the world and in the media, I figured plants would be a nice way to bring some physical positivity and change into people’s homes and ultimately their lives.”

Suddenly, Black users began replying to the thread with the plants they wanted, or had been looking for. Meanwhile, over on Instagram, Freedem’s screenshot of the original tweet was picking up pace. “White people started commenting that they had a bunch of plants in their homes that they’d love to give away,” he explains. “And Black people would reply to them stating what they wanted.” In a matter of hours, Freedem’s plant exchange was in full bloom.

Then came the new Instagram account. The Underground Plant Trade, with the tag line “where Black people come to collect their reparation plants”, is divided into individual posts for each US state. “It starts from the listings in the comments of a post of your state or region. People state that they have specific plants or a variety of plants and people would comment with the specific plant that they've been looking for,” explains Freedem. “I’ve seen a lot of no-contact drop offs be made; people mail out parts of their plants across the country; order plants from online plant shops and have them sent out to people; give others money to go out and buy plants. The whole operation runs itself.” Did we mention all of this happened in three days? 

The Atlanta-born, New York-based DJ went viral last summer for his videos delivering “real-ass advice” for all your relationships – be they “romantic, platonic, or plant-based”. “The plants want me to relay this information to y’all ‘cause they tired,” he said. “They tired of neglect, they tired of incompetence.” Whether you’ve got mealybugs or root rot, stuck on repotting or tending to yellow leaves – “I’m here to help, bitch.”

For Freedem, personal and plant care are interconnected. “Obviously there’s studies and articles on how plants can help with mood elevation, easing one out of depressive states or calming anxieties,” he says. Reflecting on the plant trade’s success, he adds: “I'm surprised with how much it kept growing and the response it received. Initially, I was surprised with how eager white people were to open their gardens and give away their plants to Black people. And how quickly such exchanges were made with no fuss.”

Looking forward, he wants to expand the plant trade to make the process even easier for people to take part. “I'm excited to see where this new project goes and what comes from it. I’m in the beginning stages of possibly building a website for the Underground Plant Exchange to make it that much better, easier, and successful.”