How an Oakland plant store is working to promote mental health to … – San Francisco Chronicle

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A photo hangs inside Oakland plant shop Planterday of Matt Day’s late parents, Lisa and Frank Day.
Planterday co-owner Yumi Look (left) helps customer Julius Crowe Hampton at the shop in Oakland.
Matt Day and Yumi Look opened their Planterday shop in July to promote mental health and healing in Oakland.
In 2018, Matt Day was spending hours commuting from Oakland to Redwood City for work, and then to Walnut Creek to spend time with his mother, who was hospitalized as she battled cancer for the second time.
“I was extremely depressed,” Day recalled. “My mother was my best friend. I was basically living in the hospital with her.”
To help cope with his depression, Day and his partner, Yumi Look, started a garden at his East Oakland home, where they grew flowers, vegetables and other plants.
“Watching things grow, putting our hands into the soil, building planter boxes,” he said, “It was very healing.”
Research shows that gardening and exposure to green spaces can improve a person’s mental and physical health. For many, gardening and indoor plant cultivation have proved to be a refuge from the mental health strains that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic that now appears poised to stretch into its third year.
Having plants inside a home can help reduce people’s stress levels and help them to “mentally refresh,” said Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist and principal with Design with Science.
“There’s also evidence indicating that when you see a green leafy plant, you think more creatively,” Augustin added.
After Day’s mother died, he quit his job at a health care company to work at a plant shop near Lake Merritt in Oakland.
“It was the best job I ever had, and I just kept thinking to myself, ‘OK I’m going to learn everything I can (to) create my own dream job,’” he said.
Day and Look started the plant shop Planterday in 2019, and after selling plants out of their home, they purchased a used trailer on Craigslist in 2020 and transformed it into a mobile plant shop,
Planterday became a beloved Oakland business during the pandemic, hosting pop-ups at local events and outside of other shops.
When the Bay Area was sheltering in place in 2020 because of the pandemic, plant shops were booming. Many people, especially those working from home, stocked up on houseplants to spruce up homes where they were spending nearly all of their time. Bay Area shops were left scrambling to restock.
“Sheltering in place was very hard for many folks,” said Look, who formerly worked as a teacher for Oakland’s school district. “People were sending (us) messages, not just talking about their plants and how happy they were making them, but even just sending pictures of their plants growing.”
In July of this year, Day and Look opened their first brick and mortar in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood.
For Day, raising awareness about mental health is deeply personal. His father died by suicide 23 years ago after battling mental health issues. Day, who is African American and Filipino, said talking about mental health is taboo for many communities of color.
But Day — who now works at a mental health company when he’s not helping with the shop — doesn’t shy away from talking about his experiences, in person or online.
Planterday is more than a plant shop, they said.
There’s a communal aspect to the store, where Day and Look know some customers by their first name, and where they exchange stories with people about their upbringings. Works by Bay Area artists hang on their walls.
They also donate funds to the Alameda County’s Crisis Support Services, offer discounts to classroom teachers, social workers and mental health professionals, and share mental health resources in their store or online through their Instagram account.
“It’s an honor to be able to serve the community in that way,” Look said.
Day added, “One of the most important lessons my mom ever taught me was (that) help starts at home. We want to help our local community heal.”
Jessica Flores is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @jesssmflores
Jessica Flores is a reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle. Before joining The Chronicle in 2021, she worked for USA Today, NPR affiliate KPCC and Curbed LA. Originally from L.A., she received her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Southern California and a bachelor’s degree from Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles.


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