Matt Day stands in front of his pop-up plant trailer, Planterday. Credit: courtesy Planterday

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This article first appeared in Oakland Voices, a community reporting program led by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

Plant therapy is a powerful way to strengthen mental health, boost immunity, and reduce anxiety and depression. This kind of therapy has especially bloomed during the pandemic, with gardening-focused meetup groups, Do the Bay events, TikToks, and YouTube channels making this form of healing essentially accessible to all.

In Oakland, plant shops such as Wellness and Releaf, Blk Girls Greenhouse, and Planterday have helped many find that green thumb they never knew they had. Planterday, currently a mobile plant shop, is also intentionally invested in bolstering the mental health of the community by donating the proceeds of their plant sales from their pop-up plant trailer.

Founded by Matt Day and Yumi Look in March 2020, Planterday is a plant shop, located inside of a trailer, that’s committed to growing a collaborative community. From the outside, Planterday’s trailer is unassuming, with no logo or sign. However, once you walk through the doors, you enter a little jungle or what Look describes as “a little haven where you can just relax and breathe.” Besides good tunes and plants, the trailer is also decked out in string lights and a bubble machine working at full steam. Matt Day designed the trailer by hand. You can find plants ranging from African succulents such as String of Hearts to tree climbers like Philodendron Atabapoense.

Day was inspired by his parents to start this mission-driven mobile plant shop, unfortunately through tragedy. Day’s father, who is Black, worked in Silicon Valley in the 90s.  At the time, Day’s father was the only Black man in his office. He committed suicide in that very office. “I’ll never know why he did it …but it always perplexed me. “Why did he do it at work?” Day said.  

Much of Planterday’s sales go to support Crisis Support Services of Alameda, a local, free, volunteer-run nonprofit text hotline for people experiencing mental health crises, established in honor of Day’s father. Since August 2020, Planterday has donated over $4,550 to the nonprofit. 

After his father’s death, Day lost his mother—a Filipina immigrant who’d come to the United States at the age of 23—to cancer, after a long battle. The disease finally took her right before Day’s 31st birthday, which was two and a half years ago. “I nearly lost my mind,” he said. That is when he started digging in the dirt. The couple started landscaping their front lawn and gardening in their backyard. For them, it was green therapy.

Day quit his day job in tech, and began work at the Grand Lake Ace Garden Center. He wanted to take his plant therapy one step further by opening his own plant business. “Let me start my own plant store so that I can heal myself every day that I go to work,” Day said. “We’re getting our hands in the earth and it was healing for both of us,” Day said about working with plants with Look, his co-founder and partner.

Yumi Look and Matt Day in front of Uchi House, where the couple’s Planterday mobile plant business has popped up, and where you can order plants. Credit: courtesy Planterday

Day bought his trailer in January 2020 just before the pandemic hit the U.S., and began renovating it himself. The dreams of their humble plant trailer seemed to face many obstacles during the pandemic. The weekend he was set to take it out to Lake Merritt, the shelter-in-place order was instituted. They bought about $500 worth of plants and were struggling to figure out what to do with them now that everyone was in lockdown. Day told one of his close buddies at The Dinner Party, a support group for young adults who’ve lost loved ones, and they helped to spread the word. That was the start of all the plants being cataloged and sold online. After Look, an OUSD second grade teacher, told her fellow teacher friends, Planterday received even more orders. Since everyone was online, Planterday was able to grow its following and community even further through Instagram

Planterday did its first in-person pop-up last August 29, and all of their proceeds went to CSS Alameda County. However, this was the height of wildfire season. “Every pop-up that we first scheduled, there were either fires happening, heat waves, or smoke from the fires,” said Look. Despite feeling like the odds were stacked against them, Planterday looked forward to better days ahead. 

In 2021, Planterday got a fresh start. “This year, we kind of hit the ground running,” Look said. Instead of heavily relying on online orders, Planterday is now focusing on collaborative pop-ups with local Bay Area businesses, and is doing so almost every weekend.” We’ve had a lot of great opportunities to connect with business owners, entrepreneurs, community members, and we’ve got some really cool stuff lined up,” Look said. Alongside continuing to destigmatize mental health, Look and Day hope to open up their own brick-and-mortar, and one day help support mental health on a policy level.  

“It has been a wild ride because in the beginning, we were paying people to sell plants out of their parking lots,” Day said. Shortly after their first solo pop-up last August, Planterday was invited by Tacos Oscar to set up their trailer outside of the restaurant. From there, the plant shop has collaborated with Temescal Brewing, Brown Girl FarmsTaiwan Bento, and others. Their most recent collaboration was with The Rare Barrel and Queer First Fridays. 

“Before the pandemic, we used to love throwing house parties,” Look said. The couple genuinely enjoys connecting people together. With parties comes music and that is an essential part of the Planterday experience. Besides this, visitors of the trailer can expect bubbles from a bubble machine. “Matt was very digilent in creating this magical space,” Look said. 

“We believe in horticulture therapy and encourage folks to engage with it as much as possible,” Look added. Look, who is Japanese American, told Oakland Voices about Shinrin’yoku (森林浴), which is a Japanese term that translates to “forest therapy.” It is the idea that being close to and engaging with nature has health benefits. Because we do tend to live in urban cities, “house plants can come in and play such an optimal role in your life,” she said. 

“I want people to see me, a Black man and Yumi, an Asian woman, selling plants to people that look like us,” Day said, in reference to the violence Black and Asian communities are visibly experiencing now more than ever. “Thinking about the trauma people of color have to constantly go through and carry, plants offer a form of healing,” Look said.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Follow Planterday on Instagram to keep up to date with their upcoming pop-up shops, and more. 

Iris Crawford

Iris M. Crawford, is a poet, social justice advocate, and independent journalist. Hailing from New York City, her journey has allowed her to empower communities through health care advocacy, education, and environmental justice. Currently, she is a Literary Arts Resident with the Shuffle Collective, where she will be working to strengthen her creative work, build community, and further enjoy all things Bay Area.