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Restaurant workers all across the country have been laid off - no customers, no one to serve. Tough times can lead to creative solutions, though. For a small group of out-of-a-job workers in Indiana, giving up serving food meant taking up growing it. Indiana Public Broadcasting's Samantha Horton reports on their career reinvention.
SAMANTHA HORTON, BYLINE: Thirty-one-year-old Claudia Capuano worked as a server at a local Italian restaurant in Lafayette, Ind., when COVID-19 and the government shutdowns hit.
CLAUDIA CAPUANO: We knew we were going to close. We knew it wasn't going to be the way it was.
HORTON: The restaurant La Scala furloughed the entire staff, including Capuano. But Capuano had a plan. She had previously worked on farms and thought she could use that experience to help connect people with homegrown food.
CAPUANO: I've been sort of daydreaming about some sort of farm or gardening business, where I would care for people's gardens - sort of like a give-a-farmer-a-break job.
HORTON: It was late one evening in March when she called one of her co-workers and pitched the idea - to start a gardening business called Bota-Nanny. With raised beds starting at $150, the business model was made to be affordable.
CAPUANO: You can see the beautiful cabbage growing in the middle. And I've got zucchinis back there. I've got...
HORTON: She has made her apartment the home base, with plants stacked up, ready to be delivered - and using a church parking lot next door to build an assembly line of sorts to build 3-by-5-foot wooden garden beds. With many more people at home and food security issues front and center, her timing proved ideal. Since launching her company in March, she and her fellow co-workers have built more than a hundred gardens.
Ariana Torres teaches horticulture at Purdue University. She says while the interest in home gardening has been on the rise, the pandemic certainly sparked more demand.
ARIANA TORRES: So most Americans started doing more gardening, and they're start - spending more time outside. And you know, if they have kids, probably that's an activity. But I think COVID just increased that. If anything, that trend just really peaked.
HORTON: For Capuano, the business hasn't provided the same kind of steady paycheck as at the restaurant, but it has helped. She was also looking for a way to give back to the community and is donating some gardens to people who can't afford them.
CAPUANO: Do you want me to cut some of this kale down at this moment?
HORTON: On a recent afternoon, she is visiting Tabitha Lloyd's garden she built in April and answering any of their questions. Lloyd used her stimulus check to buy the vegetable beds. She says the past couple months have been fun as she and her daughters learn more about nature and community.
TABITHA LLOYD: Even the sharing heart that, like, my daughter has had - like, let me go pick a lettuce leaf for you, neighbor - and like, that's what it's - like, I think that's what it's about. Like, we're more in community and sharing with one another.
HORTON: Capuano isn't sure if she'll go back to the restaurant when it opens again. She's still finding this side business rewarding.
CAPUANO: I'm not sure how that's going to turn out, but I am committed to vegetables. I am committed to being outside. I am committed to this community, and I would like to see it live.
HORTON: The original beds were to grow vegetables. And Claudia Capuano says now she's expanding, planting flower beds, too.
For NPR News, I'm Samantha Horton.
(SOUNDBITE OF LISSIE SONG, "MY WILD WEST OVERTURE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.