There's a huge crew of pet owners eager to announce that they adopted a rescue dog or cat.

If Jazmyne LeBeau has her way, "rescue plants" will also become a point of pride.

"None of these will wind up in the dump," said LeBeau, 24, gesturing to tray after tray of vegetable seedlings, tiny plugs of herbs and flowering annuals placed on portable tables and available, free, for the taking.

This is the second spring that LeBeau has found homes for thousands of orphaned baby plants. She's forged connections with local nurseries and greenhouses to pick up the excess and imperfect live bounty that they would otherwise turn into compost. With the help — and car trunks — of her mother and her partner, she rounds up the plants, then sets them out for Saturday spring giveaways, which she calls The Plant Corner.

A few patrons pull over when they see the crowd or spy LeBeau's hand-lettered welcoming signs, but most have learned about her generosity on her Instagram page, The PlantCornerMpls Instagram.

"I love plants so much, being around all that beauty," LeBeau said. "They've helped my mental health in so many ways.

"This year, after all we've been through, we see the need for self-care, healing and coming together. I want to explore what this project can do for our community."

LeBeau started her Plant Corner pop-ups amid the lockdown last spring, setting up her tables on a corner lot near her apartment in southeast Minneapolis. This spring, she's alternated from that spot to others around the city.

On a recent Saturday, parents pushing strollers, college students with leashed dogs, and retirees mingled over her tables set up in front of a craft brewery in northeast Minneapolis.

"This is all free? Really?" asked Christine Page, who happened upon the giveaway while running errands with her two children. "What an amazing concept."

Wearing a vintage flowered blouse, red wedge sandals and swinging cherry earrings, Le­Beau hustled up and down the line of tables, welcoming her beneficiaries and offering her expertise.

"What's good for shade?" asked Rou-Jia Sung, who was directed to begonias and then picked up some lemongrass and basil. In her second year as a homeowner, Sung plans a second run at establishing an herb garden.

"I'm still learning, but this is a great way to try," she said.

Some visitors are returning for a second year of garden gifts, LeBeau said.

"People coming back from last year told me what the plants did for them. It's very validating to feel that I've had an impact by putting plants in their hands," she said. "It's true that growing things is a positive. Looking at my own plants, watering them and seeing new buds just makes me so happy."

Effort has evolutionary roots

LeBeau may not have analyzed her altruistic impulses, but a growing body of research confirms that a desire to give is rooted in human evolution.

"Science tells us we feel better when we do things like this," said Jean Larson, a professor who works with nature-based therapies in her joint appointment at the University of Minnesota's Landscape Arboretum and the Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing.

"Our brains are more synaptically alive when we give with no expectations. Humans survived as a species because we shared with each other. It creates reciprocity: You give to me and I'll give to you," Larson said.

Larson points to multiple studies affirming that just being around plants and greenery reduces stress and enhances well-being. She thinks the timing for LeBeau's project is perfect.

"In this era of such polarization, that little corner is building goodwill with the people who come. The growers are sharing their benevolence. There's a ripple effect. Positive feeds on positive. That's a choice, just like negative feeds on negative," she said.

Twins Karen and Kelly Martin go their separate ways when it comes to their gardening habits; Karen puts flowers in pots on her porch while Kelly gravitates to herbs and vegetables for two large patches in her south Minneapolis yard that her sister helps her weed.

Visiting the Plant Corner for the second time, the masked pair greeted LeBeau enthusiastically, then began popping new seedlings in empty egg cartons they brought from home.

"Last year, I spent $70 at the garden center and then the squirrels got everything. By the time I went back to buy more, it was all picked over," Kelly said. "This is great. We really appreciate it."

LeBeau first got her hands in the dirt as a teenager, working at a greenhouse as her after-school job. She later worked at a local landscaping business and then at organic farms on the West Coast, where she learned about food systems and sustainable agriculture.

She returned to Minneapolis in February 2020 and found a job at a nursery wholesaler, where she was designated as an essential worker. It was there that she saw superfluous plants that were destined to be trashed and stepped in to grab them.

Now she dreams of somehow turning her giveaways into a nonprofit that will put more plants in the pots and plots of local gardeners.

In the meantime, she plans to continue to stage her pop-ups around the Twin Cities through peak planting season, assuming she will wrap it up in mid-to-late May.

"COVID took a huge toll on everyone's mental health, mine included," LeBeau said. "Last winter, I was thinking about the Plant Corner to get me through the rough patch.

"I'm new to community organizing, but I feel the most connected to Minneapolis than I ever have," she said. "I'm open to whatever the universe has to offer next."

Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis freelance writer and broadcaster.