Barriers to community garden involvement

Connie - OntarioNovember 1, 2000

I work for an organization which has directly supported community gardens for 6 years.As the community garden coordinator, I have questions that I'm hoping other coordinators and participants can help me with. Each spring gardeners are enthusiastic and optimistic about gardening and each fall the support staff are faced with the back-breaking and disillusioning prospect of cleaning up, weeding, spreading manure, and roto tilling. Does anyone have any suggestions about how best to keep community gardeners involved in all facets of being a community gardener. Does anyone use a newsletter as a way of communicating with gardeners. What works and what doesn't?

We don't have a lot of staff time to actually work the gardens so involvement in all stages of gardening, by the gardener is really needed. I am planning to run workshops through the winter to address some topics the gardeners have said they would like to learn about and perhaps survey for suggestions re: barriers to gardening. So any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.



Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Ray Schutte - WA

Start by making it a year round garden. Develop a soil building paradigm that includes the concept that Spring begins in the fall. Vegetables are a by product of soil building. I am the co-site coordinator at a large community garden here in Seattle, We have had a compost social every Saturday since September of 1998. the first winter on cold rainy days there were often only two of us (my collegue Jon and myself). Last year 30 gardeners showed up on Christmas day. You're climate may not permit this kind of activity. But the concept that the garden never sleeps can begin to work wonders with you. We also require that every garden be prepared for winter, with either an Interbay Mulch, cover crop or growing food crop.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2000 at 11:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Marshall - 10 CA/24 Sunset

Connie, you are facing a universal trait among gardeners: that early urge to garden and waning interest as winter approaches. Ray's recommended approach is valuable. Over the years I have help set up CGs, managed one in the interim, had plots in others.

If you are lucky, demand for garden space might be high enough to establish an incentive system. Folks who work their gardens and bed them down properly for the winter will automatically have the same beds in the Spring. Those who don't will go to the end of the waiting list. Period. Be sure to create social/group work and workshops to maintain interest through the season with perhaps a "harvest celebration" work party and potluck to at least start winterizing the gardens. We used to do this at the Grad Student Gardens in Madison, Wisc. Try a seed and transplant exchange from midMay to midJune in your area.

In S.B, Cal. we have 4 CGs and many grade school gardens. Some of the CGs have been self-governing and self-policing depending upon the personalities of the leadership. We have encouraged creation of gardener committees in improve communications between the limited coordination staff and the renters. Variable success. Our coordinator and volunteers keep the commons areas mowed or mulched as needed. Each year one or more workers are hired for site cleanup, shredding for compost. and general site enhancement. Usually takes one day per CG, these being a quarter to one acre in size.

Hope this helps.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2000 at 11:01AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am Ray's cohort at the Interbay P-Patch in Seattle. We have 130 gardeners. Here are a few random thoughts and ideas based on my experience:
1.Establish clear goals and objectives for garden. I suggest mandating an organic garden to eliminate bickering between those that use chems and those who don't; then everyone is on the same philosophic plane from the start.
2. Create a written agreement between garden and gardeners such as gardener agrees to a. use organic gardening practices b. tend and harvest their garden c. participate in choice of community garden activities (we require 8 "community hours"; our gardeners average 20)d. prepare garden for winter by Oct 31. For the 8 hour required participation we ask gardeners to sign up in advance for 2 hours of food bank gardening, one soil-building class, attend at least one Saturday "Compost Social" and one work party. We try to call people the week of to remind them of their commitment. This program has worked well for the gardeners who have complied; they find they enjoy activities they never would have signed up for and they meet new friends. Make it clear in the agreement gardeners who don't comply with conditions are dropped when renewal time comes along. We have a four member team that walks the garden at the end of October with a clipboard with columns for "yes renew", "conditional" and "no renew".
3. Schedule food and fun along with work. We serve soup and bread 52 Saturdays a year at noon. Gardeners sign up for making soup ahead of time; an Italain bakery donates the bread. Every Friday evening during the summer we have a community potluck/BBQ for gardeners and community members who are interested in attending. Potluck attendence ranges from 10 to 50. GREAT FOOD.
4. Offer classes and programs to appeal to a wide variety of people. We offer a wide variety of events: Blackberry and Bindweed Bushwhacking Bash (a brushcutting work party);
an anuual Community Oyster Roast fund-raiser, a first-of-season Copper River King Salmon Community Salmon Bake fundraiser,Summer Solstice Celebration, Baroque Garden Concert, Annual Halloween Pumpkin Smash (we receive community pumpkins for composting; we encourage folks smash their own), Christmas Day Cioppino Party, Potluck and Gift Exchange for Homeless Gardeners, New Year's Day Feast of Black-Eyed Peas, Greens and Cornbred for Good Luck Through the Year....and so on.
We organize out-of-garden activities like theater nights, field trips such as attending a Wendell Berry reading, sea weed gathering, mushroom forays, hikes, etc. Gardeners have experiences with other gardeners; freindships form and we build community.
5. Look out for each other. At Interbay we have an institutionalized "Good Neighbor" policy. If a gardener needs help for any reason other gardeners jump in and get the work done with a smile.
6. Litter patrol. Keeping the garden tidy and picked up. Every gardener is always on Litter Patrol. (Establish a no-smoking...

    Bookmark   November 20, 2000 at 11:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
connie thompson

A thank you to all who have responded to my posting. I have had several meetings since with the rest the the community garden team, at work, and will definitely be implementing some of the ideas from you.
Luckily we also have a University student with lots of great ideas, who will coming on board to research and design some workshops that we can run in January and February. One of our biggest barriers is lack of staffing, although I'm sure we're not alone in that. We directly support 7 gardens and indirectly support 4 others, with only 2 staff. We are also involved in other food security programs. I look foward to continued imput from other community gardeners and coordinators.
Again, thanks for your advice and suggestions.


    Bookmark   November 22, 2000 at 6:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Marshall - 10 CA/24 Sunset

Jon, I'm jealous and want to move to Seattle and get at P-plot! Very strange to have started on this post and have the one from northern UK disappear. I was going to congratulate her on their successes.


    Bookmark   December 3, 2000 at 6:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Feylin(6a Toronto,ON)

Hi Connie,

I'm relatively new to gardening, but I'm fascinated with this idea of community gardens. Which part of Ontario are you in? What type of organization is this? And what type of involvement are you looking for currently? Do let me know. Thanks!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2002 at 11:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If the community gardeners are not around for clean up...Try connecting with community service programs at local schools such as the Key Club - even through the can actually learn by helping out and it get's them some fresh air. I used to work for an Americorps (National Service) program in Boston - there were 300 of us...voulenteers, hard working, between the ages of 17 to 24, LOOKING for community service...and you would not believe how hard that can be at times - we wound up doing a lot of work with community gardens...mostly fall clean up and winter maintainance - We also helped these gardens recruit voulenteers from their neighborhoods to help and organized fund raising events..BBQ's and such - Take advantage of the other community resources and the whole idea of community will begin to solidify.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2002 at 9:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Lynn Nevins

Institute a rule that no one can work in the garden in the more desirable times (Spring/Summer), until they have accumulated a certain number of hours doing work in the Fall/Winter. So if a new member wants to join this Spring/Summer, tell them sorry, but they'll have to put in a certain number of hours this coming Fall first, and THEN they can work there the next Spring. This rule would have to be reinstituted each year, to apply to existing members.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2002 at 11:32AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
palyne(Zone 6a NE OK)

I cannot speak with experience on this thread of community gardens, but I can speak with experience about being an enthusiastic gardener in spring who has often lost interest -- in my case, always 'got too busy working' -- to stay with it. I'm not real proud of that! -- but I'll be honest and maybe something in there will relate.

The main thing for me and in fact, for nearly all the people I've talked with about this over the last few years, is that none of us were 'real' gardeners, if we were we'd have our own gardens already after all, or we'd be the very few supporting the comgardens (I've never been in one of those but a few friends have... briefly).

We WANTED to garden -- but we were really not in shape to be gardening. The getting on hands and knees stuff was the equivalent of a new gym membership: a lot of fun, feels good a time or two, and then it's (a) too far outside one's normal lifestyle, (b) a pain in the ____ just due to the exertion and sweat one isn't used to (such things were cool when I was athletic, and were miserable when I gained weight, or for friends when they got older), and so like most gym memberships, it last about 1-3 months depending on the person and then interest faded away.

Threats alone may or may not work; after all, gyms require year long contracts (for good reason!), people pay monthly, and the vast majority of members (sez my sis who ran a Holiday Spa for some time) still don't go.

I found when I began container gardening -- with a nice chair nearby to sit down in -- I enjoyed the hell out of it. Yes I know for fitness reasons this is pretty slothful but this is reality for more than 50% of our US population so say the stats. When I could sit when weary, when the bending over for a period of time wasn't such an issue (I often just brought the container to my feet at the chair), I finally got to focus on the GARDEN instead of on the 1001 annoying physical issues. I loved it!

I've realized that my problem wasn't gardening, my problem was exercising too severely for my general level of fitness. The gardening became less a wonderful experience of nature and more a miserably aching, difficult, sweaty in summer exertion. (Whether it's good for me isn't the point. Sudden over-exertion to the normally mostly sedentary is more likely to harm them than improve their health.) In places where summer is miserably hot this is certainly not helpful to inspiration. ;-) And for people who don't eat most of what they grow, that big inspiration gets lost too.

I think at the least, benches (pref w/shade) would be cool.

Maybe reselling (?) some small cinder blocks so people could build deeper lasagna beds or standing gardens on their plot would be cool.

Maybe having an offer for a small club donation for a few 'core members' of your garden to say, water for someone who can't make it in, require a deposit to the club first then deduct from that, could either give some garden...

    Bookmark   February 2, 2003 at 3:05AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My question is to Jon, do you ever have trouble with random people stealing produce?

And also do you have a diverse group of gardeners as far as income level goes? The reason I ask is because our garden, has been geared toward the lower income people of the immediate neighborhood. Since, I am searching this page for answers it may be obvious that in many reaspects we have not been very successful. Any comments or insight would be helpful.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2005 at 4:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Luv_My_Boys(z5 Indiana)

I went to the 2002 Community Gardeners Association convention in New York City a couple years back, and some of NYC's CG's had problems such as the most recent posts. One community gardener put a little signpost on her garden in English and Spanish that "all thieves in the garden will be cursed." LOL Hopefully only cursed with a guilty conscience! Another garden had posted "hours" and was kept locked otherwise and each gardener was given his/her own key.

The biggest roadblock for me, here in Indianapolis, has been accessibility. The CG at the back end of the state fairgrounds closed, which was a pain, because I was only about 4 blocks away from it.....and the closest one is a twenty minute drive away. I don't know about your situations, but working full time and having two kids, on the weekends, it was next to impossible to get out to the garden. Plus this particular one is on the grounds of a large cemetery, and I lost most of the harvest to deer and rabbits, nor was my plot tilled (the only tools we have are a shovel, hoe, and a rake) as had been promised by the people in charge of the garden. So, unfortunately, I am not going to participate this year in the program we have in our city, unless a CG comes back in my neighborhood.

Another thing many of the NYC CG's had was a posted "rules and regulations" type of sign (In English, Spanish, and Arabic of all things) that had the hours, not to steal, don't go potty in the gardens, etc. Which in some ways is really sad that you have to do that, but then again, this particular garden (in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood) was really well maintained and almost like a park.....

just a few ideas.

gotta go :) Carrie

    Bookmark   January 8, 2006 at 12:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
marie_in_wa(8 (coastal))

If all else fails - you could always contact the local juvinile court system, they just might be looking for a place that the kids could do their "community service" hours at.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2006 at 3:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"I've been considering starting a community garden. I've subsequently been cured of that desire!!
Unless I had the only key, there were security cameras, and each plot had a name engraved on a little plaque that was secured to the ground by a 5 foot stake, forget it."

Your vision seems not so communal... more like soviet communism.

and as for the topic starter. i would get the -expletitive- outa there the garden manager seems like a douschbag. i wanna start a community garden to help feed the homeless and provide employment experience for "at risk" inner city youth to encourage respect and curb gun violence... "if you manage to find the path of least resistance it probably aint worth traveling"

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 1:24PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Dwarf crape myrtle
Just brought a dwarf crape myrtle two weeks ago, now...
Lorraine Miller
Help Olin College students understand community gardens!
Hi everyone, We're a group of students at Olin College...
Managing residency requirements & waiting lists?
I'm wondering how other community gardens manage their...
size of most plots in community gardens?
we are starting a community garden in baytown, tx....
The Negatives of a Running a Community Garden
I am in charge of a fairly large community garden....
Sponsored Products
Nourison Indoor/Outdoor Area Rug: Nourison Rugs Home and Garden Daisies Green
Home Depot
Moonrays Posts Outdoor Clear and Black Solar LED Season’s Greetings Sign 96950
$20.99 | Home Depot
Contain Rainwater Modular Slim Line Harvesting Wall - CR601001
$199.98 | Hayneedle
Dragonfly Embroidered 3-piece Towel Set
Courtyard Brown and Bone Square: 5 Ft. 3 In. x 5 Ft. 3 In. Rug
$72.95 | Bellacor
Courtyard Navy and Beige Round: 7 Ft. 10 In. x 7 Ft. 10 In. Rug
$171.81 | Bellacor
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™