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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Garden Membership - Open to All?

How do you give everyone an equal opportunity to be a member of a community garden? Sounds like it should be simple but there are complicating factors. Theoretically it might make sense to start over each year with a lottery of some kind to assign plots. But if you think about what goes into making a community garden successful a lottery would not make any sense at all.
Community Gardens need some degree of continuity for the group to gain strength and cohesiveness and to develop social systems for setting rules and making decisions. To make a comparison with healthy soil, it takes many years to create a healthy soil by adding compost, using cover crops and allowing beneficial organisms to build up in the soil. A garden group needs people with various skills, time on their hands and the dedication to making the group successful. Usually the first stab at setting garden rules needs a lot of tweaking as the rules are tested by real world situations. The rules may be too strict for all but the most dedicated members who have lots of time on their hands or they may be too ambiguous where people can interpret the rule in several ways and each could be technically right.

Sometimes a garden member is very good at fixing or repairing tools, fences or garden structures out of found objects. Some gardeners are expert gardeners or horticulturists and provide the answers to gardening related questions. Other gardeners are astute at getting municipal services or donations from businesses. It would be counterproductive to the social sustainability of a community garden to remove members with these assets that are so necessary. But maybe the new people would have similar or even better skills. That is possible but a successful group has a certain chemistry that may take years to develop. To try to recreate this chemistry each year would be very difficult or I would say nearly impossible. To make another soil analogy, if you were to remove the soil from a garden and bring in new soil each year it would not be a productive soil or use of time.

Recently this question of a garden lottery came up in a listserv discussion. A garden that was on property owned by a college was being built on and moved to a smaller location. The gardeners fought the move but the college prevailed. The plots in the new garden the gardeners were told would have to be filled by an annual lottery to give everyone (particularly students) a chance at a space in the garden. The college may have seen this as an opportunity to get rid of some of the most vocal gardeners but even if their intent was to be egalitarian it was still misguided for the reasons I mentioned above.

The discussion did bring up some interesting ideas; One gardener wrote about creating an apprenticeship level of membership as a way to determine those most interested,

" In recent years there has been such an explosion of interest in gardening, so we instituted an apprentice system to be able to make space in our gardening community, given the limits of our physical space. This season we have about 15-20 apprentices. Apprentice members are asked to fulfill membership requirements (open hour shifts, 4 meetings, and 4 workday/events) for a season after which they are placed on a waiting list for a plot. This system is only two years old, but so far, every apprentice who has fulfilled their requirements received their own plot in the following season. During their apprentice year, apprentices learn how the garden works and are involved in maintaining our common ornamental beds, our welcome gardens and our community herb garden. There is also a vegetable plot set aside for apprentice gardeners to work on, with some guidance from an experienced member.

Our members are very active and our garden is pretty highly-functioning and I'm not sure how true that would be if there was an almost complete annual turnover and a lottery system. I don't think a lottery as described here would allow for any sense of continuity or growth of a garden community. I do think it is important to create a meaningful role for interested newcomers. "

Another gardener talked about a similar system where new members tend communal plots and the most committed are then offered an individual plot when one is available,

" ...we take all comers. We're in our third year of having community plots and it seems to work pretty well. We have 26 individual beds and then 3 (growing to 4) supersized beds that are community plots. New members generally start out with the community plots and get to do as much or as little work as they want. They can also work on our landscaping/non-edible areas. It becomes clear pretty soon who is committed to the garden and who just wants to play in the dirt a bit. Those who are clearly committed get offered an individual plot (or a share) when one opens up, and with our newly transient population, beds have been opening up annually. We also have some large pots by some beds and sometimes they are used by those without their own beds. Those working the communal beds are seen as of equal status as everyone else, and it is important that some old-timers stick around because they get to teach the newbies what they know."

These are good suggestions from garden groups that have been in existence for a number of years and have dealt with the difficult decisions. While to an outsider it might make sense to give everyone a chance at a garden plot through a lottery, the reality is that it is not as clear cut as that. At the beginning of the season when a lottery would be held many people may sign up out of curiosity but then find that they don't have the time or interest to be a community gardener. This happens with new member who join a garden from a waiting list or directly even without a lottery. Yes there are instances where a garden that is run by a small group or even a single individual may not be open to new members (a subject for another post). But in most community gardens run democratically or by consensus, if someone is truly committed to community gardening the group will quickly recognize that and welcome that individual.

1 comment:

  1. خدماتنا متميزة عن غيرنا في مجال التسريبات سربات المياه والعوزال وحل بطرق سليمة دون التدمير فعندنا في شركة ركن البيت افضل يوجد افضل الفنين الممتزين في مجال التسربات والكشف عنها بدون اي مشاكل من خلال الطاقم التي تم تدريبه في شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالدمام فتعاملك معنا ستحصل علي خدمات متميزة

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