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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Process

It is often said that the process of reaching a goal is more important than the goal itself. As we try to create sustainable community gardens this is true with both the community and the gardening parts of community gardening. A group of people joining together to start a community garden will have to attend meetings to decide how to govern themselves and to develop rules and responsibilities of the members of the garden. This process can go a long way toward determining the success and longevity of the community garden. A contentious beginning may presage a future of ongoing conflicts in the group. An early series of meetings marked by cooperation and compromise could set the tone for a more harmonious future for the group.

A couple of projects I have participated in over the past few weeks have pointed out the importance of taking time and paying attention to the process in accomplishing garden improvement projects. Both projects take place at school gardens but the lessons learned apply for community gardens. At the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers school garden we embarked on a project to redesign and rebuild a garden shed that was in need of repair, to make the necessary repairs and turn the shed into a rainwater collector. Several meetings and many e-mails laid the groundwork needed to accomplish a complicated renovation. The existing roof had to be removed and the pitch of the roof changed to optimize the amount of rainwater collected. The students in the school were to take part in prefabricating the new walls and roof sections and in doing the demolition and reconstruction. Materials needed to be ordered and delivered on time and teacher and student schedules had to be arranged for the 3 day build.

One of the teachers at the school set up a blog to document the process from designing and prefabrication to the partial removal of sections of the roof and the walls. The blog posts tell the story in pictures and a little bit of commentary.

The other school project involves composting. Also an Urban Assembly school, The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School is located on Governors Island in New York Harbor. A 5 minute ferry ride from lower Manhattan is the only way to reach the school. The school's mission, includes making the students aware of the waterways surrounding New York City and the social, political and environmental issues which effect water quality, river and bay life and the workings of an active marine waterfront. Students go on to become ship captains and enter other water based careers in science, engineering and policy.

I visited the school to assess the possibility of using water conservation best practices by installing a rainwater harvesting system to water the school garden. What I saw in addition to the rainwater possibilities was a school wide composting program. The school has an Earth Tub composter which holds 3 cubic yards of organic waste. There is a whole process that has to take place in order to get the food waste and bulking agents into the composter.  Student interns collect buckets of food scraps from teacher rooms and the cafeteria and cart them outside to the Earth Tub. They have to chop the material into smaller pieces using hedge clippers. They also weigh the materials collected and log the totals, add wood shavings collected from the boatbuilding workshop, manually turn the tub, clean the buckets and return them to be refilled.

A "simple" part of a sustainable garden like composting takes a lot of planning and attention to process in order to make it a successful operation. Another example of how the process is in some ways even more important than the end result.

These two examples graphically show how important the process is in accomplishing a goal, a very important lesson from our schools to our community gardeners.