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Organizing a garden


I’m pondering a friend’s community garden problems, not really sure what I 
should tell him. I’d appreciate any suggestions.

Briefly, he lives in a Southern city, not unlike my home Charlotte. He’s 
contacted me about starting a community garden - he lives in middle class 
part of town, unusual for being integrated, with good intercultural 
relations. The Quakers have their church there, maybe that helps. Anyway, 
there is still some vacant land, though development is encroaching fast. He 
wants to help organize a community garden. He’s now shopping the idea around 
to churches and community groups, like neighborhood assns.

He has 2 questions. 

First, how long does it take to get a garden up and running, from bright idea 
to planting day #1?

Second and much trickier - what should he do about the existing community 
garden organization? Currently, in his city, for the past decade, one group 
has defined community gardening . They are based in a Baptist church ina 
wealthy White section of town. The force behind the group is the director, a 
saintly, very energetic and very opinionated White woman from the church who 
has made the project her life. The group has organized a half dozen gardens, 
all on the same model - vacant lots, surrounded by a chainlink fence, in or 
near an impoverished Black neighborhood. It is a long story, but in short 
these gardens do little to build community. Though representatives from 
garden attend ‘board meetings’, these are held at the church, and all major 
decisions are made by the director and influential church members, all White. 
No garden has a central gathering area or is used for anything but allotments 
(except for 2 with greenhouses, managed by White volunteers or a paid 
part-time ‘horticulture consultant’, also White). All gardeners are Black 
(many are older women). There is no composting at any garden, nor are there 
other environmental practices. Funds (and the group has done very well 
raising money and getting official city support) have gone to things like 
buying a rototiller, a van and the greenhouses. There’s been some criticism 
from Black community organizers, but the director and the group leaders 
become extremely irate whenever this is mentioned - phrases used, according 
to my friend, are 'thankless' and 'pointless complaining-what do those people 

On the other hand, the group is at least creating gardens! No gardens at all 
might exist without the director’s tireless and completely unpaid work and 
the church’s fundraising. Though there are no White gardeners, the 
relationship between the director and some of the Black gardeners is very 
warm and close. My friend tried to crack the ‘color bar’ last year by 
signing up for a plot in a newly created garden. This caused much 
consternation, and he lasted about a week - after a minor misunderstanding 
about a garden key, the (White) director sent my (also White) friend a note 
calling him a racist, and he decided to leave the group and the garden.

So, a year later, here is his dilemma: In organizing in his own community, 
should he continue to try to work with the existing garden group, or try to 
strike out on his own? If he goes on his own, how can he deal with the fact 
that virtually all public agencies equate the existing group with community 
gardens and have a pattern of snubbing any other community garden group that 
asks for funding or support? If he wants to bury the hatchet, how might he 
approach the ‘big group’ and its director - especially when his hopes for 
community gardens are so different? And how can ACGA help in this situation?

I’ve told my friend about ACGA and recommended this site. Just watching the 
traffic gives me good ideas. I’ll pass along any responses to him. Meanwhile, 
back in Charlotte, it is starting to warm up. I’m about to order fruit trees 
(‘bye lawn), any body know any good nurseries? Turns out our local Friends 
Meeting may be starting a community garden of their own on a plot of land 
denuded by a developer - I’m going to show them the ACGA video one of these 

Thanks, sorry for the long post, tia for the good advice,

Don Boekelheide
Charlotte NC

community_garden maillist  -  community_garden@mallorn.com

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