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Re: Usage and Sunnyvale

  • Subject: Re: [cg] Usage and Sunnyvale
  • From: jsalans@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 23 Jan 2006 15:41:06 -0500

I appreciate your feedback Don and ALL the feedback I have received. Here in Sunnyvale, it has been two years since we started this process of trying to acquire the land from The City. It started with The City asking us to a meeting with a philanthropic organization that wanted the city to have a substantial grant to start a senior and a general community garden. The City turned them down and mouth agape I stuck my foot in my proverbial mouth and asked if our small gardening group could pull this off.
We have since added 250 people to a Yahoo email list that we garnered from walking the local farmers market and summer outdoor festivals. We have a lot of folks who want to garden, and so we are shooting for 87 raised beds set at 4' x 16'. There will be an allocation set aside for Senior Center members and an area set aside for the Master Gardeners. We do hope to make much more of this situation then just gardening as our purpose is to bring community together. We don't want the city council to yank us after our "5 year experiment" (that's our agreed to timelimit for now). 
We will not have an open area for the public but the public will be invited in for educational events and tastings, and we hope to work with the local schools in conjunction with the senior community to put on demonstrations and garden walk throughs. We have the Sunnyvale public library next door, so we also hope to partner with them to add programs of interest for all ages. We have a database so we can track not only the gardeners who lease our beds but those who come to visit, the person hours of training we put on, and all of the information will be broken out by geographic subregion within Sunnyvale so we can show the City officials we are touching people from every corner in our community.
I appreciate you all doing what you are doing and writing so passionately about your experiences. I learn something from them all.
Josh Salans

-----Original Message-----
From: Don Boekelheide <dboekelheide@yahoo.com>
To: community_garden@mallorn.com
Sent: Sun, 22 Jan 2006 20:34:17 -0800 (PST)
Subject: [cg] Usage and Sunnyvale

Hi, Josh and all,

Three comments on 'usage' (participation?), and garden
design, planning and management. 

First, congratulations on your group's success, Josh,
but, my friend, methinks thou dost protest too much in
response to Adam's reply. No doubt you all have done a
great deal of work and invested a great deal of hope
and energy, and I highly commend you for that.
Community gardens are indeed a worthy cause. 

That said, Adam does raise some questions you don't
really answer - and those questions are based on his
hard-won experience. True, Sunnyvale is a far cry from
Hell's Kitchen in the middle of Manhattan where Adam
is a community gardener, but Adam and his community
have managed to survive, indeed thrive, over two
decades in spite of some tough challenges. If their
experience, and that of thousands of other community
gardeners, is any guide, your own successful garden
may well change quite a bit from the design you've
come up with - ADA and hoped-for participation by
various sorts of Extension 'Master Volunteers' not
withstanding. It will be your garden group's ability
to adapt, respond and build community that will make
all the difference. 

If only good intentions and hard work lead to
sustainability, peace and justice (and healthy

In any event, there's a participation 'curve' with new
gardens here in Charlotte. Recruitment is often modest
in the beginning (for instance, over the past 2 years,
on two new half-acre gardens, one of appx 36 plots
with 10x20, the other with a mix of 22 plots, 20x20
and 10x15, the beginning occupancy was less than 1/3
(8 in both cases). This grew very rapidly to require
waiting lists 12 months after opening (in spite of
haphazard recruitment and publicity) as the gardens
appeared and at least some of the plots were visibly
successful. In both cases, also, at approximately 1/3
of the original gardeners left during the first year
or at the end, a few without ever showing up (often,
these were members of  'supporting' groups, such as
Master Gardeners, Park and Rec environmental staff,
etc who thought they 'should' have a plot, or that it
would be 'cool'). 

So, in the beginning, you might be wise to prepare for
some instability and to be ready to manage some
unoccupied plots. You may want to be ready to maintain
open/neglected/abandoned beds with nice looking cover
crops or grow a relatively low maintenance veggie on
them for 'grow a row for the hungry'. With luck, your
Master Gardeners or a youth garden group may help with

On participation, be as mindful as possible of
recruitment and inclusion of gardeners in your
garden's management - and cultivate/praise/support
your garden 'deva' (or devas). Every successful garden
has someone in this role, a person (sometimes more)
who loves gardening and is right there in the garden
minding all the little things, from weeds needing
whacking to helping Ms. Jones plant her tomatoes when
her arthritis is too painful.

Take zillions of pics, of everything, and do hold
those classes - I work very closely with our local
Master Composters (not an Extension program here, but
done through waste reduction/recycling), and we use
the garden as a demo site - and count every person who
visits or takes a class. Count visitors, student
interns (our community college horticulture tech
degree is a godsend), community volunteers - don't
just count the gardeners. 

American community gardening is not really 'allotment'
gardening ('rent-a-plot') like it is traditionally in
the UK or Europe, there is more a 'barnraising'
element as Karl Linn put it - so, in calculating
'usage' for decision makers and funders, be sure to
measure overall social impacts, not number of
gardeners. Adam's garden does this brilliantly, I
think, by dividing the garden into an
allotment-inspired area for garden beds where people
rent plots, and a front 'park' area that provides
green space and many traditional park functions
(community gathering place, attractive plantings, etc)
where a much larger number of people can obtain a
'key'. Of course, in Sunnyvale you won't necessarily
do that, but you might adapt something similar. In
Durham NC, for instance, the SEEDS community garden
shares space with the food bank and has a production
area for youth to grow for a local farmers market. In
Charlotte in the community garden where I have a plot,
there's a

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