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'organizing lead' vs. 'garden lead' strategies

  • Subject: [cg] 'organizing lead' vs. 'garden lead' strategies
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Mon, 9 Jun 2003 11:07:32 -0700 (PDT)

Hi, everybody,

I'm going to send 3 posts today - it is too hot and
muggly to work.

Two come out of the community gardening online
workshop offered by Foodshare Toronto. Man, is it
cool! I think you can drop by to see what the group
has been doing over the last couple of weeks at
http://www.communityzero.com/foodshare. Laura Berman
is doing a great job on selecting readings and case

Anyway, I've been thinking about what Laura, and I
think most of ACGA (dangerous to say that...I know
<:)), suggests about organizing community gardens -
that the people and organizing have to come first,
then the garden. There is much wisdom in that, but I
think there may be another way. Here's what I just
posted to the workshop, thought I'd share it with the


The first lessons of this workshop emphasize that
community gardening must begin with community – to
successfully organize a garden, it is important to
gather at least 6 people together, to create a vision
statement, to come up with rules and committees. This
‘organizing lead’ strategy has much to commend it, but
this approach only represents half of the picture.
Based on observations in my community, I believe that
there is another way to successfully get a community
garden going, one that starts with the garden. Call if
a ‘garden lead’ strategy.
In Charlotte, at least two successful community
gardens would probably not exist had organizers
insisted on a purely organizing lead strategy. In one
case, the Dovetail Garden, a visual artist created a
garden as part of a creative arts grant, then opened
it up to the community. In another, a garden has been
created beside a homeless shelter at the Urban
Ministries, where the cast is constantly changing. In
both cases, the garden came first, and ‘outsiders’
helped to create and manage the garden.

Part of the problem is that in Charlotte, there are
few examples of community gardens. When enthusiasts
show up singing the praises of community gardens, no
one knows what they are talking about. To attract
people, you need a tangible example. People interested
in gardening are more likely to come to a tomato
planting than a meeting to pick a committee to
organize more committees.

It isn’t as simple as all that, admittedly. Both the
artist and the organizer of the Urban Ministries
garden did simultaneously seek input from the
community, and both did very careful garden planning
based on human and ecological factors. But the
organizing came later. In both cases, though for
different reasons, the gardeners were not in the
slightest interested in rules and the like.
Especially, many of the homeless folks are not
comfortable with structure. Even now, both gardens –
which are successfully ‘running themselves’ – have a
minimum of rules, committees and the like.

Both do, however, have a ‘gardener’ – a person who
cares very much about what is happening in the garden
in terms of watering, weeding, etc. My suggestion is
that every successful garden needs (and has) this. It
can be formal or informal, and shared or partnered
rather than ‘soloed’, but it has to exist.

Likewise, a community garden probably benefits greatly
from someone who is just as active on the
organizational end (again, this can be a team effort,
I suppose). In fact, if a garden is going to reach its
transformative potential in a community, this role is
just as important as the gardener (though even an
‘imposed’ garden can provide benefits in terms of
beautification and food.

I suspect that most of us community gardeners are
hybrids of gardener and organizer, each with one side
or another predominating (something that may change
over time). Both aspects are necessary for successful
and sustainable community gardens. My guess it that
both the ‘community’ (or ‘organizing’) part and the
‘garden’ part can be an effective lead strategy in
establishing gardens. I’ll sing ‘The Garden Song’ over
here, you sing ‘Solidarity Forever’ over there, and
we’ll make beautiful music together.

What do you think? 

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