Some days we get to live the life we imagined.
Second Harvest of the Big Bend Annual Agency Conference. Of the 150 or so agency partners (largely food pantry coordinators and volunteers), 35 folks attended my workshop. For starters, to demonstrate the inseparable link in my world-view between gardening and food security, I shared stories about my 93-year-old grandmother who shaped my childhood with stories of surviving the Great Depression via her family's garden, milk cow, and chickens. Next, we walked through Food Gardening Basics like sunlight, water, garden bed preparation, how deep to plant seeds, etc. Then, after a quick overview of the three major types of community gardens (Allotment or Subscription, Educational, Donation), we brainstormed, "What Does it Take to Start a Community Garden?" which brought to light the need for people, commitment, communication skills, and other human elements beyond the basic garden supplies of seeds, soil, amendments, and water. In terms of building a community garden team, we discussed the "Four W's and R," wisdom, weight, work, wealth, and representation. Let me elaborate.
In gathering a team to successfully develop a community garden, it's essential that you've got folks with wisdom. Gardening know-how is essential, but that's far from the extent of the knowledge you need at the table; group process, communication, how to make fliers, how to talk to one's neighbors, how to manage teams of youth, and how to approach potential funders or sponsors are just a few of the pieces of wisdom that could aid the effort. Weight, or community credibility, or community influence is also critical. Who are the folks in the community to whom others listen, respect, follow? It's good to have these folks on your team-- even if only in an advisory fashion. Then, of course, you need folks that are actually going to show up to work: dig, plant, sweat, and harvest. A room of folks who think a community garden is a "good idea" only makes a good team if a dedicated core intend to garden personally. It is also beneficial, of course, to have some money or wealth on (or within reach of) the team. Lastly, if one is organizing a garden team, it's essential that you organize the leadership from the community in which the garden will be; i.e., representation is essential. The question is: who do you want to be involved eventually, and how can you work with them from the beginning? This is where it's essential that leadership reflect community demographics (gender, race, income, age, etc).
Finally, we wrapped up the session with pictures of various community gardens from the area: Havana, Fort Braden, Southwood, Faith Presbyterian, St John's Missionary Baptist's plot at the FAMU gardens, the 4th Avenue Garden, Ruediger's school garden, FBMC Benefits Management's garden, and the 2x2 in the park at 9th and Terrace.
When I told the Second Harvest conference coordinator that I was honored to present, what I meant was: I started my food garden gig in hopes that I would, some day, some how, contribute to efforts that would aid hungry and malnourished folks in town. Yesterday was indication that, perhaps, I am walking in the right direction.