Hopes and dreams of community garden organizersDozens of flip chart pages surrounded our group two weeks ago at Walnut Hall in Tanglewood Park. I was pleased to help co-facilitate an exciting and action packed training workshop in Winston-Salem where 50 community garden leaders from across North Carolina came together to learn and practice information and training workshops as a part of the Growing Communities curriculum produced by the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA). It was a tremendous couple of days that I had been working on pulling together for a year with a group of folks from the NC Community Garden Partners. The planning committee raised money to give 10 scholarships and offer the workshop at a very low rate. Thanks to many generous folks including NC and A&T State Universities' Cooperative Extensions, Forsyth Farm Bureau, Carolina Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and Take Step Two of Pitt County among others.
People came from all kinds of gardening projects; some run by churches and food pantries to help feed the hungry, others from school-based gardens, traditional allotment style gardens, senior center and public housing sites. Some folks were seasoned, others very new to the world of community gardening. A key lesson is helping people to understand it's not enough to build some beds, put up a fence and find a water source. You have to build a community group strategically and carefully in order for the garden to really succeed. It is recommended that at least 10 committed people are ready to come to the table before even beginning to organize a community garden. Half of those will probably drop out or fade away over time and the people with a "fire in the belly" are the key to long term success.
We worked intensively for 2 solid days and I think the folks were really energized and inspired to get back home and put the learning into practice. The goal of the Growing Communities training is to teach gardeners how to be better organizers. It is often said that community gardens fail not because people can't grow beautiful tomatoes, but because they are poorly organized. And as a person that has been trying to make 3 community gardens successful for about 5 years now with mixed results, I can say this is very true. This was the second time I had attended this training and I carried back lots of new ideas and reminders of old knowledge too. All will help me continue my work of making the Growing Healthy Kids gardens with which I work more successful, more community driven, community run and organized entities.
One of the strategies of the training is to throw the participants together into small groups where they are charged with developing an 85 minute presentation on a garden organizing topic to be presented the following afternoon. Not only do they have to do this with a group of strangers, they have to familiarize themselves with the educational info and workshop materials of the Growing Communities training manual in a very short time frame. People really came through and in the session on Communications and PR we were left with the rallying cry "Community Gardens- KALE Yeah!!"