Formalizing the understandings among the gardeners does not mean the people involved need to be formal.
There are many methods of minimizing or preventing issues between the people involved in a community garden. For example, you can establish monthly meetings, clear roles and responsibilities, a decision-making process, and a garden agreement at the outset.
You may want to include the vision, garden agreement, and other documents in a welcome packet to help prospective gardeners decide whether the garden is right for them. Below are our suggestions. Some of the following is from an example welcome packet from the University of Missouri Extension Office.
Regular meetings will provide structure and eliminate the confusion around scheduling a new meeting each time there is something to discuss. At first you will want to meet monthly to keep momentum moving forward with the various garden projects. Each meeting should have a facilitator, a recorder, and a timekeeper. Rotating roles gives everyone the opportunity to learn new skills.
Group meetings are like gardens: you get out what you put in. A good agenda will keep the meeting productive. Good agendas state the meeting date, place and time; meeting objectives; and the items to be discussed with times allotted for each item. It’s the facilitator’s role to draft the agenda. At least one week before the meeting, ask the rest of the group to submit agenda items. At the start of the meeting, review the agenda and ask for amendments or additions.
Roles & Responsibilities
By setting clear roles and responsibilities at the outset, you can share the workload of organizing and maintaining the garden. Find out what skills and interests each member has, then help them identify a role to take on or committee to join. If there isn’t any that match, create a new one – everyone involved in the garden should have an empowering role. Regularly rotating roles will ensure that several participants have the knowledge needed to fill each position.
Every garden should have the following positions:
- 3-5 people who coordinate external and internal garden matters; should be well-organized and readily available.
- maintains an up-to-date list of bed holders and their contact information
- maintains a wait list
- knows who is responsible for what garden plot
- knows and tracks who has signed the Garden Agreement and paid dues
- maintains an up-to-date list of contacts (volunteers, bed holders, coordinating committee members)
- main point of contact between Grow Pittsburgh and the garden organizing group
- regularly communicates when meetings and volunteer days are scheduled
- calls and/or emails group members and bed holders, depending on their preference
- keeps track of who has paid dues
- keeps track of garden expenses (i.e. water bill, party supplies)
- point person for the physical space of the garden
- keeps shed and tools organized
- makes note of damaged or missing materials/tools/structures
- maintains common areas: small repairs, grass cutting, etc.
Some other positions to consider:
- Seeks out positive press for the garden
- Makes fliers to post around town
- Reaches out to potential garden members
- Plans big events at the garden
- Makes meetings fun
- keeps a scrapbook of the garden’s progress
- documents events (i.e. taking pictures, collecting quotes)
- keeps notes at meetings
- shares with group (and Documentarian)
- a skilled grower (not necessarily a member) available as-needed to answer plant-related questions
- regularly checks the compost
- shares information about proper composting with bed holders
- adds straw if compost is too wet, more organic material if too dry
- often a person who lives within eye distance of the garden
- welcomes newcomers
- answers questions
- looks out for “suspicious activity”
- finds and coordinates volunteers
- keeps track of volunteer contact information
How will your garden group make decisions? Whether you’re using consensus or voting to make final decisions, a good group decision-making process will create space for the collective wisdom of the group to prevail. Instead of making decisions “on the fly” as situations arise, it’s better to address them at scheduled face-to-face meetings (rather than over email). In such decision-making meetings, good facilitation is extra-important to ensure that everyone’s opinions are voiced and that there is a reasonable amount of time for discussion.
Having a good decision-making process will help your group avoid major disagreements, but conflict is possible in any group project. Depending on how it is handled, disagreement can sometimes offer an opportunity to consider new ideas and discover new options. In general it’s a good idea not to address disputes “in the heat of the moment” but instead use the group’s decision-making process to find solutions. However, some conflict is outside of the scope of a community garden group – your vision statement can be a good barometer for this.
The process of making a garden agreement will be your garden group’s opportunity to decide on the expectations for participation. There is a difference between Rules and Guidelines: “No leaving tools out;” vs “We want to keep our tools in good shape. Be sure to put all tools away.” Document your decisions in a garden agreement to be signed by each gardener. The agreement can be amended and re-signed at the start of each year/season.
- Application: Who is eligible for space? How do they apply?
- Fees: Is there a membership fee? What is it for? How much is it? Is there a sliding scale? When is it due? Who holds the funds?
- Keys and Security: Is a locked space necessary? If so, who has access? Is there a deposit for keys? (Suggestion: A combination lock can be used to avoid keys. Combination can be changed annually.)
- Plot Maintenance: What are the required standards for a plot? What happens if a plot is not maintained? On what time frame? Who reminds people? How are significant issues resolved?
- Garden Maintenance: Who does the maintenance of garden paths, fences, perimeter beds, mowing, etc.? Is there an expectation that gardeners will volunteer for certain chores? If not, how are these tasks completed?
- Planting Restrictions: Are there restrictions on which types of plants can be grown? (Examples to consider: aggressive re-seeders, perennials, tall-growing crops like sunflowers and corn.)
- Beginning and End of Season: Who will do the tasks to open and close the garden each season? By what date do gardeners need to have the plots planted and cleared?
- Pesticides: For successful organic growing certain organic pesticides can be used—which will you allow? What guidelines do you have for application? For example, when other people are around? If children are present? (A note: Organic techniques are strongly recommended by both Grow Pittsburgh and WPC, especially if children will be involved in the gardens. Sprays drift and can affect neighboring plots even on low-wind days. Conventional fertilizers and herbicides or pesticides, even non-spray types, will affect the soil for years to come.)
- Composting: Is there garden compost? Who maintains it? What materials may and may not be composted?
- Materials and Tools: Are shared materials and tools available? How should they be handled, cared for, and stored?
- Other peoples plots: How should gardeners treat and respect others’ spaces? Are there any guidelines on what sorts of stakes, structures, “decorations” and other items might be added to a plot?
- Pets and children: Are pets allowed? Under what conditions? Do you want to directly state the expectation that people will clean up after and monitor pets? Are children welcome? Any conditions/expectations that should be stated?
- Drugs and alcohol policy: suggestion — include a clear statement that no illegal substances are allowed
- Safe space: suggestion — include a statement like, “This garden is a safe space where homophobic, sexist, racist, and abusive language is not allowed.”
- Unwanted activities: How should theft, vandalism, and other unwanted activities be handled and reported?
- Meetings: Are there any mandatory meetings? When are they?
- Violation of Garden Agreement: What happens if a rule is violated? How will problem be handled?