As we head into the final months of 2018, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, another election cycle, and a number of other distractions that can make it easy to lose sight of why we do what we do.

Here at Grow Pittsburgh, we’re committed to carrying out our organizational values every day in our work, making them the guiding framework for all of our decision making. In the coming months, we will be featuring first-hand accounts from Grow Pittsburgh staff members each month, illustrating the centrality of these values in our daily work.

This October, we’re highlighting our value of Community Participation, which dictates that we are “prioritizing neighborhood voices to guide programs”.

Read more from Community Garden Coordinator, Claire Matway, on how this value guides her work on a daily basis and stay tuned in the coming months as we feature how we’re #LivingOurValues:

My job is to support community gardens. I work alongside groups of community gardeners as they’re planning gardens, installing infrastructure, and dealing with all the various challenges that the growing season brings. I get to roll around in the Grow Pittsburgh truck hauling huge piles of dirt. I spend time with gardeners identifying beetles and worms, and discussing the ripening stages of specific varieties of peppers.

Most importantly, though, I work to help build community engagement in garden projects. In my relationships with groups of community garden leaders, with individual gardeners, and with other community members, my role is to ask: who is involved in the garden, and who could be involved? Who is the garden for? Is everyone welcome, and is there engagement taking place to make that clear? How can all the people-powered elements of the garden be supported by clear and inclusive messaging, and rigorous and consistent community outreach? Are decisions being made equitably, with significant input from the folks who are most affected by the outcomes?

Claire (pictured with her arms raised) with participants during a Building Raised Beds workshop at the Garden Resource Center.

We discuss these questions in church basements, over the phone, or standing around in a circle by the eagerly spreading sweet potatoes. The Grow Pittsburgh value of Community Participation is present in many of my day-to-day tasks.

Twice a year, our Community Projects team holds a training, “How to Start a Community Garden”, and it’s focused almost entirely on building people power. The training acts like a Community Organizing 101 specifically for gardeners. The attendees collaborate to learn best practices in community outreach and group facilitation. We all have lunch together in the Grow Pittsburgh office, and folks swap stories about their specific communities’ challenges and victories.

While training gardeners in these skills is important, we try to walk the walk too. With the launching of the Community Garden Network, there’ll be increased opportunities for community gardeners to collaborate with leaders from other gardens. The Garden Resource Center is advised by a board of its users (community members who are not Grow Pittsburgh employees). At the end of the growing season, the Community Projects team analyzes our community garden support programs and tries to figure out what we can improve upon. Focus groups with folks who’ve participated in our programs help with that goal, along with many surveys and conversations with current participants.

The conclusion of each season also provides many joyful moments in the gardens. The final armfuls of eggplants and green beans are harvested and weighed. The compost piles are impressive, and some collards plants are almost as tall as me! Most intricately, and most beautifully, gardeners who started out as novices are now helping make decisions and run events, and they’re dreaming about new ways to get people involved in garden activities. Passerby shout hellos back and forth with gardeners. We’ll keep growing these connections with each other regardless of the season.

Does the value of community participation resonate with you? Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, tag @growpittsburgh and #LivingOurValues and let us know what community participation means to you!