Community Garden Series: Five Tips for Community Garden Leaders and Organizers

A successful, long-term and healthy garden community requires just as much cultivating as the garden itself. Smart leaders and organizers focus on the people first before the garden is even built. And savvy leaders know that the behavior they model sets the tone for the community as a whole.

No pressure, right?

How to be a good leader:

  • Have an open mind
  • Leave your ego and preconceptions a home
  • Acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of the team
  • Treat all ideas as valuable
  • Be a good listener
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Make sure everyone leaves a meeting in a better place than when they arrived

How do you do this? Here are a few tips…

Tip #1: API – Assume Positive Intentions

People get really passionate about community action and, particularly, gardens. If someone is coming to you with an issue and they seem to be getting up in your grill, keep in mind that whatever is driving them is important to them. They’re not after you, personally (most of the time!) they are trying to solve a problem that is important to them. If you assume positive intentions, these interactions won’t seem as personal and you can collaborate faster and get an issue resolved.

Tip #2: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

We can all hum that iconic tune, but do we exercise it in our dealings with our community members? One of the fundamental principles of organizing (and life in general) is respect for the ideas, opinions, and wishes of others. By respecting people’s contributions you build an environment of trust that is invaluable to a healthy and well-functioning community.

Tip #3: Communicate!

Nobody likes surprises or feeling left out. When your garden group is young, you can’t over communicate. Make open and frequent interactions part of your organizational playbook. And don’t just talk about the good stuff. Let people know everything that is going on so you can overcome obstacles together.

Tip #4: Listen!

There are two types of listening: listening in order to reply and listening in order to understand. If a garden member presents an issue and, as you listen, you’re taking in information to form a rebuttal, you’re not really listening. If you’re listening to really understand, you may not have an answer. And that’s ok. By really listening to what your gardener’s ideas and concerns are, you build an atmosphere of trust and respect and can figure out solutions together.

Tip #5: Practice What You Preach

Whatever the group agrees to, you as a leader and community member, need to respect those wishes and comply with them. Being a leader does not give you special privileges. The rules and group decisions apply to everyone. Period.

Sample Garden Rules and Regulations

Garden rules should be established for every community garden. Rules are an excellent way to ensure everyone understands how the garden will operate and what is expected of each gardener. These rules are intended as a guide only. Each garden’s rules will vary depending on the needs of each garden.

 1. Each gardener is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of their garden plot.

Watering, weeding, harvesting and any other garden-related maintenance are all the responsibility of the gardener. Gardeners may arrange for other gardeners to water their plots.

2. Tools will be made available for use during the regularly scheduled work time each week.

A limited number of tools, hoses, and watering equipment will be available in the community garden storage bin for use during non-scheduled work times. Regularly scheduled work times will be posted on the garden bulletin board.

 3. Each gardener will be given one key to the garden and the storage bin for access to tools and watering equipment.

Gardeners are responsible for bringing that key each time they work in the garden. Keep garden gate and storage bin locked at all times and return all tools.

 4. Children are welcome in the garden but must be accompanied by an adult and must be supervised at all times.

 5. Each gardener must complete a Release of all Claims form before any work in the garden can begin.

 6. Garden plots should be cared for at least once a week.

It is the gardener’s responsibility to notify the coordinator if he or she is not able to care for their plot in any given week. If any plot remains unattended for more than three weeks that plot is subject to reassignment.

 7. The application of herbicides (weed killers) to the garden plots is prohibited.

 8. Assignment of garden plots will be awarded by a lottery system.

Preference for next year’s plots will be given to this year’s participants first.

 9. Plot fees are due in full before the garden season begins.

 10. Gardeners may harvest vegetables and flowers from their garden only.

 11. At the end of the growing season, gardeners are responsible for clearing their plot of all plant material and leaving the plot as they found it in the spring.

 12. The Garden Committee is responsible for ensuring that the rules are followed at all times.

The committee is made up of gardeners elected each year at the spring meeting.