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The Weekend Gardener: Encouraging Community Garden Participation

Two beds in a community garden, one newly planted and the other covered in weeds.
Two beds in a community garden, one newly planted and the other covered in weeds.

A common issue for community garden groups is varying levels of participation among the gardeners. The result of some gardeners not tending their beds on a regular basis means that, at best, the beds are weedy and aesthetically unpleasing or, at worst, the beds are completely overgrown and spreading weeds, diseases, and pests to the other beds. Beyond these consequences, lack of full involvement hampers the spirit of community--building relationships with one's neighbors, demonstrating pride in one's neighborhood--that community gardeners aspire to achieve.

Hannah Reinhart, community development coordinator at Gateway Greening, works directly with many St. Louis-area community gardens and had some helpful tips to share regarding how to maintain an active garden group.

Before a garden is even built, it's important to have a clearly delineated set of rules about how to handle untended beds so that all garden participants understand the consequences. The website Rebel Tomato has suggested garden guidelines for groups to adopt. Rules will likely be adapted as the garden matures and the group determines which procedures work best for them.

Before any penalties are put in place, a garden leader needs to contact the less involved participant to find out why the problem is occurring. Is it that they have a scheduling conflict with group work days? Perhaps they find the hose too heavy to move so are unable to water properly and have lost their plants. The leader may find that there is an easy solution the garden group could implement to help facilitate participation, such as purchasing a hose reel or alternating weeding chores.

If no solutions can be agreed upon or if the inactive gardener cannot be contacted, after a waiting period the other gardeners will likely have a work day in which they clean out and turn under the untended bed. The bed can then be replanted by another gardener on the waiting list. If there's no waiting list or if it's late in the season, the other gardeners may decide to use the bed as a group for planting attractive annual flowers or for planting vegetables that they didn't have room for.

It's important that the garden leaders enforce the garden's adopted rules from the beginning. Reinhart says that Gateway Greening's leadership training and annual site visits for Gateway Greening-assisted gardens will be helpful in this regard.

Finally, it's also nice to build up a waiting list of gardeners so that the current participants know that their plot will be eagerly taken over if it is neglected! Make sure your garden has a sign with contact information so that your neighbors who pass by know that the garden is a community effort.

As the Director of Marketing & Digital Media for St. Louis Public Radio, Madalyn Painter works to move audiences to deeper levels of loyalty to our service to the community. She and her team provide targeted marketing, business intelligence, and visual design and support the station’s digital products and strategy.

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