Sunday, May 31, 2009

Need more hands in your community garden? Part 2

Encouraging people to turn out for a community planting is a constant job for community garden leaders. Often, there is a substantial list of garden tasks, and too slim of hands to tackle them. Folks do want to participate, but often life is busy and there are many competing interests for our time.

This is a second in a series of posts that are focused on finding more hands for your community garden. Your efforts in planning these now will be a boon for your community garden later in the season (just when your regulars are getting tired out). Ten, one-time volunteers can take care of a task that would require 2 people to do all day. This fact makes these bigger work days more fun for your regulars as they both get to do something different and achieve sense of accomplishment feels like "Extreme Makeover". Examples of good tasks for a one-time larger group include trash pick-up, watering, mulching, deadheading, planting, edging beds, weeding fence lines, weeding out one particular weed. These are all simple, repetitive gardening techniques that you can show folks how-to do in a quick lesson.

This second tip in the "Need more hands" series suggests connecting to local colleges (and even high schools). Colleges and Universities can be bureaucratic to wade through, but there is usually multiple avenues to reach willing 15-20 year old volunteers. Many folks in the age group very much want to contribute, and a growing proportion want to learn sustainable gardening.

Here are some tricks to connecting to school crews:
  • One tricky element about this suggestion is the fact that many student volunteers are tied to the academic year only, which means their available time does not greatly an overlap to the growing season. Its still worth recruiting however, because these volunteers are energetic! Further, their available dates are often the beginning and the end of the growing season, just when there happens to be bigger tasks related to garden openings and closings. Because of the differences in calendars, you will probably have to locate a new crew for each work date you arrange.
  • You may likely need to plan these community service dates involving students well in advance, often in the previous term. This can be hard to remember in the spring rush of garden tasks that you also need to connect with your teachers for the Fall events! For example, This week, The Snelling Avenue Planter Project just made some connections for a Hamline University crew who will be performing community service, in early September. Another example in the Twin Cities is the U of MN's Welcome Week which involves their incoming freshmen in community service.
  • To find a student volunteer(s) that will be able to volunteer repeatedly, you will need to find students required to do service for class credit (like Service Learning departments, course projects, capstone projects, senior thesis, and even Eagle scout & 4H projects). This type of student volunteer can tackle other garden needs beyond hauling wood chip such as making a flier, cleaning the garden's tools, write, research, apply for grants, and more.
  • To begin tapping into to this potential source of volunteers, you need to ask amongst other organizations how they reach students, and also call around to the schools asking if their students do community service. Places to hunt on campus include service learning departments, student orientation events, student governments, student groups, restorative justice programs, resident housing, fraternities, community relations offices, alumni organizations, and of course, particular department offices (or even professors) which have majors that relate to your garden project.
  • Once you find a route to interested student volunteers, try to make these connections institutionalized. It is important to find out the permanent staff person who is ultimately in charge of the students, and even try to get a face-to-face meeting with them. Many college departments rely on student workers to pull together community service projects. So once that student worker graduates or finish working at that department, then you have lost that connection. You will gain more return on your time investment if you can come back to that department/professor year-after-year. Once the college knows about your project and that community service will be successful, then they will start calling you!

Photo Caption: A service learner from the University of Minnesota looks over one of Horton Park's serviceberry trees scouting for insects amongst the native plantings installed by the Friends of Horton Park. Sarah worked for 24 hours in the community gardens over spring 09 term.

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