Leadership in Community Gardens

What a busy couple of weeks it has been! Autumn is, of course, a time of preparedness. I’ve been canning, drying, and freezing food. I’m been trying to finish up creative projects that I started this year. I’ve also spent a lot of time re-connecting to friends who I lost touch with when my sister died and I went into ~two year hibernation. Among all of these endeavors, there has also been a great deal of focus on leadership.

Tuesday night Dane County hosted a Fall Garden Leader Meet-up. (Bragging Rights: Crowley Station had four leaders attend, the most of any garden!) Everyone brought a dish to share and sat around large round tables chatting about the year we’ve had and what the future holds. Much of the conversation focused on the changes occurring due to CAC no longer being involved with the gardens. CAC, or Community Action Coalition, is an organization with the mission “To develop economic and social capacities of individuals, families and communities to reduce poverty in Dane, Jefferson and Waukesha Counties.” Part of that service was in the deep support to Community Gardens in the area. They helped to establish leases with landowners, coordinate water access, provide seeds and education, among many other services. Earlier this year CAC had to eliminate the garden support leaving a lot of questions in the community.

At this meeting, we heard from the different groups working in partnership to fulfill the needs of the gardening community in Dane County. Much of this partnership is still be dissected and worked out among all the partners so I’ll leave out any details about that until things are finalized. I will say that I think the people and organizations involved have the best interests of the community in mind and are seeking a stronger more resilient future for the Community Gardens of the county. They are also seeking more input from the leaders of the gardens to be involved in this process and possible greater leadership needed for the whole county. I, myself, will be on the committee to help plan a winter garden event where leaders and members can learn about gardening and problems facing the organization of community gardens. I’m excited about the opportunity.

Crowley Station Community Garden also held its elections this week. Sadly, it wasn’t really much of an election. We just barely got five members to submit their names for the five positions we have. Now don’t get me wrong, these members are awesome and will be great leaders. Each of them bring unique skills and passions to the Executive Team. I just worry about the longevity of our garden. The more members feel like they are able and willing to serve as a leader means that there are more members who have strong ownership of the garden and goals for the project’s future. I also worry about burn-out for the leaders we have. Three out of five of this year’s Executive Team will be serving again (including myself as Educational Director). I want to make sure people still want to garden not feel forced to be involved because there is no one else. Still, there is lots to be hopeful about in our little community garden.

I’d love to hear how other community gardens keep there leadership fresh and engaged. How do you encourage members to take on larger roles? How do you deal with burn-out?

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