November Toolshed: Tips for Garden Leaders

Leadership Support

By Libby Weiland, Statewide Network Coordinator

Congratulations on pulling off another season at your community-based garden! Your dedication brought the community loads of fresh produce, a vibrant, green space to gather, grow and learn, and so much more! And we know that this was not always an easy task—it took your energy, time, resources, and coordinating skills to keep up with the work and hold it together. We hope a successful season is leaving you feeling fulfilled and energized in your role as a garden leader.

While the season is still fresh this is a helpful time to reflect: Did you get the support you needed? Are there changes you can make to your garden’s leadership that will better support the various functions of your community-based garden? Here are a few guiding ideas to plan for the future of your garden’s leadership.

  • Task Delegation — There’s no need to do it all yourself! What tasks can be easily delegated? Simple tasks like weeding, watering and general garden care can be done by anyone with basic gardening knowledge. If you’re working with new gardeners or those unfamiliar with the site you’ll need to provide a little extra support—a brief training, clear instructions and on-call support. In a shared garden space, use signage and markers to indicate progress and work to be done—such as multi-colored flags to mark where to weed, harvest, etc. Regular work parties, required gardener volunteer hours, and rotating schedules are helpful ways to structure and divide the work more evenly among all involved. Visit the “Share the Work” page in our online Garden Organizer Toolkit for more tools for working with volunteers and task delegation: https://vcgn.org/garden-organizer-toolkit/coordinating-tools/share-the-work/.
  • Steward Support — Many groups foster leadership among gardeners and share responsibility by creating garden “steward” roles. Stewards are point people for different aspects of the garden, such as compost, shared space, infrastructure, special crops, etc. Each steward knows the ins and outs of their area of the garden—its history, how it functions, what’s needed—and oversees the upkeep of that space. For example, the compost steward is in charge of managing the compost system and recruiting and overseeing volunteers when extra support is needed for tasks like sifting, turning, etc. In one school garden parent volunteers took on these steward roles, ensuring various sections of the garden were properly cared for and coordinating directly with teachers for classroom use of the garden. A sample structure for a steward program can be found in this manual from Grow Team O.N.E., Neighborhood Gardening Handbook, by Holly C. Watson: http://issuu.com/vtgardennetwork/docs/neighborhoodgardenhandbook-2010.

    Flood Brook Union School Garden Team

  • Steering Committee —Best case scenario, your garden’s leadership is shared by a group. Each member of your committee should have a clearly defined role so that you can most effectively use your talents and time available. Some examples of roles include: administrator, membership coordinator, communications coordinator, treasurer, site manager, community building support, etc. This collaborative leadership model will serve the group by sharing not just the work, but also the responsibility; creating redundancy, so that the garden’s success is not on the shoulders of a single individual. Grow Pittsburgh’s website has helpful descriptions of the various positions necessary to a well-functioning community-based garden:  http://www.growpittsburgh.org/garden-and-farm-resources/community-gardens/start-and-build-a-garden/get-organized/.
  • Community Partnerships — Are there groups in your community who would benefit from being involved with the garden—as maintenance volunteers, garden educators, etc.? An excellent resource for filling in gaps in your leadership around garden planning, technical assistance, and garden education, UVM Extension Master Gardeners  has hundreds of volunteers around the state looking for opportunities to fulfill their required hours of service. Similarly, UVM Extension Master Composters can provide assistance and education around composting on-site. Learn more about what UVM Extension Master Gardeners and Master Composters can offer your group: https://vcgn.org/calling-on-garden-support-emg/. Also businesses and social clubs often have regular volunteer hours as a part of their mission to serve the community. These groups can be helpful for work days when many hands are needed or they might be interested in an exclusive partnership, where the group supports the maintenance of your garden all season long.
  • Stipend Position — You know better than anyone the number of hours, the amount of energy, and the degree of thought you put into the garden each season. There are times when putting a monetary value on a garden leadership position is perfectly appropriate and the best way to ensure the longevity of the position and to get the expertise you need. To ensure consistency, consider funding a seasonal stipend through garden dues, annual fundraisers, or through sponsorships.
  • Leadership Transition — Ready for a change? How can you set your garden group up for new leadership? Make sure the history of what’s happened and the knowledge about how things function in the garden isn’t only in your head. If you don’t already have the records, conduct interviews with gardeners and jot down the garden’s history—social and agricultural—and management systems in an electronic garden manual. Include lists of important contacts and how to reach them, so that future leaders know who to reach out to with various questions and when looking for resources. Make a copy of the manual and hand it off to new leadership in a binder that can be changed and updated as needed. If you’re burnt-out from your experience as a solo garden leader you don’t want the next person to end up in the same place a year or two down the road. Consider a different structure as you seek new leadership using one or more of the above models.

Whatever garden leadership changes you choose to pursue, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our staff at Vermont Community Garden Network with your questions. Also, more garden leadership resources can be found in our Garden Organizer Toolkit on our website: https://vcgn.org/garden-organizer-toolkit/.