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 and then the gardening. And savvy leaders know that the behavior they model sets the tone for the community as a whole.
No pressure, right?
Here’s some tips from Start a Community Food Garden: The Essential Handbook (Timber Press) on things to consider in your leadership role.
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’s 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, then 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 first, 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. Start by making 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 gardeners ideas and concerns are, you then build an atmosphere of trust and respect and can figure out solutions together.
Tip #5: Practice What You Preach
Above all, whatever the group agrees to, you as a leader and community member then 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.
Former ACGA board member LaManda Joy is an author, speaker and food gardening evangelist. She is the founder/president of Peterson Garden Project, an educational community garden and cooking program in Chicago, Illinois. www. petersongarden.org.