Ten Tips on Local Advocacy

1. Develop a plan (or don’t wait for a crisis).

If your garden is not protected, understand exactly who owns the land. Know exactly what you are asking for and who you are asking. Is there a public process or is it “who knows whom”? Your plan should include the other tips listed below. Meanwhile, keep the garden looking great!

2. Develop allies.

Community gardens, low-income housing organizations, churches, schools, community development organizations all serve the same constituencies. Introduce potential allies, including government officials and business leaders, to the garden. Determine areas of commonality and find ways to have gardeners help your allies. Be sure to ask your allies to take specific actions to help your cause.

3. Be prepared for opposition.

Acknowledge, in advance, that there will be objections to your efforts. Know both who is likely to be in opposition and what objections they will raise. Read opposition material, study the newspapers, watch or listen to talk shows, and check websites. Determine if there are any points of commonality.  Learn, if possible, if you have contacts with those to whom the opposition listens.

4. Become known.

Invite decision-makers and the media to your garden.  Host activities for neighbors. Share your produce. Do other community services – a children’s program; horticulture therapy, conduct neighborhood clean-ups, and plant tree-pits. Make presentations at nearby neighborhood and tenant association meetings.

5. Use the media.

Develop a compelling message which includes what you are asking for and a convincing reason why you should get it. Determine spokespersons and have them practice giving your message. Make a list of the human interest stories of your garden. Write up the stories (with photos!) for neighborhood weeklies. Invite newspaper and TV garden reporters to the garden. Don’t forget public access cable TV.

6. Meetings, meetings, meetings.

Be prepared to attend public meetings of the city council, planning department, parks commission, city planning and zoning hearings, and health department. Whenever possible sign up to speak at these meetings and present your message. Host meetings of your own to inform and motivate gardeners.

7. Resolutions, plans, and ordinances.

Take the offense. Get friendly local legislators to sponsor and champion resolutions and ordinances supporting community gardening. Be alert for opportunities to have community gardening promoted and sanctioned within a neighborhood and citywide planning and re-zoning efforts.

8. Celebrate successes.

Preservation efforts can take many years. However, there can always be something to celebrate (alliances with new organizations, a successful harvest, a resolution sponsored). To keep up spirits, demonstrate progress, become known, use the media, and involve allies – have a press conference, parties, and congratulatory award events.

9. Be persistent.

The opposition is hoping that you will just go away. Don’t let them wear you down. This is why having parties (tip #8) is so important. It is really important that gardeners really do go to ALL the meetings!

10. Be flexible.

Be open to changing your campaign to reflect the needs of allies or what you realize is a more realistic long-term success. For example, you may lose a garden, but gain a commitment to the building of a permanently protected and larger garden across the street.

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Sample Garden Rules and Regulations

Garden rules should be established for every community garden. Rules are an excellent way to ensure everyone understands how the garden will operate and what is expected of each gardener. These rules are intended as a guide only. Each garden’s rules will vary depending on the needs of each garden.

 

Sample Garden Rules and Regulations

1. Each gardener is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of their garden plot.

Watering, weeding, harvesting and any other garden-related maintenance are all the responsibility of the gardener. Gardeners may arrange for other gardeners to water their plots.

2. Tools will be made available for use during the regularly scheduled work time each week.

A limited number of tools, hoses, and watering equipment will be available in the community garden storage bin for use during non-scheduled work times. Regularly scheduled work times will be posted on the garden bulletin board.

 3. Each gardener will be given one key to the garden and the storage bin for access to tools and watering equipment.

Gardeners are responsible for bringing that key each time they work in the garden. Keep garden gate and storage bin locked at all times and return all tools.

 4. Children are welcome in the garden but must be accompanied by an adult and must be supervised at all times.

 5. Each gardener must complete a Release of all Claims form before any work in the garden can begin.

 6. Garden plots should be cared for at least once a week.

It is the gardener’s responsibility to notify the coordinator if he or she is not able to care for their plot in any given week. If any plot remains unattended for more than three weeks that plot is subject to reassignment.

 7. The application of herbicides (weed killers) to the garden plots is prohibited.

 8. Assignment of garden plots will be awarded by a lottery system.

Preference for next year’s plots will be given to this year’s participants first.

 9. Plot fees are due in full before the garden season begins.

 10. Gardeners may harvest vegetables and flowers from their garden only.

 11. At the end of the growing season, gardeners are responsible for clearing their plot of all plant material and leaving the plot as they found it in the spring.

 12. The Garden Committee is responsible for ensuring that the rules are followed at all times.

The committee is made up of gardeners elected each year at the spring meeting.

Five Tips for Community Garden Leaders and Organizers

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 first before the garden is even built. And savvy leaders know that the behavior they model sets the tone for the community as a whole.

No pressure, right?

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 are 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, 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 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. Make 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 gardener’s ideas and concerns are, you build an atmosphere of trust and respect and can figure out solutions together.

Tip #5: Practice What You Preach

Whatever the group agrees to, you as a leader and community member, 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.

How To Create A Community Garden

There are over 10,000 community gardens in cities across the United States. This popular trend provides fresh produce, exercise, and a place to socialize with friends and neighbors. Community gardens are also attractive and inviting spaces that benefit the environment through composting and recycling. Consider doing a little gardening – whether you have some basil and oregano growing in your kitchen window, tomatoes planted in a container on your patio, or if you decide to take it a step further and organize a community garden.

The first step to organizing a community garden is finding people who are interested in getting involved. Start by asking around and see what kind of response you get. If after this informal research you feel there is significant interest, organize a meeting. Be sure to invite fellow residents, your apartment manager or superintendent, a representative from a local horticulture group, business leaders in the area, etc. At the meeting have an agenda that covers topics such as: Are there any issues or reasons we can’t create a community garden? If we are given the green light, what type of community garden do we want – a vegetable garden, a flower garden, or both? Do we want a strictly organic garden? Who will be allowed to participate? Will we need liability insurance, and should everyone participate sign a liability waiver?

It is possible, especially in a suburban apartment complex, that you’ll be able to get approval to have the garden on the apartment community grounds. If not, look for alternatives: the roof of your urban high-rise, for example, or perhaps an empty lot located nearby – check with local government agencies to find out who owns the lot and see if you can get permission to rent the lot or perhaps even buy it. You want the garden within walking distance so people will stay involved. Also, be sure the location gets plenty of sunlight – about six hours a day.

If you think you have a good shot at getting the space for the garden approved (or rented), the next step is to form a planning committee. You’ll want people who are committed and reliable and who are willing to dedicate a good chunk of time to the project, especially in the beginning stages. The committee will be responsible for getting the garden set up – this includes a weatherproof bulletin board for schedules, events, and notices; a composting area; and if you are using an off-site lot and not a space on the apartment community property, a fence with a locking gate. You may also want to consider sponsors, such as local business leaders, nearby colleges, etc. You’ll need money for rent (if you are renting a lot), donations of tools and seeds, and funds for other expenses. If you don’t want to find sponsors, consider having membership dues (or consider a combination of both).

Before planting anything, the soil should be evaluated. Take a sample and have it tested for possible pollutants. Next, develop the garden. You’ll want to organize the garden into sections and put a sign with the gardener’s name in each section. Use the perimeter of the garden for rose bushes, blackberry bushes, shrubs, and trees that will act as both a deterrent for thieves or vandals and to make the garden attractive to those passing by. Be sure to have spaces for tool storage. Also, leave space for walkways between each garden plot.

You’ll need to keep track of who is planting where, so if they allow their garden to become a bed of dirt and weeds, you know who to contact. Set up some garden rules and post them to the community garden bulletin board. Be sure to include annual clean-up in the rules – everyone with a plot should participate. Also, everyone should have a time when they are responsible for weeding and maintaining the common areas and the perimeter of the garden.

Don’t forget to create common spaces within the garden for people to gather, even if it is just a couple of benches. One of the purposes of a community garden is to help bring people together, so consider holding fun events for garden participants, as well.

In addition to being good for the environment and providing fresh produce for healthier eating, gardening is great exercise and lowers stress.

10 Steps to Starting a Community Garden

The following steps are adapted from the American Community Garden Association’s guidelines for launching a successful community garden in your neighborhood.

1. Organize a Meeting Of Interested People

Determine whether a garden is really needed and wanted, what kind it should be (vegetable, flower, both, organic?), whom it will involve and who benefits. Invite neighbors, tenants, community organizations, gardening and horticultural societies, building superintendents (if it is at an apartment building)—in other words, anyone who is likely to be interested.

2. Form a Planning Committee

This group can be comprised of people who feel committed to the creation of the garden and have the time to devote to it, at least at this initial stage. Choose well-organized persons as garden coordinators Form committees to tackle specific tasks: funding and partnerships, youth activities, construction, and communication.

3. Identify All Your Resources

Do a community asset assessment. What skills and resources already exist in the community that can aid in the garden’s creation? Contact local municipal planners about possible sites, as well as horticultural societies and other local sources of information and assistance. Look within your community for people with experience in landscaping and gardening. In Toronto contact the Toronto Community Garden Network.

4. Approach A Sponsor

Some gardens “self-support” through membership dues, but for many, a sponsor is essential for donations of tools, seeds or money. Churches, schools, private businesses or parks and recreation departments are all possible supporters. One garden raised money by selling “square inches” at $5 each to hundreds of sponsors.

5. Choose A Site

Consider the amount of daily sunshine (vegetables need at least six hours a day), availability of water, and soil testing for possible pollutants. Find out who owns the land. Can the gardeners get a lease agreement for at least three years? Will public liability insurance be necessary?

6. Prepare And Develop The Site

In most cases, the land will need considerable preparation for planting. Organize volunteer work crews to clean it, gather materials and decide on the design and plot arrangement.

7. Organize the Garden

Members must decide how many plots are available and how they will be assigned. Allow space for storing tools, making compost and don’t forget the pathways between plots! Plant flowers or shrubs around the garden’s edges to promote goodwill with non-gardening neighbors, passersby, and municipal authorities.

8. Plan for Children

Consider creating a special garden just for kids–including them is essential. Children are not as interested in the size of the harvest but rather in the process of gardening. A separate area set aside for them allows them to explore the garden at their own speed.

9. Determine Rules and Put Them In Writing

The gardeners themselves devise the best ground rules. We are more willing to comply with rules that we have had a hand in creating. Ground rules help gardeners to know what is expected of them. Think of it as a code of behavior. Some examples of issues that are best dealt with by agreed-upon rules are dues, how will the money be used? How are plots assigned? Will gardeners share tools, meet regularly, handle basic maintenance?

10. Help Members Keep In Touch with Each Other

Good communication ensures a strong community garden with active participation by all. Some ways to do this are: form a telephone tree, create an email list; install a rainproof bulletin board in the garden; have regular celebrations. Community gardens are all about creating and strengthening communities.

What Is a Studio Apartment? The Pros and Cons of Studio Life

Whether it’s called a studio apartment, bachelor apartment, efficiency apartment, or studio flat, the answer to the question “What is a studio apartment?” remains the same: It’s a self-contained living unit with the bedroom, living room, and kitchen all in a single open space.

That’s right — a studio apartment allows (or requires) you to do all your living, eating, and sleeping in one room with no barrier walls. But you don’t have to do absolutely everything in the same room. A studio should have a separate room with a door for the bathroom. If it doesn’t, it might be illegal to rent in some states.

To people following the tiny-house movement, the virtues of studio apartments are many and obvious. But for those with a ton of possessions who are used to having more room to stretch out, studio life might be a little tight.

The advantages of studio apartments

“Moving into a studio apartment can be a great way to save money on rent without getting a roommate or settling for a less-than-desirable neighborhood,” says Niccole Schreck, a rental experience expert. “You could save on your monthly rent as much as $924 in Denver, $867 in New York City, $500 in Los Angeles, and $427 in Minneapolis by choosing a studio over a one-bedroom apartment.”

That’s a lot of cheddar. Another financial advantage of the studio apartment? Utility bills will likely be lower. A small space is cheaper to heat and cool, and the entire unit could be illuminated with a single light placed in a strategic location. Also, there’s not a lot of room for a bunch of gadgets to sit around sucking up energy.

And cleaning the place is a snap, according to many studio apartment dwellers. Since there’s little room for clutter, it’s a lot easier to clean and maintain. Of course, you will need to find a place to stash the few cleaning products you’ll need.

The challenges of studio apartments

But there are a few drawbacks as well.

“Living in a studio while I was a proud, single cat lady was so much fun. It was super easy to keep clean. I didn’t have to spend a fortune to decorate it well, and the rent and utilities were affordable,” says Erica D. House, a lifestyle expert, and blogger. “Once I got married, I couldn’t fathom living with my husband in less than 500 square feet! We both like our alone time to veg out and do what we’d like to on our own, and that would have been impossible while living in a studio.”

When House moved into a studio apartment, she had to get rid of at least 50% of her possessions — plus, she had to think twice about her purchases. Would there be room in the closet for that shirt? Room on the shelf for that book? She considered the constraint a mixed blessing.

Some studio apartment dwellers get around the lack of storage space by renting a storage unit — although the cost of storage might mitigate the financial benefits of renting a studio apartment in the first place.

But for those who are willing to streamline their lives and spend less time and money maintaining their living space, the studio apartment could be just the thing! They don’t call them efficiency apartments for anything.