Our biggest success is in cultivating new student gardeners to become leaders within our community. Late last winter, Amy and her two young sons joined our Kitchen Garden Education Program. As beginning gardeners, they were eager to learn and quickly started growing an enormous variety of vegetables. This year, Amy has her own full plot in our community garden and serves on the board of directors of the garden association as well as managing the compost committee. What’s more, she also tends the most diverse and productive plot in the garden. Amy and her family bring enormous generosity and a spirit of abundance to the garden community.
What challenges did or does your project face?
The biggest challenge we face is in outreach for our year-long, Kitchen Garden Education Program. We are committed to making it possible for anyone in Washington, DC, especially low-income families , to learn to grow their own food. Our goal is to help them make the connection that triggers a paradigm shift and turns new gardeners into lifelong gardeners. But there are barriers that can make it extraordinarily difficult - even for the most prepared and committed new gardeners - to take full advantage of the program. Such barriers include transportation, time availability because of shifting work schedules, weather, personal health issues, limited knowledge, or having to care for a sick family member.
How are you working to overcome them?
Of course, many of the challenges that our students face are well beyond the scope of our work, but there is a realm in which we can help a lot - by keeping the program as flexible and adaptable as possible. We recognize that one key indicator of future success is new gardeners who visit the garden frequently. The easier the access, the more frequently they visit so, even though we are located adjacent to an urban metro-rail line, we have concentrated our program outreach in the urban neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the garden. Some of the other ways that we try to help meet each individual student ‘where they are’, is through individualized garden consultations and private garden mentor sessions. We have help available by text and email virtually all the time for trouble-shooting questions, and we check-in regularly to offer specific and individualized recommendations. Perhaps the most important development we have made is our simple, but dynamic and effective plot assignment protocol, that has virtually eliminated our old problem where some new gardeners would become quickly overwhelmed. The change has helped both students and garden staff in managing and maintaining the garden.
What did you or your project learn this season that might be useful to others as well?
We have learned that we need new strategies if we are going to stay true to our mission to serving low-income families. Ideas we are considering for next year: materials translated into Spanish, shortened sub-program to provide training for families who may be gardening in other locations, at other community gardens.