Garden Volunteers: We Need You

By Arthur Zaczkiewicz

Earlier this month I attended a conference in North Carolina relating to the national effort behind the local “Healthy Kingston for Kids” project, which aims to reverse childhood obesity through environmental and policy change. It was a “mind-opening” experience to meet others working on the same issues from places such as Buffalo, Oakland and Chicago.

Most beneficial for me were the lunches and brainstorming sessions with folks who are also working on community and school gardens, which is one of the core areas of the Healthy Kingston for Kids project.

During one session the group identified some of the needs community garden initiatives face. This included the challenges of fundraising, security and addressing vandalism (from people and animals) as well as what we described as “volunteer sustainability.” How do you create incentives for volunteers? How do you keep them involved?

One idea centered on creating a project-based fund to support paying community garden “site stewards” a yearly stipend. Holding “skill shares” was also discussed as a way to draw folks into the work. Someone in the group reminded us that many community gardeners participate because they simply need a place to grow their own food. That’s incentive enough.

I thought about the Gardens of Nutrition in New Paltz, which is a true “community garden” in the sense that people sign up for a plot and farm it during the growing season. There’s a waiting list to join that garden. If you’re ever in the New Paltz area, check it out. On many days you’ll find gardeners tending their squash, beans and tomatoes. Gardeners check in on one another, sharing tips and complimenting each other’s work. They commune with each other as well as with nature.

Here in Kingston, citizens are working on several community, school and youth garden projects. There are about 11 school gardens up and running, which includes a hybrid “school/community garden” at George Washington Elementary School. Other recent efforts include gardens at South Pine Street and the YMCA.

Regarding volunteer coordinators, Rebecca Martin has been at the helm of this work for some time. Valeria Gheorghiu is now lending a hand – having recently organized the Kingston City Gardens Coalition. The coalition is using a “bottom-up,” grassroots approach that leverages consensus building to move this work forward. Exciting stuff.

For the youth involved in these garden projects, the benefits are lasting. There’s evidence that shows when children garden, their relationship with food changes. They eat more fruits and veggies. Imagine that.

Again, it’s hard to sustain this work without volunteers. Interested in helping? If you’re not busy this Saturday, stop by the South Pine Street Garden (on South Pine across the street from Binnewater Ice) between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. There’ll be a group of people helping to clean up the garden.

Stay tuned for other events. Volunteers can also check the garden Yahoo! Group link on this page.