Why Leadership in Community Gardens?

You’re probably wondering why we selected leadership as one of the most pressing challenges for local community gardens. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been sharing information about Leaders Growing Community Gardens, a collaborative initiative among some of Atlanta’s best and brightest in the local food movement that is funded and facilitated by Food Well Alliance. This group of passionate individuals and organizations has been focused on providing solutions to enhance the leadership and horticulture skills. We spoke with JC Hines, the greenspace director at the Wylde Center, about her experience working with this team and why leadership is so essential to growing and sustaining our community garden infrastructure.

JC explains, “People come to me all the time and say what do I need to do?” What she and others have found is leadership is an essential part of the equation, and without it, a lot of gardens fail. You need passion to make it work, but if you don’t have one or a few people who can manage and be accountable for the operational aspects of a particular garden, the sustainability just isn’t there. JC explains that leaders bring a certain skill set to bear and knowledge to share to keep people going and to really show them the way.

“One of the most important things in this area is that the leader is willing to get on the ground and do the work with their constituents,” says JC. She furthers by saying those individuals who take the lead for community gardens must also be humble and willing to grow and learn themselves. The willingness to adapt and be humble can be far more important, she says, than knowing everything about gardening. As a leader you can bring in the resources and expertise you need to make the garden thrive, but to keep it well managed, well staffed and well maintained is a huge factor in realizing sustainability longer-term.

Community gardens also need leaders who are willing to be the cheerleader and advocate for the community surrounding them. JC shared her own personal experience with the development of the Wylde Center’s Decatur Housing Authority community garden. “For years we trucked along and helped maintain a status quo. When our education director stepped in a year ago and became part of the program, she really took ownership of this program and injected more partnered educators along with those who knew how to garden.”  The director brought a fresh perspective and a willingness to lead to the table. She was able to take her leadership experience and be the cheerleader that the community garden needed, regardless of her garden knowledge. Their program has improved and grown in response to this leadership. Volunteers now have to sign-up in advance and other community members have been brought in, transforming the landscape for this garden.

“In the food movement particularly you always want to be moving forward, if you don’t have leadership who are doing that, it won’t be sustainable,” says JC. There are a ton of garden experts who are super knowledgable, but often if we are hitting a wall with progress we need to step back and bring someone with passion and leadership abilities in to help those of us who may not be able to naturally lead or inspire others. In collaborating we can start to build the necessary skills that will help our gardens thrive. In making these small communities stronger, we will build healthier infrastructure that has the power to transform our local food system and create more equitable food solutions for all.

Leaders Growing Community Gardens

Leaders Growing Community Gardens is an Atlanta collaborative initiative, funded by Food Well Alliance, designed to support community gardens. We have upcoming workshops Sept.30- Oct. 1 and Oct. 14-15. Registrations for 1X1 Coaching also closes on November 7, 2016. Check-out our upcoming opportunities for community garden leaders to get connected with the initiative!