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Gone with the Wind (A Farewell to Don and Karen, and Some Tips for Starting a Community Garden Near You)

Posted Feb 27 2014 10:04am
Someone will walk into your city hall or school or community center or neighborhood association or church soon and ask about starting a community garden. It happens every spring. How you react to this person or small band of misfits matters, because start-up energy is a kite in the wind that simply must be allowed to fly, right there, right then. Had a "tree" of negativity gotten in our way, that community garden we started wouldn't have happened. A wide-open sky (or, in this case, field) of possibilities and trust in each other, even though we were mostly strangers, is what made us go from nothing to completely sold out in less than 48 hours, and up and running in less than six weeks. (And lest you think we were haphazard in our approach, I share this method to our madness: How to Start a Community Garden on Public Land Near You .) (The pictures at that link are making me smile right now from ear to ear.)

I say this to you because now, almost five years later, almost every single one of the start-up people involved with that garden is elsewhere. That kite in the wind that fuels the energy to create something new doesn't last--it moves on. And that's the way it should be. You have to know this, because you may be tempted to say, "What's the long-range plan here?" when folks show up at your office full of piss and vinegar (or, rather, fish emulsion and chicken manure). That doesn't matter. 

You may be tempted to say "Wait. We have to put it through a series of committees." Don't. These people are here in front of you now, and they have other options as to where to bring their energy. You will lose this free opportunity as need is great elsewhere and they are going to go where they can be effective right away. People like this are not going to spend their nonrenewable resource of time doing something stupid. Trust them. They will form whatever operating structure they deem best to get the job done, and they will get it done. You don't need to dictate to them.

As my friend Bob always said, "It's just dirt." Leave them alone and see what happens without red tape strangling them. If you get out of their way, I can almost guarantee you they will make it a success. And then, if your community supports it, the community will take it on, as has happened with this garden, and it will grow at the path and pace that's right for your distinct culture. If not, it returns to nature, as that row in the back field that we grew with the middle school kids did. It's not that big a deal, folks.

See this post for the note we hung to announce our new garden--we said we had much to learn and were willing to make mistakes in public. The important part? It all worked out, and we had a lot of fun learning as we grew. (No one needed to tell us how high we could or could not make the fence. "How high deer jump" answered that question for us, and figuring it out on our own was satisfying.)

So, here's the update on the start-up folks as they are off catching the breeze and dancing in the winds of change elsewhere:

Don of the Rain Garden  (and every other part of the garden--he was also the second chairperson) and his wife, Karen of the Flowers, have just moved, after 36 years, to somewhere where they are closer to grandchildren and the Appalachian Trail, where Don supervises volunteers in charge of stewarding various segments of the trail (after years of stewarding his own segment). THANK YOU, Don and Karen, for your extraordinary commitment to our city and that garden, and for all that you both taught me.

Rebecca Barria, the first chairperson of this community garden, moved a year ago to an intown Atlanta neighborhood. She was a stay-at-home mom with two young children when we met (after teaching gifted high school English). She is currently pursuing her doctorate degree at Georgia State University, with a focus on play and literacy, and is also the recipient of a fellowship that has her working directly with high school students in need in the City of Atlanta. She has a garden plot at the Decatur Community Garden, but goodness knows if she ever even gets there! I saw her name on a stake there the other day--it's fading. 

Bob Lundsten is chief of staff for a Dekalb County Commissioner, plus he is the force behind encouraging cities to install life-saving public-access defibrillators in their police cars and buildings (his advocacy work on this has already resulted in significant application in several cities and has saved at least four lives). He is also preparing for the wedding of the first of three daughters to be married.
Angela Minyard is busy with her grandchildren and other things in life, although she still has a huge and wonderful home garden.

Page Olsen is the chief of staff for a State Representative and is at the Capitol building in downtown Atlanta most days, when she's not also at multiple locations around metro-Atlanta of the restaurant, Cafe Intermezzo, that she and her husband own.

I'm not sure if Rod Pittman and Jim Hines are still a bit involved, although I do know Rod, at 85-years-old now, is the farm consultant at The Veggie Patch, which provides organically-grown fruits and veggies to Emory University , among many other places. I wrote about him for Edible Atlanta. 

The last time I saw Jim (and Page as well, on separate occasions), we cut bamboo together to build the structures with the clients at the food pantry garden. 
Robert Wittenstein got involved in a leadership position with another garden early on, but would come by to help with anything and everything. I haven't seen him for awhile, either, but I do know that Don somehow got him out there hiking a segment of the Appalachian Trail for several challenging days not long ago!

Volunteer extraordinaire Ann Dovanquy is still there. My friend, Tracy, however, had a life-threatening bee sting situation last fall and has to stay away, per doctor's orders. Her always-inspiring garden bed will be tended by her husband for now. Others who used to be there aren't anymore. Van and Sally. Jeff and Caryn. Connie. Lisa. Laura. Ashley. John Herron. Tom. Kathy. Rick. Diana.

And I, as you know, am elsewhere, too. I stopped by the Dunwoody Community Garden about two weeks ago and noticed that my original cinder block bed, the one heavy with meaning for me about which I wrote as the final story in my book, is no longer there. At first I felt a pang of sadness, but then I looked at the new bed that's in its place. Someone is clearly excited. In fact, folks are clearly excited all over the garden as there is lots of apparent new growth. And that's what it's all about.

But, my gosh, we had fun, didn't we? And it changed us all in ways that are still manifesting themselves. I would say the creation of that community garden was one of the best experiences of my life, and I will be eternally grateful that it happened the way it did, when it did, and with whom it did. The bottom line? We all share a bond that I know will last forever. Many of us have worked on other projects together, and have grown our relationships way beyond the garden. Maybe those are the best harvests of all.

And so it goes.  And so it grows.

eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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