You can’t have a community garden without a community, they are one of the best ways to meet the people in your neighborhood. Gardening has brought all kinds of people into my life that I probably would have never had an opportunity to meet otherwise. One thing that I always find to be true with gardeners is the willingness to share, I would bet half of the plants I currently take care of were gifts from other gardeners. Representing the other end of the spectrum is the fact that people often lead to the demise of most gardens, sometimes resistance comes from the most unlikely places.
I think one of the great “variables” left out of most permaculture literature I read is the “human element”, and the fact that it is a variable. Children can be a great example of this, showing up one day to help, and then coming back another time and absolutely trashing the place. You can also have people who absolutely do not want a garden put in until well after you have had time to shower them in vegetables, every situation will be different. You can also have government officials who will be against what you are doing, be prepared for any situation.
I think as an urban permaculturist the human element will be one of the expected “yields” you are trying to achieve, after all you can’t have a community garden without a community. In the case of an urban permaculture garden that works with all systems of nature I believe the human element needs to be taken into account, whether considered a beneficial or pest. Relations may be something you are trying to cultivate and the design of the garden would maybe include a meeting area, and of course there may be a neighbor you need to block out and the garden design should incorporate that. I am hoping to include some of my own experiences and how I handled them or what I would have done different.
Children are one of my great garden mysteries, they can show up one day and be the most interested, helpful little creatures in the world. Then one evening when you are not around the garden, the kid will come to show some friends and one thing will lead to another, and you have a quick disaster on your hands. The hardest part of this kind of thing is realizing that you are dealing with kids, peer pressure is a cruel and heartless bitch. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t go un-punished, but it shouldn’t be a death sentence. Even when a kid has something in the garden that is personally theirs, they will still trash it when it comes to impressing a friend… I don’t know why… actually I do… I have done some pretty stupid things to impress girls before… come on ladies… I’m sure you all have stories… guys too…
Another interesting issue that I often run into is the neighbor that wants the overgrown lot to stay, well just that, an overgrown, abandoned lot. Some reasons for this include privacy, noise levels, parked cars and attention, care should always be taken to inform and include neighbors when safe or possible. Common courtesy should always be taken, but it is important to take a solid stance and make sure the neighbor knows they are not running the show. As long as you know what you are doing is a good thing for the neighborhood and you have control of the site, plans should constantly be moving forward while the neighbor is being mediated with.
Some of my personal situations dealing with disgruntled neighbors started at Whitney Avenue Urban Farm dealing with a crack head neighbor with a “giant” dog. The dog was the coolest dog but had no garden manners and was a poop machine, they did not clean up after the dog ever. This dog continued to tear up garden beds and poop everywhere I happened to need to walk, it got to the point of being really gross. Given the fact that they were crack heads money was always something they needed from me, or any guests I brought to the garden. I was assaulted daily with stories about babies momma, and needing money for a jitney to east liberty to talk someone out of suicide, it is crazy what they will come up with. Sometimes the answer to this is as simple as giving them a few dollars and telling them it is absolutely imperative they pay you back… they won’t… and usually won’t ask again, I call this “urban economics”. As far as the dog was concerned, they eventually were evicted as expected and the problem solved itself.
Another common situation is a nice neighbor who just doesn’t want to be bothered, this is so much more common than you could ever think. Sometimes they are just private people who don’t want any noise, or they don’t want added cars. The current farm/garden I am building with the master gardeners has a neighbor that just doesn’t want to be bothered, and doesn’t seem to want a grape arbor to block her sight of us. This is a touchy situation and had I not had sight control of this garden then she would have absolutely shut us down. In the end the solution she offered was for us to just leave her alone, often this is the best solution you can be offered,
People really are one of the great aspects of gardening that I really think WAUF demonstrated, it really brought together our neighborhood in a way that I think little else could have. Even to this day people talk about it, and some of the people who helped build it have moved on to help us build our new garden. WAUF was an odd situation relating to neighbors where the only option was to move the garden, dreams were different and a relationship was completely severed. To this day I don’t talk to the neighbor who forced us to move the garden, I feel I was wronged… but I wish I would have handled it differently… I might have been able to salvage the relationship… after all I do live next door to them… Life goes on, and if I have learned anything about guerilla and urban gardening/farming is you will never please everyone, but you gotta try to at least please a few of them.
If it wasn’t for the Whitney Avenue Urban Farm I never would have had the opportunity to sell veggies with these 3 kids… I really hope they remember this some day, it was their first guerilla business.
Plant Seeds of Peace – Chris Condello
Originally posted to www.transitionpgh.org on July 28, 2012 @ 1:30AM
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