Published first on the Progress News, August 15, 2022
As we get started on the work made possible by the USDA’s Farm to School grant, I’ve received a few questions from folks curious about the big picture. So, I’d like to talk a bit more about what a school garden or farm can be, and what it can mean for a community. Let me start by saying that not all school garden initiatives, or community garden initiatives, are created equally. Almost every one I’ve seen over the years is started with the best of intentions, but it takes a ton of work to keep one going (to which any backyard gardener can attest!).
At their worst, a community-focused garden project is “gifted” to a community that doesn’t really want it. Those projects are destined to fail, plain and simple. If a community doesn’t want a project – of any kind – it’s going to have a hard time getting off the ground. Statistics show that a whopping and disheartening 70% of new initiatives fail within a few years, and my experience has shown me that the failure can almost always be linked directly back to lack of buy-in from the very folks any given program or project is supposed to be helping. Simply put, some people in this line of work miss the memo on figuring out what a community values and wants, thinking they know what’s best for everyone else. No matter what sort of program or project you’re trying to run, assuming everyone thinks the same and wants the same things as you is a recipe for disaster!
While misplaced intentions are a very common reason for community projects to fail, even well-researched projects can fail, too, usually due to a lack of manpower and resources. No matter how much a community might want something, if there isn’t enough money or capable hands willing to do the work, a project will languish or outright fail. To me, that’s the most heartbreaking scenario, because everyone involved knows how beneficial something could be to their community, but they just can’t get it moving. It’s important to note that pretty much every project has its slow times, regardless of the efforts of those behind the scenes, because some things are simply out of our control. This is where persistence and determination are key!
Here in the Valley, we are lucky that we have a huge helping of persistence, a supportive community, a fantastic partner in the school district, and, now, significant resources to get our project off the ground. We have the perfect potion, as it were, to make some magic! This is not to say that it will be all smooth sailing from here on out – just like any business, this initiative will still take serious work, a lot of manhours, and plenty of investment before it becomes self-sustaining. But we are on the right path!
Next week we’ll explore some successful school and community garden programs, and talk more about the potential of ours. If you’d like to come out and see what’s in the works, feel free to drop by on Fridays from 2-3 pm. Hope to see you there!