American Community Garden Association Teleconference Notes 06.21.11

The speaker was: LaManda Joy

From the ACGA promotional notice: “She is an award winning gardener, blogger (, writer, speaker and edible gardening advocate. She speaks nationally about the leading role of Chicago in the WW2 Victory Garden movement and is founder of The Peterson Garden Project – a revival Victory Garden in Chicago’s 40th Ward. The Peterson Garden Project is the largest organic, edible community garden in Chicago and was recently awarded “Best Community Garden (Region 5)” in Mayor Daley’s 2010 Landscape Awards. She is an active board member of the American Community Gardening Association, and a member of Garden Writers Association and Culinary Historians of Chicago. LaManda is inspired to teach everyone she meets to grow their own food… seriously!”

Who participated in this teleconference? There were community gardeners from Canada to Florida and from here in California to Virginia and Texas and Arizona and Iowa. I have a list of the registrants and their email addresses.

LaManda introduced herself as having been raised with “the precious legacy of edible gardening”. You can visit her website and thus her’yarden’. She helped found Chicago’s Peterson Garden ( and on PBS).  The garden was founded in 2010 in 3 weeks, now having 150 members and 250 supporters.

Her topic today was:

Building Community in Your Community Garden

These are the principles she shared:

Remove complexity: Make it easy to participate

  • Uniform bed sizes
  • Raised beds for everyone
  • Promoted use of the Kitchen Garden Planner through Garden Supply. This helped newcomers to gardening plan their space. It is the ‘Square Foot Method’ of gardening.
  • Make kits to do urgent tasks:
  • A kit to fight tomato blight would include instructions, pruners etc.
  • Have a place for information all the time.
  • Have signage everywhere in the garden.
  • Showing what folks are growing
  • Showing how folks are doing some technique.
  • Showing special crops like vintage or heirloom veggies.
  • Have signs that communicate that someone is out of town and needs their plot watered.
  • Have signs that indicate the experienced gardeners who are willing to give guidance.
  • Have welcome signs for newcomers in their plots.

Communicate Everything and Often: Don’t judge the information

  • They launched the garden through:
  • A community meeting
  • Social media, including a Facebook page and Twitter.
  • Their Facebook page has 900 friends.
  • They have a webpage and a newsletter.
  • At a low-tech level they used a whiteboard in the garden to convey what was communicated via the web.
  • It has been important to keep everyone updated throughout the year.


  • Solicit feedback.
  • They did a survey.
  • They kept things exciting during the year.

Let the volunteers do what they do best: Everyone wants to contribute

  • There are hard skills and soft skills.
  • Use Volunteerspot to organize volunteer efforts.
  • Have a volunteer coordinator.
  • Get photos!! They help folks feel connected to the garden.
  • Reach out to artists: posters, garden art etc.

Give Kids a Job: Everyone wants to contribute

  • Example of how they taught kids how to water: “When you are thirsty where do you put the water? In your elbow? In your knee? In your mouth? Roots are the mouth of the plant.” So by the end of the season kids were teaching adults how to water.

Encourage Group Education

  • Throughout the year
  • Find the evangelists and let them share their knowledge.
  • Provide a forum in which to teach.
  • Example: do an edible Seed Swap:
  • It promotes information sharing.
    The horse trading and bartering just ‘happened’.
    They used ‘Key’ envelopes from Home Depot


  • Party
  • Parade yourselves


  • Share with the extended community
  • Have students complete their community service hours by weeding or watering.

Be Thankful

  • Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

How did they get so many folks involved?
Social media
Worked closely with their Chicago alderman.
Put flyers up in a 6-block radius.
Put up a big banner.
Their urban location was already high-visibility.
How were they funded?
Their membership fee of $45 bought the untreated pine that made the raised beds and brought in the soil mix. They also had a fundraiser that brought in ‘only’ $1,400. They have 150 gardeners (150×45=$6,700).
How much time did LaManda spend organizing this project?
Now she spends 3 hours per week, but the first year…. They do have regular meetings for core volunteers and a private Face book page for core leaders.
Other ideas they do?
A recipe of the week that uses the up and coming produce.
A “Plot Luck”, which is like a chef’s challenge.
What about gardeners that are not at ease with social media?
They used the whiteboard.
Who monitors the Facebook page and does the Newsletter?
LaManda and a few others have administration privileges for the Face book page. They have rules about submissions, like no religious topics or political topics and no off topic.
Do they have a location for community tools?
Only this year and it has to be removable.
How did they get the word out?
Through the social media efforts. Everyone was desperate to do gardening and desparate for green space in such a high population urban environment.
What do you do about poachers and intruders?
They plant things that folks do not expect to eat, like white eggplant etc.
How do they develop boundaries and mutual respect among different ethnicities and worldviews?
The individual beds helped, as did liaisons with these groups.
How do you develop interest in community gardening; it seems the denser the urban population the less problem with recruitment, whereas a suburban environment is more challenging?
Attract kids, they bring their parents. Do a ‘Harry Potter Labyrinth’.
Try to network with other environmental groups.
Consider a community orchard that specializes in antique fruit: like the Rarity Orchard Project.
Create ‘the crave’ during the off-season.
Contact the Transition Town Movement
For those of you who would like to receive the ACGA (American Community Garden Association) e-newsletter, it is free, just go to: Our garden is now a member thanks to Ken and as members we can attend these teleconferences. Anyone up for going to the annual ACGA convention this year in New York City?