This is the second in a series of articles about the challenges gardeners and farmers have faced while working in an urban area, as well as the solutions they have come up with in the face of these issues. Read the first post from the series here.
Botanical Heights Community Garden
The Botanical Heights Community Garden was established more than a decade ago and has been an integral part of the Botanical Heights neighborhood since its creation. One of the larger community gardens in the city of St. Louis, it has over 50 beds and currently counts around 30 people as members. The garden has a large orchard as well which it won in 2010 from the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation of California, which was underwritten by Edy’s Fruit Bars.
I visited the garden in late July when its many beds were overflowing with vegetables, flowers, and herbs. The garden is a beautiful example of the amount of produce that can be grown on a small city lot. But it has always experienced challenges that have threatened its long-term success.
Struggles With Involvement
Nicki Bergmann, one of the garden’s current leaders, comments that the garden has struggled with involvement and interest.
“We do regular work days, but we noticed that the same few gardeners were showing up every time.”
Nicki says that she understands that for some people it is not always possible to make the work days. They decided to institute a rebate system last year to encourage involvement and reward people who were putting the most work into the garden.
They have annual dues for belonging to the garden that they increased this year. However, those dues can be decreased if gardeners come to work days, mow, or trim the trees in the orchard.
Nicki says this system benefits both the garden and members.
“Members who can’t participate in work days pay their dues which helps us keep the garden running. And members who were already coming to work days are rewarded by being charged less for their garden membership.”
She also commented that the rebate system has helped with recruiting more garden members. Members that want more beds and have time to commit to maintaining the garden can get more beds inexpensively, as a result of the rebate system.
Communication Problems and Solutions
For the Botanical Heights Community Garden, organization and communication has also been an issue in the past.
“We’ve made a concerted effort to ensure that people are informed about what is going on in the garden and how they can be involved,” said Nicki.
They use Google calendar to schedule work days and have used Sign Up Genius to get head counts for work days and happy hours. They also use word of mouth and email.
Gardeners have also worked on planning ahead for volunteers.
“Planning some big projects for volunteer groups to work on ensures that their time is going to be beneficial to the garden and fulfilling for them,” said Nicki.
Botanical Heights Community Garden has had some issues with bugs damaging their plants, particularly aphids.
Recently they have bought and released ladybugs, which Nicki said has helped with the aphid problem.
“We try to monitor it and require gardeners to pull any infected plants as soon as they show signs of infection,” said Nicki.
To address problems with involvement, Botanical Heights Community Garden has a rebate system that rewards gardeners that come to the work days or do tasks for the garden.
In order to tackle issues with communication, the garden leaders have used Google Calendar and Sign Up Genius in addition to other avenues to keep gardeners informed about events.
To address environmental issues, the garden has released ladybugs to combat aphids and adopted a strict policy to avoid the spread of disease.