If you have "no place to go," come here!

Sounds like some community gardens have governance issues

Fascinating article in Modern Farmer:

“People have this idea, because it’s a ‘community’ garden, you’ll have a bunch of people sitting around holding hands, singing ‘Kumbaya,’” says Julie Beals, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council (LACGC ). “Have you seen an actual community?”

Community gardens make wonderful additions to any city — that’s not in dispute. But let’s face it: Any time strangers mix, you can’t always bank on good behavior. Children’s birthday parties turn into brawls. Subway riders become instant enemies. Department store shopping looks like trench warfare.

Community gardens throw a cross-section of people cheek to cheek, shovel to shovel, on a continual, regular basis. There’s bound to be some issues.

“People never fail to both delight, disappoint and exasperate me,” says Laura Campbell, a community gardener in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “The garden is micro community living — heck, it is Syria, Iraq, USA, Russia — just in plots and plantings.”

Heck, any time neighbors mix, you can't always bank on good behavior!

Each Los Angeles garden holds a monthly meeting, where LACGC members listen to people’s complaints and attempt to mediate. These meetings get heated; yelling and screaming are common. Still, it’s all part of the process. Beals believes it’s all part of neighbors getting to know each other, learning to work side-by-side.

“You start from a place of isolation, right? People are sitting at home, watching TV, not getting to know their neighbors,” Beals says. “Getting them into the garden is a wonderful thing. It’s just, after a few months, people realize they don’t like their neighbors as much as they did from a distance.”

Dunno, dunno. Those Swiss farmers Ostrum writes about don't seem to have these problems, or if they do, the problems haven't prevented them from managing a common pool resource together for a many centuries. That phrase, "attempt to mediate" jumps out at me. Maybe LACGC needs to rethink whatever its rules are? Any LACGC members out there?

No votes yet


quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

The Dutch and the Brits have community gardens a lot. Both places where I've lived, and now I'm near LA and have been somewhat keeping up with the community garden scene.

The biggest differences that I see are a) people here start from a lower level of agreement about what is an adequate amount of social responsibility, of keeping-up-your-end-of-the-deal. Some people have Dutch-level expectations, others are more "who are you to tell me not to let the thistles grow?"

And the second big difference, b) is that the people running the gardens here are much more into listening and mediating. In Britain and Holland, both, the community gardens have clear rules, and if you don't follow them, your plot gets given to somebody else and that's that. Funny thing is, people seem to be much more satisfied with the clearcut rules than all the shouting and listening. Possibly because it takes less of everyone's time and energy?

I'm less familiar with the Swiss farmer situation, but I have a strong suspicion it's much the same thing, based on what I do know about them. Fairly evenly shared sense of what's acceptable plus fairly draconian social authority brought to bear on farmers who try to abuse the system.

Not sure how that fits into moral philosophies....

Submitted by lambert on

... has been poaching on his traps, there's not a lot of listening or mediating that goes on. But IIRC, modulo climate change, the lobster fishery is doing OK and has been managed well (though last time I looked seriously was 4 - 5 years ago).