We had a working bee at the school today for the LEAP Frog Garden. In some ways it was quite successful – we have some enthusiastic new parents involved, we achieved quite a bit, and people had a good time. We even took a photo of Jasmine using the drop saw to freak out the principal (and before I receive a call from child safety experts, it was only a photo – the saw was unplugged.)
What was disappointing (and I mean disappointing in the way my parents were disappointed when I did something wrong) was that there were only 10 adults and eight children from six families. (The people there were great, the principal dropped in for a while too and quite a few people apologised.) In a school with around 250 families, it wasn’t all that many. It went from 9:00 to 4:00 so that people could come when they were free. I’m not sure it was the best way to go, because it basically spread the time out and I’m not sure that any extra people came because of it. Most people came for around three or maybe four hours. We had a BBQ lunch to encourage people to come and to help build a sense of community.
We should have advertised it longer in the school newsletter ( it was in two newsletters but we really only gave them nine days notice) so that could have had an impact. We knew it was a problem but Cathy and I weren’t free for the next two weekends and the garden really needed some work.
Today made me think of some of the things I know about community engagement and how they might apply to the garden.
The principle I’m focussing on at the moment relates to discovering care (which Mike Green discusses in “When people care enough to act”). Unfortunately the garden is at the back of the school and not many people see it. We have been identifying people who are interested in gardening and now have a small group happy to work on the garden. It seems to me that it might help to increase its profile and to explore ways of making people care about the garden more.
I realise that this is generating care more than discovering care, and is a bit different to what Mike discusses. Mike suggests that we “first discover what people care about enough to act on in your local community” (read it here). We have a small group who do care enough to act and we are wanting to expand the circle of care. He also suggests that “care remains invisible unless you have conversations about what people care about” and that “care must be discovered through relationships that are built on purpose” (read it here). What I am essentially thinking about are ways to build relationships and to have conversations in a context where we will find people who are interested in the garden. By bringing people to the garden we encourage conversations about the garden and related issues. As an example today we had a chat with our principal who came for a while about ways of classes being involved in the garden.
We (Cathy and I) hope the garden will be a place that builds community, encourages people to think about local food production and promotes environmental awareness. This means that we don’t just want to attract people to working bees. Today we played with the idea of a pizza oven in the garden and, and while it started as a bit of a joke, the more I think of it the more I like it. It could be a way to encourage people to actually come to the garden and make it a bigger part of the school community. Until we have an oven, maybe we could have a picnic every now and again in the garden so that it becomes a bit of a gathering place.
Cathy has organised a few craft workshops connected with the garden. The biggest was a workshop making mosaic paving stones when over 80 people came. It was a great day and showed that people can be engaged with the garden in a number of ways. (She also ran a workshop to create recycled robots which are now scattered around the school.) We need to continue exploring what people care about and consider whether or not the garden has a role in expressing their care through action.
While today was a bit disappointing, I’m still think we are on track to make the garden an important part of the school.