I continue to be amazed at how the Kids’ Vegies on the Verge is helping to create social capital by building relations in the street. It has become a real social hub for some of the local kids. Most days at least one or two kids will pop around to water the garden, see what is happening (the potatoes are starting to sprout), or just have a play. Even Willy Wonka, Pink Panther, Pearly the Park Fairy and Violet Baudelaire (above) visited the garden during book week. But we are also getting to know many of the adults heaps better too. We were on waving terms with one of the people across the street but Cathy has now had a few conversations with her. Another of our neighbours (who doesn’t have any kids) dropped in to give the kids some little animal ornaments to go in the garden. We rode to the Farmers Market with one of the families last weekend and after school Cathy normally has a chat with some of the parents. People who walk by will say hi, and people driving past sometimes slow down to have a look.
The kids are busy making signs and creating a beautiful environment, and keep thinking of things to do. We are soon having a chicken burger night to invite other people in the street to meet the kids and to check out the garden. Hopefully we’ll have lettuce and herbs from the garden to use. We’ll sell the burgers for $4 ($2 for garden workers!) to help generate some income for mulch etc. Some of the kids have decided to form a band (the Pop Plants!) to provide entertainment. And they’re going to play (you couldn’t get one more appropriate) “From Little Things, Big Things Grow” because it was one of the few songs one of them knew!
A friend of one of the girls from the garden, who has come a few times to help, has been inspired to create a vegie garden in her own backyard, as has a friend of Jasmine’s, and her mum, who came around to see it. One of the parents, a teacher, is using the garden as an example in a unit on “cooperating communities”.
As is identified in asset-based community-driven development, one of the things that makes it a success is that it has come from community members rather than an external catalyst. Kids can just drop around for a play; parents stop for a chat if they see us around; there is no “intake” process, registration or forms to fill out. It is just people getting together. It highlights the difference between horizontal community engagement (between community members) and vertical community engagement (between an external organisation and community members). It also highlights the value of tapping into informal social networks that exist in communities.
Reflecting on what’s happening also reminds me of the way in which children can bring a community together, and how they can provide a great way to connect with a community. (Thanks to Cormac Russell, from Nurture Development for inspiring the title of this post too.) When I worked in the Caravan Project, providing activities for the children in the caravan parks was a great way to build connections with other residents (even if they didn’t have children). As well as providing a valuable service for the children, it gave us a reason to be in the park and it meant we were well-known. Our work with the children helped us access some of the informal networks that are so often very strong in caravan parks.
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