Co-ordinators from Local Food projects came together on the 28 September 2013 for Garden Organic’s ‘Shared Learning Exchange’ visit.
The co-ordinators joined over 200 volunteers that had travelled from across England to gather at Ryton Gardens, near Coventry.
In total, the group included Local Food funded ‘Master Gardeners’, Master Gardeners from commissioned networks, Master Composters, Seed Stewards and other growing and composting mentors.
The Local Food projects met each other and leading experts to celebrate the role of volunteers helping families and communities to live more sustainably.
There was a series of themed workshops across the day with subject areas including community composting, wildlife gardening, soil science and fruit growing advice.
There was also a dedicated session (pictured) for Local Food projects with peer-to-peer support and troubleshooting. Selected quotes below.
“These projects are so important. It’s essential they get the promotion they deserve.”
Pippa Green, GrowCookEat-Common work
“Sharing positive experiences and problems with diverse groups from around the country.”
Caroline Brown, Somerset Community Food & Master Gardeners
“Improving links between people to provide greater feeling of belonging and doing a worthwhile job.”
Anthony Proper, Forty Hall Community Vineyard
“Comforting to hear that many projects experience the same frustrations.”
Lisa Agatha, Squash Nutrition & Project coordinator – Toxteth Produce.
“The talk by Chris Baines will stay with me the most. Then meeting co-conspirators from throughout the country.”
John Horsfield, Moulsecoomb Forest Garden
“Estate to plate and events for St Mary’s Secret Garden.”
Antoinette Stammers, Horticulture therapist/trainer
Session notes on what was shared, learnt and exchanged
- Get people interested – use multiple methods to spread risk and speed up word of mouth, such as the internet, personal invites, and visit to spaces/groups where people gather…
- Measure the right impact – number of participants, saving in food costs, happiness/life satisfaction, press mentions, events, social media interactions, testimonies from paying participants, etc. All stakeholders should dedicate the time for measuring.
- Get the message out quickly to media – use template press releases to customise at short notice to distribute soon after there is a noteworthy story.
2. LAUNCHING A VOLUNTEER NETWORK
- Involve local university- their talent, land, and research interests. Example Master Gardener case study: http://covandwarks.mastergardeners.org.uk/2013/05/20/warwick-university-growers-visit/
- Find committed co-ordinators – many willing people are already over committed – and it’s too risky to depend on one person. While many willing people, that may be great volunteers, don’t want to or don’t have skills to become co-ordinators. Projects should commit enough time for expert and paid co-ordination.
- Understand the necessity of scale – this provides a support network and adds value to funding bids, including links with smaller projects and partnerships. Advertise to gain momentum before committing.
Manage tension between growing activities with other project objectives, such as therapeutic return and project management.
Stakeholders need to understand horticultural demands, while horticulturalists need to understand the requirements for publicity, therapeutic outputs, reporting, funding bids, etc. This is made more difficult by the tendency for some people or projects to over-promise and/or over deliver.
The management solution is good role/job design and monitoring/reacting to performance. This establishes boundaries and tools to manage priorities on a daily basis and long term. While this is difficult to add retrospectively, it is necessary for long term survival.
The Local Food projects from Garden Organic’s conference are keeping in touch with shared notes and ongoing exchange of top tips for how to benefit communities with food growing.
Our thanks to Local Food for their generous support for this Share Learning Exchange visit.
Master Gardener Programme manager, Garden Organic