Upham's Corner Online

Gerald Robbins, Avid Gardener

Posted: September 22, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

Gerald RobbinsGerald Robbins is the spokesperson with an infectious smile, making his way through all the community groups exclusively in the Roxbury and Dorchester areas to give them insight into a new possibility for the residents to greatly improve the quality of life in the area.

Mr Robbins and his wife have lived in California in the Bay Area and in Sacramento and also on the East Coast in Washington, D.C. and now in Boston - Charlestown.  His professional expertise lies in social work. 

As much as he loved his work, what seemed to be calling him was the formation of a special type of gardening center. He's had the idea for seven or eight years and in February 2011, he left his job working for the Victory Program to pursue his dreams.

In all the places he and his wife have lived, Gerald has been an avid gardener and a devotee of the local garden stores/centers.  "In Oakland there were so many great gardening stores all over the place."

"In DC, there was a really great small gardening center, urban scale, which used to be an auto dealership.  They made it into a small gardening center.  When they first opened, there were not a lot of businesses around but over the few years that I was there, I noticed that the were businesses opening up around the garden center. I just loved going to the garden center.  It was such a great place to walk by and check stuff out.  I noticed that people who came there usually spent time talking and the staff there was really friendly and knowledgeable."

Gerald spoke of how important the gardens seemed to the  gardeners in DC, how much of a difference being able to garden was making in their quality of life. 

"Most of the gardeners were older generation residents from the South.  I saw how valuable it is to have a plot or to be able to garden and to raise your own vegetables and to interact with your neighbors.  You have to expectthat not all the relationships will go great or swimmingly.  There are always these little conflicts.  But still, it's a really nice way for people to come together, especially people from different cultures, ideas and values."

Gerald says that the more he saw the benefits of gardening, the more focused he became on opening a gardening center. 

REI, Ace Hardware and Harvard Co-op in Jamaica Plain are examples of retail co-ops.  These are stores that are run by the members of the co-op. 

If you become a member of the co-op, it means you can vote on issues related to the business.  Everyone has one vote.  The idea is to have the co-op run with a board of directors.  The members would vote on the board of directors and the board of directors would have an annual meeting that the members would attend.

What's really great about the cooperative business model is that it's a very strongly democratic process and the operation should be very transparent.  Most business are private organizations and are not beholden to the general public.  With a co-op, even though it is a private organization and in this case a for-profit business, its business operations would be transparent to the members.  You would know what is happening with the company and how the decisions are being made.

The only co-operatively run gardening center in the United States is located in New York City.  Gerald says that he knows the founder and has a copy of their business plans.  Furthermore, the NY center is most willing to give a hand in the startup of a comparable gardening center in Boston.

The  founding funds are generated by the members.  The goal of the co-op is to be responsive to the members which is different from  being responsive to the shareholders.  Being responsive to members means paying attention to their needs.  Being responsive to shareholders is about maximizing profit.  Yes, of course, you have to pay attention to profitability but decisions favor member needs.

To help out or get more information, contact Gerald Robbins at 617-241-7717 or gmrobbins@yahoo.com

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