Upham's Corner Online

Virginia-Monadnock Garden - Neighbors being Neighbors

Posted: July 12, 2012     Nancy J Conrad
Last Updated:  July 17, 2012

Note:  This article amended 7/17/12.  Joanne Tuller provided details on what happened at prior Westside Neighborhood meetings that, she says, more accurately reflect the position of the Westside Neighborhood Association and steps to be taken going forward.
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Looking a Lot Better

In June the Virginia Monadnock Garden was looking a little rough around the edges, especially along the sidewalk in front of the garden.  It appeared that the gardeners (many of them not residents of Upham's Corner, let alone the Virginia Monadnock area, were taking care of their garden plots and blindly walking past the trash, weeds and litter on the sidewalk.

Through the assistance of the Boston Natural Areas Network, who owns the garden, things are looking a lot better.  Commitments have been made regarding the upkeep and the Westside Neighborhood Association will be working with the gardeners on how to get more of the "locals" assigned a plot.

Community Gardening is Growing

Boston is at the forefront of promoting urban farming, community gardens and local food sourcing.  The number of Farmers Markets is growing.  Restaurants are featuring cuisine from locally grown sources.  Large tracts of land are referred to and used as urban farms.  The community gardens that have been around for a decade or more are increasing in number and being used more actively.  This is progress in making our urban settings healthier - the food, the activity and getting close to nature.

As is often true with changing patterns, adjustments may be needed. The empty lot that served as a source of complaints from residents about weeds and trash is now drawing people onto the (once quiet residential) street who don't live there but who come only to garden.  They don't know the street. They don't know the neighbors.  They don't know anything about unwritten standards that the residents adhere to as a tight community.  Their only reason for being on the street is to garden and then go home.

A community garden is more than a plot of individual raised bed gardens, all of which are maintained by individual gardeners.  Community gardens contain common areas as well including the walk ways between gardens, the shed for tools and a source of water and the sidewalk outside of the garden.  Just as with the individual garden beds, the common areas need to be maintained by the gardeners as well.  

What happens if the common areas are not maintained?  What happens if trash (yard waste) is allowed to accumulate, or yard waste in paper bags is allowed to sit on the common area sidewalks for weeks at end, or weeds are ignored and allowed to grow outside the garden into the common area sidewalk?  

The answer could be:  It all depends on the neighborhood.  If nobody is complaining, who cares?  If the community garden were located in Uphams Corner, or the South End or Beacon Hill, would the gardeners use different standards?  Would the local residents hold the gardeners to different standards?  Probably.  At a minimum, the community gardeners must make sure their attitude is to always to keep the garden looking like a model plot of land - neat and clean.

Viriginia-Monadnock Garden "A Mess"

In mid-June, the Uphams Corner Improvement Association (UCIA) noticed that the area in front of the Virginia-Monadnock Garden was "a mess" - weeds growing out from the garden, yard waste in the middle of the sidewalk and an abandoned trash can.  Yet every day the gardeners opened the locked gate to go inside and later on left with no attention being paid to the condition of the sidewalk in front (we neighbors watched this happening).

Virginia Monadnock Garden
Front of Virginia-Monadnock Garden June 9, 2012

Virginia Monadnock Garden
Weeds, trash and an abandoned garbage can

UCIA contacted Boston Natural Areas Network who suggested writing a letter to the garden's co-chairs, Cynthia Coull and Ellie Martin.  The resulting explanations as to why the situation existed reflect the difficulty of managing a diverse group of residents in a strictly volunteer capacity as well as circumstances specific to the Virginia Monadnock area.  After all, there are no Garden Police.

Cynthia contacted UCIA: "Thank you for reaching out to the folks at the Virginia-Monadnock Community Garden regarding your concern over the garden waste and compost disposal.  I am one of the gardeners and feel the same way out it.  We need to do a better job at this task." 

Here are some of the points Cynthia made:
  • City of Boston has missed pickups
  • It is a lot of “work to coordinate communications especially when many of the folks don't have email or don't speak English.
  • We have established a Google group to enhance communications
  • BNAN has great guidelines for gardeners including managing trash - to be posted in the shed
  • We are splitting up the call list to remind gardeners of their responsibilities
Ellie Martin asked if the Improvement Association could reach out to the gardeners who live on the street to let them know what their responsibilities are.  Note:  UCIA respectfully declined this request since managing the garden must remain with the gardeners themselves in order to be effective (not the neighbors who don't have a garden plot).

Neighbors' Request of the Gardeners

As stated in the original email, UCIA's request was focused first on the immediate problem but they also wanted assurances for the longterm and stressed the importance of neighborliness and a commitment to the growth of community.
  1. What commitment are the gardeners willing to make to ensure that the garden is good for everyone - not just for the gardeners but for the whole neighborhood?
  2. How do we get the immediate problems resolved - the weeds removed and the sidewalk cleaned?  
  3. How do we make sure the garden continues to be functional and look beautiful over the long run?
  4. How can the neighborhood and the gardeners get to know each other better?

UCIA referred the situation back to BNAN for their assessment with an eye towards long-term good relations, neighbor to neighbor.  Karen Chaffee, Stewardship Manager, handled the situation well.  

Karen Chaffee from BNAN Helps Out

"It is BNAN's wish to for the gardeners to have good relations with the rest of the neighborhood. Our co-worker, Jeremy Dick, visited the garden and reported that the trash can was at the front of the garden and that there were some weeds in the front of the garden along the street."

"It is indeed part of the gardeners' responsibilities to keep the fence line and the common areas free of weeds and trash and maintain general upkeep of this area in particular as well as make sure that the sidewalk is clear."

Karen then sent email to Cynthia Coull making suggestions on how to improve the overall appearance of the garden: 
  • Move the trash can to the back of the garden until it is ready to be emptied
  • Have all of the gardeners take part in maintaining the front of the garden.
Cynthia agreed to this, she stated and said she would be working with the rest of the gardeners to implement the suggestions made. Karen added:  "The leadership team for this garden has been building itself over the last couple of seasons.  I am impressed with how well they communicate with one another and the efforts they have made to make the garden looks better than it has in the past."

On July 2, 2012 barely three weeks following the initial conversations, residents of the Viriginia Monadnock area found the sidewalk in pristine condition.  "THANKS TO ALL" they commented.

Virginia Monadnock GardenVirginia Monadnock Garden
What an amazing difference, barely one month later - July 2, 2012
Thanks to Cynthia, Karen and the gardeners!

Karen is "very optimistic"  that the gardeners will work hard to make the improvements happen. "It is my impression that the gardeners care about how the garden looks and have respect for the neighborhood."  Karen plans to maintain open communications with the group, and she has ideas about other things that can be done to improve the presentation of the garden.  "It is their responsibility (rather than neighbors who are not directly involved in the garden) to prioritize their tasks to effectively manage the garden."

UCIA and BNAN both agree: "We can all work together to build and maintain a positive relationship between the UC Improvement Association and the Virginia Monadnock community gardeners." 

Who Gets to have a Plot in the Garden (updated 7/20/12)

A member of the VM garden group said he had "disappointing conversation with a Westside resident who insisted the garden should be for residents of the street only and the new gardeners that were not residents were taking over."

The VM gardener admitted there was "truth in that comment," but added that "if it were not for the gardeners that do not live on the street I wonder if the garden would be doing as well as it is?

There are residents of the street that garden every year that choose not to participate in any of the garden activities or common maintenance even when translated correspondence is offered. How do we balance?"

Questions about garden policies and maintenance were brought up at the June and July meetings of UCWNA. Joanne Tuller was asked to convene a group - including both garden leadership and UCWNA members - to discuss various issues including plot assignment and garden upkeep. Karen Chaffee from BNAN will participate in the process.

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