Community Gardens Life

We are working hard at the moment making sure the community has some leafy greens to pick for winter. This involves planting, fertilising, mulching, protecting against birds and slugs and generally caring for the plants we raised from seed over late summer. While it is common courtesy to greet us while we work, when people don’t do this I sometimes wonder if they wish we were not present for a range of reasons. What we see on our security cameras after hours is mind boggling. Obvious attempts to ignore us or make eye contact in order to render us and them invisible are usually indicators that the person has no intention of buying into our cultural codes of conduct. More on that in a later post.

If you are not one of these people – the following does not apply to you. So read on friend of the Christchurch South Community Gardens.

It’s interesting how some people, will walk onto the gardens with a plastic bag in hand and either start picking crops without acknowledging the actual physical presence of people working on site (rude) or simply (and rather self-servingly)  assume we are there as mere labourers with no authority to comment on their actions (again, rude).

It is important that our work, role in the community and subsequently our authority to set the codes of conduct is respected. That is easier said than done in a trust-based economy which is one of the things that makes working in this setting so interesting. The issues raised in the Tragedy of the Commons can be very easily brought to bear and lead to talk of building a six foot high fence.

In doing so we would in my view be  buying into the notion that collective responsibility to share public resources fairly is an impossible dream and that self interest will cause people to exploit a freely available resource that is not policed.

When I discuss such issues it is common for some people to shrug and maintain that this is just ‘human nature’. I disagree. I maintain that most people are honest and do pay a reasonable sum for what they take, and take a modest amount for their needs but that those who don’t simply take the lion’s share and deprive us of much needed funds .

Most people are respectful in the way they use this resource and engage with us in many ways that raise our spirits.

Being the manager of a charitable trust that runs a community garden accessible to the community 24/7 can be quite a challenge. Some people see the gardens as either a “plunders paradise” (from petty theft to major burglary) and/or a place to dump and run (e.g. providers attempting to dump high needs clients , people dumping organic waste material that is so putrid that it has completely liquified, rotten sofas, broken BBQs and the like). More on attitudes to waste later.

While that group is in the minority, it is these people that take up most of our time time, cause us the biggest headaches and create the most damage to our sustainability and subsequent ability to provide services to the community.

We do not have unlimited funding and support from the state coffers to grow produce on an entirely voluntary basis for the community as well as run an effective resource centre, local waste processing service (24 tonnes p.a.), community education site (pre-school to PHD) and therapeutic centre.

I get asked quite often – what a lovely job you have – it must be so peaceful and cruisy  working here. As though all this happens as it would in some romantic fairy tale view of what an ideal community garden should be.


All of us not-for-profit managers in this sector are obliged to be the swan gliding on the lake for public relations purposes so the image of the service is not compromised and that people can have a nice peaceful look around the gardens – this is understandable.

However, swans also have a reputation for hissing and biting and flapping in order to protect that which they are driven to out of an inherent sense of value, not least because of the time and investment it took to create it.

Like any other non-profit organisation in the world, we have to write proposals for funding, keep a wide range of records, pay staff, support volunteers, put on fundraising events, engage with the community and monitor and evaluate outcomes. At the same time we are engaged in crop production and running a community nursery on a small horticultural  holding in the suburbs. We must provide legitimate reasons for our donors to keep us afloat and maintain stability so we can produce outputs and outcomes which contribute to our principle objective of supporting neighbourhood sustainability in the built environment.

We would love to meet people who would like to help us address these and the many other interesting and challenging issues faced on a suburban community garden. More later on participation, recycling, harvesting and neighborhood sustainability.