Gardening for Life!

The Three C's of Low Stress Community Gardens


 By Bert Einsiedel, urban gardener and compost educator

Reproduced here with permission.


The four C's of diamonds are cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. The three C's for fall flowering bulbs could be colchicum, crocus and cyclamen. The three C's for low stress community gardens, in my opinion, are cooperation, compromise and consensus.

 

Recreational gardening is usually viewed as a stress reliever but not when the gardener has to contend with pesky pests, hail, wind, and other natural threats to growing plants. Mother Nature can sometimes be challenging. And so can human nature.

 

Solitary gardeners are usually able to grow vegetables and flowers if the right combination of growing conditions and know-how is obtained. However, the same products of their well-invested energy may be less than satisfactory if they were sharing the garden with a dysfunctional community of gardeners. Instead of relieving stress, the garden could heighten it.

 

Some may attribute this to the politics of the community and to personality differences that sometimes contribute to interpersonal tensions among members. If the tension escalates, the overall toxic climate that eventually develops can have disastrous effects on people and, perhaps, even the plants.

 

The occasional misunderstandings and disagreements can be mildly annoying and somewhat tolerable. However, stress-inducing tensions and conflict that happens frequently or lasts over a few months can ruin a gardener's season perhaps more so than destructive garden pests or poor soil.

 

What to do? Learning about and practicing The Three C's may help, and I don't mean how to grow cabbage, celery and clematis.


Cooperation

  • Community gardens are frequently run like a cooperative. That means knowing the essentials of how to cooperate. From childhood most people learn how to share, give and take, and be nice. Many may even enjoy shared activities more than solitary ones, for example, team sports, playing in a band, and potluck picnics.

 

  • Some, for whatever reason, are unwilling or unable to cooperate. Some may even prefer to compete. Some may have a disdain for sharing common standards and rules, preferring instead anarchy and selfserving ventures.


  • It's not enough to be cooperative. Community garden members must also strive to be fair and equitable about how they share responsibilities and privileges. The goal is a win-win situation in which all winners perceive their net gains are fair and equitable. You may need to point out to competitive individuals that many athletes and entrepreneurs engage their rivals in accordance with the rules of fair play.

 

 

Compromise

 

  • Solitary and self-sufficient gardeners seldom need to compromise when it comes to making decisions about their private gardens. Not so with community gardeners for whom disagreements or even disputes with fellow gardeners are not only possible, they're probable, though not inevitable.

 

  • Community gardeners need to learn when and how to compromise, that is, when and how to settle a dispute or resolve conflicting opinions. They might avoid a win-lose situation by seeking a mutually acceptable middle ground. To be consistently uncompromising is often incompatible with being a reasonable community garden member.

 

  • Sometimes, compromise may result in accepting standards or outcomes that are lower than is desirable for the individual in the short term but is desirable in the longer term as well as for the common good. Traders and economists who subscribe to the counter-intuitive Law of Comparative Advantage understand its advantages in the exchange of goods.

 

 

 Consensus

 

  • It would be desirable if everyone agreed on every decision, that is, if the group's choices were made by total consensus. However, in the real world, not even the Supreme Court can achieve total consensus on all of its decisions. In a shared garden, members need to learn how to make decisions by consensus.

 

  • Rather than attempt "conflict resolution" when disagreements occur, a more realistic approach is to try "conflict management" in which the aim is to find an "acceptable resolution" that everyone "can live with." This is easier said than done. But so is building up soil health using organic methods or raising a family.

 

  • Effective communication and, more specifically, constructive deliberation aimed at expanding common ground, are important skills to having a low stress community garden. A community garden, after all, is figuratively and literally about common ground.