by Zane Peng
Inclusion and diversity are foundations of a flourishing and collaborative organization, but what is the seedbed that nurtures a culture of inclusion and diversity? For South Texas Juvenile Diabetes Association’s (STJDA) garden, the answer is communication.
There are three elements to any communication between two parties: the party communicating, the party listening, and the content being exchanged. STJDA’s garden planning committee has known that all three elements need to be carefully overseen to create a successful and collaborative garden, and their efforts have yielded a thriving community garden worked on by people across the demographic spectrum.
The success has started from STJDA’s garden planning committee’s choice of words in gauging and garnering the interests of local community residents for the garden. Three years ago, when the garden was at its planning phase, the committee sent out surveys to local residents asking how they personally would benefit from the garden. Questions such as “Why do you feel you would benefit from a community garden?” were used instead of “Do you like the idea of a community garden?” to emphasize the personal relationship residents may have with the community garden. And it worked. The surveys brought together a group of community members highly motivated to build a sustainable and successful garden.
South Texas, however, has a prominent Spanish-speaking population, and not all community members working at the STJDA’s garden are fluent in both English and Spanish. To make sure proper and accurate exchange of information happens between its members and to create a cohesive environment, STJDA partnered with Texas A&M Agrilife to provide free bilingual classes. Participants also created a WhatsApp group to discuss weekly gatherings and gardening highlights, and alongside the laughter, a tight-knit community was formed.
Upon entering into this tight-knit community, participants are expected to sign a contract that clearly details their responsibilities and roles. For instance, participants are expected to assume leadership on a rotational basis. Once a week on a designated collective gardening day, one participant will take up charge and lead the gardening effort. With a clearly defined set of responsibilities supporting the garden’s necessary functioning, the gardening community is able to develop a culture of open dialogue where new ideas are invited. Implementing raised beds for elder gardeners and creating a more kid-friendly atmosphere are just a few projects contributing to the garden’s diverse and smiling faces.
Zane Peng is an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with our Hunger Free Community Coalition Corps in the Houston region.