Sunday, September 20, 2015

Too Much Time on Our Hands??

I’ve been told that I’m a little hot about events this week, and it’s not about the weather.   Apparently, I have way too much free time on my hands and so the City of Columbus is “likely” to require me and all other community gardeners on Land Bank lots next year “to report the amount of produce grown in terms of pounds of each produce grown.”    I can’t even get my gardeners to weed, to harvest or to do their chores.  Scores of potential gardeners walk away when I explain the work equity requirement to join the Garden. I already spend over ten hours/week tending the Garden and conducting Garden business even though I don’t get paid for any of it.  On the contrary, I and my other gardeners pay to be there.  However, the City seems determined to discourage additional community gardens on vacant lots in struggling neighborhoods and to make it oppressively burdensome for the rest of us plot gardens to continue.

The week didn’t start off so controversially.   We only received .2 inches of rain this week and there is no rain in the forecast until maybe October.   I went to the Garden on Wednesday and spent my time watering the neighbor bed, the food pantry plots, the newly seeded areas and my plot.  Stan the Man stopped by to tend his plot and explain his long absence this summer.  In addition to his regular full-time job, he also mows scores of lawns to earn extra money.  However, with the extraordinary amount of rain this summer, he was finding it difficult to find daylight time to mow lawns when it was dry.    He weeded his plot and harvested tomatoes, peppers, cabbage and beans. He offered to help me water, but I asked him to trash some items near the picnic table instead.   He also locked up for me.

On Saturday, I again watered the neighbor bed, the food pantry plots, the newly seeded areas, a
flower pot, and my plot. I fertilized the seedlings (which were sprouting from being planted last Saturday).    I also weeded all of the above (except the middle food pantry plot) and reorganized the shed.  I also groused about how few of the gardeners seem to be harvesting their produce or weeding.  Neal hasn’t weeded the strawberry patch yet, even though it’s been his weekly chore for August and September.  Sigh. Mari has let tomatoes and zucchini rot in her plot.  Double sigh.  Rayna’s plot is covered in bind weed.   However, Amy rode over on her bike, weeded her plot and a little of the center flower bed and blueberry bushes and then harvested tomatoes peppers and bush beans from the middle food pantry plots before riding away with her hubby.  I reloaded our free little library (after a little boy stopped by and found nothing to his liking).   I then turned to our weekly food pantry harvest in the remaining food pantry plots and harvested from my own plot.  I also pinched tomato flowers because we are nearing the end of their growing season and picked up litter which had been dumped or blown onto our lot in the past week.  Then, it’s back to my house to weigh our food pantry harvest, record it and head over to the food pantry before it closes.  Our pole beans seem to be on their last legs, but I found some more volunteer napa cabbage and bok choy in my plot (which was a delight).

On Friday, Seth from the City Land Bank, sent around an email congratulating the winners from this year’s Growing to Green awards celebration.  One of the big winners was our next door neighbor, Kimball Farms, in only their second growing season, with twelve small children in its summer day program.  (Yea Melinda and Norman).  I'm so jealous of Melinda that she was able to manage a community garden while spending most of the summer in Ireland and the Pacific west coast.   I can't remember the last time I took any summer vacations; not since I started the SACG.   We’ve been very fortunate to not have any produce thefts this year and I attribute this at least partially to the fact that our thieves are helping themselves to the Kimball Farms garden next door. I asked Norman and Melinda if I should be shooing away thieves or encouraging folks to help themselves.

Anyway, at the very bottom of this long email from Seth, he slips in the following:

Collection of garden data

a.      We asking for gardens to voluntarily report the amount of produce grown in terms of pounds of each produce grown and/or money generated. Community events at the garden sites may also be documented.

b.      Next year, we will likely be amending the garden license agreements to make this a requirement of all community gardens to report the benefits at the end of each growing season.

c.      Our goal is to begin recording this data in an effort to show City leaders the impact our community gardens are making on their communities. As some of you may know, the City and County are working on a food plan. As a result, we want to be in a position to most benefit from the results of the planning study. Politicians like numbers showing positive cause and effects.

I freaked out.  It already takes me about 45 minutes each week to keep track of this information for just the food pantry donations.  It’s so time consuming that this year I decided to only make such donations once each week (instead of twice).  I grow so many different things in my own plot that I couldn’t possibly do this in any efficient way.  There is no way any of my gardeners would or could do this.  Most people can’t even count the calories in their daily meals for more than a day or two at a time because it is so time consuming (even with online calorie counters like, but the City expects us to stop whatever we are doing, sort our daily/weekly harvest, and record each week how much of each produce we get and then add it all up at the end of the season and report it to them.   We don’t even keep track of the food we give away to beggers or through our neighbor plot.  How can we keep track of the berries or cherries that the neighborhood kids eat when we are not there?   Should we eliminate our neighbor plots and put a fence around our fruit trees and berries?  Should we tell the kids:  stop eating those until we weigh them?  It’s ridiculous.

When I told Amy about this yesterday, she asked whether the City intended to give us a large scale to keep in our shed so that we could do this.   Will they replace it when it gets stolen (like all of our seeds, gloves and most of our tools were this year)?  I have a single, unemployed mother who travels to and from the Garden by bus or hitching.   I seriously doubt that she even owns a scale.  How is she supposed to do this?   Neal stops by almost daily in the summer and then heads over to Wings Restaurant so that Ken can cook him dinner (or make him a salad) with what he harvests.  Do you really think he wants to spend time telling Ken to weigh and record it first?   When I leave the Garden in the summer, I’m hot and grouchy.  I do not want ONE MORE SINGLE THING TO DO.
Casual and non-gardeners cannot imagine how oppressively time consuming this request is.  No one does this in their real life.  One gardener in Maine decided to do it in 2009 out of curiosity and blogged about it.  You simply don't see casual or hobby gardeners -- like us at the SACG -- doing this.  Don't get me wrong. It's fascinating and useful information.  However, the value of the information is far exceeded by the amount of work involved.   There are easier ways to estimate the information than in requiring overworked and overwhelmed community gardeners to do more work than they already are.   For instance, Bill could measure and weigh everything in his home garden in his own free time and we could use that as the basis to estimate what the rest of us are growing.  

All of our gardeners come at different times during the week, depending on their work schedules, etc.  I haven’t seen Lea since April and have only seen Sabrina once (at a pizza party) since she had a new baby in June.  I only met Kaci twice when she performed half of her work equity in May and I don’t think she ever harvested anything anyway.  Different gardeners grow different things and have different success rates.  There’s no realistic way for me to police or monitor any of the individual harvests by gardeners.  It's not even possible to guess based on my food pantry harvests since individual gardeners occasionally donate to it and I end up taking over at least one plot mid-season after it has been abandoned.

To give you just one example of how unbelievably unrealistic this request is, many of my gardeners won't even write down the new combinations for our shed.   Before all of our break-ins this year, I used to have one combination that opened our gates and our shed.  But with our new security system (which I am not going to describe), the gardeners now need to remember three combinations to get into the Garden and into the shed.  Even though most of them have college degrees, this has been too much work for them.  Instead, I have received complaints about how they can no longer weed or water their plots because it is too difficult to get into the shed.  (Time consuming, yes, I agree.  Significantly more difficult?  Not really if you would simply go to the trouble of writing down the information or putting it into your phone).  But they have objected to three combinations despite the obvious need for a stronger security system to protect our assets.  

Bill Dawson has been pushing this agenda for years of cataloging the weight and type of produce grown at community gardens.  Upper Arlington Lutheran Church does this with their Garden (where 100% of their produce is donated to their various ministries).  It’s one thing when you grow items in bulk and large quantities and conduct large harvests of just a few items each week.  However, most plot gardeners – particularly at the SACG – grow a wide variety of items in a small space.  Just enough for ourselves.   This week, for instance, I harvested four kinds of peppers, 10 kinds of tomatoes, tomatillos, four kinds of beans, broccoli, three kinds of kale, and basil.  Some weeks, there are also peas, cabbage and lettuces.   You can see from the pictures how my weekly harvest compares to our weekly food pantry harvest.

Then there’s me.  I’m already overwhelmed and burned out.  There is no joy in this anymore.  I have to deal with crazy people, unreasonable people, touchy people, emotionally needy children, thieves, vandalism, droughts, litter, monsoons, weeds, bugs, poison ivy, heat, and sun burn, etc. I have no time for anything else in my life.  I’ve become dull and everyone I know rolls their eyes when it comes to me and the Garden.  My parents desperately want me to quit.   I started the Garden in 2009 so that I could have a plot of my own near my house.  I don’t mind that it’s gotten a little out of hand, although I resent that I have a bunch of freeloading gardeners who are only too happy to let me do most of the work.  If everyone were like Amy, Sabrina, Susan and Frank this might actually be fun, but it stopped being fun for me quite a while ago.  The only reason I haven’t quit is because I feel a sense of responsibility for the Garden and recognize that it benefits a neglected neighborhood.   

I called Seth immediately to protest this ridiculous amount of work.  He said that it had been discussed at the Franklin Park Conservatory yesterday and that it had been Bill Dawson’s idea.  They are trying to think of ways to convince the City Council to allocate more funds to community gardens.   However, dearies, we need more help, not more work.  I won’t sign any lease or license that requires me or any of my gardeners to do this.  No way.  No how.   It’s not like the City is going to pay us to gather and record this information.   It’s as though the City fails to recognize how much work we already do to improve these awful Land Bank lots and to improve the neighborhoods where the community gardens are located (which, by and large, are not in middle class or upper income neighborhoods since all of their lots are filled with single-family houses, parks and businesses).   We apparently are not getting any credit for the extraordinary amount of work and sweat equity we already invest in the lots.  They think that they are doing us a favor by making additional work a condition of volunteering in these gardens. 

I’m not saying that they are bad people.  On the contrary, they have each made lovely contributions to the SACG over the years.   But they are seriously misguided on this issue.    If they just want a simple report of our activities, that would be fine.  As most of you know, I provide that to our donors and supporters anyway – including to the City.   If they just wanted to know how much money we raise by selling produce, that’s easy enough to report (i.e., $2.00).   I am not, however, going to increase my already ridiculous work load by gathering information about the weight of the produce grown by our plot gardeners or myself individually.  If that means the end of the SACG, then it’s on them.  I’m already looking forward to starting a new adventure in my life that has absolutely nothing to do with dirty fingernails, soiled clothing or wearing a beat up old gardening hat.  I’m looking forward to having more time to clean my house, landscape my own yard and not being so tired on Monday because I work even harder on weekends than I do on weekdays.

Now, I know that there are some nonprofit leaders out there thinking that they have to gather ridiculous information as part of their grants and I’m just a whiny crybaby.  Let me remind you that you get paid to do this.  You take your salary and you buy food, shelter, clothing and entertainment for yourself and your family.  We do not get paid.  On the contrary, not only do we pay to be there, we invest hours and hours and hours of our limited free time to improve the lots and the surrounding neighborhood.  We already do more than enough to justify whatever support we get from the City and keep the few pounds of produce we grow for ourselves without attaching more strings to it.  Seth acknowledges this and conceded that it had been part of their discussion.  However, apparently they don’t care that we don’t have enough time as it is to do everything that needs to be done (like mow lawns, weed, etc.) , they want us to do even more.

Seth asked if we couldn’t count the number of tomatoes we harvest.  You can tell that he has never grown his own food.  Neal grows thousands of tiny tomatoes.  I grow a variety of different tomatoes, romas, beefstake, Brandywines, san marzanos, Ohio Belgians,  Rutgers, Sioux, Cherokee purple, cherries, etc.  They all weigh something different.  There has been 100 pounds different in weights of our food pantry tomato donations over the years.   Peppers are also different sizes and weights and, at the end of the day, weigh far less than their appearance because they are essentially hollow.

So, if you care about the future of community gardens in the City of Columbus, you should immediately email Seth ( at and Bill at ( and Barb (at and tell them that you oppose creating more work for community gardens and requiring us to weigh every bit of produce that we grow (whether in total or by category) as a condition of working hard in adverse conditions in our free time to improve neglected City neighborhoods.  After my discussion with Seth, he emailed all of the land bank community gardens again:

I would like to throw out there that if you have comments and concerns about the ability to measure the amount of produce grown, i.e. weighing, money generated, etc., please let me know. While I said it is likely we would add language to our license agreement, if I find this will unfairly burden and hinder the program, we will consider other alternatives. I want to be able to have a discussion with other City staff based off of feedback I have received.

I have provided Seth with a copy of my food pantry harvest records (with the names of individual donor gardeners redacted) so that he can see the minutia involved in gathering and recording this information.  It has to be done with every harvest because no one can realistically keep track of how much of each produce they grow over the season unless you keep detailed records each and every time you pick food.  I also explained that most of the gardeners will have no clue how ridiculously time consuming it is to do this until they’ve tried and very few of them have tried.   I’m even willing to concede that it may not be a big deal for small communal gardens, if they have access to a scale, because they grow items in bulk and disperse everything at the same time.   However, when you harvest tiny amounts several times each week -- like most of us do -- it will take more time to keep track of this information than it does to harvest it.

I also want to acknowledge that the City and Conservatory have been very helpful to us over the years and I'm not one of those community garden leaders that constantly bitches about how much more they should be doing. (While Columbus may not compare well to Cleveland, we're still miles ahead of Toledo, Cincinnati and Louisville, etc.).   I'm a glass half-full kinda girl most of the time.  The City gave us the funds to buy our large rain tank in 2010.  They are loaning us another.  They refilled part of tank for us last year and may do so again next month.  They bought our picnic table and have given us soil amendments.  Bill and the Conservatory (and Fiona, too) have given us seeds, replaced some of our stolen tools this summer, gave us our two benches and some compost, too.   We have greatly appreciated their support.  However, I won't be taking anything else from the City if it means I have to take on more work as they are now suggesting.   It's not a hard decision, really.

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