How to Create a Volunteer Network
As every overworked giving gardener knows, it’s difficult to run a Giving Garden by yourself – nor should you! Volunteers are essential to your effort: you need them to help with garden tending, deliveries, and other tasks, but even more importantly, they create a community that feeds everyone who participates. And we don’t mean literally. Build a team of volunteers, and you will teach people how to grow food, a valuable skill they will have with them forever and hopefully share with others. Mentoring promising volunteers is also critical to the sustainability of your program. After all, who will take over when you move on?
The following tips were written by Deb Rock and Jude Berman, based on their experience running the Interbay P-Patch Giving Garden.
1. Where to find volunteers
- Start within your own P-Patch. Make sure everyone knows where the food bank plots are, who is in charge of the program, when you meet, etc. Put signs and A-boards around the garden to remind people when your work party is, or to publicize an event like your kickoff. If you have a newsletter, put something about food bank gardening in each issue. Make a point of hanging out in the garden when people are most likely to be there, then walk around and introduce yourself. Talk about the food bank gardening program and how people can help. Not everyone can come to a work party, but many people are interested in growing a row for the hungry in their own plot. (See the section below on Gleaning.) Others might be available for spot weeding or extra watering during the hot summer months. Find a way for everyone who shows the least bit of interest to participate – and make sure everyone knows that the time they put in counts toward their P-Patch hours requirement!
- Talk to anyone who happens to be strolling through your garden, tell them about your giving garden and let them know volunteers are welcome.
- If you’re in Seattle, list your giving garden and volunteer opportunities at www.sggn.org
- Put calls for volunteers in your local newspaper, blogs, etc. You can get free coverage from local media by sending press releases or making phone calls to publicize your kick-off or other events in your giving garden. Interbay program leader Deb Rock famously placed a notice in the Magnolia/Queen Anne News, advertising “free lessons in organic gardening.” One person showed up with a notepad and pencil, and was given a pair of gloves and a hoe instead. She’s been a regular volunteer for 10 years now.
- Get your local schools involved. High school students need service learning hours, middle and elementary schools always enjoy a hands-on field trip.
- Churches and community groups are always looking for interesting volunteer opportunities. Contact those in your neighborhood, or go through gardeners who are involved with them.
2. Maintaining your volunteer team
- Make sure everyone wears a name tag at every work party (see Work Parties, below).
- Keep contact info on every volunteer and build an email list (see Communication, below).
- Keep an hours logbook with a sheet for each volunteer and make sure everyone enters the time they spend in the giving garden.
- Get personal. As you dig and weed and plant, ask people how their week is going so far. Show an interest in your volunteers and their lives and encourage everyone to develop personal relationships with each other. Volunteers show up because of the gardening, but they keep coming back because of the friendships and sense of community that develops over time when people work together consistently towards a common goal.
- Eat and drink together when you’ve finished working! After the seeds have been planted, the harvest tallied, the compost turned and the tools washed and put away, there’s nothing quite like breaking bread together as the sun goes down. Of course, what you do and how you do it will depend on the time of day, your picnic facilities, etc. The point is to make time for team-building. Spending time together as a group doing something other than working in the giving garden really helps cement your team. At Interbay, we even make an effort to get together during the winter for fun and games!