I’m a member of a community garden. It’s a small one, around 14 families, but it’s a nice one. We acquired a city land bank lot and raised the money to build the garden. We got foundation stones donated by a demolition company and used them to build the walls of the garden plots. The entire garden is surrounded by a French gothic picket fence and the gate area is covered with a pergola.
It’s also in the city, so a certain amount of theft or vandalism is expected. We held an ice cream social at the start of the year and announced the opening of the community garden. Anyone can sign up for a free plot and gardeners are responsible for their own plants and seeds and for maintaining their plot and the garden in general. In return, they have fresh vegetables, flowers and herbs.
Seventy or so neighbors attended the ice cream social and unfortunately, some of them thought “community garden” meant “free food for whomever wants to pick it.”
I couldn’t figure out why one day, I’d have three or four almost ripe tomatoes and the next day, I’d have none. The same was true with my eggplants and peppers. I knew something was up when four of my pepper plants – Thai chilies and regular chili peppers – were removed from my plot (I was the only person growing hot peppers). Apparently not satisfied with harvesting the peppers, he or she took the plants. Every gardener experienced theft.
The family who agreed to be the “managers” of the garden did not respond to emails about theft, creating “no picking” signs, etc. They also didn’t respond to a couple of emails suggesting it was time to clean up the garden for the fall and put it to bed. Finally, someone called them and was told, “Three years ago, someone broke into our car. Two years ago, someone broke into our house. This year, someone stole our pumpkins. We’re moving and we quit!!”
For them, the loss of a car window and a GPS system wasn’t the last straw. Neither was losing their laptops and a television. Apparently, having their fall pumpkins removed from their front porch and smashed on the sidewalk was the last straw.
We’ve all experienced people at work who are frustrated and angry, who would take their pumpkins and go home if they could. They shut down and stop engaging as part of the team. They sit in meetings looking bored or angry and zone out. They don’t return messages or calls and when they do, they act like they are doing you a favor. Eventually, everyone stops trying to engage them and they become like ghosts: You can see them but they’re really not present.
The plan to re-engage my fellow gardeners is simple: Remove as many of the barriers to participation – fear of vandalism and theft being the primary problem – as possible. We’re putting locks on the gates and have ordered signs in several languages that say: “If you didn’t plant it, don’t pick it.”
It’s not as easy to re-engage angry, frustrated employees as it is disappointed gardeners. What methods have you used to bring employees back into the fold, to get them to recommit to working safely and looking out for themselves and others? Email me at [email protected] and I’ll share the best ideas on our Web site.