Gardening for Life!

Engaging the Spirit of Volunteerism

Participants in a workshop responded to two exercises about engaging people in the community garden.

Responses to Exercise One: Spirit of Volunteerism

People become inspired when they can see that there are worthwhile and achievable goals being set.  When they can see how to become connected and have fun, they will feel comfortable enough to volunteer.  

Be respectful of everyone's time.  Divide up tasks into small packages that need a small amount of time to accomplish.  Show these tasks to volunteers and invite them to pick ones that interest them and match the time they have to volunteer.  

Understand that when a person volunteers, it is a person's heart, mind and spirit that are being offered and shared.  Plan your actions as garden leaders with the understanding that the heart, mind and spirit needs to be acknowledged as the garden goes forward.

Responses from participants on this exercise are grouped below under themes:

Appeal to the Heart of a Volunteer:

  • love for outdoors
  • love for activity
  • community interaction, Donations for food bank / agencies
  • common activity with other like minded
  • love for good food, better / fresher than store bought o recipe swaps for commonly grown produce
  • analyze

 Show good leadership - be available

  • Personal welcome
  • Make volunteering fun
  • Give volunteers the tools so that they can become successful
  • Make volunteers aware of the importance / value of their tasks
  • Variety of activities to match interest and strengths
  • Create system where whole families can participate
  • Recognition of effort/ accomplishment, and satisfaction of accomplishment by doing
  • Thank you's (in person, in newsletters, in emails, etc.)
  • Acknowledge the intent of efforts 
  • Appreciate by offering volunteer position (recognize a potential skill in a volunteer)
  • Get a City councillor or the garden chair or community association chair to address everyone and what they have done.


  • keep in touch with the volunteer throughout the task and provide support
  • acknowledge the volunteer's effort by letting other gardeners know what has been done by the volunteer(s)
  • ask for feedback from the volunteer about how they felt during the task
  • engage all who want to be involved at whatever level they are ready for
  • Buddy system?
  • Help start connections and feeling of belonging
  • Inclusive strategy for projects/ work parties and events

* Heart, mind and spirit are interconnected.  Warmth, friendliness and clear communication create community between new and old gardeners, and gardeners with the wider community.

Appeal to their Mind

  • Desire to learn
  • Appreciation of whole/ natural food - no pesticides 
  • Economics?
  • Learning the craft, tips and tricks - teaching classes, handouts, pamphlets, website tutorials
  • Challenge of successful growing

.. Be clear about tasks

  • Clear goals, set tasks
  • Detailed explanations 
  • Resource/ reference potential with guides & documents
  • Clear outline of garden goals objective 
  • Communications of roles and responsibilities
  • Explanation in detail to address queries and mis-understanding
  • Identify and utilize people's skills and strengths
  • Invite volunteers to provide inputs to ameliorate supervisory weaknesses (i.e. "if you know something about xx, just let me know")

..Offer Learning opportunities:

  • Volunteers learn by doing 
  • Encourage volunteers to share their (practical or social) skills while they volunteer 
  • Produce a newsletter or have activities in community newsletters 
  • Training (teach, share knowledge) by workshops and handouts for gardening tips; Resource library available Provide resources (printed, etc.)
    • Education for growing etc.
    • How to use, preserve produce
    • Education for preserving 
    • Food security talks 
    • Educate own volunteers to become better gardeners, learning new skills, sharing their own skills with others
  • Learning/ sharing opportunities (active or planned and passive, e.g. posted information etc.)
  • Mentorship/ resource members
  • Educational component - having a buddy

..Seek feedback

  • Invite to provide feedback/ improve leadership
  • Ask specific questions about needs
  • Ask for ideas - helps person feel valued and capable
  • Hear the thoughts/ concerns/ bouquets of volunteers
  • Be open to discussion with them
  • Ask gardeners what they learned over the season
  • Make volunteering fun

Appeal to their Spirit

... Leadership 

  • Emphasize the why: the benefits to our own community groups
    • Satisfaction of a job well done, overcoming adversity
    • If donation beds, feel good of helping others
  • Show good leadership - be available a lot (or all the time)
  • Make sure volunteers are aware of what needs to be done, & when

...Leadership style -

  • Establish relationships
  • Collegial approach
  • Inclusivity
  • Diffusion of responsibility 
  • Co-operative organization (see above on clear objectives and communicate responsibilities) - while providing informed direction, but being responsive to ad hoc suggestions.
  • Attempt to identify members strengths/ weaknesses with a view to leveraging the former and mitigating the latter
  • Regular meetings to establish relationships/ trust and communication
  • Giving of oneself contributes to a feeling of receiving good feelings
  • Establish friendships/ relationships/ connections
  • Share the synergy of group efforts to help encourage and uplift everyone's spirit and enthusiasm.
  • Is there a gathering place in the garden?


  • Events and celebrations, barbeque, Music,
  • Newsletter (weekly)
  • Work parties
  • Offer positions
  • Make sure gardeners are assigned a special volunteer job or a garden bed
  • Make volunteering fun
  • A ladybug event - let your gardeners know of the release time.
  • Year end or harvest time event to show your pride in produce, bees, etc.

...Clues for Recognition mechanisms

  • Recipe exchanges
  • Offer part of harvest
  • Beautification projects
  • Photo documentation of progress/ achievements


Responses on Exercise Two: Engaging All People

People who feel that they are part of the community garden will be engaged in the present and future well-being of the garden and its gardeners.  When people feel engaged, they are more likely to step up and volunteer.

Activity:  List ways to create a sense of belonging in this garden for different age groups.

Identify what can be done to create, encourage and increase a sense of belonging for gardeners and visitors to the community garden.  Be specific on how your garden team makes decisions and how gardeners can have input to make suggestions.

Parents with preschoolers

  • Facilities
  • Activity areas
  • Have a kids gardening areas
  • Kids plot suitably sized
  • playground by garden,  adjacent or open safe green space
  • fenced in all around
  • Tools & toys for kids in shed
  • Planting
    • Tasting be of vegetables suitable for kids to plant / try
    • Allow them to help with weeding, watering, planting seeds.  Include them in the process
    • Pick and eat section
    • Gardening together - plant strawberries
  • Events - learning opportunities about life in the garden
    • beneficial bugs in the soil
    • pollinators - bees and butterflies
    • flowers and other plants
  • Other Events
    • Water fights
    • special kid-friendly events at our social events (e.g. clowns)
    • Coordinate watching kids with task versus playground
    • Consistent greeting/ sharing

 School age kids

  • Facilities
    • Common kids garden.  All kids share care of it, and develop sense of ownership
    • Projects
      • Build bird houses/ bee rescue/ bat houses
      • Insect hotel
      • Specific plots/ projects and share with team what worked and what failed.
      • Involve kids in planning/ planting/ tending/harvesting & in choosing what they want to plant
    • Programs

      • Garden education programs
      • Educate them about plants
      • Age based grow programs; Grade 1 - sunflowers; Grade 2 - potatoes
      • Have workshops at garden
      • Teaching about biology and differences in different plants
      • Allow them to help with weeding, watering, planting seeds.  Include them in the process
      • Educational eat and share event
    • Partners

      • Build relationships and activities with local schools and churches
      • Offer School tours
      • Offer local schools(s) a plot - offer ongoing maintenance (watering, but not weeding)
      • shared with kids camps in summer
      • Relationship with the boys and girls club


  • Facilities
    • Hammocks
    • Wifi
    • Have a skate park nearby
    • Social space to hang out
    • Music
  • Partners
    • Offer to youth groups
    • Offer plots for teens through school and through community
    • Invite youth groups to volunteer
    • Youth central building project
  • Programs and Projects

    • Event on bats, birds and bees
    • Teens could maintain school plots over the summer
    • Hunger games themed garden
    • Specific projects short term and long term; coordinate with adult leader; flowers beds for visual impact
    • Photo documentation
    • Could help to build beds, and could do art projects
    • Say hello, and don't treat them with disrespect

 Single adults

  • Most suggestions were social:
    • Singles evening event
    • Come to do event
    • Wine and weeding events
    • Last Fridays - celebration
    • Wine and education about food; have chefs
    • Meet and greet events/ special meet & mingle events
    • Great meeting place for singles Date nights
    • Engage / involve with teams/ tasks and each other
    • Mentors available (and garden buddies)
    • Uses Social media
    • For any adults, offer training program on canning/ preservation/ fermentation of produce

New Canadians (English as second language)

  • Some language bridging
    • Translate brochure to key language
    • Signage
    • Website
    • An opportunity during English as a second language training: take participant through and share tasting bed
    • Dedicate personnel/ personal resources to invite & interact
    • "foreign plants"  (not clear: have some? Talk about them?)
    • Offer plots in community newsletter in different languages
    • Create specific opportunities for mentoring, translating and monitoring
  •  Cultural Bridging
    • Vegetable tasting seminar or class
    • Access to Tasting beds
    • Ethnic garden/ multinational
    • Have them share gardening tips from their culture
    • Find ways to include cultural needs etc.
    • Offer free garden plots/ training/ welcome

 Adults in middle age

  • market gardening as a stress relief activity
  • Wine and weeding events
  • Meet and greet events
  • Invite them to come out
  • Tips binder to keep advice for them, and from them
  • Espresso machine (solar powered)
  • Cooking programs and cook-offs

 Active seniors

  • Facilities: Benches
  • Programs and Events in daytime
  • Ask them to share their experience
  • Encourage as resource/ experience (if applicable)
  • Educational Cooking programs
  • Invite a seniors home for tea in the garden

People with disabilities (added)

  • Inclusion
  • Make accessible beds available / coordinate with helpers