The Three C's of Low Stress Community Gardens
By Bert Einsiedel,
urban gardener and compost educator
Reproduced here with
The four C's of diamonds are cut,
color, clarity, and carat weight. The three C's for fall
flowering bulbs could be colchicum,
crocus and cyclamen. The three C's for low stress community
gardens, in my opinion, are cooperation, compromise and
Recreational gardening is usually viewed as a stress reliever
but not when the gardener has to contend with pesky pests, hail,
wind, and other natural threats to growing plants. Mother Nature
can sometimes be challenging. And so can human nature.
Solitary gardeners are usually able to grow vegetables and
flowers if the right combination of growing conditions and know-how
is obtained. However, the same products of their well-invested
energy may be less than satisfactory if they were sharing the
garden with a dysfunctional community of gardeners. Instead of
relieving stress, the garden could heighten it.
Some may attribute this to the politics of the community and to
personality differences that sometimes contribute to interpersonal
tensions among members. If the tension escalates, the overall toxic
climate that eventually develops can have disastrous effects on
people and, perhaps, even the plants.
The occasional misunderstandings and disagreements can be mildly
annoying and somewhat tolerable. However, stress-inducing tensions
and conflict that happens frequently or lasts over a few months can
ruin a gardener's season perhaps more so than destructive garden
pests or poor soil.
What to do? Learning about and practicing The Three C's may help, and I don't
mean how to grow cabbage, celery and
- Community gardens are frequently run like a cooperative. That
means knowing the essentials of how to cooperate. From childhood
most people learn how to share, give and take, and be nice. Many
may even enjoy shared activities more than solitary ones, for
example, team sports, playing in a band, and potluck picnics.
- Some, for whatever reason, are unwilling or unable to
cooperate. Some may even prefer to compete. Some may have a disdain
for sharing common standards and rules, preferring instead anarchy
and selfserving ventures.
- It's not enough to be cooperative. Community garden members
must also strive to be fair and equitable about how they share
responsibilities and privileges. The goal is a win-win situation in
which all winners perceive their net gains are fair and equitable.
You may need to point out to competitive individuals that many
athletes and entrepreneurs engage their rivals in accordance with
the rules of fair play.
- Solitary and self-sufficient gardeners seldom need to
compromise when it comes to making decisions about their private
gardens. Not so with community gardeners for whom disagreements or
even disputes with fellow gardeners are not only possible, they're
probable, though not inevitable.
- Community gardeners need to learn when and how to compromise,
that is, when and how to settle a dispute or resolve conflicting
opinions. They might avoid a win-lose situation by seeking a
mutually acceptable middle ground. To be consistently
uncompromising is often incompatible with being a reasonable
community garden member.
- Sometimes, compromise may result in accepting standards or
outcomes that are lower than is desirable for the individual in the
short term but is desirable in the longer term as well as for the
common good. Traders and economists who subscribe to the
counter-intuitive Law of Comparative Advantage understand its
advantages in the exchange of goods.
- It would be desirable if everyone agreed on every decision,
that is, if the group's choices were made by total consensus.
However, in the real world, not even the Supreme Court can achieve
total consensus on all of its decisions. In a shared garden,
members need to learn how to make decisions by consensus.
- Rather than attempt "conflict resolution" when disagreements
occur, a more realistic approach is to try "conflict management" in
which the aim is to find an
"acceptable resolution" that everyone "can live with." This
is easier said than done. But so is building up soil health using
organic methods or raising a family.
- Effective communication and,
more specifically, constructive deliberation aimed at expanding
common ground, are important skills to having a low stress
community garden. A community garden, after all, is figuratively
and literally about common ground.