John Lawrence, an economic and community development consultant and member of the Rotary Club of Memphis, Tenn., USA, led his club’s new-member project to build the Uptown Community Garden last year. Photo courtesy of John Lawrence
Rotarians are digging and hammering to create spaces that produce fresh food, beautify neighborhoods, and provide extra income for local residents. John Lawrence, an economic and community development consultant and member of the Rotary Club of Memphis, Tenn., USA, led his club’s new-member project to build the Uptown Community Garden last year. Located in a mixed-income neighborhood, it has 18 plots that rent for $20 annually.
The Rotarian: What were the steps to building the garden?
Lawrence: First we had to secure our site. The next task was to kill the grass – we didn’t want to use chemicals, so we covered the ground with biodegradable cardboard and mulch. Then we created raised beds, filled them with dirt, and constructed a fence. We had to find a source of water. We did some landscaping, built a little toolshed and some compost bins, and then we had a big party.
TR: How many hours of labor did your club donate?
Lawrence: Around 120 to 150 man-hours.
TR: What was the cost?
Lawrence: We came in at about $3,500. You can do it a lot less expensively, but we felt that this was going to represent Rotary, this was going to be our inroad into this community, and we wanted it to last a long time. We used new materials and tried to build things better than we had to.
TR: Do you need members who are gardeners and builders to make this work?
Lawrence: No. You just need a club full of people willing to read some instructions and give it a try. You have to have someone involved who’s willing to motivate. That was one of the early issues we had to overcome – simply keeping people motivated and helping them understand, “Look, we know you’ve never gardened before. You may not have ever built a fence, but it’s dirt and wood. You can’t mess it up.”
TR: What’s a secret to a flourishing community garden?
Lawrence: The most successful community gardens have someone from the neighborhood who steps up and takes the lead – someone who will be in the garden often and doesn’t mind playing a management role. We set a few ground rules, but since everyone has ownership of their own spot, they care for that spot – and for their neighbor’s. It hasn’t taken a great deal of oversight.
TR: What benefits have you seen?
Lawrence: We have introduced people to the concept of selling their own food. A grocery store nearby buys from some of our gardeners. From an aesthetic standpoint, the area looks better. From a public safety standpoint, this is a social place where people can interact and know what’s going on in the neighborhood. And children have been involved throughout the process. These kids have benefited from having a place to go and adults to associate with after school and on weekends. – Mindy Charski
This article appeared in the August issue of The Rotarian magazine
Follow the discussion on RI's official LinkedIn group. Lawrence will be answering questions through 13 August.