From my perch I could see the boys hurling tomatoes out of the community garden. Our 1875 house was clearly built to see and be seen, and its raised entry, 14-foot ceilings and 8-foot windows make my office a promontory. They had no idea I was watching. I dashed down the steps, zipped across the street and shouted “Gentlemen! What are we doing?” Five boys spun around; all denied vegetable pilfering, etc.; then one asked “but this is a community garden, isn’t it?”
Two weeks before I stopped three kids leaving the garden with the last of my turnips. They too said “but it’s a community garden, isn’t it?” I explained the “yes, but no” concept and then let them go with the booty. I figured if they could identify the vegetables and really wanted to eat them, that was good enough for me
Here in Easton the garden should clearly become more of a social resource. There are other gardens, here and around the country, where volunteers garden to give away the vegetables through social services, but I am looking for a different model. After the boys and I chatted about the tomato incident, we toured the garden and named the plants, tasted the peas and the cherry tomatoes, and they asked if they could have a plot. I promised to help them have their plot next year if they promised to help take care of it. I may end up managing it more than I like, but perhaps the exposure will lead gradually to an appreciation for, and a habit of growing one’s own food even if it can only be a few tomato plants on a porch each year.
That will only happen, though, if the garden “Does More Than One Thing”…more than just be a garden for the people with the plots. Members of my community who do not have plots often stop in when they see someone gardening. We share English and Spanish plant names, talk about how we grow them and cook them; and I share my vegetables. If the garden creates community interaction, not just vegetables, then it has a value that protects it from wayward kids, grasping developers, and needy city or town managers. Then it’s sustainable.
Hope Alswang,the Director of the Museum Program for the New York State Council on the Arts a decade or more ago, taught me that “Money must do more than one thing." As a funder she knew that the competitive proposals, the most effective projects, were the ones where the money achieved more than one goal: created curriculum that could be reused annually and reach a new audience; preserved a structure and gave the community a place for public programs; or protected a landscape that provided open space and protected a water source. I’ve always followed the Doctrine in fundraising, and now use it in nearly all I do, particularly preservation work.
The Doctrine of Do More Than One Thing applies beautiful to sustainability – in preservation and in other environmentally-sustainable practices. Every time we preserve an historic house we also raise the profile of the neighborhood, we reduce waste and consumption, we improve the built landscape and avoid adding infrastructure. That’s definitely More Than One Thing.
The best, the most sustainable choices, are those that accomplish much with one act. A year from now I hope to report that the garden has a kids’ plot and that they’ve learned to compost and identify and grow vegetables, and eat healthier food, much like they did in the early history of our community. I also hope I’ve learned more Spanish, that we know each other’s names and say “hi” outside the garden, too -- and that we need a bigger garden. Maybe we can take even steps toward re-establishing a community canning kitchen so that we can relearn how to store this bounty. That would be a LOT More Than One Thing.
About the Author: As a consultant Sarah works with museums, zoos, aquariums, gardens, and historic sites to make them more sustainable. The work can address sustainability financially through grants development, environmentally through green practice, and socially through mainstreaming activities bringing every nonprofit and its community closer together. She is the author of Is Your Museum Grant-Ready? and co-author of The Green Museum. You can find her on the Web at www.bmuse.net, and on Twitter as @greenmuseum. She lives with her family on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where they have mastered composting, recycling, and living with one car. Shorter showers are still a problem….