Volunteers

Volunteers will form the base of your organization and are integral to the success of your garden. You will likely rely on these volunteers for the majority of the tasks of the organization, especially the gardening and at events. The Pleasantville Community Garden estimates that it includes about 200 active volunteers every year. This number may seem daunting, but we have built up to this level over several years. In this section, we will jump into the various types of volunteers that you should target, plans to organize volunteers, and several opportunities for how these volunteers can contribute to your organization.

Types of Volunteers

1.

  • Key Supporters. This type of volunteer refers to the initial people who are key to the creation of the organization. The Pleasantville Community Garden gained the support of these integral supporters during our two-year planning period before our garden was built. For this group of key supporters, seek out people with specific skills that you or the organization is lacking but needs. This group of key supporters also acted as a type of start-up organization during the early stages, which will be explained in Chapter 6: Organization Setup. Here are some key supporters that we initially sought out in our community:

    • Grant Writer

    • Gardeners

    • Logo Designer

    • Landscape Architect (helped us to plan out our garden) Lawyer (helped us in seeking permits and later in making legal documents for the garden organization, like our policy against sexual harassment [5.1])

    • Corporate Fundraiser

  • Groups. There are many types of groups that get involved in local community service that may be willing to volunteer for your organization. Some groups reached out directly to us, but we have also contacted groups that we thought may like to volunteer at our garden. The key to groups of volunteers is to have an organized plan of what the group will be doing and to make sure that there is enough work for the number of volunteers. We always make sure to talk to every group about our project and mission at least for a few minutes during these volunteer events. We also provide food and drinks for participants, and usually some promotional items as well, such as logoed pens, bracelets, or bags. Here are a few types of groups that have volunteered with us that you may want to reach out to for volunteer help:

    • Boy/Girl Scouts

    • Sports Teams (Club and School Teams (even a basketball team from a local university))

    • Religious Groups (Confirmation Classes, Mitzvah Projects, J-Teen, etc.)

  • Individuals. Individuals can serve numerous roles in your organization, including gardening, distribution to food pantries, special events, organizational roles, and even specialized jobs based on skill set (ex. artwork, promotional videos). This is an interested set of volunteers that can help you achieve specific needs. We attempt to use individual volunteers of every age and demographic to fully involve the community.

  • Networks. As was explained above, it is important to develop a base of key supporters at the beginning of your organization. This job will get easier the further you delve into the project because of networking, which consists of the creation of a web of intertwined contacts that will grow as your project grows. With the garden, we found that with each new person we talked to, we gained another two or three contacts to follow up with. In this respect, our volunteer base started to multiply rapidly from our initial core. It is vital to take advantage of networking to identify new opportunities for your organization. For example, our networking led to a farmer at our local farmers market hearing about our organization from a friend and reaching out to donate to us their leftover fresh produce. This initial networking has led to a partnership that has allowed us to donate tens of thousands of pounds of fresh produce to local pantries. Volunteer networking will increase your public visibility and allow you to identify more key supporters and new opportunities to expand your mission, accelerating your project.

Volunteer Programs

2.

  • Own a Week. We developed the Own a Week program to organize volunteers maintaining our garden throughout the year. This method of organizing volunteers let us have a continuous stream of volunteers throughout our growing season while using a relatively small pool of volunteers who could take care of the garden with flexible hours.
    For a week, a volunteer (or family) “owns” the garden, including weeding, watering, and harvesting. This program requires a small time commitment and is flexible for volunteers with a busy schedule as they simply come to the garden whenever they have time during the week. We make sure to train and give tours of the garden to every volunteer who will “own a week,” to ensure that anyone from the community can participate. We also make sure to tell our participating volunteers when to harvest the produce (in line with when we have drivers to donate the produce) and where to store it. We have found that the Own a Week program is great for families and people who want to garden but do not have their own garden.

  • Open Garden Saturday. Once we decided on the Own a Week program, it became apparent that a complementary program was necessary. There needed to be a time to train the volunteer “owning” the garden for the week and for our volunteers to check on the garden regularly. We also wanted to set aside a time for curious people or new contacts to come and see the garden or get a short tour. Open Garden Saturday was our solution to these gaps. Every Saturday during the growing season (from 10 am to noon) the garden would be open to anyone who wanted to come, while we had one or two experienced garden volunteers present. The volunteer “owning” the garden for the next week was also instructed to come during this time to be trained on the necessary tasks for the week. During this time, the experienced garden volunteer can ensure that all of the plants and are growing well and without disease. They can also check to make sure no animals have broken in, the irrigation system is running well, and that there is no damage to the wood or fence of the garden.

  • Produce Collection. Produce collection will differ depending on your organization and its reach. The Pleasantville Community Garden found that we could greatly expand the amount of produce that we donated by collecting produce by various means. We collect extra produce from people’s home gardens. We collect produce from fresh produce drives held with different groups, including sports teams and school groups. Through a partnership with a local farmers market, we also collect leftover produce from vendors at the end of each weekly market. We constantly need volunteers to organize these collection events, weigh the produce for our records, and pack the produce into the cars of people who distribute the produce to local pantries. Here is the farmers market donation manager responsibilities [5.2] that should give a good overview of our operations at the farmers market.

  • Produce Distribution. The final step in our process is bringing the produce that we have grown and collected to the local food pantries and food distribution organizations. We have a set of volunteers who have the job of driving this produce to the pantries when necessary. It is important to coordinate the collection and harvesting of your organization to limit the number of driving trips necessary for volunteers. We have all of our volunteers who collect and distribute the farmers market produce sign this transportation waiver [5.3] to protect the PCG legally. Here is a list of Westchester food pantries [5.4] you might be able to partner with for produce distribution.

  • Special Tasks/Events.  Your garden organization will invariably need volunteer help for a wide array of tasks and events, so it is important to be willing to hand the reins of some of these tasks to other volunteers who perhaps have more specialized skill in this field. Sometimes we approached volunteers we knew had specific skills and asked them to do a certain task, but other times we created a task to utilize the particular skills of a volunteer. These special tasks and events had promotional functions as well as often collecting fresh produce. 

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Pleasantville Community Garden

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WRITTEN BY: Devin Juros with David Juros, Beth Devito, Katie Beatley, Steve Lord

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