Toolshed Tips: Garden Application Packet

By Libby Weiland

Your February tip:  Many New England gardeners mark February on their calendars as a time to cozy up with favorite seed catalogs and begin planning what to grow in the garden this year. For community and school garden leaders it’s also time to prepare for all the people who will be growing in your gardens.  Whether you’re bringing in returning gardeners and volunteers, or reaching out to new ones, you want to be ready when they inquire.  This first point of contact is a great opportunity to gather important information about your soon-to-be gardeners and volunteers, inform them about your garden, and get their permission as needed. Some of the details you may want to include in your Garden Application Packet:

  • Collect basic information about the individual.  The basics: Name, contact info, past participation in the garden, plot preferences, volunteer availability, emergency contact info.  Think about all of the possible ways that you might need or want to communicate with them this season.
  • Learn about each participants’ skills, interests, and special needs.  This area can be a wealth of information, yet is often neglected on basic forms.  Whether you provide a checklist of desired skills, knowledge, experience, and interests, or an open space for applicants to fill-in this information themselves, this is a great way to learn more about your gardeners and volunteers and best match them with garden-related tasks.  Learning about any special needs will also help ensure the accessibility of your garden.   Finally, knowing about specific gardening knowledge can help you match experienced gardeners with those wanting to learn more.  A better understanding of your gardeners helps support a positive cycle in your garden:  Happy Gardeners = Healthy Gardens = Happy Gardeners!
  • Think about your garden’s impact.  Before the season begins, collect information about participants’ gardening knowledge, eating habits, household food security, or any other information that might help you understand  the impact your garden has on its participants.  Follow this up with a post-season-assessment and you’ll end up with useful data about your garden’s impact.
  • Gain permission and waive liability.  Before the first photo of the season is taken or first dirt is dug, make sure you have permission to use gardeners’ and volunteers’ names, photos, video, or audio in garden promotion (it’s o.k. for participants to opt-out, but identifying those people ahead of time is important), and make  sure each participant has signed a waiver of liability.  Getting these signatures early and having them on file with each gardener’s and volunteer’s details will save you the headache of tracking people down later.
  • Include information about your garden and what to expect.  Including your garden’s guidelines, “this is what you get” and “this is what we ask of you,” with a space for signing an agreement of understanding, gives your participants a clear sense of what they’re signing on for.  You’ll want to review these guidelines again as the season draws closer.  For more info on developing garden guidelines check out: Community Garden Guidelines: Tips.
  • Think about anything else you might want to know: Demographics, the applicant’s relation to other gardeners or volunteers, and how they heard about your garden, etc.  Save yourself time in additional surveys and tracking people down later in the season by gathering everything you want to know upfront.
  • Here are a sample application forms to get you started: For garden plot-holders: Somerset Community Garden Registration Form; from the University of Missouri’s Community Gardening Toolkit, Gardener Application.  For volunteers: sample non-profit volunteer applications.

For those of you working with volunteers, join us Sunday, Feb. 15, to learn more about recruiting, engaging, and managing volunteers, at VCGN’s workshop—Garden Organizer Discussion: Volunteers for Community Gardens—at the NOFA-VT Winter Conference.  More info on our Community & School Garden Track page.

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