Hello UAA Student Garden Fans! This post will be breaking the familiar pattern that the blog posts have followed so far. This is because Shannon (one of our garden advisors and volunteers), Aleks (Garden Volunteer Coordinator), and I (the Garden Media Coordinator) have recently returned from New York City, where we attended the American Community Gardening Association’s 32nd Annual National Conference, held at Columbia University. We want to tell you all about it!
The conference consisted of hands-on workshops led by a variety of experienced community gardening organizations, various talks, and many networking opportunities (for more information about ACGA, visit their website). The conference culminated with the chance to visit some of the many community gardening projects in NYC. Aleks, Shannon, and I had an awesome adventure in the South Bronx where we visited several successful gardens that have partnered with school groups to create wonderful community “hubs” for sharing, learning, and growing.
As Media Coordinator, I found myself drawn to several specific workshops—“Social Media Helping and Supporting Community Gardens” and “Creating a Successful Event Using Social Media and Traditional Outreach”. Both of these workshops emphasized the importance of having both a physical and a virtual presence as a community gardening organization in order to maximize impact on the surrounding community. The presenters also discussed the importance of having an easily accessible online legacy that tells the story of the project from the beginning. This is exactly what I hope this blog will be—a permanent and easily found record that explains what we have done, what we are currently doing, and why.
The conference introduced us to a TON of new information pertaining to the community gardening game. While at times we felt bombarded with this gardening information, several important themes and ideas applicable to our project came up through our experiences at the conference.
One theme was the importance of turning space into place. We discussed this idea in a workshop, then witnessed first hand on our South Bronx garden tour. Most of the successfully integrated projects we learned about had partnered with other organizations to ensure that the community was engaged in the garden on multiple levels. Community members were always able to use and appreciate the garden without having to volunteer to assist in garden maintenance. Whether it is school groups making garden-inspired art or neighbors using the garden as a community gathering place, there are more things to do in a garden than just growing things! In the future we hope that the UAA Student Garden becomes a venue for the UAA Community to come together in a variety of ways.
Another theme that interested us at the conference was the contrast between gardening in the city (most organizations were focused on urban gardening) and gardening in Alaska. As Alaskans, we have a very different perspective on what gardens are for. In an urban setting, gardens are cherished as one of the few opportunities to experience nature. The contrast of the “gray and the green” was mentioned often to emphasize how valuable green gardening spaces are to people living in a city. Since green space is not exactly difficult to locate in Alaska, thisidea was relatively new to us. Our eyes were opened to the possibility that some members of our community might have limited access to nature, and we hope to connect with these groups, allowing them to experience nature in Anchorage.
Ultimately, we hope that the UAA Student Garden project will serve as a bridge between the University and the Anchorage community. Our project provides natural learning and leadership building opportunities, and as a continual project it is always changing and improving. With this project, there is no “done”. There will always be more plants to grow, connections to make, people to impact, lessons to learn, and fun to be had!
Post by Jasmine Woodland, Garden Media Coordinator