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What does a vegetable patch and good community engagement have in common?

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It’s been a great summer so far for getting out in the garden. I love a whiling away a few hours in the garden and clearing my mind. But I recently starting wondering what a healthy thriving vegetable patch might have in common with good community engagement…

A community – if nurtured well – can be very powerful. If nurtured poorly it can be dysfunctional.

I like to think of it in simple terms…

Picture a garden bed. Imagine there are hundreds of different herbs and vegetables all growing together in the same veggie patch.  If you nurture them by providing them with nourishing soil, regular composting, decent water and protect them from the elements – what happens?

They will grow healthy and strong and provide you with a useful product that you can create all sorts of different meals from. The best bit? You can keep going back to pick more over and over again.

On the flip side, you can forget to give it the attention it needs to thrive. Sure you might be too busy to properly water the produce regularly, you might scatter the odd bit of fertiliser every now and again when you remember and with some good luck one or two of the veggies might grow a little bit. But once you’ve picked them, that’s it. The patch is empty. There’s no ongoing benefit. The environment simply won’t help generate anything any more.

I have two questions for you

1.    If you were a vegetable which patch would you rather be living in?
2.    If you want to grow good quality vegetables which patch would you rather be cultivating?

When it comes down to it, human communities and options for engaging with them are no different to veggie gardens.

The thriving veggie patch took a lot more nurturing. It needed plenty of hard work, dedication and attention. But you’re left with a healthy garden that you can pick and choose from as you need to. You know you will get good quality produce over and over again. It saves you hundreds of dollars a year on your grocery bill – and you’re healthier for it! You notice the garden seems to take on a life of its own. Your tomatoes are multiplying at a rapid rate and new shoots are popping up day after day eager to be part of your patch and you haven’t even lifted a finger!

On the other hand, the neglected veggie patch might have provided you with one or two tasty morsels but probably more from sheer luck and determination on the vegetables’ part rather than anything you can take credit for as the gardener.

And what about all the little seeds of promise that you lost along the way? You’ll never know what benefits they could have added to your next meal. Next time you want to grow a veggie patch, you’ll have to start all over from scratch because your soil isn’t healthy – you need to re-do your foundations again.

So let’s apply the vegetable garden philosophy to community engagement.

As a living, breathing community member (a vegetable) I would rather be part of a community (vegetable patch) which is being facilitated by an organisation or representative (the gardener) who is responsive to my needs and genuinely cares about what will help me and my area to thrive – and not just this time around, but also in the future. I want a long-lasting, fruitful and connected relationship with my gardener.

You won’t get the same results from me if you don’t give me the individual attention I deserve. I don’t feel nurtured when I’m asked to fill in a token survey sent to me by someone I’ve never interacted with along my journey. I’m probably not going to attend a stock standard town hall meeting which would be a struggle to get to even if I wanted to because it’s scheduled from 4pm and I don’t finish work until much later.

If this gardener had worked hard on cultivating a relationship with me, then he would know this and would seek my input in a different way – a way that suits me, my needs and my schedule. In turn, I’d be more inclined to help him grow his garden. I would talk to and involve relevant people from my own network. The gardener has nurtured me and I will nurture others on his behalf.

The expert gardener isn’t interested in survey responses. He is interested in quality relationships and connections. He knows that 10 good relationships with key community members will be more valuable to him in the long run than 100 survey responses. Because those 10 influencers will go forth and multiply – much like out-of-control basil.

Think of it as the veggie patch affiliate sales model!

I challenge you to think about your own vegetable patch or the vegetable patch you are cultivating.

Could it be time for some landscaping, pruning and composting?

Think of me as your horticulturalist – I’m here to help you propagate, cultivate and maintain your garden. My gloves, watering can and trowel are at the ready and there is nothing I enjoy more than a garden overhaul!

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