Coordinators Speak

Dear Garden members,

Robin and I are very excited about coordinating this year.  We appreciate the opportunity you’ve giving us to guide the garden. Once again, we sincerely want to thank last year’s steering committee members for all their efforts.  We hope that this letter will give you a feel for how we want to move forward as coordinators.

About the City’s Community Garden Guidelines: we intend to uphold, and when necessary, enforce the City’s guidelines speedily, equally, and compassionately among all members regardless of race, gender, garden seniority, personal friendship, etc. We hope that this will strengthen the sense that we are All In This Together. Plot/path upkeep, four season planting, and fulfilling hosting requirements will be a focus.

And just in case you wonder about the wisdom of our guidelines, and where they came from anyway… this venerable document (adopted as Draft General Plan policy by the City of Berkeley) is rumored to have been adapted by… (drum roll) visionary garden-builder Karl Linn Himself– but only after several years of fertile conflict in the fledgling gardens.

To step back for a moment… sometimes we forget how fortunate we are to have hot sun, free water (thank you City of Berkeley), and good soil in our plots– and to have the opportunity to collaborate on such an intimate basis with nature in the production of our vegetables and herbs.

But it’s not all about the food. As a community, we also have the opportunity to work together, appreciate differences, resolve conflicts; to extend a hand towards others, and to receive this benefit as well.

All the while, the City’s vision for us is to be a model of organic food growing practices open to the public– our plots are only “ours” to steward as a resource for the Greater Good. We are charged with fostering and strengthening neighborhood community self-reliance and resilience, because we all know, in a food crisis the garden will become a resource for those with an urgent need to learn food growing skills.

Robin and I see the food we take home from the garden as a fair exchange for fulfilling the City’s of Berkeley’s vision, because it’s our vision too.

If you find yourself questioning whether you can, or even want to, fully embrace and support the City’s vision for the garden, we think now might be the time for you to consider giving your plot to the next person on our waiting list. These patiently waiting people (some for years) are eager to become part of our community. For ourselves, we feel privileged our city has granted us this trust, and our spirits are aligned in helping to fulfill this vibrant vision.

We’ll agree with many who feel the garden had one of its best looking years ever. We worked hard to get rid of our accumulation of rubble; rotting wood; abandoned tomato cages, potted plants, etc.– and the garden looks much better for it.

Thanks to the our members’ vigilance, we discovered that the City’s compost was far from organic, and members agreed to purchase organic compost. Tomato yields were way up this year. It’s amazing how much food a single plant can give.

But on the other side, here’s something else to feel into: as Americans we live in the most extractive culture which has ever dominated the Earth. Not surprisingly, as individuals sometimes we can bring that mentality into the garden… we wonder just how many pounds of vegetables we can get for as little input as possible. We hit our minimum required hours… but that’s it.

We need to be efficient with our precious time resources in the garden… but something easily gets lost. Lost is the opportunity to feel our generosity of spirit– an intangible quality the growing things around us model so well.

Right now, the garden faces several challenges that call for us to tune into this “spirit of generosity.”

  1. Deferred plot and path maintenance: it has become obvious that some of our gardeners either need to solicit help with their plots, or let them go.
  2. Rigid attitudes: old grudges, unresolved hurts, and recent snubs have left us with what some have called a “contentious garden.”
  3. Infrastructure repair: our garden’s “signature” cob shed needs an expensive renovation, and fundraising has become a necessity for our membership.

To address the first issue, as your new co-coordinators, we want you to know that we’ll be having conversations with plot-holders who no longer seem to have the time to fulfill their contract with the City’s minimum membership requirements. We will be notifying these members of their need to resolve compliance issues before the end of the year… or else begin to clear out their plots. We would love to welcome new vitality and commitment into the garden.

As your coordinators, we intend to address emotional tension that for many has become a prominent feature of the garden. Robin and I want to address this issue on a number of levels:

  1. We will be upholding a policy of openness and inclusion. Committee meetings will be scheduled with ample notice, open to all members, and held at the garden or an accessible location nearby.
  2. We’ve recognize that (in the the context of our next garden meeting), gardeners need a safe forum to discuss what membership in Northside means, so that we can better understand our differences and similarities within this group context.
  3. We also want to take time to address the City’s vision for the garden, and work collectively to find a shared mission for our membership.
  4. We appreciate that conflict is a normal part of every community’s process. Michael (a licensed mediator) has volunteered to work with any garden members who would like to bring their shared conflicts to greater understanding.

On the subject of our cob tool shed… for some it’s a destination, for others, an architectural gem; whatever it is for you, the shed keeps our tools safe and dry. So far, this unique building has been more of an asset than a liability. It’s gone ten years without generating any maintenance costs… but now, it apparently needs to have its deteriorating “benches” removed, and have a new roof liner installed beneath its soil– at last estimate, approx $1,500+. This is more money than we have, so we will need to do some creative group thinking about how to fund this expense, for example:

  • Plant or bake sales
  • $100 plot assessment (each plot pays)
  • Digging up the treasure box(s) rumored to be buried under of the cob shed benches (shovels provided)

In conclusion, given all we’ve said, we want to let you know our deepest wish for the garden, in addition to growing delicious vegetables, is that members focus their energy into strengthening relationships within the garden, and opening that caring out into the neighborhood community. Sounds a lot like the City’s vision, doesn’t it? But then, that vision was dreamed up by a few inspired gardeners.

It’s true that time has eroded much of the art that once graced our Northside Garden and the other Westbrae Commons gardens, but much of it was intended to disappear with time, to make room for new inspirations.

As coordinators, we invite you to bring your hidden talents to the garden, to bring your families and friends, to create events, classes, and workshops… but most importantly, to make the garden a enjoyable place for all of us to be.

Please let us know how we can support you– and PLEASE use this new website as a resource. Register and log in to post your questions, desires, and dreams for all to ponder.

Robin and Michael


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