Through our 20 years of supporting Chicago community gardens, we have learned that interpersonal conflict in community garden groups is inevitable. Here are some tips for working through conflict and maintaining community
- Sometimes vegetables get stolen. Community vegetable gardens are wonderful places where sometimes a tomato gets nabbed. That happens.
- People can only offer what they can offer. Many people don’t have enough time to tend a plot all summer, but sign up anyway. Tensions caused by unmanaged beds could be helped by offering lower commitment level options, such as volunteering once a year, shoveling snow in spring, etc.
- Some people will work harder than others. If you are one of those people, enjoy your work ethic. It is a blessing. If you’re not enjoying working so hard, work less hard.
- A mess to some is organization to others. Practice widening your zone of tolerance between messy and tidy, and encourage others to do as well.
- Garden shaming doesn’t usually help much. Many folks come into community gardening with very little background knowledge. If you are a seasoned expert gardener, let people make mistakes. Inadvertently shaming someone is a sure- fire way to ensure that person never comes back.
- Being outside is most fun when there are places to sit and eat together. Think about ways to enjoy each other, both while working in the sun and sitting in the shade.
- Play host harder than you think. If someone gets brave enough to come to a work day, but isn’t heartily welcomed, they seldom come back.
- Community garden conflict is an opportunity to practice community tolerance. Welcome open and honest dialogue around conflict. Communicate positively. Listen actively. Recognize that feedback can be challenging to give and receive. Be thoughtful. When that doesn’t work, consider trying mediation through NeighborSpace’s Conflict Resolution Plan.