An Interview With LaManda Joy

I sat down with LaManda Joy to talk to her about her new book, Starting a Community Food Garden: The Essential Handbook from Timber Press.

with piles of H2 beds

Alexandra: Why did you write another book?
LaManda: Because people knew of my involvement with Peterson Garden Project and the American Community Gardening Association, I kept getting asked the same questions, or I observed the same issues repeatedly. And I saw this from all across the country. When I started PGP I found there was no playbook, with everything in one place, about how to do this. I think this is a movement that will make a huge difference that will have greater success if everyone doesn’t have to figure it out like it’s the first time. This book can make gardens more fun and more sustainable.

A: You’re the community person– did a community help you write this book?
L: Absolutely. I pulled on resources that I don’t have expertise in from grants to cooking to finances. So much goes into a community garden. One publisher said they weren’t sure it’s really a garden book because I don’t even mention plants until page 120.

A. Why do people need this book?
L. People get so excited every spring and just think about the plants. But it’s not one-and-done. There’s other stuff to think about and prepare, it’s like having a baby or a puppy. Interest in community gardening is skyrocketing. And community gardens suffer from a boom-to-bust cycle. We had Victory Gardens in the ’40’s and then back to the land in the ’70’s, urban revitalization in the ’80’s, and the current interest in food safety and food availability. I would like community gardens to stay a part of the culture and not just a trend.

A: What’s your favorite community gardener story?
L: In our first year, we had a gardener who was brand new to this. And I walked into the garden one day and she just came running up to me waving her arms and shouting, “LaManda LaManda I planted beans I planted bean seeds!” It was a real moment that showed that connection that only happens in a garden, where you really see how you’re a part of the circle of life, you really see those connections happen and the joy it brings people.

And then in Year two, one of our 2010 “grewbies” was actually passing on her knowledge, becoming a teacher. She told me how she was teaching a friend, and told her “just take it easy, stuff just wants to grow.” And I just said, Arlene that’s a great way to think about it!” and she said, “well, you taught me that last year!”
A: What’s the hardest thing about starting a community garden?
L: Developing the community. People tend to be lone agents, they have an idea and they want to just do that, their way. But it won’t last long unless you pull others in. Organizations that don’t develop that shared responsibility burn out, or they aren’t fun, or they don’t get done effectively.

A: What’s the first thing to do?
L: (laughs) Everyone asks me that. That’s why I wrote the book. And the answer is that I can’t answer that. There are so many reasons people start community gardens that you can’t say well just do this one thing. You have to understand what resources you have and more importantly why they’re doing the garden. There’s no one way to do it.

There’s more about Peterson Garden Project at Make It Better (be sure to “like” the article to help us earn a spot in the print edition!). You can buy Start a Community Garden: The Essential Handbook as well as copies of our book, Fearless Food Gardening in Chicagoland – A Month-by-Month Guide for Beginners, at our Annual Plant and Bake Sale May 15-16-17!