In Praise of Partners

In 2009 when we founded Grow It Green Morristown (GIGM) and launched the Early Street Community Garden, we knew that we couldn’t go it alone.  The organization started with just three people, so to build an entire community garden would have been impossible with just three sets of hands.  From the onset, GIGM has been pretty adept at asking for help when we needed it.  We don’t try to be experts at everything!

From the beginning, community volunteers and partners have driven our work.

From the beginning, community volunteers and partners have driven our work.

Like many organizations, we’ve gone through mission revisions.  Tweaking the wording, creating lists of core values, etc.  One theme that has been consistent in all these discussions has been the creation of strategic, collaborative projects.  Our work with Shaping NJ has been no exception to this core tenant of our organization.  We want to improve people’s access to fresh, local nutritious food and provide them opportunities to improve their wellness though being outdoors, with other members of our community.  However, we need information about the populations we wish to serve  – not just those we currently serve!  To expand our reach and collect data from potential new clients, we have partnered with the Morristown Housing Authority, Atlantic Health and the Neighborhood House.

Of the three groups, we have been working with the Neighborhood House the longest.  However, our work has been primarily with children – this survey required us to reach the parents and adults that use their services.  There were multiple barriers to accessing their clients that we needed to consider including language, time of day to survey, and motivating people to take the survey.

We planned the surveying to take place when people were picking up their children from childcare, at the end of the day.  While getting home for dinner after a long day at work might impede some people from stopping to take the survey, we figured it would be more successful than people having to stop before work.  To overcome the language barrier, we offered the survey in both Spanish and English.  However as we worked with the Neighborhood House to set up the survey process, it became clear that while having the survey available in Spanish was important, more important was the person behind the table who would be asking people to take the survey!  Clearly, they needed to speak Spanish – but they also needed to be a member of the community that we were asking to respond.  Why?  Because this helped make people comfortable with an outside, unfamiliar group asking personal questions about their lifestyle choices.  This lead to another partnership!  We worked with the Neighborhood House’s “Pathways to Work” program and hired two people who were from Latin America to help with the distribution and collection of the survey responses.  In many instances, they actually surveyed the respondents directly.

Additionally, we added a coupon for fresh produce into the mix to motivate people to take theZanahoria survey, offer our thanks and get them to visit our Urban Farm!   We found the coupon was highly successful, as the number of visitors to the Farm that weekend was much higher and many people turned the coupon in.  We learned from this phase of the project that we need to partner again the Neighborhood House so that we can hire staff at the farm who are native Spanish speakers. When people come to the farm who speak Spanish, we’ll have a native Spanish speaker available to work with them, as our staff’s Spanish skills – while helpful for basic information – aren’t sufficient to make people feel at home at our projects, and that is what we’re after!   So hats off to the Neighborhood House for all of their help – and for highlighting the importance of working with the community in mind!

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