Practicing Reflection on Community Engagement
At The Food Project, work follows the seasons—physically intensive summers of farmwork are followed by autumn’s final harvests, land closing ceremonies, and preparing farms for next year, which in turn leads into winters of logistical planning and final sales of the summer’s produce. So, as the intensity of outdoor work scaled down this year, with the beginnings of winter, our leadership held a week of all-staff meetings to reflect on the necessary changes to be made to our programs.
At the moment, our organization bases our work around three pillars of focus: Food, Youth, and Community. Even as our projects feature much overlap between these pillars, the focus areas allow us to create our goal outcomes, clarify our mission, and determine which programs are within our capacity and strengths as an organization. Thus, in revisiting our organization’s structure and plans this winter, we evaluated our current goals around the pillars extensively.
During one of our meetings, leadership led staff through an exercise called the fishbowl, in which five people most involved in each pillar sat in a smaller inner circle whilst the rest of staff sat surrounding them. The inner circle would work on defining each pillar in regards to the work we do. If compelled to share their ideas as well, anyone from the outer circle could switch places with someone from the inner circle and take their turn to speak. Although a relatively small role, I felt very excited about being selected as one of the initial five to discuss the Community pillar.
Through my recent work managing the Build-A-Garden program—where we install raised garden beds for Boston residents and support them through growing their own food—I have become especially involved in our community engagement. Regularly interacting with residents via installations, workshops, seedling sales, etc., I observe ways in which our organization can improve our collaboration with the community, even as I am a relatively recent introduction to the organization. Thus, having the opportunity to share my perspectives on our community engagement not only empowered me to have a voice amongst our staff, but also gave me the opportunity to reflect on the genuine connections with the community I’ve made, and to recognize ways to positively influence my host organization’s future community collaborations.
Further, I see how our contributions to this discussion have since been integrated into organization-wide changes. In defining what community is at The Food Project, we generally found difficulty in determining a single, all-encompassing answer. While our organization creates its own immediate community, especially amongst the youth in our programs, we also engage with the broader community—sometimes in fleeting but meaningful one-time interactions, and sometimes with community members who work with us throughout their life. Recognizing this, through the reflections from our fishbowl and all-staff meetings, The Food Project has begun assessing the different kinds of community interactions we are involved in. The organization has also begun restructuring our programs, hoping to best leverage those community interactions to spark meaningful change.
I feel grateful to be working for an organization that considers the practice of honest reflection and focused revision so significant. While working in the nonprofit sector, I find it essential to regularly reflect on how our work must change alongside our changing communities. With springtime on the horizon, I look forward to further engaging our organization’s reflections and implementing them to support a flourishing community around gardening and food.
SHARE THIS STORY