Friday turned into a pretty wacky day. In the morning, I went to a meeting in La Jara about the garden we are starting at the elementary school. Below Ive posted my email afterwards, which gives a pretty good idea of what happened.
Met with Mark and the principal, tried to get Liza to come also but she couldn’t make it. I’ve CCed this email to Liza as well, because I think its important that shes clued in to whats happening here too, I would like to also have her opinion on how I should handle this. Hi Liza!
It did give some clarity, but I am sort of disappointed. First off, Mark showed up an hour late, because he was taking pictures of the beekeeper. Now, he was doing it to use as part of his report/campaign for the Food To School program, which is his fight and hes really passionate it about it, so the garden for him is mostly about contributing to that greater cause and getting more local, fresh foods into the schools. But the fact that he scheduled the meeting for this particular time and day, and then was an hour late and did not even call me to let me know, makes me feel blown off and like he doesn’t take me or the project seriously. But I know he IS very invested in the garden project, and is determined to make it happen, so maybe it is just me he isnt taking seriously, but he also blew off the principal for an hour.
We did work on the plans I have drawn up and I got some good collaboration out of them on that, and we clarified how we each saw the garden being used and tried to come up with a unified vision. I showed them some stuff from KidsGardening.org as well as some other online resources that I have found quite helpful. I asked about funding – there is nothing available from the school’s end. It has to all come from grants or fundraising. But they are fundraising for several other projects as well, and didnt feel like it was appropriate to add another thing onto the list right now. You can only tap people for so much money, especially around here where there are only so many people to tap, and everyone is poor.
Mark feels like I am an outsider, who none of the parents or teachers know, and therefore will be distrustful of me if I just proclaim myself as the garden manager. I explained thats what I was trying to get out of this meeting – I was hoping to get members of the school board, teachers, etc involved and get to meet them and become part of the team. He wants my help, but seems reluctant. From what I can tell, my idea of the school garden was completely different from the principal’s. he actually hardly knew anything about it and had no idea the kids would be involved more than a tour of it once a year or so. Mark had not really informed him at all about the project and what possibilities it meant for the school.
I told them what I envisioned, as integrating the garden into the regular classes by having garden-based activities indoors during the winter, and in the spring and fall having the kids come out at least once a week for an hour and doing educational activities with them out there while at the same time producing food for school lunches. In the future, I see us also having a summer camp centered around the garden, and an after school program.
the principal seemed to get really excited about it but made it clear this would take years to integrate. I was very understanding of that point, but also tried to make it clear that we needed to communicate and all have the big picture in mind (and the same big picture) as we developed it.
Mark was reluctant, he doesn’t think a garden manager is necessary, and thinks the vision should come as it comes and we should just build it and it would form itself from there. He didn’t seem very excited about having me on board the project – he thinks that the responsibility of the garden ultimately falls on him, as he is who people already know in the community, and it was his idea to get it started, and therefore, he seems unwilling to trust anyone else to take initiative with it.
Tho, once I whipped out the brochure that I made to give to parents to get them excited and informed about a garden being created, he seemed to sort of change his mind and suddenly was much more enthusiastic about having me on board lol. Still did not want to make me an independent contractor of the school and did not want me to have the title of garden manager. The Principal thought it would be good to have a garden manager, if not just to oversee the care of the garden during the summer. He seemed excited about the possibilities of integrating it into classes, but it seemed to be a new concept to him that he had never considered before. But, if I am not a contractor of the school, I cant help write grants for them for the garden, and Mark doesnt seem to want to write the grants himself, nor have any backup plan for funding, so that confuses me.
Mark thinks it would be better if I was more of a consultant for the entire county’s schools and wants me to ask the commissioners about that. Im willing to talk to them – that would be pretty cool – but I feel like he is trying to kinda buck me off the back of this particular project, while still being able to use me when he feels like he needs me. He did tell me to make a couple revisions to the brochure and get it back to him, and he did invite me to the dinner in September for the parents and teachers and to have a booth with him there with info about the garden and a sign up sheet for parents and teachers to help us build it. I think that is a great idea and gets the community directly involved. I am still communicating with La Puente however and they are working to match us up with a workgroup to help. Mark also wants me to make an updated list of materials we need donated still to have that on display at the dinner.
He also asked me to make a sign right away so that people walking and driving by the school, as well as the students and parents, will see it and get excited about the patch of dirt lol. I think its a good idea, but I dont have any funds available to get materials (large piece of plywood, paint in a few colors, paintbrushes, maybe stencil lettering, a post to mount it on) so, I think the $100 from you could really help with that. I would like to get it done by next weekend. What do you think? I doubt it will cost the full $100, but definitely at least $30 or so. Plus, need to make about 300 copies of the double sided color brochures I made before Sept. 7. So that should about cover it, if there is any left I would upgrade as much wood as I can (I bought a big pile of 2x2s, forgetting that its really 1.5"x1.5" which is really too small, i wanted to upgrade to at least 2x4s or 3x3s. If I wait too long I wont be able to exchange them, its already been over a month now since I got them. So what do you think of that? If you think its a good use of the money, please send it right away to me at Emily Lutringer, PO Box 167, Antonito, CO 81120, or to Liza and she can then get it to me.
I have so much energy and passion and motivation to get this done, so it kinda hurt and make me feel really frustrated. But at least he was honest and clear about his expectations.
He didn’t think meeting as a team was necessary, no matter how much I explained that it was CRUCIAL that we are a team and all on the same page, or pointed them to the kids gardening resources as the step one to a SUCCESSFUL garden. He seems very stubborn and wants to do it his way.
So, what to do? Stick it through? Fall back and just wait for orders if he needs help but look elsewhere in the meantime?
Antonito’s high school has already approached me and said they would really like a garden, maybe that would be a better spot for me.
However, the funds will run out in a couple months, so within that time I need to be able to be hired as an independent contractor so I can write grants to really get the garden underway and to pay myself, because while I dont mind volunteering a few hours, Im not going to volunteer everything.
I think the best idea is to let Mark direct the show at this point. Ive shown him what I can do, and made him and principal both aware of what my vision is and that Im willing to invest 20-30 hours a week into this project. I cant take initiative anymore on my own without stepping on toes, but I know that they do need my help, so I can sit back and wait for them to ask for it. Since they have asked me to help with a few things, I will do it – I want to see this garden work even if I am not the "garden manager" as I feel like it is a really important project, for the school, for Conejos County, and for the bigger picture of Farm to School and School gardens.
In the meantime, Im going to start talking more to Antonito and see what possibilities there are there. What is your opinion?