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Finding Common Ground in a Garden

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By Laura Logsdon, Master of Public Policy Candidate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and 2012 - 13 CIL Student Leadership Team Member

As a student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, we often discuss partnership building and the importance of collaborating across sectors. In my work prior to coming to graduate school, I facilitated and helped build several key partnerships for the nonprofit organization where I served as an AmeriCorps member, and one in particular has stuck with me.

One of my responsibilities was to facilitate a youth volunteer group. The group, mostly high school students, decided to develop a community garden as their main volunteer project for the year. Having no previous experience with gardening, I worked to develop relationships with faculty at Iowa State University and Master Gardeners to provide expert knowledge on growing practices, composting, and maintaining an organic garden. I also wrote grants and built relationships with local businesses interested in our project and mission, which provided us with significant donations for needed supplies.

Most important in my mind was the relationship developed with a Church that donated land for our garden. While personally I did not agree with everything taught by this particular Church, we found "common ground" in our attitude toward land stewardship and food access. The Church donated a large section of their property for our 50 x 50 foot garden and allowed us to build a shed and compost bins on the property. In the process of developing the relationship between our organization and the Church, I attended a service to learn more about their community and to interact with members. The Church leadership was very involved with the garden, volunteering throughout the season and encouraging their members to tour the space, volunteer, and attend programs.

This experience is really where my interest in integrative leadership and partnership building took form. Without the support of agricultural experts, local businesses, and the Church that donated land, our project would have not been successful. Through regular meetings with the Church leadership and outreach efforts from both sides, we developed a successful relationship that allowed both organizations to learn from one another and meet our goals for the land and the project. This seems to me to be a central goal of integrative leadership efforts - to develop avenues for diverse organizations and people to collaborate and create new ways of understanding challenges and solutions.

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