Saturday, January 16, 2010

Garden Society Hopes Translating Documents Will Keep Membership Growing

By Sarah Friedman

The Fenway Garden Society received a $1,000 grant from the Mission Hill Fenway Neighborhood Trust last year to translate important Garden Society documents into different languages.

The Garden Society’s initial membership application, a two-page form that provides the applicant’s basic information and how the applicant plans to contribute to the Garden Society, and the society’s gardening rules and guidelines will soon be available in Chinese, Russian and Spanish versions.

Victoria Stock, head of publicity for the Garden Society, said the society has 500 plots of land available for gardeners and more than 400 members, many of whom come from diverse backgrounds and speak various languages.

“Many of our gardeners are not primary English speakers, and this makes outreach difficult. It was proposed that we translate the rules and guidelines so that non-English speakers are aware of our garden standards,” she said.

The Garden Society has been active in the Fenway neighborhood for decades. The Fenway Victory Gardens were first planted during World War II. Victory gardens were planted to free up industrially processed food for the war effort.

“The Victory Garden was a concept that encouraged Americans to grow their own food to supplement their allowed war rations,” Stock said.

Today the Fenway gardens are the only remaining original Victory Gardens in the United States. Members of the Fenway Garden Society work together to preserve and maintain what was begun so many years ago.

“As a group, we socialize together as gardeners, rather than young gardeners, old gardeners, men, or women,” Stock said. “Within the garden, people of all stripes are able to meet and form relationships outside of normally established peer groups.”

Because of the connections the society creates among neighbors and because of ongoing community interest in the gardens, Fenway Garden Society memberships have been increasing.

First Lady Michelle Obama brought attention to victory gardens last summer by planting one at the White House, and the Fenway Garden Society has benefited from having such a famous advocate.

“Since she planted her victory garden at the White House, applications for new garden memberships have quadrupled. Certainly, she may not even know we exist, but we have felt her impact,” Stock said.

That impact has made language barrier issues in the Fenway Garden Society more prominent. More people have expressed interest in applying for membership, but the society simply could not accommodate people who speak different languages.

It’s an issue that was recognized by the Mission Hill Fenway Neighborhood Trust.

Lauren Dewey Platt, president of the board of trustees for the trust, said many board members are familiar with the “historical and neighborhood-based gardens.” The board thinks that people interested in the Garden Society should not be excluded from obtaining membership because they don’t speak English, she said.

Platt said the Fenway Garden Society received grant money because the board of the trust thought that its proposal to translate documents would benefit residents in the neighborhood. Platt thinks that the grant will help ensure an expanded sense of community because more people will be able to get involved in the Garden Society.

“It’s a process of being inclusive,” she said.

Phyllis Hanes has been a member of the Fenway Garden Society for nearly 40 years. Hanes’ favorite part about being a member of the society is that “it’s very economical.” Through the society, Hanes has been able to grow fresh vegetables inexpensively for herself and her friends.

Because of ongoing interest in the Fenway Garden Society, especially recently, Hanes thinks that translating documents into different languages will benefit the society and the community.

“Since the gardens have grown and are much larger, the rules are more important,” Hanes said. “It means a lot to your neighbors if you know what the specific guidelines are.”

Hanes hopes that the translations will help anyone who is interested in the society understand the goal of the organization.

“I hope it will mean that more people will be involved. Without those translations, there probably are some people that don’t understand that we want everyone to work together and be of help to each other,” she said.

Sarah Friedman is an undergraduate student at the Northeastern University School of Journalism.

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