Minnehaha Master Gardeners promoting SDSU Extension resources at a school garden festival in Sioux Falls. Photo by Chris Zdorovtsov
Written by Chris Zdorovtsov (Former SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialist).
From bored kids to simply hungry people wanting food, you will likely deal with vandalism and theft in a school or community garden. It can be difficult to control, but here are some tips to try to deter this activity.
Community outreach is a huge component of a school garden. Volunteers and neighbors are needed from helping with the implementation and teaching to simply being a watchful eye. You may need to specifically make a request to individual neighbors or present your need at a neighborhood watch meeting. Consider reserving space for neighbors to garden or mark an area as “Free for the taking” especially with some of the favorite crops (strawberries, cherry tomatoes, raspberries, melons). Another option is to set out a surplus basket.
To increase the garden’s role as a neighborhood asset hold garden parties or neighborhood barbeques in the space. For example, the school garden at Lowell Elementary in Sioux Falls holds a harvest festival annually which attracts over 500 people to the space. Organized by Ground Works, a local non-profit, area partners, and neighbors, this festival also provides an opportunity for visitors to connect to area service agencies, to visit with local law enforcement, and to celebrate together with food and activities. This type of activity gets people into the space and will increase their awareness and support.
Also make an effort to engage students into the project to help build pride and ownership. Encourage project managers or neighborhood volunteers to visit the space often, especially in the evening or when you notice kids ‘hanging around.’ These kids are often the cause of some of the vandalism, and if they are asked to help with the watering, weeding and other activities, they may grow to appreciate the space. Continue to invite older youth to participate in the garden once they graduate to middle school or high school.
Expect that some vandalism and theft will occur in the space. Repair damage or graffiti as soon as possible, as generally vandals will become bored and stop after a while. Additionally, when plants are damaged or pulled out, try to replant immediately.