Who’s in charge here?

The importance of non-hierarchical volunteering


The Egino Emerging gardens usually have several projects happening at once. Weeds are pulled, crops are harvested, plans are made, areas are repurposed and more. With all this activity happening at once, it might surprise many to learn that nobody is in charge.


Yes, really. No one is in charge. No, it didn’t happen by accident. Egino Emerging gardens has a specific policy of self-empowerment for everyone. Each participant decides what they want to do and for how long.


Egino Emerging volunteers are, for the most part, from socially excluded backgrounds. They have personal histories that have resulted in them not being welcomed elsewhere. Often, these personal histories include disempowerment from dependency issues, or incarceration, or mental health problems, or a combination of the above. These back stories can include degrading situations within hierarchical social structures that exacerbated their problems. Few people like to be told what to do. Some have been told what to do their whole life.


Working on Egino garden projects gives a sense of purpose, of well-being, and camaraderie. Owning their work and propelling their projects gives a sense of empowerment, which builds self-esteem. Volunteers can look back on their days work knowing they are helping to put food on a neighbour’s plate. Their off time at home can be filled with thinking of new ways to grow more food to donate.


Egino gardens don’t run a formal schedule. The work gets done when it gets done. Personal initiative makes it happen. Each volunteer has their own unique qualities that contribute to the garden. One volunteer likes to do the watering, another enjoys weeding, while another isn’t interested in plants but loves to transform the garden space via herculean effort. Some days there’s lots going on, some days it’s more about leaning on a hoe and supporting each other through life’s tribulations.


We tend to think of the physical impact of garden work on the environment. But often, it’s more about the social impact. We’re growing food to donate to local food banks and food share programmes. That’s easy to quantify. Local people in need get free fresh, locally produced, food. Food miles are reduced. Disused land is repurposed for environmentally responsible food production. We can see the results. But that’s not the whole story.


Egino prevents social problems and reduces need on social support services. A formerly socially excluded garden volunteer who has their mental health issues reduced through fresh air and hard work will not need the services of mental health workers. A socially excluded ex-offender can choose to grow vegetables with like-minded friends rather than drift back into crime. A lonely pensioner with no family can spend time exploring garden nature rather than drown their troubles with substances. While we’re growing food to share, we’re improving mental health, reducing crime, and creating social connections through virtuous activities.


A garden is best when it is a little chaotic. Plants growing in odd places, the odd patch of weeds produce amazing flowers. Local birds drink from the forgotten wellies filled with rainwater. Things happen in their own time. And along the way, amazing things happen.