"We are Luddites" - Peter George's article in RGQ 70 #1

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Anonymous
Title: Guest

The best advice I can give is a quote attributed to the late Steve Jobs.

“There’s a phrase in Buddhism, ‘Beginner’s mind.’ It’s wonderful to have a beginner’s mind.”

James

Tim Ingram
Title: Member
Joined: 2011-04-27

I wish this sort of open debate would occur on the AGS site because it is much needed. The comments that Peter makes about the NARGS Chapters apply similarly in the UK and there has been much discussion about Group members not joining the parent Society, and also the difficulty of new members integrating into Groups - this must certainly be true for younger people even with the best will in the world. One way I have tried to push to get round this is is to use our gardens as a way of introducing new gardeners to the Society. This has the benefit of being much more personal, and has the added benfit of raising money for the Groups. Another is concentrating more on propagating and selling plants, which again is essentially what new gardeners are most interested in. For some gardeners given the right initial stimulation it can be a very rapid learning curve to becoming completely fascinated by plants, and here the web and this forum must kick in to provide much more interaction.

James - I'm not so sure about Buddha; he justs sits there beatifically and doesn't do a great deal! But the beginner's mind does seem very apposite.

Dr. Timothy John Ingram
Faversham, Kent, UK
I garden in a relatively hot and dry region (for the UK!), with an annual rainfall of around 25", winter lows of -10°C and summer highs of 30°C.
 

AmyO
AmyO's picture
Title: Member
Joined: 2009-12-06

"One surprising problem is the difficulty new people have in getting integrated into Chapters. They join NARGS, go to a chapter meeting, are ignored, go again, continue to be ignored, and then stop coming."

Peter, I had the exact same experience when I joined my chapter and did stop attending meetings. If it wasn't for the then newly elected pres. of the group...Tom Clark....I would never have gone back. He was the only member who did welcome me and I'm sure others after he sent out a questionaire asking what in particular could be improved on in the chapter. As well as other pointed questions. I did let him know my personal experience with the group, and went back to a lecture I really wanted to see...he was so welcoming and I could see how he took my experience to heart. I am now good friends with many of the chapter members, but I was the one who had to make most of the overtures of friendship with the older members. And I know I am now more mindful of this when I see a new face in the group.

Amy Olmsted
Hubbardton, VT, Zone 4

Anonymous
Title: Guest

Tim wrote:

James - I'm not so sure about Buddha; he justs sits there beatifically and doesn't do a great deal! But the beginner's mind does seem very apposite.

I went to a Thailand New Years celebration when I was in college.  They were some of the most welcoming and happy people I had ever met.  Maybe the Far East has more to offer us than new and exotic plants...  Maybe more beatification is exactly what the world needs.

James

Allison
Allison's picture
Title: Guest
Joined: 2010-04-08

Peter wrote:

..... First, the Chapters themselves are not 'selling' NARGS to the members..... Second, we are offering benefits like the Speaker's Tour to Chapters that have no apparent commitment to NARGS, and whose membership is made up of people who have no financial stake in NARGS. It's not unreasonable to ask why NARGS is subsidizing speakers for Chapters that are simply not interested in promoting NARGS membership, and whose members simply won't join.

..... One surprising problem is the difficulty new people have in getting integrated into Chapters. They join NARGS, go to a chapter meeting, are ignored, go again, continue to be ignored, and then stop coming. ....

In both cases, I again say that Chapters need to be managed. Some are good, others are not. It all depends on the leaders.... but, in my opinion, all Chapter members should automatically be NARGS members, and NARGS should help the Chapter leaders run a good Chapter. A bit of coaching, a bit of quality control, a bit of encouraging would go far. The problem of new members being ignored is so easy to fix it isn't funny. All the leaders have to do is ask for new members at the meeting, then say 'Welcome', and let them say a word or two about themselves or their gardens or plans for such. They can so easily, by their personal example, send the clear message to the membership that newbies are to be welcomed and appreciated. That is all it takes but some Chapter leaders need to be taught that. And that is only one example.

The managing/coaching I am talking about can be very simple and would be a great service to those who would like to run an interest group, ie, make working on a NARGS Chapter a great learning experience. This would help Chapters attract volunteers. There could be a Handbook, a thread on the Forum (maybe there is?), a yearly or bi-annual conference/workshop for leaders, a newsletter.... surely there are people in NARGS who have the skills to set these things up and would enjoy running them. Some of the content may already exist and can be found and spiffed up a bit to start.

There needs to be 'something in it' for Chapters to be part of NARGS, else they could just be garden clubs. If they don't want NARGS supervision, they can always do that. If they want speakers, access to NARGS resources, all that, they should have to be Chapters and have to follow NARGS policies. Membership in Chapters could include $5 for NARGS. In the example of the Chapter with 105 members only 5 of which were NARGS members, you would be giving up $100 but gaining $525. (I may have these numbers wrong - I forget what NARGS costs- but you get the point.) Membership would not include the Quarterly, BTW, it would have to be subscribed to separately. Since most Chapter members that also belong to NARGS have joined in order to get the Quarterly, I don't think the number of Q subscribers would change much.

The transition to this model would likely cause some existing Chapters to either close or split into two groups. They would have to raise their membership dues and some would resent that and drop out. Others would lose their membership in other organizations - for example, the Ontario Chapters have joined the Ontario Horticultural Association in order to get affordable liability insurance, but are forced to act like hardy plant groups, also much resented by some members - but I think that in general the membership would hardly notice. Each Chapter would of course have to vote on it, but I think that if the issue is presented properly, most will accept it.

Gardening on a wooded rocky ridge in the Ottawa Valley, Canada. Cold winters (-30C) and hot, humid summers. Nuts about native plants, ferns, pottery, my family, and Border Collies.

Peter George
Title: Member
Joined: 2009-09-03

I honestly wish it was so easy. But it's not, and here are the problems.
1. Several chapters have simply moved away from NARGS over the past decade, and have little or no interest in being part of the larger organization. They haven't officially separated yet, but if there was a vote taken at the Chapter level, I could name as many as 5 Chapters that would vote to leave NARGS. And among those chapters are several that are both large and vibrant. They do benefit from NARGS to some degree, but what they get as a Chapter is probably not sufficient to increase their level of interest or involvement.
2. Our annual dues are $30. for North Americans, and $5.00 would not be even close to sufficient to cover the real costs of membership. I know that there are some people who can't afford $30 per year, but the truth is that 90% of the Chapter members who are not NARGS members are not in that category. They simply choose not to join. In the past year I've had to deal with several Chapter Chairs who refused to join NARGS, even though NARGS membership is a requirement to serve as a Chapter leader. In one case the Chapter actually had to pay for their Chair's membership, and it was certainly NOT due to poverty. As an organization, our dues are kept to the absolute minimum in order to make it easy to join, and when we find out about someone who is having a problem with the dues, which we do surprisingly often, we simply waive the dues for the year. But we're not going to lower our dues to $5 just to bring in people who have no real interest in NARGS. We might as well open it up to everyone on a voluntary contribution basis. I'm not sure how well that particular financial model would work.
3. If "training" Chapter Chairs actually was possible, we'd do it. But in general, most of our Chapters have tremendous resistance to ANY interference from NARGS. We have Chapter Chairs that refuse to even respond to emails from me or Bobby Ward, and we've actually declared a chapter 'inactive' this year, primarily because the Chair refused to communicate with us. Other Chapter Chairs with which I've communicated are just not interested in doing anything beyond having a few meetings a year, and every effort we've made to 'assist' them has been rebuffed or ignored.

I have on several occasions suggested to the Administrative Committee that we require, say, a 50% NARGS membership before Chapters could qualify for being on the Speaker's Tour, or one or two other requirements that could motivate Chapters to promote NARGS membership more successfully. It hasn't gotten any real support. Top down dictates in organizations like NARGS rarely accomplish anything other than alienation, and although it would certainly make ME feel good for a few minutes, it wouldn't accomplish our goals. My own Chapter, the Berkshire Chapter, barely has the 50% membership level, and even though I know every person in the Chapter, and have spoken to each one about the issue, they simply won't join. I truly cannot understand it, but that IS reality. So what we can do is try to improve the organization by making the Quarterly better every issue, improving the internet component, improving our speakers, improving the Seed Exchange, etc. If we make the benefits better, we should get more members. SHOULD!

Keep up the discussion.

Peter George, Petersham, MA (north central MA, close to the NH/VT borders), zones 5b and 6 around the property.

Allison
Allison's picture
Title: Guest
Joined: 2010-04-08

Then why have Chapters at all? Sounds like not having them would be a relief.

Gardening on a wooded rocky ridge in the Ottawa Valley, Canada. Cold winters (-30C) and hot, humid summers. Nuts about native plants, ferns, pottery, my family, and Border Collies.

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

A most excellent question Lis! :o

I hope it doesn't come down to that, as I do enjoy getting to NARGS Chapter meetings when I can.

Hearing the argument over and over again about people who say they can't afford a $30 per year membership; I find such claims astounding this day an age, where a typical doctor visit co-pay is $20, taking in a movie for 3 people is $30 (no candy or refreshments though, double it if one gets drinks and candy), a tank of gas is $30-$50 each fill up, a dinner for two at a restaurant is easily around $50 (if you're lucky, and no alcoholic drinks either), a visit to McDonalds for my family of four costs $22-$23 these days!  I took my pennies and loose change container to one of those machines at grocery stores that automatically counts the dumped in change (the machine charges a small percentage for this "lose change consolidation" process), and I had over $100 in small coins refunded as cash.  

Being unemployed recently for 17 months, I know first hand what it's like to carefully watch expenses, but my guess is that someone saying they can't afford $30 for a year membership doesn't want to afford a year membership.  The low cost for membership is a drop in the bucket; try ordering 25-35 packets of seed, or going to your local market and buying 25-35 packets of annuals and vegetable seed and see what it costs; double or triple or quadruple the annual cost of joining NARGS.

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

Peter George
Title: Member
Joined: 2009-09-03

If NARGS was starting from scratch today I think we'd have some Chapters, but we'd be more careful about where we set them up and we'd be more specific about what each Chapter was responsible for, what they were going to be required to do to keep their Chapter status, what their benefits would be, and I am confident that we would require that every Chapter member first be a member of NARGS, and that they maintain that membership or their Chapter membership would lapse.

My Chapter, the Berkshire Chapter, has in its By Laws a requirement that all BNARGS members must first be a NARGS member. It is a By Law that hasn't been enforced for many years, and for us to start enforcing it now would create a real problem for the Chapter. And the wording does not require ongoing NARGS membership, just membership at the moment one joins the chapter. But that doesn't address the issue of 'why do we have Chapters?' Well, my guess is that we have them for more than historical reasons, and if we dissolved them we'd probably lose quite a few members. But more importantly, we'd lose the geographically centered locations where we have meetings, plant sales, lectures, etc. Without those activities, we'd lose a lot of our identity and eventually, our actual existence.

So again we return to the simple question of what to do about the fact that so many Chapter members won't join NARGS. Ron gave us one rather elegant suggestion, but I'd like more so I can present them as a package to the Board of Directors and see what happens at our meeting in Washington this March.

Peter George, Petersham, MA (north central MA, close to the NH/VT borders), zones 5b and 6 around the property.

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

Peter wrote:

So again we return to the simple question of what to do about the fact that so many Chapter members won't join NARGS. Ron gave us one rather elegant suggestion, but I'd like more so I can present them as a package to the Board of Directors and see what happens at our meeting in Washington this March.

Peter, looking through this thread to find your reference, I'm wondering what previous suggestion by made by "Ron", I can't find said reference.

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

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