Interview by: Sarah Reddy
September 26, 2017
Rosa Gadsden is a long time Oberlin resident and community member. She currently works at Oberlin Community Services as the volunteer coordinator and coordinator of the People’s Garden, a community garden located at OCS. She is a self-labeled “grazer” in the garden, and has a knack for growing food in plastic bags of soil.
Q: Could you please explain what your role is at Oberlin Community Services?
A: I am the volunteer coordinator, which means I make sure we have enough people to staff the various projects and programs we have going on here. I am also the garden coordinator, so I run the People’s Garden and I have planted, weeded, harvested, and I use my volunteer coordinator position to get people to work out there, as well as here in OCS.
Q: Is there a moment or accomplishment that you have had here at OCS that makes you feel most proud to be an Oberlin community member?
A: No, there is not one specific one, I just feel that generally me working here and helping people is the best thing that I can do and whichever what that happens to happen, that’s fine! I have done pretty much everything here that I can think of as a job, except for the director’s job and counseling stuff. I have worked the front desk, I’ve taken out garbage, cleaned up stuff, stocked, taken in the truck, played in the dirt outside, dealt with the different distributions going on, I have worked every aspect of that from setup to cleanup, breakdown, traffic, all of that. So there is not one thing I can think of that makes it the biggest impact, me working here in general is making the biggest impact.
"If you teach people how to be sustainable in their homes, it leads to the community being more resilient..."
Q: What do you think that other people could learn from engaging in the sort of community work that you do?
A: It would lead to giving people empathy for other people. You do not know what other people have been through, until you have taken a minute to sit in their seat or be in their shoes as some people say. It gives people a different perspective from what they’re used to. Culturally, socioeconomically, all aspects, for both clients and volunteers.
Q: What do you see as the connection between sustainability and community resilience, especially in the work that you do in the community garden?
A: If you teach people how to be sustainable in their homes, it leads to the community being more resilient because one person doing it, showing other people how to do it, leads to a reduction of resources used, which leads to the community being better.
Q: What do you consider the function of a community garden?
A: The function of a community garden is educational because not everyone knows how to plant a garden or maintain a garden. Not everyone knows what the taste of a garden fresh vegetable is compared to a store bought fresh one. It’s a world of difference. You pick a tomato out of a garden and eat it, it is an explosion of flavor versus what you could get sometimes in the grocery store, because of the way they ship it and all of that. So it is educational on a couple of levels for that reason. Also, it shows people how to maintain a garden. I’ve had people, we had a project showing people how to plant a garden in a bag. And they were like, “Oh, that’s kinda cool!” and so we ended up giving people a bunch of bags of dirt and showing them how they can grow themselves. On that level, it is also educational.
Plus, nutritional value is obvious. You know, my goal was to harvest a lot of stuff out of here. That didn’t happen. It got harvested, but I didn’t do it. I had a lady who regularly came and when she found out that she could get from the garden, there were a lot of things that she liked, you know, the tomatoes, cabbage, the broccoli, that she would sort of maintain herself and she would come, pick some weeds, pick some leaves, pick some broccoli, whatever she was using. So she maintained them by coming and taking from the garden, which was great!
And then it’s a community thing. We’ve had Saturdays where, when I did the whole project showing people how to grow in bags. They were like, “So all of this we can grow in a bag?” and I told them that, yes, they can grow most of the stuff here in a bag.
"Having a garden is a super power!"
Q: Would you say that through those educational opportunities, people are gaining a new sort of power or understanding? What would that be?
A: Oh yeah! Having a garden is definitely, well, my kids like to say it’s a super power! We are gardeners, so we are superheros, and I say, “yeah, we are kinda feeding people.” It gives people a confidence. For people that have gone from not knowing how they are going to feed their kids, not knowing when the next meal is coming, to be able to wake up and look and say “I can eat all of this,” is a big relief, a confidence builder, all of that. So my thing is, that’s what you do! Which is why I am so into showing people how to grow stuff. It’s the best, it’s the best!