Dignified Exchange at Trellis for Tomorrow

by | Aug 5, 2022

“Mutual aid means that every participant is both giver and recipient in acts of care that bind them together.” – Rebecca Solnit

Now that the bustling days of spring and summer plantings have come to a close, the calmer days have given us an opportunity at Trellis for Tomorrow to step back and see the larger picture of what it is we are trying to build in the communities we serve. Don’t get me wrong – we are still busy in the gardens working with partners to ensure that plants are healthy, produce is getting harvested and donated, and that everything is lined up for a successful fall season (it’s already around the corner!). But thankfully, with the support of our amazing network of gardeners, we are all able to take a bit of a breather and enjoy the fruits – and veggies – of our labor.

One of the main principles that we strive to embody at Trellis for Tomorrow is what we call “Dignified Exchange”. Dignified Exchange is a model for engaging our community which strives to move beyond a solely charitable relationship. While there are absolutely contexts in which charities are important and necessary, Trellis aims to provide services to our partners that build a reciprocal relationship. We are not simply donating produce, seedlings, and raised beds to our garden champions. Instead, we work together with everyone in our network to find opportunities for mutual benefit.

As the Agricultural Program Manager, one of my main responsibilities is to oversee the success of our Food for All program. The FFA project consists of a network of around 20 community gardens dotted throughout Chester and surrounding counties. These gardens are based at community centers, churches, corporations, nonprofits, and other locations. At least half of all produce grown is designated for delivery to food banks, which aids in our mission to fight food insecurity in our region.

Instead of Trellis staff simply installing a garden and tending to its every need, we work alongside volunteer partners to ensure that the growing season is bountiful and rewarding for all those involved. We aim to empower our gardeners with the expertise they need to grow a healthy organic garden. While working alongside our garden champions, I have been afforded many opportunities to learn from the volunteers – our Dignified Exchange model allows for knowledge sharing to flow both ways between Trellis staff and community members.

Last week, I was out at one of our amazing FFA gardens located on the campus of Aerzen, one of our corporate sites, in Coatesville. While demonstrating our tried-and-true method of trellising tomatoes using the Florida Weave Technique, one of the gardeners chimed in to explain how he had successfully been staking up his tomatoes in his own garden at home. Gardening is a never-ending process of learning, and although I’ve been at it for some time, I was excited to hear about his approach to tomatoes and made a mental note to give it a try next year.

This is just one small example of how our approach at Trellis for Tomorrow makes room for many people throughout our community to teach and learn in the collaborative environment of a vegetable garden.

As Tim Manthey of the Aerzen Garden put it, “The most meaningful part of helping with this garden is spending time with coworkers outside the office. It’s a good teambuilding activity – everybody getting to see each other outside of the work context, rallying together to try to exceed the previous year’s outputs, and knowing that everything we’re harvesting is going to local foodbanks and helping people who need that food.”

The work that we are engaged in at Trellis for Tomorrow goes beyond showing up for one-off garden installations or volunteer events. We create opportunities for garden partners to continue the work, to teach us new things and to take what they learn out into the wider community. I love to hear from our garden champions how their involvement has affected their lives and those around them. I sure know that my connection to our amazing volunteer network has enriched my life.

In the spirit of Dignified Exchange, we invite you to share your stories, wisdom, and other resources too. Your contributions help us all continue to grow in new ways!

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