… Over a year ago, Laila of Sow and So (who I also consider a close friend even though we’ve only met face-to-face once) asked me to write a guest post on globe-spanning friendships fostered through social media. Months after the request was made, I sent a draft and she asked that I include a bit on how those friendships expand the community of heirloom gardeners. This is that revised post.
The other day I wrote a post asking heirloom gardeners where they got their seeds? To begin what I hoped would be an informative and geographically-vast conversation, I shared my five sources: one mail order company, one mail order non-profit, a website, a local store, and my neighborhood garden club).
I shared the post with multiple Facebook and Google+ groups I belong to. Within hours, six people I consider part of my heirloom gardening community replied with answers they were glad to share with others. Their answers also provided me with five heirloom seed vendors I needed to check out as well as verification that my current supplies come from awesome sources.
I think my broadcast question/post/webpage of Where do you get your heirloom seeds? provides a good context for what makes for a purposeful non-geographically-based community and what makes for friendships even when those friends may never ever meet face-to-face.
Sure, many of us have Facebook “friends” that should probably just disappear and others we see via social media just seem to litter up the internet with vitriol or cat videos. But there is some great —change-making— value created via social media.
When I am not a blogger/heirloom gardener I am an advocate for social and economic justice causes. I know real change when I see it. I also know a lot about empty promises and precarious relationships. Both exist everywhere in the “real world” and on every social media platform.
The platform matters some to making friends and building community. But what matters most is the real work individuals put into forming and maintaining relationships and then building community.
Here’s my take on building relationships and community:
- You need to genuinely give. Genuinely give helpful advice. And give heartfelt thanks when you receive it back.
- Ask questions you really want answers to. Use the answers to create meaningful conversations. Report back on the answers that resonated with you, those that didn’t, and those that need some more explanation. (Laila’s always asking me to clarify some fleeting thought I have about how to “build the heirloom movement.” I really appreciate that about her.)
- Don’t be jealous. In other words, as you build relationships with people you trust, connect them to other people you trust. (Laila was “introduced” to me via another blogging friend, Mia, of Modern Mia Gardening.
The three of us often chat on each others’ Facebook feeds. We are always “liking” each others posts (i.e. Facebook and blog).
Now, here’s where it gets really fun. The friendship Laila and I first formed by commenting on each others’ blogs, turned into a Facebook friendship, and then periodic emails back and forth to share what was going on in our lives and with our families.
In Real Life
I was even lucky enough to meet Laila face-to-face when a trip to visit other friends in Luxembourg had me less than an hour’s drive from her and her husband Rogier’s budding garden/farm in Belgium. The couple welcomed me in the home they share with two rescue pups, Leia and Luke, for an afternoon of great conversation about growing healthy food, the future of our planet, and what they are doing to live their lives according to their values.
I hope to visit face-to-face with Laila and Rogier many more times in the future. I’m also pretty excited to run into Mia someday.
But I can’t stop with Laila and Mia, or their blogs and Facebook feeds. I have friendships and community built over at Instagram too. I love the beautiful garden, veggie, flower, and animal photos my friends via that awesome photo platform share. When I started, I just thought it would be about seeing and saving pretty pictures. But friendships formed there as well.
The comment sections are often lacking, but when someone decides to really write something about your photo on Instagram, they mean it. If you reply back, often other friends start chiming in. Before you know it, that “picture is actually worth more than a thousand words.”
Around The World
I need to give special shout outs to Isolde, also from Belgium; Richard, from the UK; Joanna, from Canada; Anne, from Norway; Helena, from Sweden; Prabhul, from India; Heppoko, from Japan; Juan, from Spain; and so many from across the United States. I also have to note that the Instagram photos from those south of the equator help me live through the bitter winters of Minnesota. Thanks to friends in Australia and New Zealand.
(Side note: I am still learning how to build friendships and community via Google+ and YouTube. I know it can happen; I just haven’t optimized the platforms yet. That said, I need to make special mention of Audra Russell of Fat Earth Backyard Farm. She is a pro at Google+ and wonderful to watch on YouTube. She is also quickly becoming one of my best friends.)
In fact, it here is where I can really say a lot about the positive community building value of social media… especially Instagram. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I am very open about this for a variety of reasons. And my social media feeds are among the places I share.
It is in this regard that I have to say social media is a treasure. If I post about my struggle, I immediately receive supportive comments from friends everywhere… and I do mean everywhere. Again, the comments are not from folks who’ve ever met me.
But they really care about me.
And they often share how something I wrote or a picture I shared — my garden, my imaginary friends, or in posts and photos about my depression/anxiety — inspired them.
What a pick me up! What a community! A community that is there for one another.