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Grow Your Community Via Social Media

… 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.

IMG_1107The 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.

Social Media

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

IMG_0717I 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.)

Sharing Struggles

IMG_0346In 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.

Michael DahlIf I am not gardening or writing about it, I am likely engaged in social justice advocacy (my other vocation), practicing yoga, or consuming some mental bubble gum on TV or some internet platform.
Michael writes profusely on his blog “Dissident Potato“, and can be found on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

5 thoughts on “Grow Your Community Via Social Media

  1. It was awesome to get the chance to reflect on the friendships we can form and world-changing work we can do, by simply connecting with others who have similar interests. Let’s join hands with others who know the need and want to build a sustainable “real food’ system.
    Michael Dahl recently posted…my garden this week:  end of spring abundanceMy Profile

    1. We are with you here at SowandSo! We are also great believers of people growing at least some of their own food and experience the taste of what veg and fruit used to taste like. I also love the gardening community. Most are incredibly helpful and kind. None of that nasty stuff you sometimes read about from other communities, I guess we all don’t have the time to be jealous, vicious and nasty. There is gardening to be done!!
      Laila Noort recently posted…Grow Your Community Via Social MediaMy Profile

  2. Michael, this is a beautiful and thoughtfully written post. I am honored to be among those that you mentioned and call your friends. Someone needs to put together a gardening conference somewhere so that we can all get together once a year and hang out!

    I, too, am developing quite a few sincere friendships online with other gardeners. I think the one thing that social media gives us is the ability to instantly find other people who share our values, interests, and beliefs. Don’t get me wrong, meeting people has its place, but you have to wade through tens or hundreds of interactions to find those few that are like-minded. Social media tends to do the wading for you…and I think that’s what makes it so great!

    1. Audra:

      Really, really great idea. It’s got my head spinning with even more ideas.

      But I’d suggest one thing that limits who would get invited to a “hang out” and one thing to think about how we “hang out.”

      First off, I’d really want to be selective and be amongst the “real food” folks (e.g. heirlooms, open-pollinated types). You know, the people who get that our current way of making and growing food is unsustainable. That it must change, and we — those who gather — are (part of) the solution. That crew of folks would forge great bonds as well as build some snazzy ideas by being together.

      … or is this just my set of values intruding on your suggestion … again, which is a great idea.

      And on how we gather: This passion is a global one. Laila (and Isolde, who I also mention in the post above) are from Belgium. I’ve got many friendships forming with folks in the UK, in Japan, and in Australia. I know that physically getting together, for those who can, would be great. So, some regional gatherings would be fun to forge. (Sorry, I couldn’t see you every year, Laila.) But with potential regional gatherings — region on a large scale, like Europe, the US, Southeast Asia, etc. — those of us from other parts of the world could listen in via social media or wait eagerly for reports from those who attended.

      Lastly, what if rather a “conference” … at least to begin with … attendees just did more of a weekend gathering of friends at some place that has awesome gardens / plant-life / nature (e.g. like Baker Creek or Seed Savers Exchange in the US or near Château de Villandry in France). I’m thinking of “real food” gardeners in their element, amongst friends, thinking and sharing inspiring thoughts together.

      What do you think?
      Michael Dahl recently posted…my garden this week:  end of spring abundanceMy Profile

  3. Michael,

    Gathering to meet for fun is exactly what I meant! I was so excited while typing it that I couldn’t find the right words!
    Audra recently posted…Let the Canning Begin!My Profile

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