Reason #97 to Build Relationships: The Canning Connection
We often preach the value of relationship building for accomplishing our goals. But I'm also a big fan of the good things that happen serendipitously when we take the time to get know people. When Wendy Garf-Lipp and I made plans to meet for lunch, I certainly didn't suspect that one result would be people in Woburn learning how to can food from one of our community partners in Fall River. This unanticipated benefit provides yet another example of why it's important to focus on relationship building. (warning: don't go searching on this site for the other 96 reasons to build relationships, my point with the title is that I could probably come up with that many instances where relationship building has proven helpful...and also that a canning class is a neat outcome yet one far removed from the top-of-list things we are working on.)
Wendy is the Executive Director of United Neighbors of Fall River, which hosts an SCI AmeriCorps member and serves as one of the lead agencies for the MyFallRiver.org website. We've been working with Wendy for a few years, but the emails, phone calls and in-person meetings had been primarily task oriented up until recently. But the need to step back and strategize anew about recruiting for the Fall River AmeriCorps positions led us to get together for lunch.
Food is a natural segue into conversations beyond immediate tasks. Over lunch, I learned that Wendy and I shared an interest in local food. I thought I've been doing pretty well cooking locally through our consumer supported agriculture program (CSA) and farmers market, but Wendy takes it to a whole different level! She and her husband have a small farm outside Fall River, and on top of their full-time jobs, manage to be nearly self-sufficient in terms of feeding their family. In fact, they often create surpluses that they eagerly share. I now have a picture of Wendy coming into a community meeting with her basket full of eggs and produce--not your typical meeting food offering!
Wendy is quite the canning maven--which helps explain how they eat local produce throughout a New England winter--and is eager to share her knowledge and passion about it with others. I mentioned things we were doing to encourage local eating, and she volunteered to teach a canning class in Woburn (for those of you unfamiliar with Massachusetts geography, that's a good 90 minute drive one way in good traffic conditions). We connected her with McCue Garden Center, a local Woburn business and SCI supporter, where I pick up my CSA each week.
With fans whirring to combat the heat, Wendy spent this past Saturday morning teaching me and eight other Woburn residents how to can. We had a great time, sampling a wide variety of foods that Wendy had put up with last summer's crops. The tomato juice tasted like it came right off the vine, and the blueberry jam was hard to stop eating.
Let's see, did connecting Wendy with McCue's build social capital? Eight people know have a new skill that makes us likely to increase our purchase and use of food from local farms, and thus our connection to these important businesses. I suspect some of the class will keep in touch with Wendy and each other to continue sharing ideas and tips. And it was nice for us to be able to connect one of our supporters with a great resource person who in turn was able to share useful information with their customers.
I'd say there are a number of ways this canning connection builds social capital, but in ways certainly far afield from the "agenda" Wendy and I met to discuss earlier this spring. This anecdote brings to mind four take-aways on the value of getting to know our professional colleagues better on a personal basis:
1) Building relationships creates unanticipated positive benefits, in addition to furthering goals we are already pursuing.
2) Getting to know people we work with on a personal level strengthens our social capital ties with them. Identifying shared interests we have, in addition to our common professional objectives, provides another source of connection with them.
3) Knowing about professional colleagues' interests outside of work provides greater context for our workplace interactions with them. This can sensitize us to external factors that may impact the work.
4) Creating relationships across communities (or other silos) can have long-term benefits. In this case, our Woburn community benefited by accessing a great resource from the Fall River community. Having just been to her workshop, Wendy was top of mind when I was meeting yesterday with a Dorchester-based colleague working on environmental issues, and I suggested me might want to be in touch with her. It's hard to anticipate the specific ways boundary crossing ties might be helpful; we do know there is new connectivity that opens up new possibilities.
Now, I must get down from my social capital pulpit and confess that like you, I often find myself getting busy with tasks and not making as much time as I would like to have a leisurely lunch with a community partner like Wendy. I hope that by reflecting on the benefits of such relationship building, I will remind myself the importance of taking that time for the appointments that have getting better acquainted as their primary goal.