I've been a big supporter of community gardening for ages and love the interactions that it can bring. But last week my views and trust were challenged in an unexpected way.
The kitchen garden that I've been part of at work is open to the street and in a bit of a tucked-away nook that outside of office hours is quiet, protected and unseen. Last week after having worked my way around the garden beds to pick a huge bowl of delicious-looking tomatoes, I got to the back of one of the beds and found two syringes in it. I was quite devastated that people would be so thoughtless as to discard needles in a vegie garden. I understand that the risk of infection is quite low but this is a garden that is producing great food, that we are promoting to staff as a healthy way to eat, and suddenly it presented the potential that in fact it could be dangerous to dig in it and put your hand under a lettuce or into a tomato bush to harvest vegies. I certainly wouldn't want to spend months worrying about potential diseases for the sake of eating a few heirloom tomatoes.
The issue led to some interesting discussions about how to alert people (being at work it became a staff OHS issue) without potentially undoing all the good work that we've put in to promote the garden and scaring people off. It also left me with the dilemma of a bowl-full of tomatoes that I didn't feel I could put in the kitchen for everyone to share in (the presumably unlikely) case anything malicious had been done to any of them. The upshot was that in talking through the risks and responsibilities, a carefully-worded email with advice on care to be taken and protection to be used in the garden was sent out, which thankfully was much more sensitively managed than it could have been if dealt with by people who didn't understand the value of the garden, and the bed was quickly cleaned up by specialists. I was also relieved of the bowl of tomatoes by the manager responsible for the garden who elected to compost them, which I think was the right decision, even if a bit sad and wasteful.
I understand that (sadly) the area I work in has some drug problems, and there is always potential for running into random syringes. My concern was that on this occasion it coincided with a food production area. (Imagine the outcry if they had been found in the fruit and vegie section of the local supermarket?!) The issue certainly made me realise just how much trust is involved in gardening in this manner.
Have you ever had similar issues? How did you approach it?