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The Value of a True Community

September 1, 2011

I’ve got about fifteen other posts waiting to be written, but this just needs to be written, tonight, right now…

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I’ve never been very active in gardening forums – never nearly as much as I am in some other, non-gardening forums. The only one I’ve visited regularly over the last couple of years was the Kraut&Rüben forum. Kraut&Rüben* is a magazine for organic gardening, but it wasn’t through the magazine that I found the forum – I don’t even remember how. Probably googled something and stumbled on a thread there.

This forum had the one thing that reliably makes me stick around: a good community. A feeling of “everyone knows everyone else” and of friendships having grown there. However much I care about a topic, I won’t keep visiting a forum where people care only about that topic, and not about each other.

But even so, I became a very infrequent visitor when my parents divorced and I lost “my” garden – what business did I have posting in a garden forum if I wasn’t gardening? I kept visiting occasionally, reading a thread here, a few posts there, but hardly ever posted.

And then, this Monday, I came home from work to an e-mail from another forum member, informing me the forum was going to be closed. On the 31st. In two days.

I hurried over to the forum, to find lots of shocked, angry (but never rude) and unhappy posts. Digging through them, I learned that it had been planned several times to close the old Kraut&Rüben forum and “move” us to some other, larger forum also owned by the magazine publisher; that most forum members were strongly opposed to this, among other things because the “tone” on that forum was very different, colder, ruder…; that the plan now was to “protect” us from that by providing a “closed” forum for us – a forum that you couldn’t even read without not only registering, but also specially applying and getting approved by the mods. Which… how many people are going to do that? How many new members would we get that way? And some of the old ones would drift away, for whatever reason, and eventually we would all be gone.

But in the middle of all the shock and anger and sadness, there was hope, there was action. Links to some members’ private forums were posted so we’d have a place to meet when the forum was shut down. And within hours, one member had set up a temporary forum for us. (Thanks, CarpeDiem!) Another had volunteered to e-mail every single member to make sure everyone knew what was going on – the e-mail that brought me back to the forum. (Thanks, Unkrautaufesserin!) And yet another one was working on setting up a new, permanent forum for us. (Thanks, Balder! You’re all awesome people!) By the 30th, that forum was up and running, and by the time the old forum was really shut down on the 31st, we were all settling in at the new one.

At the old forum… and the publisher-owned new one… things are appalling. The old posts were kept as an archive – all posts except those concerning the move/closing of the forum. Gone is the announcement. Gone all the “what are we going to do?”. Gone all the “goodbye” threads. Gone all the links to our new forum. At their new forum, in that “closed” group – a few registered, applied and were approved – and promptly kicked out again for daring to mention that most people have not moved there, contrary to what the publisher/the mods are pretending, for daring to post the link to our new forum.

At first I was angry. Now – not any more. Now I’m proud. Proud to be part of a community that stood up and said, “NO, we won’t be treated like that. YES, we can make our own online home.” Proud that we didn’t go quietly into oblivion, proud we’re not succumbing to censorship (we’ll still make sure everyone who registers for that “closed” group will know where the real action is to be found). Proud that we’re willing to pitch in to pay for server space. Proud that we’re voting about how we want the forum to be set up. Proud that we’re greeting all the new-old members as they trickle in, glad to be together again. Happy and proud to be part of a forum that values its freedom and its community as much as it does gardening.

So, if you know German (I know, not too likely) and you’re into organic gardening, come join us at Kraut & Rosen – Das wilde Gartenforum! (Edited 2011/09/05 to add the new name. It means … um. “Kraut” is difficult to translate. Herb (or cabbage or weed) & Roses – the wild garden forum. I love the name!)
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* Which translates to “greens and turnips” or “cabbage and turnips” depending on whether you ask a German or an Austrian, and figuratively to “higgledy-piggledy”.

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