I had the opportunity this past weekend to attend the Southern SAWG Conference in Lexington, KY. It was so much fun, and I am still trying to process all the information I picked up at the workshop sessions. The whole Grow Appalachia crew was also in attendance, and I was able to pick their brains on various subjects. Candace mentioned that she was showing other programs the Build It Up application form because other programs weren’t sure what to do. I thought I would spend this blog post telling y’all about our application, so you can pick out the useful parts for your own programs!

I like to use Google Forms to create our application. It’s easy to set up an application with different types of questions (multiple choice, yes/no, essay questions, etc) and all of the responses are automatically recorded into a spreadsheet. Everyone on our program leadership team has a Google account, so we can all view the forms online. We’ve created a ranking metric based on the kinds of folks we want to recruit in our program and we all go through the responses and rank them. Then we average the scores for each application and sit down for a few hours and hash out who we want to interview. We think the interview and site visit are really important. Even if the applicant looks really good on paper, we want to be sure that they have access to an adequate site for a garden.

You can view a PDF version application form here. Also, here’s the website landing page for the application, where we describe the program and it’s requirements.

The first few questions are contact info. It’s important to get this upfront, so be sure to make these questions mandatory.

These questions are followed by our three essay questions:

  1. What would participation in this program mean for your and your family?
  2. Please describe your experience with gardening and growing food, if any.
  3. Will anyone else be helping you with this project?

For us, these are the most important questions in the application. We really want the person applying to give us a sense of their ability to succeed in our program. We want to see enthusiasm, willingness to learn, and a support network of family and/or friends. After all, we have limited funding, so we want folks who have the commitment to stick with us and we want to see that we are reaching as many people as possible with each garden site. (It’s not fool proof, but we keep trying…)

The next set of questions are part of our effort to constantly remind applicants that gardening is a lot of work. We don’t actually expect anyone to respond with a “no” on these questions. But, we do take every opportunity we can to remind folks that gardening ain’t easy. It’s not meant to scare anyone away, but we do want them to think realistically about the time commitment of maintaining a garden and attending the workshops.

The final section is used to collect demographic information about the applicant. It’s not legal to make this information required and you should put in a notice about confidentiality (and stick to it!). We use this info to gauge the financial need of the applicants. By requesting information about income range, number of dependents, and SNAP or disability benefits, we can get a sense of who would otherwise be unable to garden without the program’s support. Again, we prioritize the answers to the essay questions, but we do boost the rank of lower income applicants based on answers to these questions. We believe very strongly in helping everyone access fresh, nutritious food especially those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. Bonus points because this is all information that Headquarters wants us to collect about each participant. By collecting it upfront, you’ll save yourself a step later.

Hope this is helpful!