Crown Community Garden Grows Produce, Flowers—and a Community

For our March spotlight, we spoke with Jon Kehl, owner of Crown Community Garden.

Crown Community Garden is a 501(c)(3) located in New Orleans East, Louisiana. Seeing an opportunity to transform an unused plot of land, Kehl and community members founded the garden in 2014. Since then, the garden has been dedicated to beautifying the community, providing food security, and giving community members a chance to connect.

Can you tell me a little bit about Crown Community Garden?

The goal of the garden is to create better food security in our community in New Orleans East. New Orleans East has always kind of been behind the times when it comes to restaurants and grocery stores and having good food access in our community, especially since Katrina. Katrina hit the area pretty hard, and it was a slow recovery after that. 

We created the garden because we had this plot of land that was unused. I’m the pastor of the church (Crown of Life Church), and the garden is on church property. So, my family and another family decided to start growing food in there. We founded the garden and started digging and putting garden beds in there. 

Our primary goal is food security in our community. We give any extra food to neighbors, volunteers, and food banks. Our secondary goal is to be a self-sustaining garden.

What’s your favorite part of running your own nonprofit?

The ability to impact the community in a big way. Just the idea of being able to make a bigger impact than just one person, drawing people into a bigger vision, and moving forward with that. 

There are always little opportunities in cities to volunteer your time. And that’s convenient and all, but for us as a nonprofit, we have a bigger vision to help the community in a variety of ways.

We also hope to hire local residents in the community to be part of the garden and help beautify the community and empower community members to better their neighborhood. We want community members to be part of the process to make the community beautiful and strong.

Collage featuring produce and volunteers at Crown Community Garden

What are some of the biggest challenges?

I think some of the bigger challenges when we started up were that we were hoping for more community involvement in the garden, where consistently we would have families part of the garden and vision. It was difficult to get that consistency, so at times it was two to three families caring for the garden, and every so often we’d get other families’ help for a bit before they moved on. 

That worked for a while when we had small gardens, but then we started growing to have more produce. Trying to maintain the garden with only volunteers just wasn’t going to work; that’s when we jumped to writing a grant asking for a garden coordinator and hiring a part-time garden coordinator to maintain the garden. 

From there, we dove into the world of business and payroll, and that’s where Patriot comes in. Trying to do payroll without some sort of software and run and promote the garden is a mess waiting to happen! 

How does Patriot’s Basic Payroll help you run your nonprofit?

It simplifies the whole process. Where before we were clocking time and trying to keep track in Excel spreadsheets and determine tax liabilities, I just didn’t have time to do that stuff. So, Patriot allows us to log the numbers, and it spits out all the numbers of what we owe per check and for the taxes. 

It’s just a matter of recording time and punching it in, and then you have a clear understanding of where the money needs to go (federal, state, and employees). That made it a lot easier and clearer for us on what we needed to be doing with payroll and maintaining employees. 

Now we’re getting to the point where we have Basic, but we’re going to jump up to Full Service to avoid having to deal with taxes. 

When it comes to your organization, what are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the small changes that we’ve made so far in our community. We’re moving in a positive direction, trying to create more community-centered neighborhoods. 

And, the garden provides an outlet for people to come and meet people and enjoy being outside, especially with COVID. There are not too many things that we could have done in the last few months that give us an opportunity to relax and destress, so we’ve become that for a few families who want to come out and tinker around the garden weeding. There’s room to space out and still have conversations and build relationships. 

We view the garden as a platform for people to jump off. You can make it what you want—if you want vigorous exercise, a social thing, or something for groceries (we have free produce). 

Collage of Crown Community Garden's volunteers, gardens, produce, and flowers

What words of advice do you have for people hoping to start their own nonprofit or business?

If you’re starting a nonprofit or business, I think it’s important to get a core group of passionate people who are willing to invest their time in the organization. If they see the vision and understand the value it brings to the community, then it will succeed. Otherwise, it’ll be a struggle to get things going and achieve your vision or mission. So, the people are really an important part of that.

Having the proper structure in your organization when it comes to employees, responsibilities, and payroll, and everything that goes along with that is also important. As you build and scale-up, those elements are extremely valuable to save the people who are passionate about the garden save their focus for the community instead of getting caught in the weeds. 

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