Coffee and conversation: the evolution of an e-community
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As we watched houses going up in our new development, one thing that struck us was how many homes had big front porches. We took this as a good sign of neighbors who wanted to gather and talk, to enjoy a chat over a cup of coffee while the kids played together on the cul-de-sac. I was thinking about coffee the other day, and conversation, and how communities evolve. It seems to me we’ve built a community here on DG that’s every bit as vital and friendly as any geographically based neighborhood…
When I joined Dave's Garden, I expected to find forums where I could ask questions and share information, where I could "talk plants" with others whose eyes wouldn't glaze over after thirty seconds of my raving about my latest butterfly sighting or violet blooms. I found that. I also found something quite unexpected. A true community had formed here, where people gathered to share not only their gardens but so much more of their lives with one another. Joys and sorrows, jokes and disasters, home remodeling and family rebuilding... all sorts of topics found their way to the discussion threads. Reading some of the frank and informal exchanges, I could swear I caught a whiff of freshly brewed coffee.
I've made friends here, and it often seems odd to me to realize some of them live hundreds or thousands of miles away. Our community seems so close-knit at times that it feels as though I should be able to step around the corner and drop in for a cup of coffee and a chat, maybe bring home a geranium cutting. That feeling has brought about some of our longest-running conversational threads, where members "visit" together, sharing accounts of their daily doings.
There's a thread called "Coffee and..." that started nearly five years ago, in December of 2003. It was followed a year or so later by a "coffee house" thread in the Ohio River Valley regional forum. Other regional forums have their own "chatty threads," and there are several more in the Parking Lot forum. The Pet forum has its "How was your day?" threads, and even the "daily blooms" threads in some of the plant forums get chatty at times. With the welcoming sense of community in these threads you can almost see the coffee pot sitting in the middle of the virtual table.
In some neighborhoods, such regular gatherings are referred to as "coffee klatches." That may be a term people in the US use without thinking twice about it, but in European countries the term has offensive connotations. The term is of German origin, translated according to Miriam-Webster online to "Kaffee coffee + Klatch gossip." As Okus, a member living in the UK, explained to me in a Dmail, "the word 'klatch' isn't nice in this part of the world either. It...is used to imply that a clique is getting together and being spiteful about others. It has connotations of the hen yard and would be used as an insult."
Admittedly, some of the neighborhood coffees I remember from my childhood did involve more than a little gossip among the ladies. One of the things I really appreciate about our DG community is that gossip and cliques are discouraged, not only by the administration but also by the membership themselves. Together with the other considerations of the Acceptable Use Policy , that's helped to foster a sense that DG is a safe haven, a place where you'll find a friendly ear for your concerns and celebrations.
The sense of community at Dave's Garden began, I think, with people sharing seeds and trading plants. Walking through your garden, seeing plants that came to you from other DGers, you feel a connection to these other gardeners you've never met. As the forums grew to include "chatty" threads, DGers learned more about one another, and the community bonds strengthened. The twice-weekly chat rooms are an additional way for DGers to visit together. Garden topics are discussed there, but are often interspersed with talk of family and food (especially chocolate). Close friendships have evolved here, even between people who might never meet in real life.
But it's in adversity that the DG spirit really shines. After fire, flood, hurricane, or other disasters, entire networks of support form to help those whose lives and gardens were affected. The community spirit here is evident in less dire circumstances, also. Let somebody post that they lost a prized plant, and in addition to "Oh, no!" responses, you'll see people posting offers to share that plant from their own gardens. It's almost a reflex, the way you'd offer comfort to a friend or neighbor. The friendships and e-neighborhoods that have developed within DG are every bit as solid as in any geographical community.
We all get concerned when a regular member goes missing. Often, there's no way to know whether they're having computer issues, have been too busy to log on, or have met with misfortune. If a friend or neighbor is sick or in trouble, people want to know. There may be nothing we can do but offer support, maybe send a card. However, there are times when another DGer may have just the right "been there, done that" insight to offer. Sometimes it's possible to provide practical assistance, such as a "weeding party" to get a garden back in order after a hospital stay or a "digging party" to salvage plants when somebody has to move.
With conversations, coffee, and caring, DG has evolved as a genuine community, in every good sense of the word.
To quote a friend from another neighborhood that was as real to me as the block I lived on as a child, "Won't you please, won't you please, please won't you be... my neighbor?" 
I'd like to thank all who make Dave's Garden such a helpful, welcoming, special community. My membership here has been both a privilege and a blessing to me. Particular thanks are due to Meezersfive and Okus, who helped me with the history of the "Coffee and..." thread.
 Miriam-Webster Online entry for Kaffeeklatchs  A link to the AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) can be found at the bottom of the page, in any part of DG.  The quote at the end is, of course, from the theme song of the PBS show "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood." The complete lyrics (and even sheet music) can be found here, at PBSkids.org.
For captions, mouse over the photos.
About Jill M. Nicolaus
Better known as "Critter" on DG, Jill lives in Frederick, MD, where she tries to fit as many plants as possible into a suburban back yard. Sunshine Girl's crocus lawn (a gift from her DG "family") is in bloom, so Spring is on its way! We're looking forward to sowing seeds, picking daffodils, and looking for Easter Bunny Apprentices.
(Images in my articles are from my photos, unless otherwise credited.)