Jan 23, 2012

Welcome to the Internet, GrowWrite

Michael Nolan has launched GrowWrite, an online publication for garden writers. There are nuggets of good information like the article that explains the lingo of setting up your own website. Nothing groundbreaking, but useful when your audience may be on the Luddite end of the spectrum. Until you get to the last page and read his “The Last Word” column in which he talks about being bullied as a child and launched a thinly-veiled attack on a garden communicator over a recent article and series of tweets. And likens this person to the schoolyard bullies who beat up kids and take their lunch money. I suggest you go to the online magazine and read the final page then come here.

Want to know who Michael is talking about? He’s referring to @C_Vanderlinden, a garden communicator and friend of mine, and a series of tweets that happened recently.


In October of 2011 after having my  Twitter stream filled by @Cocoxochitl with tweets about the #OWS movement I made some joke about them. He replied that I should participate in the movement. I responded by saying that I was too busy planning #OccupyGardens That weekend I used the hashtag and parodied the #Occupy movement and posted a series of tweets and pictures as I cleaned up my garden for fall. In essence I was an #Occupy protester taking over the garden and cleaning it up, the way the #Occupy movement wants to clean up Wall Street. I was in part inspired by the book Radical Gardening.

Since then the meme has spread and there are now Facebook groups and websites all around the world carrying the name Occupy Gardens. So, how did the meme spread so far and wide? Was it solely because of my series of tweets, pictures, and graphics? No. Colleen picked it up and wrote about it on Tree Hugger and the meme of #OccupyGardens spread far and wide.


Click to Enlarge
Fast forward to January 2012 and @PunkRockGardens writes this article about how she sees the trend for gardening in 2012 to be people "occupying" their gardens. The original article made no mention of Colleen or our role of creating and spreading the idea of #OccupyGardens. After reading it Colleen releases a series of frustrated tweets pointing out that the meme was created by others who aren't mentioned. Read the screen grabbed tweets from the bottom up to see them in chronological order. After it was pointed out to her where she got the idea the article was edited to include mention of me and Colleen.

Michael Nolan, in his column, finds it “ironic” that Colleen would want to be credited with spreading the meme because the idea of the #Occupy movement is not to draw attention to the self. Although, there’s no mention of the irony of taking an idea incubated by the movement, created and promulgated by others, and presenting it as something you thought of yourself, or that grew out of a vacuum.

You can read his column, the tweets, and decide for yourself if Colleen’s crime was as egregious as he makes it seem by comparing it to bullying.  I don’t believe asking for attribution is a crime. Attribution is the currency of the Internet. There are websites devoted to cataloging and attributing where Internet memes are born. But apparently that’s too much to ask from professional writers. To expect or ask for attribution makes you a bully- your actions, tantamount to the actions of people who drive others to suicide.

I find it ironic that a column devoted to decrying bullying, negativity and communicators who “tear” others down does the very thing that it claims to hate, but in a roundabout way. Garden communicators on Twitter know who he’s referring to. Knowing how gossipy garden communicators are the article and subject are sure to be fodders for private conversations. I won’t point out the irony of including this column in a magazine where one of the people involved is rumored to have bullied a well-loved garden communicator off of the Internet.  Nor will I make mention of the negative comments made to me about a friend of Michael’s. I wouldn’t want to be seen as negative or bullying anyone.

Welcome to the Internet, GrowWrite. You should ask Colleen to write an article about attribution and giving credit where credit is due. It seems a lot of garden communicators would benefit from it.

Update #1: A tipster Emails to say that all of this may have happened as a result of a book proposal. According to the tipster, PRGs is writing a book on "rebel" gardeners which sounds similar to Radical Gardening by George McKay. The tipster speculates that the reason for the article, and why it was written with attribution for the meme is because you need to set yourself up as an expert in the area when pitching or promoting the book.

Update #2: Colleen addresses the issue here.

Update #3: To answer the passive-aggressive talk about being "angry" for myself I'll say (paraphrasing Melissa McEwan) I'm not angry; I'm contemptuous. #DoYouSeedWhatIDidThere

Update #4: I'm co-host of @SeedChat on Twitter. This Wednesday evening Colleen is our guest host to talk about sprouts. Join in and learn about growing some of your own food from the controversial gardener of the hour. 8pm Central 9pm Eastern. You can get more info about SeedChat at www.SeedChat.com


  1. Reading this made me sad, then angry. I see this sort of behaviour in siblings, and it's usually a rivalry/jealousy thing. Colleen is a generous, smart, hardworking person with lots of garden smarts and the ability to write and communicate in such a way that readers/neophyte gardeners etc won't feel talked down to. I read the exchange she had with whats-her-name and it seemed pretty convivial to me.

    Once again, I'm glad I hang out mostly with gardeners, real garden-bloggers and nice writers, and am not part of the 'in' crowd. But also, I believe in karma, and am not above wielding a bit of a stick when necessary. Some of these pseudo-celeb 'communicators' with books out or coming? Will never get a mention from me, not in the provincial paper where I review gardening books, not on my blog, nowhere. And while I might just be down here doing my thing in the far reaches of Atlantic Canada, people do listen to my recommendations--or my lack of them.

    I do wish everyone could get along, though. The enemy is not us--it's the rights-grabbing, pittance-paying publishers (be it books, papers, magazines, or what have you) who cry hard times all the way to the bank. But that's a tantrum for another day.

    1. I agree with your assessment of Colleen. She's always been generous with her knowledge from what I've seen and have experienced.

      Also agree with you about the "in" crowd. I used to hate Facebook, until I realized that what I hated was having to read these people's updates. Once I got rid of the majority of "communicators" from my "friends" list it became a lot more tolerable. What gets me most about some of these people is how they're always calling for civility and building of community, when they're the ones behaving like venomous snakes in private. From my experience the louder someone is about how they're nice, above the fray, and not into tearing people down-the worse they really are. Fortunately, they seem to be drawn to each other and it's easy to avoid the whole lot of them if you pay close enough attention.

      To your point of publishers: I have to agree and that point makes me wonder what's so bad about what Colleen did. If Michael (or any other writer) was seeing their work or creativity co-opted by someone else they'd speak up. It's only an issue because the person doing the co-opting in this case was a friend of his. If I took the articles from his magazine and started reformatting them for publication on this blog wouldn't he get upset too? I'm sure he would, and he'd have every right to call me out like Colleen did to PRGs.

    2. Thanks both of you for the kind words. I have to admit to being floored when I read that column this morning. I don't know how much more clearly I can say it -- I'm a professional writer. My words are my tools. I spend part of every day (literally!) chasing down scrapers and other people who are using my words for their own gain. So to be vilified for expecting another writer to show me the same professional courtesy I'd show anyone who had inspired a post or article of mine is just a bit much. And to be vilified for such a thing in a publication that is supposed to be about educating professional communicators is just rather surreal. I don't know what else to say. Thanks for the post, MBT.

    3. Colleen, As a muckracker I can appreciate the column in question. Although, I found the attack on you kind of weird for a publication that's aimed at a more traditional niche. Maybe it's like Jodi says and there's some rivalry/jealousy going on since you are the garden blogger at TreeHugger. And before anyone says that I'm kissing your arse because you blog at TreeHugger I want it to be on the record of knowing you when you were nobody. (:

    4. Yes, you did! And you were the first person to ever interview me. Clearly, you were ahead of your time lol.

  2. It might be a tantrum for another day, but it's not one I can pass commenting on. Anyone who thinks that publishers (in general) are making money hand-over-fist right now is incredibly misinformed. Setting up a freelancers/writers vs. publishers situation helps no one. Freelancers should understand there would many fewer freelancers (other than those who freelance by choice) if the publishing industry were in better shape because thousands of those freelancers would become staff writers and editors.

    1. It may be, but there's no reason why it can't be part of this discussion too. Especially since now we have threaded comments that enable sidebar convos like this. I've published a few articles with the Chicago Tribune and working on some now, as a freelancer. I'm happy with the rate and what I get paid, I find it to be very fair.

      I've spoken with the editor of a garden publication and I've learned their freelancers are getting paid WAY less than I get per article and they have to provide pictures for the articles. Are publishers making money hand over fist? No. But some of these garden writers aren't getting paid what they're worth, especially when you take into account that they also have to include pictures.

  3. From what I saw of the exchange it seemed to end on a amicable note. I can't see how that could be misconstrued as bullying. It's not even remotely within the same stratosphere -- attempting to re-contextualize in this way is unfair to all parties involved, never mind irresponsible. Bullying is a real and terrible problem that (as MBT) pointed out, leads some people to suicide.

    I've had enough communications with Colleen to know with certainty that she's a kind and considerate person and not the monster she is painted to be in that opinion piece.

    1. As the image above shows, the original tweets weren't even directed at the writer in question. The writer responded because she knew it was about her and why. How tweeting out your thoughts not at the person is turned into bullying is beyond me.

      I've been thinking about this and I remembered that the same thing sorta happened with the #SaveLandreth campaign on Twitter. We (Colleen & I) created the hashtag, promoted the hell out of it, blogged about the efforts. When the writer in question wrote up her post about #SaveLandreth she attributed the campaign to the Beekman Boys(sp?). Even though she'd been tweeting with the hashtag we were using that she was just learning and researching the history of the seed company prior to writing her blog post about it.

      I don't know what's going on with all that, but it doesn't seem to be a coincidence when the same person writes about popular Twitter campaigns Colleen was involved twice and seems to forget making note of that fact.

      I know everyone wants to position themselves as some kind of thought leader in the niche, but it won't kill you to say, "this is who I learned about this from." Not everyone can be "first" but you can acknowledge those that are.

  4. Sorry to disagree with you, Erin, but I've been a full-time, professional freelance journalist--not only about gardening by a long shot!--for over 15 years, and I do know whereof I speak. Obviously, not ALL publishers treat their writers poorly. But there are many that do. 35 years ago, the going rate for professional writers at most publications was a dollar a word. And today? Still that at many high-end publications, far far less than that at most others.

    The price of everything has gone up many times in that 35 years--why should writers, who educate others, be paid at what amounts to pretty poor pay-per-hour? Most don't pay expenses, and many don't pay until months after publication. Meanwhile, the writer who laid out money for travel, other expenses, has to live on a line of credit until the publication decides to cut him or her a cheque.

    Book contracts are often abysmal-- I review a lot of books as part of my regular gigs, and interview the authors, and there are some pretty horrid royalty clauses, plus charging a ridiculous price to the authors to buy their own books.

    Now, that said, I do fine as a freelancer, obviously, because I continue to do it and don't want to be anything but self-employed. I've turned down any number of jobs with publications, so it's not like we who freelance are second class citizens, as your statement seems to imply. But I have a fairly fine stable of regular clients, some of them corporate or government, and I have fired clients who haven't been decent to work with.

    It's like I teach my writing students, "Don't swallow the old line about 'write for free for us, it'll be great exposure.' We live in Canada--exposure can kill you. ;-)"

    Please understand, I'm not attacking you. That's not how I roll, as Colleen and Ramon can attest after years of acquaintanceship. I just know a fair bit more about the subject of publishing than someone who tosses a one-off comment about the topic. I know there are fabulous publishers out there--I work with some of them. But there are also those that are, shall we say, not so much.

  5. Anonymous1/23/2012

    Online and Flash! Content aside, the format is totally inappropriate in the modern world. How can using flash help the user experience or avail good content to the larger world? I was just immediately turned off by the the site. Its like we were back DTP. True, CSS3 and HTML5 are still some way away from completely delivering Flash animation/video content, but its not being used by this site. Anyway most moderern browsers get close to Flash's delivery and with the judicious use of 'progessive enhancement' one can deliver good quality content to almost anyone and still play the HTML game. As an onine medium, Flash, as Adobe knows is dead. Apple & Microsoft won't use Flash, so why use it as format for a 'new' magazine? Unsearchable, no navigation and sadly unattractive.
    Just my view.

    1. Anonymous1/23/2012

      Me again. Not your site but GrowWrite.

    2. You know, I recognize all those words, but I don't know what they all mean strung together like that. But I wish you could transport your knowledge into my brain so I could understand it because it sounds like what I am in desperate need of. I can't knock him for the site since he's doing this project on his own and it is pretty entrepreneurial. But as someone who would like to take his blog to a magazine format I hope that the day comes soon where it's as easy as publishing on a blog.

  6. Anonymous1/23/2012

    This comes under the heading of ‘when you know better you do better’. I see nothing wrong with informing a writer of the origin or facts of a story. And she changed it to reflect that.

    So where’s the drama? Maybe, the need to create content for a new ‘publication’?

    In this instance, Michael Nolan does not state in his essay who the well-respected writer is, who the 'other writer' is or what the 'coined phrase' is and if you had not explained I never would have known who in the world he was talking about.

    This leads me to believe that this essay and possibly the entire 'magazine' is aimed at his friends, those who know the gossip, and this makes the content of little use to those outside the circle.

    "Men should stop fighting among themselves and start fighting insects."
    -Luther Burbank

    Back to the garden...

    1. Interesting perspective and I think the last paragraph of your comment is pretty spot on.

      Over on Twitter someone was wondering why I blogged about this, and the reason is because it was so inside baseball. And while the column wasn't directly aimed at me it seemed like it needed to be addressed.

  7. I don't know why you wrote this...sending traffic that way. I nearly vomited with the first sentence where he's like "I'm gifted....pooorrrr meee..." I am so creeped out by the level of comfort that group has with going on about how awesome they think they are. Again, if you're really awesome, you don't need to tell people. They just know.

    1. Well, in my defense I added to the "no follow" tags to the links C: So maybe it will send a few people (who had to read the column to know what the heck is being talked about) but whether those people will stay and become readers is a different matter.

      I personally, will not be reading after seeing the debut issue because the information is stuff I already know, and what I don't know I'll research myself. Like, are you interested in self-publishing? See the guest post by Ben Vogt http://is.gd/o27et6 on this blog on his experiences self-publishing his garden memoir.

  8. I apologize for this comment not ending up in the right place. For whatever reason the comment threading isn't working for me. I just wanted to quickly respond to Jodi.

    While I understand where you're coming from, and with 15 years of freelancing experience you've certainly seen how things have changed, I think a lot of freelancers underestimate what is going with publishers (at least with magazine and newspaper publishers; I'm not familiar with the book publishing industry).

    It's an interesting discussion for me because I come at it from both perspectives: I have worked in the magazine publishing business (unrelated to gardening) for 12 years and several more before that in the newspaper business and I occasionally write freelance pieces for other publications in addition to my blogging, so I'm certainly not suggesting that freelances are second-class citizens. Rather they are the bread and butter of most publications. Here's what I know to be true about the magazine industry. No one is getting the same price for an ad that they were getting five years ago (it's less now). In fact, at the magazine I work at, we are getting less for some ads than we did 15 years ago. And one look at a newsstand will tell you that far fewer ad pages are being sold in most magazines. I think I read that the average magazine is down 20 (total) pages in the past five years. Of course paper, printing and mailing costs have steadily risen during this time. Although things are leveling out, it's still a scary time to be in the publishing business.

    But I also understand the frustration and challenges freelancers face. Publishers are forced to put stories out on multiple platforms (print, web, mobile devices, etc.) yet freelancers are rarely paid more than they were when it was just print. The problem is that many publishers are simply not making much money on these alternate platforms. They are doing it just to survive.

    It does, however, absolutely have to be part of the discussion. Freelancers need to be valued appropriately but at the same time they need to understand the financial strain publishers are under. I have many, many friends who are now freelancers because the publications they used to work for full-time have either folded or essentially dismantled their editorial staff and I know their frustration. But I also know that drawing a line in the sand won't do publishers or freelancers any good, because each group needs the other to survive.

    Sorry for the tangent!

    1. I think we agree, Erin (and sorry, I've been buried in stuff the past two days and hadn't had time to check back in). Our tangential conversation IS an important one, and you make great points. It IS funny however, and you've probably encountered this in your years in the industry, that there are those who think freelancing IS a second string profession. In that perfect world I want, everyone would be valued and paid fairly. We aren't quite there yet, but we'll carry on.

      To go back to the main point of this post--I'm annoyed that so few have spoken up in Colleen's defence, but some are scared of getting fingers slapped, losing gigs, losing 'friends'. To hell with all that, say I. I don't work for or with any of those people so I'll say what I think and damn the torpedoes. Colleen--you know we're in your court. You're better than the whinging backbiters, so face into the wind, and breathe. All will be well.

  9. Anonymous2/02/2012

    Well I had heard of the bullying accusation over asking for credit and I had heard who the original writer was. But I had not heard who the accuser was. Damn. Michael is one of my favorite Urban Homestead bloggers. I have learned so much from him. Making my own butter in a blender has changed my life - well at least my outlook on what I can do. And his month of living on food stamps was an admirable challenege. I even sent supportive posts when his partner was suddenly ill in the middle of it and he wondered whether he should continue it. He is clearly dedicated.

    He is entitled to his opinion of course and he shares a lot of info. But maybe his experiences in youth are just still too close. I simply can not see the correlation between what was done here and intimidating kids on the playground. Even if I didn't think it was rightfully done, which I do. It's Colleen's creation and her living. Like intellectual property to an inventor or an artist's original work. I guess blogs really confuse the issue of who owns what and who has a right to keep it.

    I won't boycott him like I did the balcony blogger who was caught in an unprofessional tactic and lie about it, and handled it less than gracefully. Boy I miss that blog. But I may have to email him just to say how this saddens me. I really don't know Colleen but I have always felt her sincerity and humility in comments and am aware of her recognized expertise and high profile gigs (for garden writers that is). I have seen my share of garden designers and writers who don't know much but have a lot of chutzpah and go after the money and sponsors in ernest. Neither of them are like that. They may have more in common than what separates them, like most of us if we could stop fighting. This is not in the category of the catty, snarky high school clique behavior I hear about but still it's divisive and disappointing.

  10. As a radical community garden fundamentalist, I've been following the Occupy Gardens 'meme' since day 0 ... and prior to the Occupation had in my mind "Occupy Gardens" - my first public internet post for "Occupy the Garden" was on a FB event created Sept 28th. see link -> http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/153789561381328/

    Then I created two FB pages on Oct 30th - Occupy Gardens Toronto - www.facebook.com/occupygardenstoronto

    and our global SOILdarity campaign - Occupy Gardens for World Peas - www.facebook.com/occupygardensforworldpeas

    These pages were followed up by a newspaper column by the same name - Occupy Gardens for World Peas - printed on Nov 5th - see link - http://www.orilliapacket.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3358753

    What I have concluded is that the Occupy Gardens meme arose spontaneously and independently from a variety of sources - as it is such an obvious play on the movement. I don't take credit for it's inception, only in part to help spread and develop it.

    We have consistently been drawing 50-100 people for our Occupy Gardens assemblies here in Toronto, and have been connecting with other Occupy Gardens/food groups in preparation for a Mass action in the spring time. We are also planning a World Peas expo, and an Occupy Seed Exchange infront of the Toronto Stock Exchange for the global "Occupy Our Food Supply" day of action .

    I've been mining the internet for the Occupy Gardens meme with the hopes of connecting with others and turning it into something much bigger and powerful - in the same vein as the Victory Gardens movement in the past century.

    It's thyme, Lettuce Occupy Gardens for World Peas!

    Peas and SOILdarity,
    Jacob Kearey-Moreland

  11. Jacob,

    Thanks for commenting. While it may have "arose spontaneously" it didn't arise spontaneously in the example above. The "author" of the article in question commented via Twitter on Colleen's article for Tree Hugger. While you may not take credit for creating the Occupy Gardens meme, I will :0) Your Facebook posting doesn't have date stamp and since they can be edited after posting I think I'm pretty safe in taking credit for the Occupy Meme since I can provide date stamped tweets using the hashtag for October 8th


    and here

    and here, too.

    Which were broadcast to a few thousand of my followers that weekend. I'd see how much earlier I was using the hashtag without images, but Twitter's search function sucks. So, I will say that at least as early as Oct 1st I was using the hashtag and I even recall some followers from Toronto who were commented on the humorous bent I took on it.

    By the time you published your article #OccupyGardens was already a "thing" on Twitter with people retweeting me or using it themselves.

    Then the meme spread to Colleen who exposed it to a world-wide audience at Tree Hugger. Her post has 1k "Likes" 193 retweets and 157 Stumbles.


    My own post using the hashtag and idea had less than that though. I've since taken off the social media counters from my blog

    Which you already know about because you commented there at the time of posting.

    I also created a series of "posters" to spread the meme which you can see an example of on my FB page

    And as of Jan 28th 2012 people (who are not followers of mine on Twitter) were still resharing them on places like Twitter. Example:

    These have been spread around the globe and are even in use by non-gardening people Example here https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=700559&l=f0723f93c8&id=272445469489417

    Here is another example of the meme created by me being used

    While you may have used "occupy the garden" in your event, the "idea" behind #OccupyGardens doesn't seem to be fleshed out in that note. I don't think you knew what you had stumbled upon until the article you published, but by then (like I said) it was already a "thing" on Twitter being shared by many to thousands upon thousands.

    Although, I do find it fascinating that in my first date stamped example and in your Facebook event it is used to motivate cleaning up the garden. And while you or I came up with it indecently of each other the person Colleen called out did not and should've provided credit to where she got the idea.

    Good luck with the gardens.

    1. Thanks for the reply Mr. Brownthumb!

      A few points -

      I did not 'doctor' the fb event posting after the fact to try to lay claim to the meme - as you can see the very limited exposure of the event, and my refusal to take credit.

      Secondly while the 'idea' behind Occupy Gardens wasn't fleshed out in that event invite - I most definitely new what I had stumbled upon - as this is something I've been working on for several years now, albeit now with an additional banner.

      With that said I was thrilled to learn of your first postings to your many followers, and to know that others were riding the same psychic wavelengths as me- you can tell I've been searching far and wide to connect fellow Occupy Gardeners hence my persistence on these blogs -

      I wouldn't say that any of us deserve credit for the 'idea' of occupy gardens (this is something people have been doing for over ten thousand years). However if anyone deserves credit for giving the meme its first injection into our collective physche it would be you in my books. I can understand how frustrating it is to see others taking or giving away credit for something you feel ownership over.

      But the meme is still relatively obscure - even in the gardening movement - especially the food movement as a whole - the real challenge now will be unleashing it into the mainstream! To do this we will need all hands on deck for our mass global action in the Spring time - likely to occur around the end of April/beginning of May.

      Also for our upcoming Occupy Seed Exchange we quoted you for our poster - I thought you might dig it - here is link - http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=371131332900238&set=pu.310199675660071&type=1&theater

      Happy gardening!

    2. Hi Jacob,
      I'm not saying you did add it after the fact. I'm just saying that it's possible and since I'm going to self-aggrandize and lay clay to the meme that I think I'm in a better position because of the date stamps on the tweets with can't be edited. You feel me? Like if you get a speeding ticket in the mail and you contest it because you weren't in the area and you can prove it because you have a receipt from a store in another town at that time.

      You just reminded me of something. When I first heard of OWS and the camp I was wondering why they hadn't include "food justice" or "occupy gardens" as part of the protest early on. It just seemed like such an easy connection to make. For a couple of months before I ran with the hashtag I kept saying "someone should do it" and then somewhere between my use of the hashtag and your article I saw a group on Facebook from Italy that had installed temporary vegetable gardens at their camp. I forget their name or how I stumbled across them since I don't speak Italian. But like you I had been keeping an eye on the occupy stuff to see if the light bulb went off for anyone. Did you see that garden? They were the first of any of the protests do it and I think should be part of the history of the idea. I'll see if I can find them and either update here or send you an email.

      I think we've (you, me, Colleen and those who have retweeted/Facebooked it) have made it a bigger "thing" than we realize. I've had a couple of family members and friends (who are not gardeners) mention seeing my screen name attached to the quotes and hashtag in their Facebook streams and getting a laugh.

      That poster is hilarious! If you print it you have to send me a picture. You need to stop copying me though! LOL. The day before your seed swap I'll be at a seed swap myself. Diane Ott Whealy will be in my area for a lecture and seed swap and I'm going to go. I'm hosting a seed swap at the flower show here in March but maybe I'll steal your idea and have one in front of our exchange too.

      I'll post your swap info to my Twitter and Facebook next week.


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