Growing a Community Through Gardening

Marga Snyder was only looking for a 'backyard' for her son. What she found was a community, one that eventually led her to WeWork

by Ashley Edwards Walker

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Superpower on the Side features WeWork team members and how they spend their time when they’re not at work.

Marga Snyder likes to get her hands dirty. Most weekends, you can find her working the land at La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez Community Garden on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In her 20-plus years as a member of the garden she’s touched nearly every corner of the green space, from restoring polluted soil after Hurricane Sandy flooded the garden to helping plant a fruit and nut orchard after a beloved weeping willow tree fell down. Currently, she’s training to be a beekeeper.

“I’ll spend every moment of the weekend out there,” says Snyder, 56, a community associate for WeWork in New York City. “I’ll come back to work on Monday feeling sore, but it’s fun. I’ve met all my best friends from the garden. It’s so happy. I feel like I’ve accomplished something, I’m outside, I get dirty, I get exercise.”

She joined the garden on East 9th and Avenue C in the ’90s as a way to give her then-toddler son access to a “backyard.” At the time she worked in hospitality as a hotel concierge. So she put her people skills to use, volunteering as the garden’s membership coordinator.

“Being a beekeeper now, it’s just amazing how bees operate in relation to the rest of the world, working together as a whole,” says WeWork community associate Marga Snyder. “That’s what WeWork is about; it’s always about community and bringing people together.”

Then she met Ross, who oversees the garden’s design. The two became fast friends—“besties,” Snyder says—and through working with him she slowly moved over to the landscaping side of things.

“Between us and other collaborative people, the garden became this huge thing,” she says of the space that now takes up half a city block. “It kept growing, and more opportunities would fall into our lap about landscape design and doing good things for food justice and teaching workshops. It’s just amazing.”

In addition to the pretty (and edible) scenery on display at La Plaza Cultural, the garden also serves as an event space for the community. Its amphitheater has hosted performances ranging from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller. Members lead workshops on topics like bike repair and edible weeds. Snyder once did a cooking lesson, teaching attendees how to grill rosemary flatbreads using herbs from the garden. There’s also yoga and seasonal events, like the Spring-Summer Awakening party planned for June.

“Our whole thing is staying open for the public as much as possible,” says Snyder. “Generally, we want to empower people to grow their own food and teach them the history of the space.”

What started out as a hobby led to a new career for Snyder. When the recession hit in 2009, Snyder was laid off from her hotel job. To make ends meet, she started working with a friend doing rooftop gardening for some art galleries and residential buildings. She also launched her own “sustainable concierge” business, putting together itineraries for clients with eco-friendly options like green car transportation and restaurants serving locally sourced food. To further her know-how, she studied and became certified in permaculture, a type of urban farming.

“I’ve met all my best friends from the garden. It’s so happy. I feel like I’ve accomplished something, I’m outside, I get dirty, I get exercise,” says Snyder.

In 2010, Snyder joined a group called Business Networking International, where she met WeWork co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann, who was just starting to hire. A few months later, Snyder started as a community associate at WeWork.

“Community is something I really associate with because I’m a community gardener,” she says. “Being a beekeeper now, it’s just amazing how bees operate in relation to the rest of the world, working together as a whole. That’s what WeWork is about; it’s always about community and bring people together.”

In her early days at WeWork, Snyder appreciated that her new boss took an interest in his employee’s passions and hobbies. She recalls Neumann asking staff to share their interests and passions outside of work, and then suggesting ways they might be able to incorporate them into their jobs. Given Snyder’s experience in gardening and permaculture, she was asked to select the interior plants for the first three WeWork buildings. Today, as a community associate at WeWork 85 Broad St, she still works with plants from time to time.

“I arrange member gifts—we call it Surprise and Delight,” she explains. “And sometimes I will buy little cacti in these cute ceramic planters and give them out. But I do have to make sure that the member has a window in their office. I don’t want to give them a plant that’s not going to do well—that’s not a nice gift!”

It’s a special thing when the work you do and the hobbies you’re passionate about align. Snyder is thrilled that WeWork helps facilitate that for her.

“I love where WeWork started from, and where it’s going,” says Snyder. “‘Better together’ was one of our slogans at one point, and I’ve always loved that. I’m a people person and a team player, that’s just my thing.”

Photographs by Michael George

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