Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
10 Steps to Starting a Community Garden
Join (or start) a community garden! There are so many benefits beyond the camaraderie. Gardening alongside neighbors opens a world of possibilities.
How Did Community Gardens Start?
Community gardens have been around for centuries. In the late 1800s, they were used to provide land and technical assistance to unemployed workers in large cities and to teach young people the value of a good work ethic.
The idea persisted: During World War I, the government promoted community gardens to expand the domestic food supply; during the Great Depression, community gardens provided a way for families to put food on the table; and the Victory Garden campaign during World War II encouraged people to grow food to improve morale. By the 1970s, community gardens had become a response to rising inflation, environmental concerns, and a desire to build neighborly connections.
Benefits to Joining a Community Garden
What makes people decide to join (or start) a community garden?
- Often it’s for the simple reason that they don’t have space for growing at home. Today, such gardens are found nationwide—in both urban and rural settings.
- Of course, having fresh produce is high on the list. “Homegrown” food also saves money, and you can grow crops that may not otherwise be available locally.
- Then there are the less tangible reasons. Gardening alongside other enthusiasts offers learning opportunities—whether it’s being introduced to an unfamiliar veggie or an alternative staking technique, exchanging tips and tricks in the garden enhances the growing experience.
- Toiling in garden plots together also increases a sense of ownership and stewardship, while fostering community identity and spirit. Bonding over a season’s bounty can be very socially gratifying.
- Working in a community garden is also likely to expose you to a diverse group of people and possibly new customs and recipes—and for the gardener-chef, this can be great fun!
- The formation of a neighborhood garden can even lead to substantial contributions to the community at large. There are examples across the country demonstrating the kind of ripple effect that shared gardens can have. The development of school gardens and subsequent health and wellness programs for children, for example, and grassroots neighbor-hood improvement projects have been known to result from the gathering of gardeners.
- Camaraderie! Just about every gardener enjoys picking the season’s first pepper, watching a young tomato ripen, and plucking potatoes from the ground. When you are surrounded by like-minded green thumbs who share this satisfaction, it’s all the more pleasurable—and fruitful. This helps explain the lasting popularity of the community garden.
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More Than a Harvest
Belonging to a community garden offers myriad opportunities to contribute to your neighborhood. You can help to …
- develop “Seed to Table” or “Garden and Grow” types of programs, which emphasize hands-on experiences, community interaction, and the sharing of healthy meals.
- bring together various age groups, perhaps for work projects or community suppers.
- organize outreach efforts, such as donating food from the garden to local nursing homes or food pantries.
- share surplus seeds and plants with area residents who are keen to expand their own gardens.
The truth is that growing side by side with the people in your community opens a world of possibilities beyond that prize tomato!
Credit: Arina P Habich Shutterstock
10 Steps to Starting a Community Garden
Organize a meeting of interested people. Start a conversation about what you want your garden to be, how it will function, who will be involved and how, etc.
Form a planning committee. Decide who will be responsible for which aspect of the garden’s development.
Identify resources. Contact municipal planners, garden clubs, and other sources of information and assistance.
Consider a sponsor. Churches, schools, private businesses, and parks and recreation departments are possible sources for capital and in-kind donations.
Choose a site. Consider sun exposure, water availability, soil quality, etc. Look into leasing land, if necessary.
Prepare and develop the site. This will require many hands! Organize volunteer work crews to demolish (if necessary), prep, gather materials, and determine the design.
Organize the garden. Decide on the number of plots and how they will be organized and assigned. Remember to set aside space for storage and compost bins or piles.
Plan for children. Designate an area for kids where they can participate and explore at their own speed.
Determine the rules and put them in writing. Ground rules help gardeners to know what is expected of them to keep things running smoothly.
Help members keep in touch. Foster communication by creating an email list, installing a rainproof bulletin board in the garden, and/or organizing activities and celebrations.
If you’re looking for more ways to expand your gardening horizons, consider Becoming a Master Gardener!