Starting a community garden is a great way to get people interested in local food. By learning how to grow and care for vegetables, members of the community quickly become aware of exactly how a seed grows into a cucumber vine or a tomato plant, and soon notice the difference in quality and taste between home-grown vegetables and those purchased at a supermarket. A community with a garden is a community that has a space for people to gather, an opportunity to share food with each other, and a way to show commitment to the wise use of the Earth’s resources.
However, starting a community garden is not as simple as finding an empty plot of land and making a public announcement. Before you jump gung-ho into your vision of community gardening, consider these factors and if your community is able to support them.
The number one determinant of your community garden’s success is finding appropriate available land. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t just turn any vacant lot into a thriving community garden. You need an area with arable soil, plenty of sunlight, and decent irrigation. You need a space large enough to give plants room to root and flower. Before you start your garden plans, you need to see if that type of land is available in your community.
You also need to consider land ownership. There is very little land that is not owned by someone, and you need that person’s, business’s, or city organization’s permission to turn the space into a community garden. You need to make sure you are following appropriate zoning laws, and that other people living and working nearby will not mind the presence of a garden in their neighborhood.
You probably have a mental vision of parents and children working side by side to till the soil and prepare it for planting, but it’s not likely to be quite that easy or harmonious. One of my friends recently worked as part of a community garden committee in San Diego. Many people assumed that once they secured the land, they’d be ready to start planting right away, but they actually had to do a lot of work before the soil was even ready for seeds. They had to raise money to work with a San Diego equipment rental company so they could replace the old dirt, which had years of cigarette butts and broken glass embedded in it. It took a full year of having the community garden before they could even start gardening.
In short: when you’re thinking about starting your community garden, make sure you budget for professional equipment. A few shovels and some old-fashioned sweat isn’t likely to be enough to prepare your land for gardening.
Consensus and commitment
When you launch your community garden, you’ll probably get a good turnout on Planting Day, but what about Weeding Day? What about the day when you have to rush out to the garden in the middle of the night because the temperature dropped and you’re worried that the tomatoes will freeze?
To have a successful community garden, you need two factors: consensus and commitment. You need people who are willing to do the hard work, and you need a team that is willing to agree on what work should be done. A community garden is, by nature, a committee project. If your community doesn’t yet have that kind of cohesion, you may need to develop your community through other projects, such as organizing Boy and Girl Scouting groups, before starting your garden.
Starting a community garden is a great way to bring your community together and improve your local environment. However, it’s not as simple as planting a few seeds. Think about all of the potential factors before you put your garden idea into motion, and you’ll be more likely to have a community garden success.
Photo Source: A community garden in São Carlos, São Paulo, Brazil, 22 June 2010, Joshjrowe