Starting a Community Garden? 3 Things You Need to Know

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If you’ve long wondered about the impact a community garden could have in your town or city, now is the time to find out. According to the National Gardening Association, the number of Americans growing their own food increased by 17% between 2008 and 2014, and community gardens saw a 200% increase in participation during the same period. Americans are taking up gardening at a growing rate, and much of that added participation comes in the form of younger gardeners passionate about knowing where their food comes from.

The presence of community gardens has also proven to directly increase participants’ fruit and vegetable consumption, especially in rural areas. Before you get started, make sure you know the answers to these three questions to set your project up for success.

Photo by Pixabay/jill111

1. How Interested Is Your Community?

Depending on where you live, you might already be involved with a dedicated, city-wide community gardening organization, or you could be pioneering the first community garden your area has ever seen. As you reach out to your community to gauge interest and commitment levels, be open and welcoming to different perspectives. You’ll need an enormous amount of help between thinking about a community garden and harvesting your first heirloom tomato, so be prepared to lead in a welcoming, inclusive way.

If your area already has an established community garden organization, your process will be much easier. Residents will be more familiar with the concept of communal gardening, and you might have access to an established process as well as assistance starting, funding, and publicizing your garden if you start your garden as a chapter within a larger organization. However, if you’re completely on your own, take advantage of numerous online resources like the American Community Gardening Association to help you along the way. 

2. Where Will Your Garden Be Located?

This is a simple question, but depending on how much help you have, answering it could be very time-consuming. If you’re working within a larger organization, you may receive financial assistance as well as help choosing and negotiating use of a lot. Working on your own, you’ll need to leverage connections in the community and reach out to property owners and businesses to help you select, pay for, and insure a plot of land for future use. Buying or leasing are both viable options, depending on your garden’s financial assets. Here are a few important factors to keep in mind as you evaluate the viability of a space:

• Drainage
• Light access
• Future building and development that could affect the location
• Zoning laws
• Water access
• Lot size

Urban gardens are more subject to space constraints than rural ones, but don’t be discouraged if your finances only allow you to set up on a small plot. Using space efficiently is far more productive than having several acres and wasting their potential. 

3. How Else Will You Serve Your Community?

Hopefully, you’re fortunate enough to generate a wealth of community interest in your garden right away. Regardless, not everyone will have the time, disposable income, and prior gardening experience to be able to take care of their own plot right away. Your garden should be a gathering place for all members of the community, even those who aren’t sure how much they want to be involved. One easy way to do that early on is to set up a community composting area.

If your garden has space, reserve an area for community members to bring food scraps. Be sure you clearly outline what types of food remains are appropriate for composting so that participants unfamiliar with the process understand what they should and shouldn’t bring. Composting takes time and patience, as well as an initial investment in bins to store compost at different stages. But as seasoned gardeners know, it’s worth the investment. You’ll be able to introduce new community members to your garden, reduce landfill waste in your town, and eventually generate nutrient-rich soil for your garden at a low cost.

As you dive into your community garden planning process, you’ll encounter many other questions and factors to consider. Use these three to foster practical, actionable planning, but leave time for more research and more abstract questions, such as what your garden’s mission statement might be, or what guidelines you’ll put in place. Starting a community garden is hard work, but it will reward you and your community with a bounty of positive results.

If you’ve started a community garden, participate in one, or are thinking about starting your own, what has worked well for you? What would you avoid doing in the future? Add your insights, hacks, questions, and stories below to help others as they work to make the world a greener place. 

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