A community garden greens empty lots and creates a gathering place for gardeners of all ages and experience levels. There's a satisfaction in harvesting fresh fruit and vegetables that you and your family helped nurture and grow. If there is no community garden in your area, take the reins and establish one. Once word spreads about forming a garden, be ready for an enthusiastic response from the community.
Items you will need:
- Tilling equipment
- Irrigation equipment
- Vegetable and fruit seeds and seedlings
Organize a meeting with members of the community. You can gauge interest level by the number of people who attend. Determine the garden's role in the community. In some gardens, a percentage of food is donated to agencies that distribute fresh produce to shelters and soup kitchens. Other gardens may sell a portion of the harvest or provide food for 100 percent of paying members. Before moving forward, formulate the garden's objectives and budget with interested community members. (See References 1)
Select a plot of land friendly for growing fruits and vegetables. Gardening on level ground requires less work than a sloped site; ensure the site has a water source for a smooth installation of irrigation later on. Choose a sunny spot, as most vegetables and fruit require at least six hours of full sun to produce a bountiful harvest. (See References 2)
Get expert opinions on the financial state of the plot. As an organization, the garden may opt to purchase or obtain a long-term lease of the land. Also, inquire about the land tenure --- if not secure, then garden members may lose future access to the property. (See References 3)
Make a wish list of tools and plants for the garden. Prepping the site is the first priority, so provide members with the right tools for the job. These items may include shovels, tilling machinery, soil, mulch, irrigation equipment and wood for constructing raised beds. Consider adding a fence to define the location and keep the site secure. A few thorny shrubs around the perimeter might do the job. Ask a local garden center for advice about the types of vegetables and fruits that flourish in your region. (See References 1)
Draft a design of the garden and solicit feedback from members. Consider the locations and dimensions of garden beds and the locations of the compost pile and tools. Also think about the kinds of vegetables the garden will grow and how they will be grouped. (See References 4)
Name your new garden. Before the growing begins, brainstorm with garden members on a name for the community garden. A name is fun, it defines your organization and it will help in recruiting new members and sponsors. Over time, there will be name recognition associated with the good work at your community garden. (See References 1, 3)
Connect with organizations in the community and make a case for their donations. For example, a garden center may donate plants, seeds and even valuable horticultural advice in exchange for promotion of their store. Reach out to hardware stores and grocery markets and see about gaining community support. (See References 4)
Organize a family-friendly work day and prepare the garden site. Build raised beds for an easier time when tilling and planting, and add fencing to signal that the land is occupied and cared for. Before plants are installed, it is a good idea to test the irrigation system. Keep children engaged by having them craft plant labels, such as painting different vegetables on wooden markers. (See References 1, 4)
Form committees within the garden. Enlist the help of members for various roles in the garden by setting up committees such as construction, communications, community outreach and horticulture. A garden newsletter is a great way to update all members about the work of each committee and future projects and events. (See References 1)
Market the community garden to recruit new members and keep the community engaged with the garden's work. Newspapers can spread the word about your garden's progress and upcoming events. A website detailing gardening experiences of members, pictures and garden work hours is a great way to communicate with current and prospective members.
- Collect applications from garden members that include contact information, garden expertise and a hold-harmless clause. Particularly in urban areas, have the soil tested to discover any potential hazards, such as heavy metals. (See References 4)
- American Community Garden Association: Starting a Community Garden
- North Carolina State University; Home Vegetable Gardening; Larry Bass; 2000
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Starting a Community Garden; Eva C. Worden, et al.; 2009
- University of Missouri Extension: Community Gardening Toolkit; Bill McKelvey; April 2009
First published in 2001, Marie Lenahan writes about horticulture, food and green living. Her work has appeared in gardening magazines and academic journals. Lenahan holds a Ph.D. in horticultural science.
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