Imagine a place where people from all backgrounds work together to plant and grow food or flowers. After all the work, they happily share in the harvest, even donating the surplus to benefit others in their community. It’s happening all over the nation, and if you love the idea, you can easily become part of the trend. But first, you need to learn how to start a community garden.
Do you live in an area where fresh fruits and vegetables are in short supply? If so, learning how to start a community garden could change everything.
What Is a Community Garden?
A community garden is a place where people come together to grow food or flowers and then share in the harvest. These gardens can span an entire block or make use of a tiny plot of a forgotten land.
When learning how to start a community garden, you will see that anyone can start one. For instance, some cities or municipalities start community gardens in areas where fresh produce is hard to find. Also, churches, non-profit organizations, schools, or even a group of neighbors can learn how to start a community garden.
You have two choices when learning how to start a community garden. You can create a large garden where everyone shares in the work and harvest, or you can subdivide the garden into individual plots. When subdividing the garden, each member will “own” their plot of land and grow their own produce.
The Benefits of Learning How to Start a Community Garden
Aside from the fact that you will grow your own food and beautiful flowers (or both!), you and the other participants will reap many great benefits from the garden.
Here are a few benefits you’ll get when learning how to start a community garden.
Check them out:
It classes up the joint
Let’s face it:
No one wants to look at an abandoned plot of land for years on end. Yet, that’s what’s happening in neighborhoods all across the nation. But when you learn how to start a community garden, you can transform that ugly plot of land into a lush, green garden that is overflowing with produce and flowers.
In other words, you can make your neighborhood beautiful by turning the unsightly plot into a green haven.
Put food on the table
Many people live in food deserts. These are areas where it’s difficult to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead, its residents live largely on fast food and packaged food.
And that’s not good for anyone.
But when you learn how to start a community garden, you will bring fresh produce to the community. And if you start a community garden in an impoverished area, it can supply the much-needed produce to people who may not otherwise be able to afford it.
It gets them off the sofa
Working outside in the fresh air is good for you, and the people who work in community gardens get plenty of exercise and sunshine. There is something about planting, tending to, and then enjoying the fruits of your labor that causes people to unwind and destress.
Give it back
Guess what else is great:
After learning how to start a community garden, you will quickly realize just how important it is to the community. And that’s another huge benefit of starting this type of garden.
You will get to watch neighbors working together who may have never met. Kids who typically spend their day inside watching television or playing video games will spend time soaking up the sunshine and helping grow their next meal.
When you give back to the community, you not only make it a better place, but you get the satisfaction of having done something that’s outside of yourself.
Not everyone understands the importance of proper nutrition in a diet. But when you get people involved in a community garden, you can teach them how vital fresh fruits and vegetables are to a healthy diet.
And all those kids who say they hate vegetables? Hand them a tomato fresh off the vine and watch as their perceptions instantly change.
Who Uses Community Gardens?
Anyone can use a community garden. Neighbors who live in a food desert can use them, as can people who live in upscale neighborhoods. Church members can plant a garden together, or a local club can learn how to start a community garden and grow one together.
And, that’s not all:
People from all socio-economics can get together and learn how to start a community garden.
Wow, this sounds like an amazing activity, doesn’t it?
Let’s move on and learn how to start a community garden, shall we?
How to Start a Community Garden
If you love the idea of getting people together and doing something good for the community, starting a community garden is probably right for you. But before you just jump in, let’s talk about a proven plan that helps you do it the right way.
Here is a step-by-step plan that will teach you how to start a community garden.
Connect with your mirror image
Your first step in the process is to find a group of like-minded people who also want to learn how to start a community garden. You can find these people almost anywhere.
For instance, you can place an ad in the local newspaper, post a bulletin at the local grocery store, or start a Facebook or Instagram page about the project. Another option is to walk your neighborhood and talk to the people who live there. If you live in an apartment complex, be sure to talk to all the tenants and even the building supervisor.
Once you’ve spoken to everyone and found people who are interested in learning how to start a community garden, set a meeting date to make it official.
To be successful, you need to gather as many people as you can and talk to them about your idea. And remember, it takes a group of dedicated people to start a garden, so if you don’t find people who are interested in the idea, it might be time to expand the reach to people outside of your neighborhood.
Bring in the planners
Anytime you start a project as big as a community garden, you need to create some concrete plans. If you approach the job willy-nilly, you may not see the success you’d hoped for.
To create these plans, you should form a planning committee that agrees to act in the best interests of the garden and the people who will benefit from it. The members of the committee should be organized and dedicated to the cause. They will plan for events such as the construction of the garden, funding, garden activities, and the formation of a communications plan.
Another great idea is:
Assign each committee member a task based on their area of expertise or talent. For instance, if someone on the committee is a great communicator, put them in charge of communicating the work schedules and other events to the garden members. And if another person is great with money, make them the treasurer for the project.
Group effort or solo?
With the help of your planning committee, it’s time to decide whether you will create a large garden that everyone works and then shares in the harvest or a garden design that encourages individualism.
In a group garden, you will decide as a group what to plant and form work committees, so everyone shares in the group. But when you subdivide the plots, each person will decide what to grow and do all of the work themselves.
There are pros and cons to each type of garden. A group garden is more work because you will have to coordinate every aspect of it and then communicate those plans to everyone involved. You will also have to ensure that everyone does their part and doesn’t take more than their share during harvest time.
On the other hand, when you divide the plot of land into individual garden spaces, your job is to make sure everyone follows the rules and doesn’t do anything that harms another person’s garden. For instance, if someone plants corn or another tall vegetable in their plot, it could block the sun from another person’s garden.
That’s why you have to create a set of rules for your garden.
But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Pick your plants
When learning how to start a community garden, you will need to think about what to grow in your garden. Most community gardens grow vegetables to help feed those in the community. But a few gardens grow flowers to bring beauty to the neighborhood — and to the tables of those who help grow them.
But if you can’t decide between the two, why not grow both produce and flowers? You could use the interior of the plot to grow your vegetables and fruit and then border the garden with fresh flowers that the community can pick and display in their homes.
Another consideration is whether you will grow an organic or conventional garden. People will probably have different opinions on this topic so you may have to take a poll if you’re growing a group garden.
If you decide on subdivided plots, be sure to put people growing organically in one area of the garden and those who aren’t in another area. That way the organic produce won’t become tainted with pesticides from neighboring gardeners.
What can we use?
Now that you have an overall idea of what your garden will look like, who will participate, and what you will grow, it’s time to think about gathering all the resources you have to help get the job done.
This is where an organized and committed planning committee comes in handy.
Start by calling a meeting and then asking everyone to brainstorm about what resources they know of that you could use for the garden. For example, someone may have a pile of mulch they no longer need, while others could offer to lend you their garden tools.
And don’t forget about human resources. A member of the committee may know someone in the city who is in charge of community garden grants. That’s a definite resource.
Make a list and document it. These are the items you won’t have to spend money to get your garden started.
Count your money
To create a beautiful and productive garden you picture in your mind, you will need some money. After all, you need to buy seeds, mulch, manure or hummus, tomato cages, fertilizers, pesticides, and many other things to effectively grow the produce and flowers.
To fund your garden, you have a few options, and it all depends on which type of garden plan you will use. To learn how to start a community garden where the plot is subdivided into individual plots, your finances will look a little different.
Take this for example:
Many people who start gardens like this charge growers a nominal fee for each growing season. Someone who purchases one garden plot may pay to use it for the season. Charging these types of fees allow people access to their own land to grow their food, and at the same time, gives you immediate resources to make improvements to the overall plot.
Help a grower out
If your plan is to grow one big garden and have everyone work together, it’s a smart idea to look for sponsors to help pay the expenses. For instance, you could go to the local gardening club and ask them to sponsor your garden. In exchange for calling them a sponsor, they would provide some much-needed cash, tools, seeds, or other items you may need.
You can also approach local businesses, and offer them the opportunity to hang a sign on the garden fence that advertises their business in exchange for their sponsorship.
Look to the government
Some cities offer funding for people who want to learn how to start a community garden. These grants offer cash payouts to help people buy the things they need to get their garden going. The federal Community Development Block Program gives money to local states and cities, and they offer grants to people starting community gardens.
Talk to your local municipality to determine whether or not they participate in this federal funding program. Even if they don’t, they may have local community garden grants you can apply for.
Calling all donors
Another way to raise money for your community garden is to hold a fundraising event. When you can get people excited about your project and the good it will do, many will want to help. And the best way they can do that is to donate money or goods to your project.
Get inventive when it comes to fundraising. Don’t just tell people about your project, but make it fun for them to donate to it. For example, one person sold square inches of their community garden. Hundreds of people lined up to buy a square inch, and the person raised enough money to launch the garden.
And here’s the truth:
The reason this fundraising event was so successful is that it was fun, got people involved, and made donors feel like they were part of the building process.
You can also use group fundraising sites to raise funds for your garden. The possibilities are endless. Just imagine what it would take to get the attention of donors and do it!
How to Pick the Spot for Your Community Garden
Now that you’ve planned your garden and raised the funds, it’s time to select a spot for your garden. People plant community gardens just about everywhere. Some people ask the city for permission to use abandoned city lots, while others plant gardens alongside roadways or behind shopping malls.
The key is to get permission to plant your garden before doing it. Some cities even allow people to grow community gardens in parks and schools.
And you can ask private landowners to use their land for a garden, too. For example, someone may own a few acres of land but only use a portion of it. They may be open to allowing you to plant a community garden on the unused portion of that land.
Wherever you decide to plant your garden, you need to think about a few things.
The first is liability insurance. If a member of the gardening team gets injured while tending to the garden, the landowner could be held responsible. That’s why many people will only allow you to use their land if you agree to get liability insurance.
Also, you need to look for a plot of land that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day in order to grow vegetables. And you will need a water source to water your garden. Working out how to pay the water bill should also be on your list of things to do.
Dig baby dig
Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and prepare your land for a garden. In order to reap the best harvest, you should plan your garden so that it grows beautifully and gracefully together.
Start by getting together your planning committee and coming up with a design for the garden. You should do this whether you plan a group garden or individual plots.
After you’ve created the plan, organize all of the volunteers, and begin tilling the ground. You should use a soil tester to determine whether or not you need to add amendments to it. Also, if you plan to use raised beds, now is the time to build them.
And if your garden plot doesn’t already have a fence surrounding it, it might be a good idea to build one.
Make a Rulebook
You want everyone to get along, and the best way to ensure that happens is by creating a set of rules that everyone follows. When there is a disagreement between gardeners, it’s easy to point to the rules to quickly settle the dispute.
Here are some of the types of rules you can create for your community garden:
- Let each gardener know they are responsible for their individual plots
- Follow the schedule for tools and water usage
- Lock gate when finished gardening
- Supervise children at all times
- All gardeners must execute a release of claims before beginning work in the garden
- Make other arrangements if gardener can’t come once a week or privileges will be revoked
- Establish rules about pesticides
- Create a lottery system to assign individual plots to keep things fair
- If you charge plot fees, make them due before the planting season begins
- Individual gardeners may only harvest produce from their own lots
- Group gardeners will divide up the produce according to a system you design
- At the end of the season, all gardeners are responsible for cleaning up the land and making it ready for next season
How to Divide the Produce
If you decide to start a community garden with individual plots, it’s easy to divide the produce because people will take home what they grow.
But what if the garden is communal?
You have a few options when it comes to dividing the spoils in a group garden. For example, you can assign each gardener a percentage based on the number of hours they worked. Or, you could assign a percentage based on the number of people in their family.
Help the community with the extra produce
If you’re lucky enough to have excess produce, don’t throw it away or convince gardeners to take home more than they can eat. Instead, talk to your local food bank, churches, or other organization that helps feed the hungry. These types of charities always welcome extra food so they can pass it along to those in need.
What to Plant
What you plant in your community garden will depend on where you live. That’s because every area is able to grow different fruits and vegetables, and the weather and climate have everything to do with it.
For example, you can grow a lot of produce almost year round in the south, but when winter arrives in the north, people cover up their gardens and wait for spring.
Talk to gardeners in your area to determine which types of crops are easiest to grow. In the meantime, here are some commonly grown crops for community gardens.
- Swiss chard
Community Garden Maintenance
To make the most of your garden, you will need to ensure that you perform maintenance to keep it producing all those wonderful fruits and vegetables.
Here’s a list of some simple maintenance duties that will keep your garden growing.
- Someone needs to water the garden routinely
- If not pulled, weeds can quickly overtake the garden
- Paths need to stay mulched and free of objects that could cause people to trip and fall
- Tools should be cared for and replaced when broken
- If grass surrounds the garden, it needs to be mowed and trimmed
How to Divide up the Work
When operating a group or communal garden, you will need to organize the volunteers in a way that allows everyone the opportunity to participate. You should make the rules known from the beginning: Those who don’t work don’t get to share in the harvest. After all, shouldn’t the people who worked hard to grow the food get to enjoy it?
The members of the planning committee can help with this task. Look for a member who is organized and likes dealing with people. Then ask them to create a work schedule and then communicate with the volunteers to determine the best work hours for each one.
Here’s an idea:
Create a schedule and post it online and at the garden site. Remember to include language about what happens when a volunteer doesn’t show up or stops working in the rulebook.
Community gardens work because it’s a group effort. When everyone does their part, it creates a sense of community and goodwill. But if someone begins to take advantage of the others, it can quickly dampen everyone’s spirits.
How to Start a Community Garden: All That’s Left Is to Start!
Are you glad you learned how to start a community garden? These gardens are popping up all over the nation and giving people hope and a sense of accomplishment and community. Are you the right person to start a community garden?
Maybe you’ve already learned how to start a community garden but haven’t taken the first step yet. Tell us what’s holding you back in the comments below. Who knows? Maybe another reader has just the motivation you need!