5 Ways to Start a Community Garden

Grow healthy food and make new friends in the process by starting a community garden.

by Jamie Aramini
PHOTO: Gabriel Kamener/Flickr

We all know that gardening is good for our physical health. What other hobby gets you exercising, spending time in the great outdoors, and provides you with delicious, nutritious food after all that effort? Unfortunately, for many city dwellers, the space to grow an adequate garden just isn’t available within the confines of their living arrangement. A container garden in a tiny apartment can only get you so far, right?

A community garden can be the answer to the urban farmer’s woes and provide the added benefit of social interaction. But what exactly does a community garden look like? Where should one begin? Here are some styles of community gardens that might work for you.

1. Adopt-A-Plot

This is probably the most common style of community garden. Find a space that could be transformed into garden plots, look for abandoned urban lots with agreeable ownersand get to work! Area residents can rent their plot space (for free or a low fee) and are in charge of maintaining it year-round. Raised beds work especially well for a community garden because they provide clear boundaries to gardeners.

2. The Office Garden

If your workplace is forward-thinking and your boss is open to innovations focused on employee health and well-being, an office garden could be a great way to boost company morale and give you a gardening outlet. Of course, this model requires green space on the business property. Get an office garden started by gathering together like-minded coworkers. Employees can volunteer to maintain the garden on their lunch break or after hours, and the bounty can be shared. Vegetables can even be sold to non-gardening co-workers CSA-style if you grow enough.

3. The Apartment or Neighborhood Garden

If your apartment or neighborhood has some land available and some of your neighbors share your passion for all things green, lobby for a community garden. It often takes only a few excited people to share their vision before it catches on with everyone else.

4. Garden for the Hungry

Already have enough garden space or interested in making a bigger impact outside your own kitchen? Consider partnering with a local food bank or hunger program to grow a community garden for low-income families. Many food pantries around the country have begun just this sort of project, including HOTEL INC. in Bowling Green, Ky. The fully volunteer-run garden harvested more than 5,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables in just two growing seasons. HOTEL INC’s director, Rhondell Miller, says that their garden, Food for All Community Garden, and accompanying classes on cooking and nutrition have transformed the lives of many of their clients.

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“Clients have really begun to see the overall health benefits of eating fresh, local foods,” she says. “One of our clients has lost weight and gained better control of her diabetes, allowing for less insulin usage. Parents are reporting better behavior from their children since removing some of the processed foods from their daily life. This, along with the tears that many of our senior citizens shed at the joy of being able to eat fresh foods that they grew up on, keeps me and our volunteers pushing forward.”

5. The School Garden

As our farming population ages, getting the next generation interested in agriculture is pivotal. A school garden can be one way to open the door to important conversations about agriculture and nutrition. If you’re a teacher or parent, consider starting a community garden at your local school. From preschool to high school, students of all ages can gain incredible learning experience through gardening. Some schools use their gardens as opportunities for students to learn about business, selling excess produce to parents and others. Others use the total garden harvest to increase the amount of local, fresh vegetables in school lunches.

This is just a short list of possibilities for community gardens. Think outside the box when it comes to finding land and people for your new garden. Identify the green space available where you live and who shares your yearning to get their hands dirty. Never be afraid to ask landowners to transform their space or to ask even the most unlikely candidate if they might be interested in gardening with you.

Community Gardening How-To

No matter what style of community garden that you adopt, be prepared to have some good days and some bad days. Community gardening is a long-term investment of time and energy. Keep these tips in mind to keep your community garden thriving.

  • Follow all city regulations when planning your garden. The last thing that you want is to put in the hard work of creating a garden, only to have to tear it up later when you find out the project is illegal.
  • Keep in mind the word community. Try to get as much support for the project from those around you as you can. Don’t try to do it alone. Be open to the ideas and help of others.
  • Be prepared for frustrations. Just because you are meticulous with weeding and maintaining your garden doesn’t mean that everyone else will be. In many cases, new gardeners may not have the knowledge or experience on how to grow vegetables on their own. Be patient and prepared to share knowledge on caring for the garden.
  • Most of all, enjoy the bounty of your hard work. Remember what prompted you to start a community garden to begin with. A community garden can bring both fresh veggies and new friends into your life, making it more than worth your investment!

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