Community gardens are ideal if you care about sustainability and ensuring your neighborhood has a fresh supply of nutritious food during the spring through fall (depending on the climate where you live).
Gardens can be small or large, located in an open community space or on school grounds. Some even have amenities, like a pavilion for community events. As long as you have support from local residents, your vision of the community garden is only limited by your imagination! So let’s examine practical details and best practices you can follow to get your garden started.
Creating A Community Garden Committee
Community garden committees are usually run by volunteers. As such, you might not have a lot of time to create a complex organizational structure. That’s why garden committees are often set up as informal groups with members taking on basic roles and responsibilities.
In some cases, a committee will be made up of members from a single organization (e.g., a local school), whereas in other cases it will be a group of community members with varying backgrounds and expertise.
On the whole, most community garden committees are organically set up, with individuals taking on various roles as the need arises but there are common roles that will need to be filled.
Administration. These folks take care of scheduling meetings, taking minutes, coordinating volunteers, and the like.
Fundraising. Having community garden members dedicated solely to identifying fundraising opportunities and engaging in activities to raise money for the garden is always helpful.
Maintenance. Someone will need to be appointed to oversee routine maintenance of the garden, for instance, weeding.
Outreach and PR. The public relations department should consist of individuals that are good at connecting with community partners to raise awareness of the garden and seek out potential opportunities or partnerships. These individuals are also typically responsible for writing press releases and creating promotional materials for the garden.
You can also assign specific subcommittees that focus on different issues and meet separately from the larger committee to discuss specific initiatives, like special event organization.
Would your neighbors love a concert under the stars with drinks made with homemade juices from your community garden? Make it happen! Would working in the garden during a special event enhance the lives of children or senior citizens in your area?
Reach out to these people. The first word in “community garden” is community, so include everyone!
Do Your Homework On Regulations And Ordinances
First, find out who owns the land you want to use and if there are any local or state regulations that might prevent you from using it for a community garden project. Parks and land use are usually governed by community boards that have the final say about how public space is used.
You’ll want to determine if there are any zoning ordinances, deed restrictions or other issues that could get in the way of your plans. Ordinances that permit gardens located on private property can be confusing.
Some localities have provisions that limit the kinds of agriculture that can be done. These provisions can also include restrictions based on the availability of water, set regulations regarding the structure of the garden or govern community access.
There may also be rules about hours of operation, security and maintenance so make sure you have all these important details covered before you break ground.
It’s a great idea to go to some community board meetings and ask for a letter in support of your garden. This will clearly demonstrate to everyone that you have your town’s official approval and will help with every aspect of your project, from fundraising to greater visibility.
Drafting A Proposal And Garnering Support
At this juncture, you will want to write and submit a proposal to the appropriate committee. Your proposal should include your group’s structure, who makes the decisions, how you’ll get resources and how the garden will be created and used.
In addition, seek out organizations in your area that might be able to help you. In New York City, for example, GreenThumb provides assistance for hundreds of community gardens through various programs of support and ongoing workshops.
When fundraising, try reaching out to local businesses and ask if they will donate money, plants, or seeds. You can also simply ask friends and family for donations. If you live in a small town, ask the town council for help with funding. If you live in a big city, ask the mayor for help with funding. Being bold will pay huge dividends.
Community Garden 101
After you’ve figured out the logistics, the next step is of course to seed and plant. Remember that successful community gardens have a few traits in common, including:
- Soil that’s easy to till
- Plenty of sunlight
- A convenient location that’s within comfortable walking distance for most residents
Later, once your garden is in bloom and before the first harvest, it would be fun to plan a ribbon-cutting ceremony! Call a local official to ask if they are available to cut the ribbon, and don’t be afraid to invite the local press and distribute press releases.
You deserve recognition for your hard work and getting the word out will help you acquire more resources to keep your community garden going into the future. The next step? LET’S EAT!