Image: edited from Commons Wikimedia
Have you found yourself admiring the community gardens in the neighborhoods where your friends and/or family reside in? Wish you had one in your own community? The prospect of starting one is not as daunting as you may think. Without question the rewards of being involved in a successful community garden from the ground up (literally) is well worth the effort. The pride you’ll feel is practically incomparable. The Plant A Seed Foundation stands by our mandate to support such initiatives throughout the nation and thus this week’s blog post will walk you through the process so that your dream of stepping outside of your front door to join your neighbors in the rich soil fast becomes a reality.
6 Steps to Starting a Community Garden in Your Own Neighborhood
1. Organize a Committee of Like Minds and Diverse Talents
The first step in the process is to gather together others in your community of the same mindset and start an official committee. While you are of course encouraged to welcome in anyone in your neighborhood that feels passionate about the project you will want to identify those that bring special talents and resources to the table. Lucky enough to have a horticulturalist in your midst? OK, so perhaps that scenario may be a little idealistic but there will be those with a green thumb and knack for gardening. Many professions also translate into contributing skill-sets conducive to a successful community garden. Florists, landscapers, nutritionists, and carpenters are just examples but you need not neglect the mechanics, doctors, lawyers (don’t judge), and everyone else in between. Your committee should truly resemble the make-up of your neighborhood, as long as the passion to plant a seed is there.
2. Present it to Your Local Governing Bodies
There will be some red tape involved before you hammer the wooden stakes into the dirt surrounding your community garden so be sure to get it out of the way as soon as your committee has been formed. Most municipalities have some sort of community garden information resource in place so the first thing you should do is search for such information online as it directly relates to your city or town. For example, in Greater Vancouver BC the City & Park Board supports urban agriculture projects and asks that you complete an Expression of Interest form to begin the process. There is also likely a horticultural society where you live who will be more than happy to provide support.
3. Pick a Site
Together with your committee and reference material from governing bodies and supportive organizations you will be well prepared to select a site in your community for the garden. Some community gardens serve to grow flora, others just fruits and vegetables, but most provide for a combination of each. You’ll need to consider adequate exposure to sunlight, convenient access to water and drainage, automobile and pedestrian traffic, and everything else that you can anticipate will impact the success of a community garden. You will of course need to have permission from landowners (the city or on private residential property management) and obtain the necessary lease agreements (where applicable) and insurance policies.
4. Find a Sponsor
While your committee is likely entering the process with some resources nothing gives you better breathing room than securing sponsorship for your community garden. Contact local businesses and organizations to see if they are willing to provide support in ways that can include financial endowments, materials used to build the agricultural site, and seeds for planting. Sponsors can be local credit unions, retailers, churches, schools, home & garden suppliers, grocery stores or any other that comes to mind. In addition to the essentials a good sponsor can serve to add special touches to your community garden such as ornate benches to relax in contemplation after a hard day of working in the soil.
5. Prepare the Site for Planting
Once the paperwork is in the past and the sponsors are secured you can dive right in and prepare the site. Have the committee gather together as many volunteers by setting up social media pages for the community garden to help put the word out there. Debris must be cleared, weeds need to be pulled, plots may require leveling, and soil will be turned. It’s all part of the fun!
6. Design the Layout of the Garden to Accommodate the Unique Personality of the Community
Before you get to the growing you and your committee will need to finalize the layout and design of the community garden. You will want to optimize pathways around the prospect of both planting and casual strolling enjoyment. Many community gardens also add natural activity areas for the neighborhood children as a way to get them further excited about the project. The design of the garden should speak to the personality of your community and the region that embraces it. We’ve seen broken surfboards recycled and stacked vertically side by side as fences for community gardens in Hawaii. Think outside of the box by looking in the mirror and inspiration will be sure to strike.
We of course could elaborate further on each of the steps discussed above and we most certainly will within future blog posts. However the purpose of this first edition is to get those of you excited about the prospect of a new neighborhood garden started down the path to a greener thumb for your entire community. Visit our Community Gardens page for more information.