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How to Start Your Own Community Garden in Six Simple Steps

How to Start Your Own Community Garden in Six Simple Steps

PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS GUIDE TO STARTING A COMMUNITY GARDEN

We are Rooting For You: How to Start Your Own Community Garden in Six Simple Steps

 

Pinetree Garden Seeds is one of the few seed and garden suppliers to sell non-GMO hybrid, organic and heirloom seeds in people-sized portions at affordable prices. As our customers are more likely to be home gardeners than big farmers, we have become a trusted resource for community gardeners nationwide. We believe in the power of community gardens and we are so proud to support them! Season by season, we have seen how planting, tending, and harvesting together nourishes neighborhoods and organizations. If you want to feed your family, friends, and sense of community, our guide to community gardening will get you growing—together.

 

Did you know that families with a community gardener eat 1.5 times more fruits and vegetables and are 3.5 times more likely to meet their recommended daily allowance of fresh produce? Or that community gardeners eat even more fruits and vegetables than home gardeners? Research has shown community gardens also raise property values, reduce food insecurity, encourage children to eat a wider variety of healthy foods, and create community connections that lead to positive social change.

 

Americans discovered the power of community gardens in the 19th century, when Detroit funded a citywide initiative to turn vacant lots into garden plots for unemployed workers during the recession of 1893. This program was so successful that San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia founded their own community garden programs while reformers like Fannie Griscom Parsons sparked the school garden movement to give the children in economically depressed areas a chance to spend time in fresh air while helping to feed their families.

 

Here in our home state of Maine, community gardens help recent immigrants put down roots in a new community and contribute to their local economy. They help churches stock their food pantries. They support environmentally friendly disposal of organic wastes through composting. They help schoolchildren learn about biology, ecology, and nutrition. And they help families spread out the cost and share the work of growing good, delicious, healthy food. Our growing season may be short up north but spending the long summer days in the garden together makes it all the sweeter.

 

At Pinetree Garden Seeds, we believe every community should have a garden at its heart. So how do you start your own?

 

  1. Gather your fellow gardeners.
    A plant that grows in a garden without being planted (that isn’t a weed!) is called a “volunteer plant." Volunteer plants, like strawberries or tomatoes, know without being told that they have found fertile ground. Every community garden needs a core group of people willing to work together to organize and inspire others. It takes a certain investment of time and energy in the beginning but once the materials and rules are in place, most community gardens can practically run themselves. If you want to meet more of your neighbors, get great gardening advice, and make your community a better place, founding a community garden is for you!
  • Schedule a general interest meeting. Get on Facebook or Nextdoor or put up a few flyers in the supermarket, local school, or corner coffee shop. Your goal is to see how many other people in your neighborhood or organization share your interest in forming a community garden. Questions to ask include Want to start gardening but don’t know how? Wish you had room for a garden at your home? Would you like to grow your own healthy food? Don’t forget apartment buildings. Renters often wish they had the property to grow their own food, particularly if they are struggling economically.
  • Create a steering committee. When you get everyone together, you will find people with the can-do spirit, gardening expertise, and enthusiasm to take the project to the next level. You can’t do it alone. Form a team.

 

  1. Identify your resources.
    So what are you working with? Your steering committee should be able to work out the basic materials required to get the garden up and going: a location, some lumber, a shed for tool and supply storage, garden soil, hoses and watering cans, a wheelbarrow, perhaps a picnic table, and compost and trash bins. Your community may be able to contribute everything you need to get started, but if not, you have other options.
  • Find a sponsor. Is there a local market, co-op, or garden store that may be willing to sponsor your garden in exchange for advertising? An area church, school, or community-based organization may also be willing to sponsor your efforts.
  • Request donations and local expertise. Community gardens beautify the area and bring so many benefits. You will be surprised at how many people don’t want to garden but do want to help bring a garden into being. Ask for donations of materials or money on social media. Reach out to experienced home gardeners or professional gardening experts for insight and advice.

 

  1. Pick and prepare your perfect plot.

Look around you. Is there a vacant, weedy lot nearby? An unused portion of a park or empty school or church fields? Is there a home you know of with expansive property they aren’t cultivating? You may already have a site in mind or you may need to ask your city or town about potential locations.

An ideal community garden location will have:

  • Six hours of sunshine each day
  • Easy access to fresh water
  • Soil tested to be free from lead or other contaminants
  • A safe location with adequate parking. (Bonus points if it is walkable or served by public transportation.)

 

To get it ready, you will need to form work crews and:

  • Plant bushes or add fences around the perimeter to deter deer or other scavengers
  • Mark out plots in various sizes. Raised beds are wonderful ways to separate plots but they can also be expensive to install. Do whatever you can!
  • Create pathways between plots, so gardeners can kneel or set down tools without damaging another family’s plantings. Stone or gravel works and drains well but stakes are also fine.
  • Set aside an area for a children’s garden. Kids love to dig in the dirt—give them a separate, playful space to explore the wonders of gardening.

 

  1. Write your rules.
    Who will be responsible for leading the garden? How will garden plots be reserved and for how long? How much dues cost? What will the community garden supply for its gardeners and what will it expect them to supply themselves? What will gardeners be expected to share? How will meetings and basic maintenance be handled? How will disputes be resolved? There are no right or wrong answers for your community. Whatever you decide, however, make sure it is put in writing in clear and easy-to-understand language and agreed upon by everyone involved.

 

  1. Set up your communication system.
    Form a Facebook group, an email list, or a private chat to be sure that everyone can be kept in the loop.

 

  1. Celebrate—and share—your harvest.
    You did it! You’ve spent a long, wonderful summer and fall growing good things and getting to know your neighbors better. Don’t forget to close out each season with a picnic, potluck, or other informal gathering to savor the results of your hard work (and swap recipes!). You may also consider sharing the love—donating extra produce to your local food bank or shelter.

 

Congratulations—you’ve just made your neighborhood greener, healthier, and stronger. Keep us posted on the progress of your community garden!

 

 

3 comments on How to Start Your Own Community Garden in Six Simple Steps

  • Gary Lukens
    Gary LukensJuly 19, 2019

    The Ocean Park Community Garden, in Ocean Park, Wa., is under construction & will open in April 2020. Input & ideas are welcome.

  • Carol O'Leary
    Carol O'LearyJuly 19, 2019

    I recently discovered your company and ordered all my seeds from you this year. Many of those seeds are now growing at the community garden of the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary in Milwaukee’s inner city. This fledgling garden is in a food desert and was designed to also mitigate the effects of lead poisoning, which is rampant in the area due to old water laterals.

    Thank you for being part of the healthy solution for this community!

  • Don Boekelheide
    Don BoekelheideJuly 19, 2019

    Thanks for the kind words, Pinetree! I hope you (or your blogger) is directly involved in a community garden her/himself. Yes, there’s a place for your Pinetree’s quality seed – veggies and flowers both, since community gardens are tools for neighborhood beautification and ecology as well as cultivating community and growing delicious food. Community gardens give everyone access to a place to garden, something essential in this age of apartments. As a veteran community gardener, I like many of your suggestions – most of all, putting the ‘people part’ first. And, very true, you don’t necessarily have to build planter boxes (“raised beds”.) May I suggest two additional points:

    If you are interested in community gardening (or any gardening), it’s a long-haul proposition. Worth it! But not instant. Typically, experience shows that starting a sustainable community garden takes at least six months and more often a year of planning, soil preparation, etc, from the moment of vision to opening the garden. So, plan to be planning and organizing even during that cold Maine winter (that’s good for gardeners anyway, right – and we can read catalogs and visit seed websites, too.) From the start, you’ll be cultivating people with the goal of sustainability. Your key question is not “how cool does the garden look on opening day?”, it’s “will our garden be thriving a decade from now as a true community resource and asset, keeping a place for growing food available even in the city?”

    Second, community gardeners, we are not alone. There are active support groups right across your border in Vermont, in North Carolina, and in progressive cities across the US and other countries. Join one (or more!) Our national group, The American Community Gardening Association (www.communitygarden.org) is especially valuable as a way to network. Nothing beats speaking to folks with experience! There are some excellent guides as well. I’m partial to North Carolina’s, from their Cooperative Extension program, named “Collard Greens and Common Ground” (https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/collard-greens-and-common-ground-a-north-carolina-community-food-gardening-handbook) which is available free online. It’s balanced and reasonably complete.

    Thanks again Pinetree, and thanks for your grant program – our garden might just apply! Have a good summer.

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