How to Start a Community Garden

How to Start a Community Garden

Mar 7th 2023

What is a community garden? It is a way for like-minded folks interested in gardening to grow vegetables, flowers, or other plants in a common space. A community garden can save gardeners space in their own yards, offer a place to garden for apartment dwellers and provide a great way to meet neighbors.

A community garden is a collective endeavor, which requires mutual support and commitment between local gardeners and the community or town where they live. The desire to start a community garden comes from groups of friends or neighbors that enjoy the outdoor activity of gardening and desire to grow and eat their own fresh vegetables. These folks may not have a space of their own to grow, but they do have a desire to start a garden. This helps bring neighbors together, inspiring meaningful community. In this post, we’ll discuss the steps that need to be taken to create a community garden of your own.

Step 1: Spread the Word

Use emails, social media or word of mouth to find others in your community who are also interested in starting a community garden. Many of them may be willing to help you organize this undertaking. In the beginning, hold weekly meetings at your home or a local park and exchange suggestions for possible garden sites. Collect email addresses and phone numbers so you can update folks on progress and stay on top of the daily tasks that need to be done.

Step 2: Start a Group

Formally organize a group to manage the community garden and to divide the work effectively. Talk about the garden’s intended design, research other successful community gardens and learn about the maintenance that will be integral to for the garden’s upkeep.

  • Decide on garden rules.
  • Draw up an application form.
  • Plot and plan the garden design.
  • Vote for a president, treasurer, and other officers
  • Design a democratic way to resolve conflicts.

Step 3: Find a Site

Gardens need adequate sun for at least eight hours a day. Ask your town, city, or county representatives for suggestions on potential public or private sites that will be good for growth. Discuss the advantages to the private or public property owner of having a lush garden maintained for free by citizens and make sure the surrounding community supports the idea of this community garden.

Once you have made a list of interested gardeners, learn about their skills and resources. If they have their own tools or large pieces of equipment, great. If they have the energy to start the site cleanup, even better. This potential site should be within walking distance of their homes or a short drive or bike ride away. Try to identify at least two or three potential sites, thus ensuring that at least one will work out. After you’ve found potential sites, find out who owns the land and whether water is available, and a water meter is set up.

Step 4: Follow the Rules

Make sure you follow local laws and regulations. Once you have identified a possible site or sites, contact the landowner to see if the site is privately owned or public property.

If the site is owned by the township or county, there will likely be a few steps to follow to get permission to start a garden. Groups often need to lease the land for a set term and will have to negotiate a price. The lease may require a small fee if it’s stated in the lease that there is a legal cost or fee for the use. Waivers are usually included in these leases in case of injury to anyone involved in gardening, but the purchase of liability insurance is often required to protect everyone involved. 

Step 5: Decision Making

All community garden members need to be involved in planning the garden. The group will have to set and collect dues to fund the purchase of community tools, such as hoses, watering cans and water timers to make it possible to install an irrigation system. Deciding whether to have an irrigation system is important because the expense of the water can be an issue. Ultimately, it may be better to stick with a hose in a community garden — some garden plots may contain tomatoes and corn, while others may have culinary herbs, and each requires different amounts of water. It will take at least a few meetings to conclude about these issues. They should be voted on and written down in the meeting notes for all garden members to see.

The basic features of a community garden should include:

  • Garden beds.The design of the garden beds should be drawn to scale. Leave room for expansion to attract future members to the community garden.
  • Fencing. An attractive 8-foot-tall fence surrounding the garden will provide protection from trespassers and animals. The fence should have a walk-through gate and a drive-through gate for materials and deliveries. Your group should make or purchase a sign identifying the garden and hang it for people passing by to see. This is an easy way to recruit other gardeners.
  • A wooden tool shed with a locking door that will house all the permanent garden tools and supplies will be essential.
  • Seating. Installing a bench in the shade for gardeners to take a break on will add to the enjoyment of their experience. Plant a few shade trees next to the bench or build an arched arbor with flowering vines in this serene spot.
  • A shared composting area, bin or pile should be located near the rear of the garden for garden waste and organic fertilizer.

Step 6: Gather Funds and Materials

Using your design, determine the cost of the project. Consider searching online or in your local public library for community garden grants. Grants from government agencies or nonprofit organizations may be available to fund part or all your project. Unless you have found a donor who can fund the project to get it off the ground, the dues garden members contribute will have to suffice. Local businesses can also be a good resource — offer advertisement spots on the garden fence in exchange for the materials they supply. Local nurseries may be willing to supply ornamental plants and vegetable starts in exchange for a little publicity. Be patient but persistent in this effort. Draw up a wish list customized for each business and don’t forget to thank contributors when they help you out.

Remember some advice from the best advertising sales reps: face time is crucial in getting cooperation, whether you are selling ads or soliciting donations. You’ll likely find greater success by bringing request letters to the store in person, rather than emailing or using the phone.

Finally, try classic fundraising efforts, like having car washes around town, staging bake sales or by writing grant requests to local organizations like the Lions Club or the Masonic Lodge.

Step 8: Start Building

Once you have access to a site, get going as soon as possible. You might be surprised at the attention you garner when your community garden suddenly appears. Make sure the site is being prepared, that the signage is visible and at least a few of the garden beds have been built. This activity will attract the attention and curiosity of passersby. You may find that, as a result, more folks will apply for membership, volunteers will show up and your requests for materials will become much easier to fulfill. Public agencies often have yards of extra mulch and leaves they need to get rid of, so if officials or workers see an organized garden taking shape, they may provide such materials for free. Keep in mind that all of this may take six months or longer to become reality, which is why you’ll want to get started right away. Today is the best time to start your community garden. In a few months’ time, you and your fellow community gardeners will be enjoying the fruits, veggies, and flowers of your labor.