Food for ME: Citizen Action for Community Food Recovery
Steps to Organizing Your Community Garden
Originally prepared by Extension Educators Marjorie Hundhammer and Joyce Kleffner. Revised and updated by Extension Educator Barbara Murphy.
A community garden is typically a piece of public land tended collectively by a group of people who are interested in growing fresh fruits and vegetables, creating community, and establishing a connection to the environment. This fact sheet in the Food for ME series includes suggestions on how to set up a community garden project, recruit volunteers, and establish a garden plot.
Follow these steps to successfully organize a community garden
1. Organize a meeting of interested people
Determine whether a garden is needed and wanted. What type of garden should it be: flower, vegetable, organic? Will it have individual or group plots? Invite neighbors, friends, church groups, garden clubs, and apartment dwellers: anyone who might be interested in getting the project off the ground. It can take more than a year to get all of the pieces in place for a successful community garden.
2. Form a planning committee
This group comprises people who really want to make the community garden happen and have the time to devote to organizing it. Choose well-organized people as garden coordinators. Form subcommittees, if needed, to tackle specific issues such as obtaining land, writing guidelines, finding sponsors, and communication.
3. Find a sponsor
Some community gardens support themselves through membership fees, but for many, obtaining a sponsor is essential in order to obtain big-ticket items such as irrigation or fencing. Approach town recreation departments, civic groups, and churches with your idea, and emphasize the ways in which the town, as well as participating individuals, will benefit. Be creative: auction off square feet of land, offer to put sponsors’ names on a wall of benefactors, or offer to donate produce to a specific cause in exchange for support.
4. Choose a site
Work with town members to find an appropriate site. For maximum yield, the site should receive a minimum of eight hours of sun a day during the growing season—preferably more. For a simple activity to determine how much sun a piece of land gets, place paper cups randomly over the area being considered for the garden. At 9:00 a.m., place a piece of popcorn in every cup that is in the sun. Do this every two hours until 5;00 p.m. The cups with the most popped corn at the end of the day received the most sun.
Good drainage is more important than fertility: nutrients can be added relatively inexpensively, while correcting poor drainage is time-consuming and costly. Also, think about easy access, a water source, and parking.
5. Prepare the site
In all probability, the site will need to be tilled, amended to soil test results, and laid out into plots and paths. Create a master plan and organize a work day or two to get the site garden-ready. Remember to consider room for compost piles, paths, tool sheds, a communication area, etc., as needed.
6. Consider a space for children
Including children is essential in terms of promoting family time and encouraging development of lifelong gardeners. Children aren’t necessarily interested in the same goals as adults, so provide a separate space where they can explore, plant, play, and harvest at their own speed.
7. Determine the rules and put them in writing
Adults are more willing to comply with rules if they have a say in their development. Don’t be so restrictive that new gardeners may feel unable to participate. The following subjects will need to be discussed:
8. Work together to create a community
Good communication will make it easier to follow the garden guidelines. Make sure the garden coordinator has contact information for all participants. Create a message area for updates and notices, take and post pictures, and celebrate regularly.
How you can help recover food
To get involved in community food recovery, use the ideas in the Food for ME fact sheets, call the National Hunger Hotline at 800-453-2648 (800-GLEAN-IT) or 866-348-6479 (866-3-HUNGRY), or visit www.whyhunger.org.
Food Recovery Resources
Ground Rules: A Legal Toolkit for Community Gardens is a toolkit from Public Health Law & Policy. It contains legal resources for establishing community gardens on vacant land that is owned by individuals or other private entities, as opposed to public land.
The toolkit describes the rights and responsibilities of the landowner, the sponsoring organization, and gardeners. It includes these resources:
The toolkit is available at www.nplanonline.org/nplan/products/CommunityGardenToolkit.
Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.
© 1998, 2011
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Image Description: volunteers work in community garden; photo by Edwin Remsberg, USDA