When the winter's snow has melted back to a few gritty gray piles on the street corner and the first crocuses show bright green in front of the porch, a lot of folks turn their thoughts toward putting in a garden. Unfortunately, many people who'd love to raise their own vegetables are—because of a lack of available growing space—unable to do so.
However, over one million Americans have already solved the exact same problem ... through community gardening! Such groups of vegetable raisers simply share adjacent growing plots on otherwise unused public or private land, and the crop coalitions often obtain their "growing privileges" for free!
You can found a community garden where you live, too. All it takes is a bit of organizational know-how and some enthusiasm. Of course, it'll be up to you (or to someone you know) to provide the "sparkplugging" energy for such a project ... but a group called the National Gardening Association can readily supply all the "how to do it" information you'll ever need.
The dedicated organization has helped dozens of successful community growers from Boston to San Jose. And the NGA folks—who know scads of useful "inside tips" and "pitfalls to avoid"—have freely offered to share their hard-earned knowledge with MOTHER EARTH NEWS' readers.
The Coordinator Is the Cornerstone
According to the "vegetable veterans" at the National Gardening Association , successful community gardens are most often created by one live wire person. So the first step in starting your own group growing project is to find—or become—someone who understands gardening, has the get-up-and-go to do the necessary groundwork, and possesses the dedication to see the project through. Remember, though, that any coordinator will need the volunteer assistance of some reliable staffers.
Find the Land
Locating a piece of real estate on which to establish your gardens will likely be a matter of keeping your eyes open. Vacant lots, church or school property, factory yards, cemeteries, industrial parks, apartment grounds, utility right-of-way land, unused farmland, and corners of public parks should all be looked upon as potential crop-raising territory. Just scout around. You'll be surprised how easy it is to find available "vegetable heavens."
And—because your group's activities will actually improve the ground's appearance and fertility—you may be able to use the land for free. Be sure, though, to marshal your persuasive arguments and supporters before you give your sales pitch to any prospective land donor. Also, make certain that you'll be allowed to use the area for a long enough time (at least two seasons) to make your efforts worthwhile.
You will, of course, need to work out the physical details and membership rules for your community garden before you hold a "sign up day" for growing plots. For instance, you should predetermine the size of an individual garden (NGA recommends 25' X 30' vegetable patches, because forty such plots—plus access walkways—will fit in a one-acre tract, and each of the moderate-sized gardens can provide a family of four's vegetables for most of the year). You'll have to arrange for a water supply, too (check with the local fire department) and decide whether to provide tools—which may be donated by a community-minded sponsor—and an on-site tool shed.
Your members should be told in advance about any fees that have been decided upon, what the consequences for neglecting their plots would be (usually the loss of growing privileges), whether organic and nonorganic growers will be separated, and where seeds and gardening information can be obtained.
Don't Forget to Publicize
Many established community gardens have membership waiting lists, but—while you are getting "squared away"—you'll probably need to do some active recruiting. So type up an attention-getting press release that contains all the "who," "what," "when," "where," "why," and "how" information concerning your project. Disseminate the flyer to local radio stations, community groups, and the person on your town's newspaper staff who writes gardening news.
You can also start the following season's public relations effort during harvest time ... by publicizing and holding a homegrown banquet, a community food contest, a curbside "garden market," or even a charity giveaway of surplus goodies.
Do It... You'll Be Glad You Did
There's a lot more "groundwork" to starting a successful community garden than just preparing some soil for spring planting, but it is, indeed, possible for almost anyone to organize a successful crop-growing group. What's more, the effort will probably make you several new friends . . . and enable a passel of people to eat — and live — a whole lot better!