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
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
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
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
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!