In a quest to find more affordable, fresh and local food, many communities – particularly those in the urban, space-starved metropolitan areas – are moving towards the urban farming model of food production and distribution.
Community gardening and localized food production are not new concepts. These types of projects first made an appearance in American culture during World War I and World War II. Referred to as “Victory Gardens”, these spaces were implemented throughout the U.S. as a temporary solution to Depression-Era food shortages. Besides solving food problems, they had the added benefit of bringing neighbors together in difficult times and boosting wartime morale.
Similarly, the benefits of modern day community gardens go well beyond providing a fresh and local food source. Studies have shown that gardening can improve overall fitness, stress levels and general well-being.
During this digital age, community gardening can serve as a soothing balm for the sore of a disengaged, hyper-technological American culture. Many urban communities are already pursuing such projects but if your community is not, fret not. We offer these 6 easy steps to start your own!
First Step: Gain Community Support
There can be no community garden without a community. A successful project requires participation from local leaders and buy-in from trusted gatekeepers of the community. A great way to begin connecting with these influencers is to attend city council meetings and reach out to local government officials.
It’s also important to develop a group of committed, like-minded volunteers. Holding informational sessions at local farmer’s markets can help to boost interest and identify community members who are interested in your project.
A great way to organize participants is to create a Meet-Up that also allows you to schedule planting and gardening shifts.
Second Step: Find “The Place”
Once you have recruited a group of enthusiastic people for your project, you can begin searching for an available space for the garden.
The best place to start your search is your local city or county parks and recreation department. Many times, these offices will have open space that may be available for community projects. In addition, this office is a great resource for possible funding for your tools and seeds.
You can also check with local charities or churches that have charitable reaches within the community.
If these options are not viable, the final solution can be finding privately owned lands. If you discover a seemingly abandoned lot, contact the tax assessor’s office to find the current owner. Then you can contact the owner and request permission to use the space.
Third Step: Pick your Crop
Creating a nice, lush garden is more than just finding available space and volunteers. There are many other factors that can affect the success of your garden:
- Know the planting season for your area. Most seeds are planted in spring or early summer, but this varies by region and also among plants. Consult the Farmer’s Almanac for yearly planting date/time projections.
- Make sure you check which plants grow well together and which should be spaced apart. For example, beets do not do well when planted next to garlic or onion. In addition, many plants need extra room to grow or may need a trellis installed for proper support.
For a detailed Garden Planner Worksheet, check out NRCS’s guide, that helps you find the most suitable veggies for your project!
Fourth Step: Cultivate and Seed
After mapping out your prospective garden, it’s time to cultivate the soil and plant. This is probably the most grueling part of the process but also the most rewarding.
Pick a day when all of the members are available and schedule a full day to prepare the soil and plant the seeds. Depending on the type of soil and region where you live, this could be as easy as tilling up a few beds with the existing soil, or you may need to bring in mulch or compost to increase the soil quality. You can have the PH level of your soil tested at your Cooperative Extension County Office.
Fifth Step: Develop Harvesting and Work Schedules
The hard work doesn’t end with cultivating and planting. Vegetable plants need a lot of care and attention in order to produce good quality fruit. You should develop a schedule for the group in which each member is assigned tasks and times to water, weed and check on the plants. Always try to use organic means to de-bug and de-pest your gardens.
Sixth Step: Pay It Forward
Once up and going, vegetable and herb gardens can produce a surprisingly large amount of food. In order to avoid waste, you should donate the extra food to local food banks.
Well, now you know the essential parts of creating a community garden. If you just want to join an existing one, you can find a common garden search tool here.
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