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How to Grow a Community and a Garden

by Louisa May

GardenCommunity gardens are making a comeback, but they don’t just happen overnight.

So, let’s talk about planning. I am not a list maker at heart, but for something this big, involving so many, I see the advantages of being organized right from the start.

If you are considering starting a community garden, or if tenants have requested a plot of ground for a kitchen garden, begin with a meeting. Find out how many people are interested, and be specific. The more detailed you get in your discussions, the easier it will be for you to determine your gardeners’ level of commitment.

Here are a few tips from the American Community Gardening Association:

1.) Who’s in charge? You need an organized garden coordinator for announcing gardening events and meetings and fielding questions big and small.

2.) Find a garden site. Think about the neighbors as you think about your layout, and also note the potential for theft.

3.) If your community garden has a budget, keep administration in the hands of a few people.

4.) Consider the availability of water.

5.) Who will prepare the site, till the earth, design the garden, and determine the plot sizes?

6.) Will the garden be organic?

7.) Include plans for a storage area for tools and other equipment.

Some gardens are grown collectively with everybody working together on one large plot, and some are split into clearly divided plots. It’s the little things that can bog you down. Who provides the tools? If the landlord provides the tools, will tenants take responsibility for putting them away? When the frost is on the pumpkins, the tools should be safe inside and dry.

Will tenants pay a fee for the use of the plot? Figure out costs and discuss the gardeners’ expectations, the property owner’s involvement, and individual financial responsibility. Clarify what you can at the first meeting.

It can work. During World Wars I and II, vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens were called victory gardens, and they were considered morale boosters. People felt rewarded for providing their own food and making a contribution. In 1943, 20 million gardeners succeeded in providing 8 million tons of food.

Today, victory gardens are reappearing in backyards and big cities. Garden for the Environment ( has developed a subsidized home gardening program for individuals and neighborhoods and partnered with the City of San Francisco to transform empty urban spaces into gardens.The project’s historical model is the 1940’s Victory Garden Program. Garden for the Environment’s goals include persuading cities to take on a more active role in shaping agricultural and food policy.

Besides the benefits gained from growing one’s own food, a community garden gets people together, fosters tenant loyalty, and encourages further community involvement. Gardening offers stress relief and can be an (unasked for) cardio workout.

One more thing- remember to come up with a name for your garden. A great name is one more way to make your garden say community.

Check out our Green Pages for information on money saving tips that help the environment. Once there, click on the Green Forum to see more articles by our green feature writer Louisa May.

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