Monday, January 28, 2013

Community Gardening Post from BlogHer

Creating a community garden from scratch is not for the faint of heart.  That being said, if you have a strong desire to create community and love gardening this can truly be the work of the heart.  By working together to create something tangible you will form lasting friendships and build a foundation for healthy living in your community.
A community garden provides a location for recreation and learning.  Not only learning what it takes to produce food and the logistics of caring for a crop from sowing to reaping but also about teamwork.  The exposure to the seasons brings an awareness about nature and an appreciation for life.  Although, when you are battling an invasion of aphids you might not feel so strongly about the sanctity of life!
The community garden can become an ideal outdoor classroom where observations can be made and experiments carried out.  An entire curriculum can be developed around what takes place in a compost heap.  The hands on nature of a garden makes it an ideal place to teach math, science, and even social studies.  This is one of the reasons I believe that every school should have a garden.

Community Garden
Image: d-olwen-dee via Flickr

The process of creating a community garden is a long one and you may find it takes a year of planning to get the first plant into the ground.  Once established a community garden can persist for years and will likely inspire others in the community to start gardens of their own.  This post will give a step by step outline for founding the garden.  This is just a first step, but you will find that it is an important one.
Step 1- Location
Your local zoning and planning office is a great place to get started.  They will be more able to help you if you have the addresses or general area of several plots of vacant land in mind before you pay them a visit.  They will be able to help you identify ownership of the land and learn if water is available on a site.  They will also be able to inform you if a community garden is an acceptable use for the land.
Step 2- Introductions
Once you know who owns the land it is time to introduce yourself and the idea of a community garden to the land owners.  It is important to draft a polite letter of inquiry where you layout your desire to start a community garden.  The more specific you can make your plan the better.  It is likely the landowner will have questions about liability.
Step 3- Liability
Perhaps this step should come before step 2 but it is reasonable to tell a landowner that you will do research and get back to them.  This will open a dialog and give the land owner a chance to sit back and think about your proposal.  Inquire at the city offices about the issue of liability on a piece of land used for recreation.  You may find that your city has provided some protection for such uses.
Step 4- Find some Gardeners
This is where social media can be very helpful.  Create a Facebook page and name it something like Blank City Community Garden.  Then post on as many local sites as you can find and invite people to join you in creating a community garden.  Be sure to provide a link back to your page.  Also, you can post on Craig list under Community.  There are several sub catergories there and you can put up different variations of your invitation here.  Be sure to explain what the project is and if you have a location, where it is.
Step 5- Parks and Recreation
Contact your cities Parks and Recreation Department.  It is likely that they have been contacted by the community in the past with interest in a community garden. Enlist their help and ask them to help you connect with others interested in developing or joining a community garden.  Inquire if any of the current parks in your town have land set aside for a community garden…who knows there just might be a location out there waiting for you!
Step 6- Meeting the Future Gardeners
Once you have a location nailed down and have made contact with a group of people interested in helping you develop a community garden it is time to meet them!  Pick a public location to hold your first meeting as this is less intimidating than meeting at your home.  Many coffee houses will allow you to usetheir space for such a meeting in the evening.  
Plan to give an overview of the plan for the garden at this meeting.  Most people will be coming to learn more about the proposed project.  Be upbeat, this is like a pep rally for the creation of a community garden.  Be prepared to show all you have worked on so far and to explain your plans for the future. Have a brainstorm session about raising money for your project and create a list of businesses that might be interested in sponsorship.
If you have gotten this far you are doing well.  I will post again about the planning it takes to get the first garden in the ground and the task of organizing a club to maintain it.
Happy Gardening!