If you’ve always wanted a garden but don’t have the land, or want to invest in your city and help build an oasis with like-minded individuals, starting a community garden in your city is a fantastic idea. There are endless environmental & mental health benefits of a plant-based shared space!
What is a community garden? They’re pretty much exactly what they sound like… shared or public plots where people can gather together and plant fresh veggies and flowers.
Many people, especially those that live in the city, do not have access to land that is suitable for gardening. I’ve personally tried to keep many plants alive on my apartment’s balcony, and unfortunately never could.
It is also often used in many places that are food deserts, an area where affordable, nutritious food is limited or hard to find.
Benefits of Community Gardens
From food security to socialization, there are a wide variety of benefits to starting or joining a community garden. Here are the benefits:
They allow families access to fresh, nutritious produce who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Many donate excess foods they may harvest, or they can them in order to have access to the harvest all year round. (They actually preserve them in jars, which is a totally fascinating process!)
Positive Environmental Impact
They add oxygen to the air, which decreases air pollution. Many community gardens also compost, which is the process of recycling plant waste into fertilizer. This can include fruit cores, leaves and plant trimmings.
Improves Mental Health
Not only is gardening great physical activity, but it can also be a source of relaxation. A study suggests that after 30 minutes of gardening, participant’s moods had improved. It can also provide a peaceful place to escape city life for those in an urban setting.
It is a great educational opportunity to learn about the food you are eating. You can learn work skills, environmental issues and have a chance to meet other members of the community you might not have met otherwise.
They are a great shared community space, allowing people to feel pride and ownership in their community. They can also help bring together diverse groups within the community to focus on a common mutually beneficially goal.
How to Start a Community Garden
It’s a big process to start a community garden, but it can ultimately be a very rewarding experience. Here some of the steps to start a shared planting plot with the people in your local area:
1. Find the Land
Preferably sunny, flat, convenient access to water and with good soil. Soil can be bought or changed over time. If there is no land available, you can also build a raised bed and fill it with soil. You will need to have permission from the landowners (the city, church, school or private residential property are good places to begin your search).
2. Appoint Leaders
This might depend on the land you have chosen. But the leaders will need to decide the cost (if any), a schedule if using shared plots/beds, rules, hours, seasonal or year-round calendar, pesticides vs. organic, etc.
3. Gain Resources and Support
Look for any grants, local officials, or charities that might be able to help you get started.
4. Have a Volunteer Day
Host a volunteer day where you can get the garden ready for use. You’ll need to dig/plow plots depending on space, or build boxes, and make sure to consider drainage. And ask the local Boy Scout/ Girl Scout Troops, they might love the project!
5. Access to Water
If the land does not have easy access to water, you can set up rain barrels to catch rainwater and then use that to water your garden.
6. Start a Compost Pile
Avoiding chemicals in your community garden is definitely one of the key areas to consider if you wish to grow organically. The good news is that you can half your carbon footprint by using a natural fertilizer in your shared (or individual) garden by starting your own compost pile.
7. Individual Plots or Beds are Best
If you have space, individual plots/beds are the preferred option. That way each person has the autonomy to plant what they want and has the sole responsibility for their garden’s upkeep. Many gardens offer first pick to returning gardeners that followed the rules.
8. Build a Fence
You’ll need to build a fence to keep animals out. Transparent fencing is best (such as chicken wire or plastic meshing), so you don’t block the sunlight. It’s best for each gardener to fence their individual plot.
9. Invite a Seasoned Gardener
When it comes to your fruits and vegetables, eating more seasonal and locally grown foods can cut carbon from your diet by eliminating transport emissions. Local foods that travel less distance are the best, as exotic or out-of-season foods usually require specific conditions and even air travel. Therefore, inviting someone from the community with gardening knowledge to teach people the basics is a fantastic idea!
Community Gardening Experience
I had the opportunity to visit Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Community Garden while writing this article. Everyone was super enthused and looking forward to this season. If you’re really passionate about community gardens, the American Community Gardening Association is a great resource for connecting with like-minded people. So make sure to check if there’s one that already exists in your town and “bloom where you’re planted!