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Starting a Community Garden

Let’s face it, even though we do not advertise our supplies, anyone who has been over to our house probably knows we have a full pantry, and all our neighbors can see our garden. This is particularly true for those of us who still live in the city or suburbs. We also know, no matter how hard we work, we will not be able to produce enough food stores on our own to sustain our entire neighborhood should things get really bad. Fortunately, there are ways we can help the whole community get involved in preparedness activities without them even realizing it. One way is to start a community garden.

Community gardens are great for several reasons, in addition to the obvious one of creating a food resource in the area. They have the potential to bring people together in whole new ways, expand the knowledge base through education, improve the appearance of the neighborhood, and create a genuine community out of the people who currently simply live near each other. All this from a few radishes!

First, see if there is a community garden in your area by visiting the American Community Garden Association website. If not, or if you feel like your community could use another one, here are some steps to get started.

Assess – Take stock of yourself, your community, and what other resources may be available. Do you have strong organizational skills, the ability to get people excited about a cause, and some gardening know-how? If not, you will need to locate someone (a spouse, friend, or neighbor) that has these traits and is willing to help. Does your local area have a neighborhood association or neighborhood watch group? If so, these would be good places to start in forming a coalition to begin the new garden. A successful community garden will take more than one person to make it a reality. If there are not systems like this set up, what local businesses, churches, or other organizations are the bedrocks on which your community is based? Approach these people/groups and see how they may be willing to help. Be prepared to sell this idea and show how it will benefit the community as a whole and all the participants. Sometimes local businesses are even willing to help fund the project.

Plan – Once you have gathered your team of key players, it is time for the planning to start in earnest. Here are some things to consider:

  • How will the project be funded (local business, membership dues, etc.)?
  • Where will the garden be located? Make sure you test the soil of any potential site, and consider creating raised beds with new soil if needed.
  • Where will you find materials? (Always use heirloom seeds!)
  • How will you decide what to plant?
  • How will responsibility be divided? Will each member have their own plot, or will it be divided up by duties (e.g. one person/team water, one person/team weed, etc.)
  • How will produce be divided at the harvest? Will any of it be sold to support the garden financially?
  • Who will have what roles in organizing and growing the garden?
  • How will the space be divided? Make sure you leave room for growing plots, storage space, and a compost pile.
  • Who will be able to participate? What are the boundaries of this “community?”

A project of this size can seem daunting, so make sure to break it down into manageable pieces and to share the load. Also make your goals realistic. You may not get a full and completely utilized garden space the first year – it may be enough just to get a couple plots ready and growing something. This will be a long-term project, just like your own home garden, and it can expand and improve every year.

Create – While you are sure to hit some roadblocks along the way, once you have assessed who can help, have put a team together, and have planned the basics, now it’s time to try it out! Don’t get so caught up in the planning that you never get it off the ground. Get people signed up, ready your dirt, and start growing!

Evaluate – After the first growing season it will be important to have a pow-wow with your team and see how it went. Make sure to ask the following questions:

  • What worked? What went well that you want to make sure to replicate in future years?
  • What didn’t work? What things did you try that just didn’t flow as planned? Do you need to try and change how you are doing those things, or become more focused on doing more of what you’re best at as a group?
  • How much buy-in did you get from the community? How can you publicize your garden better next year to encourage more participation? Consider ideas such as going door-to-door, having a garden party for the whole neighborhood, or even starting a Facebook page or website for people to share ideas.
  • How can you grow? Were you able to fill all the space of this garden easily and think there may be enough demand to start another one a few blocks away? How could you make this happen?
  • Did the roles for various team players work? Did everyone feel comfortable with their part on the team? What can you do to work together better next year?

As your garden grows and becomes more successful, you may even be able to start trying winter gardening, have classes in canning and food preservation for participants, or even start cultivating some fruit trees. You will begin to form bonds with those who live near you. And in the event of a major crisis, you and everyone else will be two or three steps closer to survival than you would otherwise be.

Happy gardening!

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