How to Start a Sustainable Community Garden

Sustainable community gardens in urban areas have trended upward in recent years. As public housing sites and local governments witness their many benefits, more resident programs have been popping up. 

Some cities have embraced community gardens more than others. For instance, Portland, Oregon, has over 4.45 per 1,000 people, while St. Paul, Minnesota, has 3.84.

These eight steps will help you successfully launch a sustainable community garden if you’re considering starting one where you live.

Determine Interest

A community garden is nothing without interested participants. Therefore, you must determine whether locals even want one.

More than likely, your community garden idea will take off. Studies show they benefit the environment and your mental and physical health. It also boosts access to nutritious produce in urban food deserts, improving the lives of low-income residents who struggle to afford organic products

Organize a Committee

Sustainable community gardens demand a high level of organization, so it’s vital to assemble a committee. Decide who will serve as the leader and fill the other essential roles.

A committee will help design and form the objectives, ensuring the project stays within the set budget. 

Identify Community Partners

It’s in your best interest to invite local community partners to participate if there’s a broad interest, including the following:

  • Local government departments, such as health or parks and recreation
  • Community development groups
  • Urban farming organizations
  • Food access nonprofits
  • Cooperative extension agencies
  • Universities
  • Horticultural societies
  • Green building councils
  • Food and fitness campaigns
  • Volunteer services groups

Networking with community partners may also be a great way to garner sponsor funding for garden initiatives.

Select a Location

Selecting the perfect location for a sustainable community garden is no easy task and requires careful planning. Consider how much sunlight a site receives or if there’s easy access to irrigation sources and proper soil drainage. 

Check with your building landlord if there’s a plot of land near the property or scout nearby parks and greenbelts for space. 

If you find a vacant lot available, make sure you can lease it for three or more years to allow your community garden enough time to flourish. 

Conduct Development Meetings

The committee should come together in a series of development meetings to discuss the vision and aspects of the garden. The sessions should cover several topics, such as the following:

  • Assigned roles for planning, designing and installing the garden
  • Daily management procedures
  • Layout, including communal and single plots
  • Purpose of the community garden
  • Necessary structures and equipment to operate the garden
  • Sustainable gardening education programs
  • Sustainability rules 
  • Specialized training in soil health, composting and harvesting
  • Preventive measures for pest control, vandalism and non-resident access

Additionally, the committee should discuss which plants to include in the community garden, like vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit and nut trees, medicinal plants and berry bushes.

Other plants might include perennials that bloom for one season and return annually afterward — for example, berry varieties, asparagus, artichokes, jasmine and lilac. 

Set a Budget

Smaller community gardens are usually much easier to budget than large-scale programs. While the initial expense might be somewhat high, you can offset some costs with grants, partner donations and resident plot-leasing fees.

The best way to set a budget is to create a comprehensive price sheet of items needed for installation — such as gardening tools and equipment rentals, irrigation, soil and compost materials, fencing, trellises and more.

Establish Rules

Establishing a list of rules and regulations will ensure effective participation. When will dues be collected? Will participants need to donate time and labor for maintenance? What can and can’t they use to help their parcels grow?

For instance, sustainable gardening frowns upon synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They reduce soil quality in addition to negatively impacting human health. In an experiment that tested 284 active ingredients in pesticides on soil, 70.5% had caused harm to essential biological properties. 

Additionally, models predict irrigated agricultural land will reach 240 to 450 million hectares — up to 1.1 billion acres. Therefore, limiting water consumption and implementing water harvesting instead is crucial to make your community garden more sustainable.

Develop a Communication Strategy

A comprehensive communication strategy will ensure participants know the rules and procedures. It’s also a great way to report important information and achievements of the community garden.

Consider holding meetings or compiling phone lists, opt-in subscriptions and newsletters.

Remember that sustainable community gardens are about building community, so your communication must be capable of bringing people together. 

Improve Your City With a Sustainable Community Garden

Sustainable gardening benefits the environment, society and the local economy. A well-organized plan and enduring perseverance will take your community plot to the next level and benefit where you live.

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