Are You Wondering How to Start a Community Garden?

tips for starting community garden

Treehugger / Caitlin Rogers

“A garden is a lovesome thing.” - Thomas E. Brown

It’s no wonder that community gardens are growing in popularity. Working in a vegetable garden is a lot of fun, whether it’s digging for stray potatoes, pulling up funny-shaped carrots, or searching for elusive string beans. Once picked, it’s hard to beat a meal made of fresh, sun-ripened produce. More and more people want to grow their own food and have a connection to the food supply chain, but many live in small homes or apartments with limited access to growing space. A community garden is a good solution to that dilemma.

If your town or city doesn’t have one already, why not start a community garden yourself? Elizabeth Johnson runs a very successful and large community garden in Dorset, Ontario that was established six years ago on former industrial land. Since then the garden has become a focal point for the community, a source of seasonal organic produce for 15 households, and the recipient of many donations and grants. I asked Elizabeth (who is also my mother) to provide directions for how to start a community garden.

1. Start talking about a community garden.

Ask lots of questions. Let people in your town know that you really want to start a community garden.

2. Find some land.

Preferably it would be flat and sunny, with good soil, but the latter is not necessary, as soil can be built up over time. It’s even possible to grow vegetables on concrete in raised beds, so don’t overlook any possibilities.

3. Research any available grants in your area.

There are some organizations that want to support community gardens. Elizabeth’s garden received a grant from Sobey’s, the grocery store chain, that contained wood, three-way mix, and compost for 12 raised boxes.

4. Have a work bee.

Get everyone together who wants to participate and spend a day building raised boxes with scrap wood, or digging up ground for long beds. Elizabeth’s garden has had most success with boxes that sit directly on the ground (instead of standing on short legs), since they drain better and stay moist longer.

5. Individual beds are best.

That way each person is responsible for their own. Caring for large communal beds often falls to a few dedicated people. Set aside one box for herbs, which everyone can share.

6. Start a compost heap.

The 3-bin system is good and always has compost ready to use. It’s easy to assemble; you can find instructions online. Until your compost is ready, see if you can get some from your town or municipality.

7. Members can start their own seedlings at home.

That way, each person chooses and buys what they want to grow in their own box.

8. Build a fence, if possible.

It's necessary to keep out hungry critters. A ‘no dogs allowed’ rule may be necessary, as dogs can wreak havoc in freshly planted soil.

9. Organize a watering schedule.

Get a calendar and assign a full week at a time to garden members. That way, nobody’s garden goes without water for more than a day. Set up rain barrels and hoses, or stick with watering cans, depending on the size of the garden.

As the garden grows:

10. You may need to create an informal board.

Having a secretary and treasurer is helpful. Have a few annual meetings with all members to talk about goals for the garden.

11. Invite guest speakers to give presentations.

This can be informative and inspiring for community garden members.

12. Make your space appealing.

Turn it into a place where people want to hang out. Put up a table, sun umbrella, and chairs.

13. Share community meals in the garden.

Especially at the end of the growing season, this is a wonderful way to celebrate the months of hard work and the delicious results.